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Posted: January 30, 2023, 3:00 pm

CBSO: Sounds New review – showcasing the talents of 20 young musicians

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Composers in their 20s and early 30s presented original miniatures in a diverse range of styles from English pastoral to jazz and folk to irresistible gospel and soul

Alongside the 20 large-scale scores that the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra commissioned to mark its 100th anniversary in 2020, it also asked another 20 composers, at the beginnings of their careers, to write miniatures lasting no more than four minutes. The original plan had been for all those premieres to be scattered through the orchestra’s season, but the disruption of the pandemic put paid to that idea. Instead, the pieces were brought together in Sounds New, a single concert conducted by Clark Rundell showcasing the young talent in all its diversity before a hugely enthusiastic audience.

All of the composers commissioned were in their 20s or early 30s (the programme booklet was coy about dates of birth) and often differed widely in their experience and progress in their careers so far. For some of them, one suspected, this had been a first chance to compose for a full symphony orchestra, while others had already received prestigious commissions, and even had their works recorded. Rundell and the CBSO were marvellously even-handed in their enthusiasm for all the pieces too; all the performances seemed fabulously assured.

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Posted: January 30, 2023, 12:58 pm

Salisbury Cathedral pipe organ will breathe new life into Holst’s Planets

Unique performance with help of children is intended to get people thinking about the work afresh

A unique performance of Gustav Holst’s masterwork The Planets – played on a magnificent pipe organ rather than by an orchestra and punctuated by poems inspired by children’s responses to the music – is to be staged in the suitably vast Salisbury Cathedral.

The idea of the community music project is to introduce more people, young and old, to the 140-year-old “Father” Willis organ, one of the treasures of the cathedral.

Details of the show can be found at: www.salisburycathedral.org.uk

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Posted: January 30, 2023, 12:31 pm

Tannhäuser review – Lise Davidsen gleams though Albery’s Wagner misfires again

Royal Opera House, London
Tim Albery’s second revival only fitfully illuminates the opera’s complexities, but the singing and acting are superb

Tim Albery’s 2010 production of Wagner’s Tannhäuser is now back at Covent Garden for its second revival, and remains a flawed piece of theatre that only fitfully illuminates the opera’s complexities. Wagner examines the conflict between sexuality and spirituality in the soul of an artist, presenting them as being at once polarised and mutually dependent by deploying contrasting developments of the same thematic material for each. Albery, however, muddles matters by adding too many glosses about the relationship between art and reality and the role of the artist in times of political turmoil.

His Venusberg is a place of illusion, escape and irresponsibility, purposefully if unconvincingly modelled on the Opera House itself, where the curtains part to reveal Ekaterina Gubanova’s cabaret diva Venus presiding over a tawdry table dancing show. Taking his cue, meanwhile, from the Landgrave’s remark about artistic renewal after military conflict, Albery has the song competition take place in a bombed-out war zone inhabited by armed thugs, where the remains of the Venusberg are visible amid the rubble. There’s little sense of a society governed by religious values and consequently no real indication as to why Tannhäuser’s behaviour provokes such outrage. As a dramatic totality, I’m afraid, it doesn’t satisfactorily cohere.

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Posted: January 29, 2023, 11:07 am

Secret Byrd review – cloak-and-dagger concert hails a musical genius

St Martin-in-the-Fields, London
Held in a candlelit crypt, this immersive tribute to ‘father of English music’ William Byrd featured ecstatic singing, buoyant musicianship – and soup for the spectators

When William Byrd and his mentor Thomas Tallis published their Cantiones Sacrae in 1575, it might have suggested a bright future for Anglican music. Yet within a decade Tallis was dead and Byrd had embraced Catholicism. As recusants refusing to attend Protestant services, Byrd and his wife were repeatedly fined, their names placed on a government watchlist. For England’s Catholics, worship was driven underground, the mass conducted by outlawed priests in private houses.

The spirit of that clandestine celebration of a Catholic mass is at the heart of Bill Barclay’s Secret Byrd, an immersive concert held in the candlelit crypt of London’s St Martin-in-the-Fields. The celebrants are vocal ensemble the Gesualdo Six, nattily done up in doublet and hose, with director Owain Park swapping contemporary civvies for sombre robes as the officiating priest. Clasping hands around a fruit-laden supper table, they sing Byrd’s sublime Mass for Five Voices from authentic single-voice part books while Parks anoints them with holy water. At an ominous pounding on the door, the audience is instructed to huddle on the floor as the candles are extinguished. It’s all chillingly authentic, but while Barclay intends spectators to move around during the performance, he provides little directorial impetus for doing so, making sightlines an issue at times.

