June 2009 Preview

Highlights of the coming month in the Classical and Opera worlds

31 May 2009

Renee FlemingWhile browsing The Telegraph's website the other day, I was surprised to read an article by Rupert Christiansen in which he demands that we should 'stop forcing opera on reluctant teenagers'. This extraordinary assertion – considering it comes from a leading and usually insightful opera critic – is a response to statistics about Opera Holland Park's free tickets scheme for under-18s. It seems that as the years have gone on, the number of late teenagers partaking of the scheme has diminished and that in their place, more younger children are apparently being 'dragged' to the opera by their 'well-intentioned parents' (although the statistics from which these conclusions have been drawn seem somewhat incomplete).

Though Christiansen describes the scheme as 'one of OHP's many virtues', he then goes on to say that 'opera has less and less to say to teenagers: it remains an art form that people come to appreciate later in life, and it may be better just to accept this and stop trying to sell it to the young like a salutary dose of cod liver oil.'

Christiansen's entitled to his opinion, of course. But though it's true that opera audiences can seem to be dominated by the middle-aged, it's also the case that lots of young people don't go to the opera simply because they can't afford to, which is the main point of this kind of scheme.

The other key issue is one of background: when children don't have a culture of going to the opera, either in the home or at school, the experience can seem threatening. The laid-back atmosphere of free, good-quality opera in the park on a summer's night is surely a great opportunity to overcome both the financial and cultural obstacles, and OHP ought to be praised for their efforts.

One thing's for sure, though: there's no reason on Earth why teenagers shouldn't enjoy opera. It's something the Royal Opera has started to realise more and more, thankfully, and in our interview with ROH Music Director Antonio Pappano this week it was revealed that the company is considering opening up dress rehearsals to students. In the autumn of 2007, the Royal Opera staged a special student performance of Das Rheingold, and it sold out, attracting many first-time attendees with cheaper tickets, free programmes, and a more relaxed atmosphere than might be the case on an average night at Covent Garden. It's clear, then, that if companies reach out to them, the young really will respond.

That's also important because it's not just teenagers who are missing from opera audiences at the moment: those in their 20s and 30s are also there in much smaller numbers than they might be, perhaps because these people weren't given opportunities like OHP's under-18s scheme and the ROH's student performances. So it's great that BP is yet again sponsoring the ROH's big screen relays of three productions, two of which are amongst my June highlights: 3 June sees the Ashton ballet Ondine broadcast to twelve locations up and down the country, while it will be a relief to many frustrated fans who couldn't buy tickets to Renée Fleming's final appearances as Violetta that La traviata will be relayed to fifteen screens on 30 June. Both performances will also be relayed to cinemas around the UK and Europe.

Either experience would be ideal for the opera or ballet novice, regardless of age or background, and I for one would be very happy if parents and schools did encourage teenagers to attend. After all, isn't the story of a young love frustrated by responsibility, jealousy and illness something people of all ages can relate to?

By Dominic McHugh, Editor

Hugo Shirley, Deputy Editor

Ivan IlicAs the traditional concert season winds up before the summer, there's still much to look out for in London. First on my list is the Wigmore Hall debut of American pianist Ivan Ilic: a characteristically intriguing programme that mixes a selection of Debussy Préludes – his excellent complete recording of the works on Paraty was very well received on its release – with Chopin and the London première of Keeril Makan's Afterglow. The rest of the programme is made up with works to further whet the pianophile's appetite: Brahms' left-hand arrangement of Bach's D minor Chaconne and a selection of Chopin/Godowsky Études (1 June).

Pianists feature heavily in Sir Colin Davis' two fiftieth anniversary concerts with the LSO, tackling two pillars of the nineteenth-century concerto repertory. Paul Lewis performs in Beethoven's 'Emperor' (couple with Brahms' Third Symphony on 17 June) and Nelson Freire plays Brahms's Second Concerto (with Mozart's Symphony No.40 on 21 June) – both concerts are at the Barbican. June also sees the first opera production of this year's Iford Arts Festival, The Barber of Seville. Iford might not be able to boast the kind of cast the Royal Opera has assembled for their up-coming revival but if their rip-roaring Un giorno di regno last season is anything to go by, their Barber promises to be a wildly entertaining show (20 June to 4 July).

Photo: Ivan Ilic. Credits: Michelle Blioux

Agnes Kory, Co-Founder

Matthias Goerne For me, musical events in June start with a lecture on Haydn's humour at the Hungarian Cultural Centre (Monday 1 June, 7.30 pm) where popular Hungarian musicologist Imre Foldes will present his thoughts (and where - as per the grand plan - I will provide an instantaneous translation into English).

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel is a great favourite of mine and, so far, I have not been to a performance given by Opera Holland Park. So I am looking forward to the venue and the production, the latter of which opens on Friday 5 June.

