Crouch End Festival Chorus – special ticket offer

Don’t miss your chance to hear the Crouch End Festival Chorus perform Haydn’s popular Nelson Mass on Thursday 26 April, 7.30pm at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall.

The first half comprises two contemporary works, the London premiere of Arvo Pärt’s Adam’s Lament, which received its world premiere in Istanbul in 2010. As a tribute to the composer David Bedford, who died in October, the choir and strings will perform A Charm of Joy.

As a special late deal, all tickets are offered at £15. To take advantage of this offer, call 0844 847 9910 and quote ‘Nelson’.

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet talks about

Pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet performs at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Sunday 23 October at 3pm. Here he explains the musical links between the pieces in his programme, from Haydn to Debussy and Bartok. To view the full programme and book tickets, click here.

For this IPS recital I wanted a programme where all the pieces are somehow connected to each other like musical ricochets.

We start with Haydn, with one of the most impressive of his sonatas, the only one he wrote in the famous Beethovenian key of C minor. Its proportions are surprisingly big (especially with all the repeats which I insist on doing, saving the codas for the end only) and although its sombre and almost austere character does not call for much embellishement, I take the liberty of including a cadenza before the end of the last mouvement, in which motifs of previous mouvements can be heard.

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet - c. Paul Mitchell

The little Hommage à Haydn seems an obvious transition to the sound world of Debussy. Listen carefully to how ingeniously Debussy uses the b-a-d-d-g motif in so many forms and functions: as melody, as accompaniment figuration, as bass, extremely fast in the treble. It is literally everywhere!

 Three pieces relating to the moon follow. I find it interesting to hear the spectacular evolution of Debussy’s harmonic language in the realm of a precise atmosphere and mood. Although we of course all have a soft spot for the beautiful Clair de lune, how sentimental it seems in comparison with the visionary aridity of Et la lune descend… ! In Et la lune…, isn’t there a flavour of Bartòkian night music at the end? And how even more passionate and almost Wagnerian La terrasse… sounds in this context !

As the setting of the ballet Jeux starts during the night we can actually hear a fourth night music, at least at the beginning. Playing Jeux for one piano alone is a challenge I must confess to being quite proud to present to the London public. After completing my two-piano transcription I had the desire to combine the two already quite heavy piano parts in one. The result is an extremely challenging score where all the constantly evolving thematic material is presented in its pure form without the luxurious orchestral texture. In this black and white version the musical connections with the Etudes written at the same time are even more obvious.

Bartòk wrote his seventh Improvisation in memory of Debussy. The contrast between the Hungarian text of the folk melody and the way Bartòk treats it is quite surprising. The three Etudes stand among the most difficult pieces Bartòk ever wrote. As one may expect each of them develop a specific technical challenge and are very different in mood. The spectacular originality of especially the first and third Etudes lies in the freshness with which Bartòk, an excellent pianist himself, approaches brand new technical pianistic challenges, untuckled by Liszt, Chopin and even by Rachmaninov or Prokofiev. Their harmonic language is of the most complex level and sounds surprisingly modern even to our ears. What Debussy said about his Etudes could very well apply to Bartòk’s: they fly way up to the ultimate technically and musically demanding pianistic challenges. This selection of 7 out of the 12 Etudes is completly arbitrary. Starting with the ironic simplicity of the Etude for the five fingers and ending with the brilliant one for the octaves seemed a natural choice. For a composer who is supposedly known for his soft treatment of the keyboard the ending of the Etude for the thirds with its con fuoco and con tutta la forza indications gives us an insight into how much broader then we might have thought Debussy’s pianistic world is. The one for the sixths sounds like a free improvisation but paradoxically follows a perfect pyramidal construction with a silence at its centre. Murmured and whispered wind effect is probably the best description of the Etude for the chromatic scales. Although far from being the loudest or the flashiest the Etude for the sonorités opposées (which I would be more inclined to call ” sonorités apposées”, “superposed sonorities”) is a fascinating example of how Debussy manages to give to the sound of the piano a new dimension of space and an illusion of distance, as if the sound was comming from far away. And even further… Bill Evans may have heard the Etude for the composed arpeggios. Or may not… In any case today we can not avoid hearing its smooth harmonies without think about jazz. The valse caprice-like Etude for the octaves is one of the most extrovert of the cycle and, like one of the musical ricochets mentioned earlier, reminds us of some of the valses of Jeux.