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Posted: January 29, 2023, 10:36 am

BBCNOW/Diakun/Tharaud review – a magical musical mind takes flight

Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff
Thierry Pécou delivered a scintillating piano concerto grounded in Balinese tradition before Marzena Diakun presided over a moving eulogy to Bohemia

Starting point for this programme by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales was Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, often considered to mark the beginning of modern music. Evocatively played, it served too as a prelude to Thierry Pécou’s piano concerto, Cara Bali, conceived for Alexandre Tharaud who gave its UK premiere here. The work pays homage to the Balinese gamelan tradition, and no one would have understood better than Debussy – whose experience of hearing Javanese gamelan players at Paris’s 1889 Exposition Universelle was so fundamental – why Pécou should be drawn to its sound-world.

Yet this was not simply the re-creation of the aura and internal structuring of a gamelan orchestra within a symphonic line-up, rather a way for Pécou’s musical imagination to take flight. As well as exploiting the piano’s percussive character in ostinato patterns, Pécou blended his instrumentals in sounds that were tantalising for not being what the ear initially seemed to perceive.

Available until Friday 24 February on BBC Sounds.

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Posted: January 28, 2023, 4:00 pm

Refree: El Espacio Entre review – Barcelona producer’s haunting minimalism

(Glitterbeat)
Worked up from two film soundtracks, this atmospheric concept album features piano, guitar, Monteverdi and radio static

Commissioned to write the soundtrack for a restored print of The Cursed Village, a classic of Spanish silent cinema, Barcelona’s Raül Refree decided to extend the film’s bleak atmosphere and theme of displacement on this concept album, which translates as The Space Between. Having started out in the 1990s in hardcore bands (Barcelona Corn Flakes), Refree has become prolific as both producer and composer. Here he incorporates pieces from another soundtrack, for Un año, una noche (2022), a film about a traumatised couple who survived the terrorist attack on Paris’s Bataclan theatre.

Lightness and joy are clearly not the moods being explored, but the combination of minimalist piano compositions such as Las Migraciones Nocturnas and more experimental excursions proves potent. The standouts are Refree’s treatments of classical madrigals. Monteverdi’s Lamento della ninfa is reworked, its female soprano voice shimmering ghost-like among strings. There are reflective Hispanic guitar pieces such as Lo que esconden, a doleful choir on Lamentos de un día cualquiera, and on La radio en la cocina a spar between acoustic guitar and radio static. With its assorted styles and pieces lasting between 30 seconds and five minutes, the album’s diversity is also its shortcoming, albeit from a fascinating creator.

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Posted: January 28, 2023, 12:30 pm

The week in classical: Colin Currie Quartet; Liam Byrne; Southbank Sinfonia; Bournemouth SO/ Wigglesworth

Kings Place; St John’s Smith Square, London; livestream
Percussive thrills on all sides and live electronics 17th-century style meet a woodwind Mozart masterclass and Bournemouth’s answer to Cate Blanchett…

One definition of music, without heaving into a lecture, is “organised sound”. The title of the latest series at Kings Place, Sound Unwrapped, could have applied to any of its 14 year-long editions to date. The 2023 season, impressive in its ambitions, burst into action last weekend with a sonic display of startling magnificence: the four drummers of the Colin Currie Quartet, cast asunder like the four winds, performed from each corner of Hall One’s gallery. The air reverberated, around and above. A streamlined, pale-oak auditorium of the 21st century became a place of arcane code and ancient ritual.

The work was John Luther Adams’s Qilyaun (1998). A listener may not know, less care, that it is written as a four-part canon and a palindrome. The title refers to an Alaska shaman’s drum, a vehicle for spirit journeys. All that mattered, in the moment, was the way the rolls and rumbles ebbed and flowed, now louder, now softer, as if thunder had travelled between each bass drum, each set of sticks, each dazzling player. As well as Currie himself, the quartet comprises Owen Gunnell, Adrian Spillett and Sam Walton.