The three Schubert song-cycle recitals given by baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist Christoph Eschenbach (on 15, 17 and 20 June at the Wigmore Hall) are likely to be of top standard, so I am sure to be there.

And, although (or because) I am unfamiliar with Handel's Jephta, I might turn up to hear it at the Barbican on 24 June. It starts early - at 6.30 - so I expect to hear a lot of Handel at the concert.

Photo: Matthias Goerne. Credits: Marco Borggreve

Stephen Graham, Concerts Editor

Tilson ThomasA busy summer of festivals hits the ground running in June with a flurry of activity that spreads right out across the musical spectrum. Ornette Coleman curates the Southbank Centre's Meltdown this year. In addition to two not-to-be-missed performances by Coleman himself, the line-up has come together quite startlingly in the past week or so; The Roots, David Murray, Mike Patton and Fred Frith, Four Tet and Steve Reid, Charlie Haden and the great Robert Wyatt, Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band, and Marc Ribot with Evan Parker and Hans Bennik are just some of the people due to feature in what is looking likely to be the most memorable, and daring, Meltdown in years (it runs for eight days from 13 June).

Two comparatively smaller festivals run this month that each deserve attention. Cut and Splice: Living Rooms takes place at Wilton's Music Hall on the 19th and 20th, and it focuses on sound artists who explore everyday sounds and materials in their work. The wonderful Alvin Lucier features prominently in the schedule. The Equinox Festival takes the occult in music as its theme, and features an impressive line-up over its three days (12 – 14 June) at the Camden Centre and Conway Hall, including John Zorn, Z'EV, Threshold Boys Choir, and Comus.

The LSO begins its two-month series entitled Summer Nights on 4 June, which will take place at the Barbican, LSO St. Luke's, and St. Paul's Cathedral. It will feature Valery Gergiev, Michael Tilson Thomas, two 50th Anniversary Concerts with Sir Colin Davis (on 17 and 21 June), George Fenton, Roby Lakatos, and Paul Lewis, amongst many others.

Opera Holland Park gets going with three different opera in June alone, including Donizetti's Roberto Devereux from June 2. The Royal Opera's new production of Lulu, directed by the redoubtable Christoph Loy, conducted by Pappano, and starring the newcomer Agneta Eichenholz in the title role and Jennifer Larmore in the crucial role of Countess Geschwitz, promises to offer a fascinating evening in the theatre.

Sound Census at King's Place, too, offers yet another series of promising concerts, this time spread over a week of music from contemporary to classical, performed by Endymion. Really, music lovers living in London are just too spoilt.

Photo: Michael Tilson Thomas. Credits: Terrence McCarthy

Marina Romani, News Editor

Colin DavisSummer is approaching but the music scene in London seems to be fresher than ever. In particular, the Barbican offers an interesting programme for the month of June. I am particularly looking forward the concert on 21 June, when Sir Colin Davis will conduct the London Symphony Orchestra in Mozart's Symphony No 40 in G minor and Brahms' Piano Concerto No 2, Op 83. Nelson Freire will be the soloist, making his debut with the LSO. This concert also celebrates a touching recurrence, that is the 50th anniversary of Sir Colin Davis's first performance with the LSO.

The Royal Opera House too has a lot to reveal in the forthcoming month. How can I avoid mentioning Richard Eyre's classic production of La Traviata, opening on 18 June? The specialty of this revival will be the presence of a shining line-up, featuring Renée Fleming as Violetta and Thomas Hampson as Giorgio Germont. Joseph Calleja will play the role of Violetta's beloved Alfredo, and the Royal Opera Music Director Antonio Pappano will conduct this seductive revival.

Another important production promises to enlighten the Verdian repertoire this summer. On 20 June, La Scala of Milan will present Zeffirelli's staging of Aida, in a memorable production with costumes by Maurizio Millenotti and choreography by Vladimir Vassiliev. A double cast will give life to Verdi's monumental opera: Manon Feubel and Violeta Urmana will share the title role; Anna Smirnova and Luciana D'Intino will be Amneris; Walter Fraccaro and Salvatore Licitra will play Radames. All this will be performed under the distinguished baton of Daniel Baremboim.

Photo: Sir Colin Davis. Credits: New York Philharmonic

Ed Breen

I FagioliniThis summer there are a delightful selection of early music concerts in London to choose from. I am particularly looking forward to hearing the Broschi Ensemble (Bridget Cunningham harpsichord/conductor) with the young rising star Cenk Karaferya (countertenor) performing a selection of Handel and Vivaldi's operatic arias at St John's Smith Square on 5 June. The very next day, at the Wigmore Hall, another countertenor Iestyn Davies performs works by Purcell and Handel with the Guadagni Baroque Ensemble. And to continue this falsetto theme, on 12 June, also at the Wigmore Hall, Andreas Scholl appears with Shield of Harmony to perform works by the poet, medieval knight and minnesinger, Oswald von Wolkenstein.