Copyright Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, October 2011

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet performs in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Sunday 23 October at 3pm. To view his full programme and book tickets, click here.

London Concert Choir return to Southbank Centre

Following their outstanding performance of Verdi’s Requiem in March this year, the London Concert Choir return to Southbank Centre with Haydn’s Mass in Time of War and Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem.

Both works were composed in the shadow of approaching war. Mass in Time of War (Haydn’s own title) was written in 1796 as Napoleon was advancing on Vienna. It is one of his finest compositions, symphonic in scale and richly devotional in spirit. Vaughan Williams composed his profoundly moving cantata in 1936 to words taken principally from the Bible and the poems of Walt Whitman. The martial sounds of trumpets and drums feature prominently in both works and each ends with the heartfelt plea ‘Dona nobis pacem: Grant us peace.’

Here’s a clip from their performance of Requiem earlier in the year.


Hear the London Concert Choir at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on Tuesday 27 September 2011. Get tickets here.

The Tetzlaff Quartet: the power of friendship



Tetzlaff Quartet

Tetzlaff Quartet

For many international artists, playing chamber music is associated with the holidays. With the hectic city-hopping season left behind, the summer is a time to settle down for a week or two in a beautiful location – Aspen, Verbier, Tanglewood – and perform in temporary ensembles.

The members of the Tetzlaff Quartet also enjoy busy careers of course, but their dedication to chamber music, and indeed to each other, means making time within the season itself. ‘Every year we do one or two tours,’ says Christian Tetzlaff as he explains that, while the quartet only meet rarely, they continue to grow together as an ensemble.

The group has been doing this for 16 years, but it is not a set-up without challenges. Rehearsal periods are hard to organise, for example, and as second violinist Elisabeth Kufferath says, ‘We all live in different cities, so there are logistical issues’. But for Tetzlaff, there are distinct advantages to coming together only sporadically. ‘We have been playing together for a long time now but we are still eager for those few weeks together,’ he says. ‘I am not saying that full-time quartets lose that eagerness, but we feel that we gain a sense of spontaneity and a good feeling on stage, precisely because we have so few opportunities to do it.’

Inevitably, the quartet’s repertoire is selective. Choosing works to perform from such a large catalogue is, Tetzlaff says, ‘done on instinct’. It is interesting to note that many of the composers to whom the quartet often return are less regularly performed by other string quartets. This trend began on day one. ‘We first met at a festival in Austria and played just one piece there together, the Schoenberg D minor quartet,’ he says. ‘We worked on it for a whole week.’

The ensemble’s most recent recording pairs the Schoenberg quartet with another D minor (and rarely heard) work, and the final piece performed in the quartet’s concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall on Thursday 21 October, Voces intimae by Sibelius. It is not a particular surprise to find Tetzlaff championing Sibelius’ music; he has recorded the composer’s complete works for violin on the Virgin Classics label. ‘For us it is one of the great quartets,’ says Tetzlaff of Voces intimae, ‘but it has been completely and utterly neglected for the past 100 years. For many famous string quartets, Sibelius was a persona non grata.’ Elisabeth Kufferath agrees. ‘It is a piece that is not played very much, and even among our musician friends, there is a feeling that the Sibelius is a strange piece. For us, it is strange in such a deep, wonderful and emotional way.’

Tetzlaff is similarly passionate about Dvořák. ‘The chamber music works of Dvořák mean a lot to me,’ he says. ‘I have performed vast amounts of his music at the Heimbach Festival. Dvořák’s late works especially are some of the best chamber music we have.’

It is not just the personal choice of repertoire that makes Tetzlaff Quartet tours so eagerly anticipated by the players, but also friendship. ‘We enjoy playing together and inspiring each other but, more than anything, we’re great friends’ says Elisabeth Kufferath. She is certainly inspired by Tetzlaff, whom she describes as ‘a wonderful musician, the best you could fathom and more.’ For Tetzlaff, chamber music itself is a ‘medium for friends to speak to each other of intimate things’. Such camaraderie, musical and personal, will certainly sustain the quartet as they perform the seven European concerts that precede their appearance at Southbank Centre on 21 October, the final of the tour.

© Tim Woodall, 2010

Click here to book tickets for 21 October