Pull Out All the Stops – Schools Film

Lambeth and Durham school children learn about the organ, April 2013Watch footage of Lambeth and Durham school children learning about the Royal Festival Hall organ.

Alongside the restoration of the Royal Festival Hall organ Southbank Centre is undertaking a learning programme exploring the organ and documenting its return. As part of this project, we are delighted to share with you a film made by schoolchildren from Lambeth and Durham about their visit to the Royal Festival Hall in January 2013 and to the organ builders Harrison & Harrison in February 2013.

A MASSIVE MESSIAH?

Messiah balloon

Messiah has long fascinated those musicians who peer into musical history, largely because it healthily challenges most of our preconceived notions of ‘faithfulness to the score’ and ‘authenticity’. What, for example, is the right way to perform an ‘authentic’ Messiah? The way Handel performed it in Dublin or London? After all, there must have been striking differences in content and execution even between these chronologically close performances.

With that proviso, it’s fascinating to examine just how far Handel’s score was massaged after its initial airing. Even during the composer’s lifetime the work started to become popular with large choruses, the accompanying orchestra slowly enlarging so as not to be drowned out. In 1784 a performance was arranged in Westminster Abbey to mark 25 years since Handel’s death with a combined army of over 275 singers and 250 instrumentalists. The latter beat on three timpani and blew down six trombones, twelve horns and twelve trumpets – most of them phantom parts that Handel never wrote.

Five years after that Mozart had a go at ‘retouching’ Messiah, adding parts for flutes, clarinets, trombones and horns. And he couldn’t have claimed he needed more power in the band to balance a large chorus, because the performance in question involved a choir of only twelve!

By 1857 London had grown out of Messiahs involving piddling little orchestras in the 200s, and mounted a performance of the work at the Crystal Palace with an orchestra of 500 and a chorus that weighed in at over 2,000. A decade later those figures were spinning even further out of control, with an impatient George Bernard Shaw begging, prophetically, that a performance in a medium-sized hall be given with ‘a capable chorus of twenty singers’ so that he could ‘hear the work properly just once’ before he died. A century on, however, the supersize Messiah wasn’t extinct. Malcolm Sargent’s 1959 EMI recording of the work from Liverpool sounds magnificent with symphonic strings and warming horns, but it was probably a dying breed. These days Messiah is almost universally downsized. Do the benefits of clarity and focus outweigh those of grandeur and mass-involvement? Now there’s a subject for vigorous debate.

We’ll be performing Handel’s grand oratorio at the Royal Festival Hall on 11 December (sorry, we can’t quite fit 2000 singers into the hall…)

And thanks to Andrew Mellor for this great article.

GUEST BLOG: CLARA RODRIGUEZ

Pianist Clara Rodriguez explains her repertoire picks for her upcoming December concert.

All concerts at Southbank Centre are special events, the magic of one evening only, the energy, imagination and love that goes into putting the programme together, it’s all part of our artistic proposal to the world. My concert on Monday December 10th in the Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall is going to be  another exciting yet very different experience to the other nine or ten concerts I have played there in the past.

The high inspiration, poetry and skill behind all the pieces I am playing makes my heart jump with emotion. Just reading Verlaine’s Clair de lune poem makes me realize, even more deeply, the beauty of Debussy‘s Suite Bergamasque, which I could play for ever!

Votre âme est un paysage choisi 
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques 
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi 
Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.

Tout en chantant sur le mode mineur 
L’amour vainqueur et la vie opportune 
Ils n’ont pas l’air de croire à leur bonheur 
Et leur chanson se mêle au clair de lune,

Au calme clair de lune triste et beau, 
Qui fait rêver les oiseaux dans les arbres 
Et sangloter d’extase les jets d’eau, 
Les grands jets d’eau sveltes parmi les marbres
.

Your soul is a chosen landscape 
Charmed by masquers and bergamaskers 
Playing the lute and dancing and almost 
Sad beneath their fanciful disguises.

Even while singing, in a minor key, 
Of victorious love and fortunate living 
They do not seem to believe in their happiness,
 And their song mingles with the moonlight,

The still moonlight, sad and beautiful, 
Which sets the birds in the trees dreaming, 
And makes the fountains sob with ecstasy, 
The tall slender fountains among the marble statues
!

I have always been interested in the output of contemporary composers, as well as their loneliness and their bravery in expressing their truth on paper and, of course, appreciating their talent. 
On this occasion I will première three preludes by the young Venezuelan composerMirtru Escalona Mijares who lives in Paris and has kindly dedicated the last of theThree Short Preludes to me.
It is based on a tanka by the buddhist monk RYOKAN (1758-1831). It is called...contempler longuement…” and in it I have to use special concentration skills to play pianissimo and I must play very slowly, as opposed to our usual kind of preoccupation which is to play lots of notes very fast. 
Mirtru has been working very hard on purifying or cleansing musical phrases and thoughts. It is a challenge! 
Here is the poem The third Prelude is inspired by:

“Je n’ai rien de spécial à vous offrir juste une fleur de lotus dans un petit vase à contempler longuement “.

