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Wind chamber music in the limelight for once

Now well and truly hooked on chamber music (next week I will be attending my 3rd year at a chamber music course at Alston Hall),  I did find it strange that last night was the first time I had gone to a concert exclusively for chamber music- or to be specific wind chamber music.

Souza winds were formed in 2005 by 5 students at the RNCM and since then have performed around the UK and europe, broadcast live performances on TV and radio, and won an array of awards. Last night they brought their colourful and lively show to a snowy Macclesfield. The programme consisted of classic woodwind quintet repertoire including Ibert, Ligeti, Holst and Nielson, followed by some lighter arrangements of Mozart arias and a suite by film composer Richard Rodney Bennett. Despite having to make a last minute line up change (the usual oboist was unable to perform), the inhospitable conditions outside and consequently low audience numbers the concert was thoroughly enjoyable. Hearing the pieces I'm currently struggling with performed to a high standard was inspiring and a friendly introduction to each of the pieces, spoken by each member made the seldom heard pieces much more approachable.

I could not help questioning during the performance: why is wind chamber music so under-appreciated? My mind thought back to the BBC Music Magazine's 'Vote for your favourite Chamber Music piece' of last summer. Voters could choose from 200 pieces to select as their favourite and as a big fan of the woodwind quintet I scanned the options for my vote and I found only one solely wind piece. The options have now been removed from the website, but see here for a taster. Even that piece is not entirely solely wind as of course there is a piano in Poulenc's sextet but given that the piano is not included in the string family I can accept it with open arms. Of course there are the token pieces, Schubert's Octet and Mozart's Clarinet Quintet but all of these are primarily string pieces. I find this incredibly section-ist! 

So I employ all fans of chamber music to not disregard an entire genre of music because the millions of string players around the world cannot take part. These are amazing, deep and colourful pieces, written by the great Mozart and Beethoven, developed and perfected by Reicha and Danzi, and challenged, advanced and explored by numerous 20th century masters.

If you want to look at a piece I will be tackling next week please see the video below of Ligeti's Six Bagatelles.

Alma Deutscher - Sweeper of Dreams

It's always inspiring to see the dedication and creativity that children seem to exert so well and few would not have been impressed by the numerous articles on Alma Deutscher that have swamped the news this week.
At the mere age of 7 Alma has succeeded as a competent pianist and violinist and composed several compositions including an opera "The Sweeper of Dreams". The obvious comparison that has been made is to the great Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, excelling at the same instruments and very quickly creating his own pieces.
Seeing Alma's accomplishments really brought a smile to my face. She plays confidently and musically, seemingly fearless in front of large crowds. The short "Sweeper of Dreams" incorporates 3 voices, direction, form, dynamics and arrangement for string orchestra. When you consider all of the challenges and knowledge required it is a wonder someone so young can write a piece of this nature. I would suggest that she has received an amount of guidance in the composition however I'm sure that Alma will soon begin to understand exactly what she wants to produce and break free from any confines she may have.
I predict she will become a great instrumentalist based on her videos and enthusiasm for learning. Hopefully, her talents will encourage more children and parents to promote instrument lessons and praise any en-devour into composition.

Music Space Reflection at the RNCM

Friday was my birthday and although I had several options planned, in light of feeling under the weather I decided to stay local and spend the day visiting Manchester. One event that I had clocked in advance was the Simon Bainbridge 2 day festival happening at the RNCM. I will be the first to confess that I'm not very familiar with contemporary works and have rarely seen them performed live so the free lunchtime concert seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

The concert itself took place in the intimate Carole Nash Recital Room. Those sitting on the front row were only a foot or two from the performers and that certainly was apparent in the opening 'Folksong' when the soprano entered and flooded the room with her homely song, depicting tales as the melodies developed freely. This was followed by the premiere of a piece by RNCM student, Vitaliji Glovackyte, primarily for bass clarinet and soprano. The mysterious progression of a series of held notes by the soprano was accompanied, or rather decorated by the bass clarinet subtly and experimentally. The sparsely placed effects ranged from falling scales, breathing down the instrument, resonating the keywork and also playing 2 notes at once. The overall feeling, rather than haunting, I felt was pastoral with a clear relationship to nature. Near to the piece's closure an offstage group produced one last breeze, this time with a comforting wood block-esque clicking giving the first real definitive tempo. This momentum started to decrease and drift away, which lured my mind away with it.