There is also, as always, a fantastic programme of early music in this year's Spitalfields Festival. In particular, on 9 June, I Fagiolini will be giving two concerts with the intriguing title Tallis in Wonderland at Wilton's Music Hall. This event is described as follows: 'I Fagiolini's new project dismantles and recreates Renaissance choral works, finding new routes into the magical world of polyphony'. I Fagiolini are always involved with fascinating performances so I can't wait to see what this one holds.

Moreover, on 16 June the Tallis Scholars are performing Missa Corona spinea by Taverner at Christchurch Spitalfileds and on the 19th the Early Opera Company (directed by Christian Curnyn) perform arias and duets from early Italian operas including Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea.

Finally, at the Barbican Centre on the 24th one of my favourite ensembles, the Gabrieli Consort & Players (Paul McCreesh conductor), perform Handel's Jeptha with Mark Padmore in the title role and countertenor Daniel Taylor as Hamor.

Photo: I Fagiolini

Liam Cagney

Neue Vocalsolisten StuttgartThis year's Agora festival, which is organised annually by IRCAM and the Centre Pompidou, takes place in Paris from 8 to 19 June. The theme for 2009 is one taking inspiration from Borges' The Garden of Forking Paths and focuses on the issue of complexity in music, science and other arts. As well performances of a number of works by Berio and an engagement with the film work of Lars Von Trier, the festival will see twenty premieres, with new works by Luca Francesconi, Bruno Mantovani and Luis Fernando Rizo-Salom and IRCAM Cursus 2 students all featuring on the programme. There will also be installations and symposia, and a large-scale 'projective opera' by Hèctor Parra working with artist Matthew Ritchie and physician Lisa Randall.

Another festival occurring this month, Quatrième biennale d'art vocale, will be a series of concerts showing different historical approaches to vocal music. It begins at the Cité de la Musique at the start of the month and continues there up until 13 June. Crossing over occasionally with Agora, it brings together a diverse group of figures and genres, with highlights including L'incoronazione di Poppea on 7 June and Aperghis's recent Wölfli-Kantata, performed by the Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart along with the SWR Vocalensemble Stuttgart, on 12 June.

Photo: Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart

Delia Casadei

Ian BostridgeAlthough I would usually look outside London for at least some of my monthly suggestions, this June the London music scene is offering performances of many of my greatest musical loves for me to look elsewhere. We start with London's new (and slightly controversial) music venue, King's Place. The venue's weekly Theme focuses on the Endymion Quartet next week, offering a line up of mouth-watering concerts featuring well-known works like Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time (4 June ) as well as lesser known delights such as the Poulenc's Sextet for piano and winds (a personal favourite, 3 June 3), Morton Feldman's rarely heard Crippled Symmetry (5 June) and Birtwistle's Orpheus Elegies, setting Rilke's homonymous poems (3 June).

Mid-June brings what promises to be an electrifying performance of Weill's Threepenny Opera at Barbican Hall on 13 June. I am particularly intrigued to see how the superbly polished tenor Ian Bostridge portrays the grimy, irrepressible murderer Macheath. A final recommendation is the LSO concert on 30 June at the Barbican Hall. Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto and Stravinsky's Firebird - here performed as an orchestral Suite - have long been known for their transfixing, irksome beauty. But go to this because of Ives' Unanswered Question - five minutes of extraordinary music, quite unlike any other 20th century music you'll ever hear.

Photo: Ian Bostridge

Mike Reynolds

Natalie MurrayIn the last week of May, preparations for summer opera seasons all over the country must be humming. Glyndebourne is already under way, and where it leads, the others soon follow. On 4 June I shall be at Grange Park for the premiere of Cavalli's Eliogabalo, a UK premiere of a work written for the Venetian carnival season of 1668! David Fielding, who has done some interesting work at Grange Park, directs and the period instrument orchestra is in the capable hands of early music specialist Christian Curnyn.

From Cavalli it's bang up to the twenty-first century at the Aldeburgh Festival on 12 June: a world premiere opera double bill by Harrison Birtwistle, Semper Dowland Semper Dolens and The Corridor. Then on 21 June it's to Stanley Hall in north-east Essex, to see the rarely-performed Fra Diavolo by Auber, a brand new production directed by Michael McCaffery and conducted by Natalie Murray.

My final highlight is my first trip to Glyndebourne of the season on 30 June, to see Falstaff and The Faery Queen back to back. That's an eclectic mix of opera to be getting on with!

Photo: Natalie Murray



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