I have nothing special to offer to you Just a lotus flower In a small vase To be contemplated for a long time

“Hommage à Chopin” , a tour de force written by Villa-Lobos will follow. It is a strange piece, not exactly romantic, I think it has the force of the Amazonian jungle and depicts Chopin’s passionate torments and obsessions. It has a greater number of melodic layers than most piano pieces thus making it quite virtuosic.

It was while studying with Nadia Boulanger in Paris that Piazzolla was urged to develop his love for tango thus creating the “new tango” in which he transformed this old Argentinean dance into music capable of a variety of expression, fusing sharply-contrasted moods: his tangos are by turn fiery, melancholic, passionate, tense, violent, lyrical and always driven by an endless supply of rhythmic energy. I am thrilled to be able to play Le Grand Tango, one of his most classical pieces, and then in the same evening The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires with leading young performers from France, Jordan Gregoris on the cello, and from Russia, Ksenia Berenzina on the violin. You’ll see what an exquisite pair of musicians they are. We are having the time of our lives playing this music. It is a luxury!

Not forgetting my Caribbean roots, I have added three composers from that part of the world, for two reasons, my dear London public expects it and simply because I have so much joy playing them. So, from Cuba a nostalgic Danzón by José María Vitier, who composed the music for the film “Strawberry and Chocolate”, then two London premières will follow by a composer from Bogotá, Colombia, Germán Darío Pérez, in which my  friend, percussionist Wilmer Sifontes, will play the kind of percussion that should accompany a bambuco and then we’ll play together the very lively Zumba que zumba (joropo) written for me by the Venezuelan composer Federico Ruiz, in which Wilmer will play the Venezuelan maracas. I doubt it if this programme could be more exciting or varied! repertoireImageR$I

Flashmob in the Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer

Back in October, just before a performance of Julia Wolfe’s ‘Adventures in Sound’ by the BBC Concert Orchestra, unexpecting concert-goers enjoying a quiet pre-event drink in the Queen Elizabeth Hall bar were treated to an altogether impromptu performance.

Looks of confusion and bemusement appeared on their faces as a seemingly rowdy group of students began to occupy the Front Room in a swarm of raucous chatter. But the looks soon turned into expressions of pleasant surprise as the group converged on the stage and performed a foot-stomping, hand-clapping rendition of a Wolfe inspired piece.

These spontaneous performers were a group of Music in Practise students from West Hertfordshire College in Watford. The flashmob routine was created by BBC Concert Orchestra Principal Percussionists Alasdair Malloy and Stephen Whibley. It was inspired by Julia Wolfe’s street and body percussion concerto ‘riSE and fLY’, a BBC Radio 3 commission premiered by Colin Currie and the BBC Concert Orchestra later the same evening, as well as live on BBC Radio 3.

The students’ performance certainly provided an energetic kick-start to the evening, getting the audience geed up for what was an equally vibrant performance by the BBC Concert Orchestra as part of our 2012 Ether Festival.

Captured on film, finger-clicking, beat-boxing, and vigorous foot-taping a-plenty, enjoy the West Herts College’s performance for yourself!

INTRODUCING THE STARS OF ANCIENT ROOTS NEW LEAVES – HAMID MOTEBASSEM & SEPIDEH RAISSADAT

On Wednesday 28 NovemberAncient Roots New Leaves returns for the second and final concert in this series. In this performance we will see a unique collaboration between leading Iranian composer and instrumentalist Hamid Motebassem with the upcoming female vocalist Sepideh Raissadat. We caught up with them ahead of the concert.

What are you particularly looking forward to about your forthcoming performance at Southbank Centre?

Hamid Motebassem: London is a very large and lively city, always buzzing with an array of cultural activities from around the globe. It feels like a global stage and it feels nice to be performing in this global venue. Performing in London, especially at the Southbank Centre, has been the highlight of many of my European tours during the past 20 years and I am really looking forward to performing there again this year.

Sepideh Raissadat: Well this is the first time I am performing in London I am very excited and enthusiastic to be performing at Queen Elizabeth Hall, one of the world’s premium concert halls, in front of a perfectly tuned audience

You’ve been working on large orchestral project, but this is a return to the more traditional small ensemble style. Is this the shape of your future works?
HM: Composers always try to choose the right tools for their works. Sometimes this is in the format of large orchestras, and sometimes it is in the form of small ensembles such as quartets or quintets. My approach to this ensemble is quite different to the more traditional ensembles that I myself have performed with in the past. All the compositions for this performance are arranged and composed for a quintet of four lute-style instruments and percussion, plus a vocalist. Although the music that will be performed is based on classical Persian music, the arrangements and the sounds that will be produced are quite different to the more traditional ensemble.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and the music that you will be performing?
SR: I started to sing the traditional music of Iran at the age of five and my passion for singing was highly appreciated by my parents. At the age of nine I started to study the traditional classical repertoire of Iranian music known as Radif with the famous Persian diva Parisa whose career at moment time was limited to her private teaching activities. In fact she was banned from any public performance, as were the other female vocalists, since the 1979 revolution. My first professional performance was at the age of eleven, when I was chosen by a performer at school to be on national Iranian television. The performance was actually cancelled because television programmers believed that mine was the voice of a mature woman rather than a young girl.