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Posted: January 28, 2023, 12:00 pm

Classical home listening: John Wilson and the Sinfonia of London’s latest; Éliane Radigue

Wilson and co’s follow-up to English Music for Strings is another gem. And Quatuor Bozzini immerse themselves in Radigue’s Occam Delta XV

• A new release from John Wilson and his Sinfonia of London – a well-known ensemble in the 1950s, relaunched in 2018 by Wilson for special projects – has become a red-letter day in the recording calendar. Following an English Music for Strings disc in 2021 (Britten, Bliss, Bridge, Berkeley), the group’s new album, of Vaughan Williams, Howells, Delius and Elgar (Chandos), presents two string masterpieces from earlier in the 20th century: Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro (1901, 1904-5) and Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910, revised 1919). The Concerto for String Orchestra by Herbert Howells, influenced by RVW and Elgar but with a gritty modernist accent, and Delius’s rhapsodic Late Swallows (arr. Fenby), complete the programme.

As ever, the brilliance of the playing makes this essential listening, the precision and attention to detail alive and exhilarating. The entire disc holds the attention, but the last movement of the Elgar, urgent and impassioned, has you on the edge of you seat: a tour de force.

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Posted: January 26, 2023, 3:00 pm

Stravinsky: Les Noces; Ravel: Boléro review | Andrew Clements' classical album of the week

(Aparté)
Ensemble Aedes/Les Siècles/Romano
An early unfinished version of the 1923 landmark work, completed by Theo Verbey almost 100 years after Stravinsky conceived it, is earthy, lean and superbly performed

First performed by the Ballets Russes in Paris in 1923, with choreography by Bronislava Nijinska, Les Noces (The Wedding) was reputedly Stravinsky’s favourite of all his works. By any standard, it’s one of his greatest, most startlingly original creations, as much of a landmark in 20th-century modernism as the more celebrated Rite of Spring, but it was a score that took 10 years to reach the form in which it’s usually heard today – the singers accompanied by untuned and tuned percussion, including a quartet of pianos.

Stravinsky had first conceived the idea of a ballet based on the wedding rituals of Russian peasants in 1913. He completed the short score of the work four years later, and in 1919 began to orchestrate for an ensemble of two cimbaloms, harmonium, pianola and percussion. Yet he abandoned that score after just a couple of scenes, deciding (erroneously as it happened) that it would be impossible in performance to coordinate the mechanical pianola with the live instrumentalists and singers. But in 2007, the Dutch composer Theo Verbey continued where Stravinsky had left off, completing the remaining scenes of 1919 version, with the pianola taking a central role.

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Posted: January 22, 2023, 6:25 pm

The Guardian view on Radio 3’s new leader: a tough challenge ahead | Editorial

Besieged by cuts, falling audiences and rows about ‘dumbing down’, BBC radio’s classical music flagship is small but still vitally important

Radio 3 is a relatively small station – 1.7 million weekly listeners, just 3% of the UK adult population, at the last count – but it generates big arguments. Is it too elitist or too populist? Should it showcase music or include drama, poetry and debate too? Does it “superserve” an elderly, upmarket, predominantly white audience in the south of England? Is it a shrine to the past or a beacon to the future?

These arguments have rumbled on for decades, and will fill the in-tray of Radio 3’s new “controller”, to use the corporation’s time-honoured but now rather fusty job title. Sam Jackson is a former managing editor of Classic FM and Smooth Radio, but the anti-populists should relax – that won’t mean wall-to-wall ambient music on Radio 3. “Radio 3 is unlike any other station: a network delivering ambitious, unique content, with live classical music at its core,” Mr Jackson insists.

The station’s aficionados may be few in number, but they are remarkably sharp-elbowed and would storm Broadcasting House if there was any sign of drivetime-style dumbing down. That phrase “dumbing down” has been the bugbear of controllers from Nicholas Kenyon in the early 1990s on. No one has ever properly defined what it means, and it has become a barrier to developing Radio 3 and growing its audience. Music critic and commentator Norman Lebrecht has argued that Mr Jackson’s predecessor, Alan Davey, oversaw “eight years of dumbing down” during his tenure, but that is unfair. Mr Davey kept the ship afloat at a time of financial stringency and the marginalisation of classical music within British cultural life. He wanted to create a station that thrived on ideas and discussion, but faced pushback from colleagues within the BBC who thought that would make it too similar to Radio 4.

