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.


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.


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!

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 Alice Sara Ott

The young German pianist Alice Sara Ott talks from Japan (via Skype) about Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’, her sense of home, and the Rubix cube.

You can hear Alice Sara Ott in her Royal Festival Hall debut performance on Tuesday 12 February 2013, as part of the International Piano Series.

Find out more/book tickets

Speed-date the OAE

The next event in the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s captivating The Works series takes place tonight. The Orchestra’s leader Margaret Faultless, and principal horn player Roger Montgomery, will navigate Mozart’s Symphony no.36 (Linz) and Horn Concert no.4, providing a step-by-step guide to these pieces.


Speed-date the OAE!

Got a burning question for a bassoonist? Dying to find out more about the double bass? Have a chat with a horn player at the OAE’s ‘Speed-Date the Orchestra’ where members of the orchestra will be waiting on stage to answer your musical queries. Just choose who you want to speak to first, and when that bell chimes, get chatting. You have until the event ends at 10pm to talk to as many musicians as you wish!

For a list of which players will be at your musical disposal, see the OAE’s blog.