When I was eighteen I recorded my first publicly released album with a great Persian composer Parviz Meshkatian, which considering the political and religious climate in Iran at that time was nothing short of a miracle! It was the first time a female voice was being published as part of a duet after the revolution. Two weeks after the publication of the album, had a concert in a public theatre in Tehran. This was the first time after the revolution that a female voice was heard in a prominent public setting.

After finishing my Bachelor’s degree in painting I applied to study Musicology at the University of Bologna and I moved to Italy. Along with my studies I taught, practised and performed Persian music. I collaborated with several great Italian musicians such as Franco Battiato and Andrea Parodi and I also performed on Italian national television and radio several times. I moved to Canada in 2009 and am currently continuing my academic studies in ethnomusicology at the University of Toronto

How did your musical collaboration come about?
HM: Composing for a female vocalist is always quite significant for a composer. Sepideh Raissadat is one of the young and upcoming female vocalists whose knowledge and capabilities youth and energy brings a special flair to the performance and it’s been a real joy working with her.

SR: I started collaborating with Maestro Motebassem and Mezrab Ensemble approximately 2 years ago following a short tour in Italy. Since then this is our first big tour that takes place in twelve cities of Canada and Europe. We started on October 26 in Toronto and will do our last show in Stockholm

Who or what inspires you?
HM: Every work is inspired differently. Sometimes it is an earthly love and sometimes it is a more divine love. Some works are inspired by past legends and equally some are inspired by present day events.

If you could programme your ideal Southbank Centre show, which artists (living or dead) would you bring together?
SR: I would invite at least a dozen of the best Iranian female singers who do not have the opportunity to perform in Iran.

What do you listen to in your spare time?
SR: Besides Persian music, I listen to central Asian music. I also enjoy listening to Hindustani music a lot.

Do you have any strange rituals you carry out before or after you perform?
HM: I just try to relax and concentrate on the work and also try to get ready with my outfit, which needs to be in presentable form. That’s basically it! I don’t have any special ritual. I need to have space to relax and concentrate to get myself psychologically ready.

SR: If I’m alone I will close my eyes and possibly meditate. If I’m with the other members of the ensemble, I try to be more quiet and enjoy their presence.

What’s next for you?
HM: After this series I will be going back to Pardis, which is a large orchestral project with vocalists, which has already been performed in London last year at the Cadogen Hall. My plan is arrange a series of concerts in Iran and also to arrange a video and audio recording of that concert.

SR: This year we will continue our tour in our European cities in early 2013 and in the next academic year I will start my PHD studies at the University of Toronto.

Hamid Motessem and Sepideah Raissadat will be performing live with the Mezrab Ensemble at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Wednesday 28th November. For a preview of what you can expect to hear at the concert, you can watch the below video footage from their 2012 tour:

For more info and to book tickets for this exciting performance, CLICK HERE

Women in Opera – Study Day with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

Perhaps the best way to describe an OAE Study Day is that it’s like a television documentary, only live.

Taking place on Sunday 2 December in the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room, this year’s Study Day centres around the OAE’s 2012-2013 series ‘Queens, Heroines and Ladykillers’, taking an in-depth look at women’s roles in music over the last 400 years.

There’ll be discussions about a range of different characters in opera, the women (and men) that played them and a look at some of the often little-known works by female composers.  The day will conclude with a performance by Robyn Allegra Parton.  While the term ‘Study Day’ might evoke a certain feeling of academia, fear not.  No exam is given at the end of the day and no prior research necessary.

The day will be hosted by presenter Rachel Leach and split into two halves, with tickets sold separately for each so you can pick and choose which sessions to attend (and you’ll have time for a nice bit of lunch in between).

Here’s a bit about how the day will unfold:

Session 1 – 10.30am-1pm:

Women in Cultural History
Deborah Leigh Simonton, of the University of Denmark, has a look at how women are portrayed in history, literature & musicals.

Women in Opera
Professor Rachel Cowgill, of Cardiff University, discusses female performers in Opera.  In this section, Rachel will address issues such as why men took on women’s roles in early opera and when women emerged to take on these roles as themselves, before going on to look at the rise of female performers as international stars.

Session 2 – 2pm-4.30pm.

A Look at Characters
Dr F. Jane Schopf, Programme Director of Opera Studies at Rose Bruford College.  In this session we’ll take a look at strong female characters from Operatic history, comparing and contrasting different composers takes on these characters.

Performance & Analysis
The day will conclude with a performance of Dido’s Lament by up and coming star Robyn Allegra Parton, as well as a guided tour through of another piece led by presenter Rachel Leach.

A nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon we think!

Full details and booking can be found here.

Listen to the International Piano Series podcast with Mitsuko Uchida

Mitsuko Uchida talks about the strangeness of Schumann, her piano collection and her interval snack of choice.

You can hear Mitsuko Uchida perform a recital of Schumann, Schoenberg and Bach on Tuesday 15 January 2013, 7.30pm at Royal Festival Hall.

Find out more / book tickets