The final piece of the program was the Piano Trio, which offered an eventful journey from the initial section featuring a repeated syncopated sequence into a more playful and rhythmic passage before a brief finale, which fades away. Unfortunately the difficulties of keeping the polyphonic texture were apparent and although the pianist attempted several visual cues the music did drift apart at times. The rhythmic passage did present a more advantageous environment to play together with an amount of unison statements and the trio worked well to exploit the different instrument combinations that Bainbridge requests.

Bainbridge was present during the concert and courteously welcomed applause for both his pieces. Both Holly and I were really pleased to have attended the concert and were thrilled to see the adventurous composition that the RNCM is promoting. Here is a link to Vitalija Glovackyte's Sound Cloud page - perhaps it will be updated with the featured piece?

I've also received an extremely exciting offer, which I will announce as soon as I've formally accepted. I have spent ALL weekend thinking about it, giving a welcomed distraction from the horrible cold I've caught.

Conducting Debut at Alderley Edge

Picture of BatonOn Thursday I had the wonderful experience of conducting the Alderley Edge Orchestra in the absence of our usual maestro Tim Kendal. 

This was yet another time where I have broken ranks from the clarinets and ventured onto the rostrum in an attempt to successfully guide an orchestra. I followed in large footsteps as the previous week's rehearsal had been taken by Richard Howarth (past leader from the Manchester Camerata) so I was feeling rather nervous.
I tried my best to prepare, studying what I could of the scores (most of which were piano reductions) and also practising with some recordings of the works. Needless to say that the orchestras I practised with on the recordings were rubbish; there were times when I felt they didn't follow me at all!
However, on the night I felt things went very well indeed and I was impressed by the quality of the playing. It really does sound different at the front! We opened with Soirée Musicales (Britten) and then spent the second half looking at the Children's Overture (Quilter), which was a particular wildcard for me due to the frequent changes of tempo and time signatures. By the end I felt confident enough to try a concert performance of the Quilter, which was successful, no thanks to a hairy moment in Ba Ba Black-sheep. As I expected, I received quite a bit of feedback and I will certainly keep it in mind for future events. I was surprised by the amount of positive feedback as well, including the proclamation of "A star is born" shortly after we finished playing.
But a fantastic night, unquestionably enjoyable for me and I really hope that I will get another opportunity soon.

My next concert with Alderley Edge Orchestra is on Saturday 24th November in the afternoon at 2:30.

Probably the best performance of the Mozart's Clarinet Concerto's Rondo I've ever heard

I'm in the car, minutes away from arriving at my destination when the presenter on ClassicFM announces that we've just got enough time for a 'fantastic concerto from Mozart'. 

Well I haven't... There's no doubt the presenter is referring to the Clarinet Concerto, a work that while fantastic, brilliant and historically important for the relatively young clarinet is so over-played that I rarely exert any emotion during a listening. Of course there are exceptions, playing the concerto is a completely different matter and as your trembling fingers caress the keys in combination with your tensed embrasure to produce the pure Mozart sound a I get a great feeling of unity with the music.
Strangely when the piece did arrive after the annoying advert break I was surprised to hear that it was the third movement, Rondo, that had been chosen. The Rondo, other than being a flamboyant end has not appealed to me nearly as much as the other two movements. The fresh, brisk opening movement, followed by the moving and stately Adagio had always outshone the Rondo. However, here it was, no introduction, the triplet slipped up the scale and the movement was started. And what made this recording so different and enjoyable was the phrasing and dynamics, which borded on perfection. A Rondo by nature is repetitive, so it is crucial that the
listener is always engaged. The tone was constantly changing; powerful, to delicate. The whole duration of the performance flew by and at the end I felt like I should be applauding someone. I must now seek out the rest of the concerto to see what Fabio has done with the other movements.

Artist: Fabio di Casola
Conductor: Douglas Boyd
Orchestra: Musikkollegium Winterthur

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