James Douglas gives his monthly review of the classical music on offer across London, including performances at the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal College of Music and Hackney Empire.
If Trump’n’Brexit reflects the expiring rage of an ageing demographic visiting a vindictive sick joke on those they’re about to leave behind, Editor-Kate and I thought we’d end the year focussing on youth and the future of classical music.
Royal Academy of Music
Marylebone Road London NW1 5HT
Turning to the RAM, inspired by Professor Emeritus of Strings David Strange FRAM at Plus One’s opening the other day, his enthusiasm reflects well on the state of the younger generation. (Surely democracy can only work if everyone has the vote. How on earth did we manage to disenfranchise the under-eighteens, for whom Trump’n’Brexit really matters?) Drifting back to (Classical) Music ….
RAM’s website is excellent. Booking instructions and geographical directions are commendably arcane, but reasonably easy to follow with a little application. A couple of upcoming performances jumped out at me, and within twenty-four hours I was heading over to Marylebone for my first visit to the Duke’s Hall. Given that some venues I’ve been extolling for years take these columns for granted, with more than one front of house openly resenting “free” press tickets, (have they any idea how much effort these articles take?), I was touched by Fliss Maidment’s response to the initial approach. Joining me for a drink she updated me on the impressive building developments, which taken with the Duke’s Hall organ, funded by a subscription led by Sir Elton John, will make the Marylebone Road site a most impressive facility.
Johann Sebastian Bach
An Wasserflüssen Babylon,
Charles-Marie Widor Organ
Symphony no.8 in B, op.42 no.4
James Orford, Joseph Beech, Graham Thorpe and Marko Sever organ
Duke’s Hall Royal Academy of Music Marylebone Rd
London NW1 5HT
21 November 2016
We’re used to good value but this gig was actually free, beautifully played, and for a particularly inclement winter Monday evening, surprisingly packed. The Bach was of course divine, but the Widor equally entertaining. The organ is stunning, and seeing it played, dramatic performance art, never mind the music.
Other RAM spring season highlights include …
Orphée aux enfers
Royal Academy Opera
291 Mare Street
London E8 1EJ
Monday 6 February 2017
Friday 3 February
Saturday 4 February 2017 (all 7pm)
Sunday 5 February 2017 (4pm)
The Royal Academy Opera offers us the perfect excuse for, again a first for me, a visit to the legendary Hackney Empire for Jacques Offenbach’s famous opéra bouffe, Orpheus in the Underworld. I don’t know a whole load about Offenbach other than it’s a great name, so I’ll avoid risking plagiarism and lift straight from the RAM website:
This irreverent satire was unleashed on Parisian audiences in 1858 to a combination of shock and delight: ‘a profanation of holy and glorious antiquity’, ‘a coarse and grotesque parody’, said the critics. Its many memorable set-pieces include the risqué Galop Infernal, better known as the ‘can-can’ – one of the most famous dance tunes of all time.
This new production is conducted by Gareth Hancock, Director of Royal Academy Opera. The director, Martin Duncan, promises to bring us an entertaining show that is ‘funny, colourful, all-singing and all-dancing’.
Tickets around £20 plus or minus a fiver.
Buy now from the Hackney Empire Box Office: www.hackneyempire.co.uk, telephone 020 8985 2424
While on the other side of Hyde Park …
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
La finta giardiniera
Michael Rosewell & Harry Fehr
Royal College of Music Britten Theatre
28 November 2016
As winter sets in, collegiate optimism pervades the RCM, a multi-venue destination including two stunning halls, the gorgeous hidden gem that is the evocatively intimate Britten Theatre, and the impressive Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall. Bumping into Home House Robin on my over to Wembley for some England v Scotland ritual humiliation, duly administered, a night out at Mozart’s early comic opera La finta giardiniera appealed.
This was a truly super-slick performance, with fabulous prequel scenes during the overture, and then bang! Mozart’s largely forgotten first opera came swaggering into life, as a faultless cast and orchestra (as usual) hit the ground running in the first scene proper, with an opening number that’s pure rock’n’roll. On reflection in the bleak light of day, it must take some stamina for a small cast to maintain that tempo, full-on flat-out for three hours. They always do the comedy well at the RCM, but with La Finta, despite all the challenges of a tortuously complex plot, the timing was absolutely spot-on, a notoriously difficult trick to pull-off over the course of a full three-hour marathon. It’s invidious to pick one person out from a great production but much of the humour was generated unscripted by Harriet Eyley’s excellent Serpetta.
The whole prodigy thing about Mozart can never be overdone, but at times it’s assumed to the point of being forgotten. La finta giardiniera was written and premiered when Mozart was 18. It’s a good pretty much note-perfect three hours long; Chopin’s entire oeuvre was a little over twenty hours …It is to RCM’s young cast’s huge credit they did their time-shift contemporary justice.
With last year’s delightful Die Fledermaus and Albert Herring, followed by this year’s highlights (to think I’ve lived to see Steve Reich performing Clapping Music …), scan RCM’s offerings on its website with confidence.
Looking slightly ahead, and sticking for no particular reason to the RCM Opera School, book early to avoid disappointment (RCM shows are regularly selling out), on 5 or 6 April 2017 (7pm), end the old fiscal year or celebrate the new, with Rameau’s Les fêtes d’Hébé, in the Britten Theatre.
Having recorded my gratitude for the reception at the RAM, it would be churlish not to acknowledge the magnificent support we get from the RCM (represented by Fiona Bell on the night), a standard that’s been maintained throughout my second sojourn (with apologies to the Moody Blues, a final first).