Mr Jackson’s appointment has been largely welcomed, though having another white male as controller – the latest in an unbroken line since the Third Programme morphed into Radio 3 in 1967 – reportedly caused some anguish at the BBC. He arrives at a time of instability at the station. Budgets are shrinking and Radio 3 is vulnerable because its cost-per-listener is so high. Broadcasting concerts, running orchestras and choirs, and putting on the Proms are expensive – £60m a year, five times more than Radio 6 Music, which attracts 2.5 million listeners a week. Radio 3 suffered a startling fall in listenership in the most recent quarter, and if that is repeated this year it really will be in trouble. The planned move of more of the station’s staff, including the entire leadership team, to Salford as part of the ongoing “levelling up” of the BBC is also causing turbulence.

Poisoned chalice or an opportunity for Mr Jackson to bring a fresh vision to the BBC’s cultural standard-bearer? At a time when the Arts Council’s tin-eared approach to opera has reduced the sector to a mixture of rage and impotence, with music education more undervalued than ever, despite evidence of its benefits in other countries, and with the BBC itself under assault, the UK needs Radio 3 to be flourishing, confident and agenda-setting. Definitely beacon rather than museum. The station’s new controller will be judged on whether he can renew its sense of purpose, and appeal to an audience with no interest in tired old cliches about dumbing down. What matters in music – and culture generally – is not the division between pop and posh, but between good and bad, inspired and insipid.

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Posted: January 22, 2023, 9:00 am

Who was Beethoven’s mysterious Elise? Historian concludes she never existed

The identity of the muse for Für Elise has long puzzled experts. A new book suggests it was named by someone else, after the composer’s death

It is one of classical music’s most famous compositions and also one of its most intriguing mysteries. Ludwig van Beethoven’s enchanting Für Elise has been played by generations of children learning the piano but musicologists have struggled in vain to find the “Elise” who inspired it.

Now a leading Beethoven expert has come to the conclusion that there never was an Elise – or at least not one that Beethoven knew.

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Posted: January 21, 2023, 12:00 pm

Classical home listening: Paavo Järvi returns to Bruckner 7; I Giardini play Caroline Shaw

Järvi and the the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich hit a sweet spot in their Bruckner cycle. And Shaw’s work beguiles, whether on piano, cello or flower pots

Anton Bruckner inspires a special devotion (or the opposite), so if a conductor chooses to record a Bruckner cycle, the possibility is that they will have insights to bring. Not helpful for anyone starting out, given the countless recordings available, from the brazenly apocalyptic to the quiveringly spiritual: from Karajan, Abbado and Haitink to Daniel Barenboim, Christian Thielemann and Iván Fischer.

Paavo Järvi’s new account of Symphony No 7 (1884) (Alpha Classics) – he recorded it live with a different orchestra a decade ago – shows the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich in peak condition. Tempos never drag. The orchestral sound is detailed and expansive, woodwind expressive, brass white-hot. Colours are rich, tenderness offsetting majesty. The big climaxes, exciting but controlled, avoid that Brucknerian tendency to sound laboured; no indulgence here. This impressive account is part of a symphonic cycle that concludes next year.

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Posted: January 20, 2023, 12:00 pm

‘Pure terror in musical form’: Dead Space’s composer shares its unsettling secret

Jason Graves explains how the cult horror game’s score began as a modern, Hollywood soundtrack, but ended up drawing on a 20th-century orchestral technique to create something much scarier

What does “horror” sound like to you? Is it the slow thump of a heartbeat, gradually speeding up as adrenaline and cortisol start to flood the nervous system? Is it the wet thwack of meat on metal as something, somewhere, gets rent asunder? Or is it more understated – a soft whisper in the ear when you weren’t expecting it, half-heard shuffling footsteps, the suggestion of a breeze when the air is supposed to be perfectly still?

Dead Space, the horror game from EA and Visceral that launched for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC back in 2008, managed to get into your head, and under your skin. Complementing the game’s extra-terrestrial, Cronenberg-esque body horror was the mental deterioration of protagonist Isaac Clarke; an engineer stranded aboard the USG Ishimura. He’s not a warrior. He’s not a soldier. He’s just some guy, on a ship teeming with hostile alien lifeforms, whose poor little brain is starting to unravel. For the entire game, you never leave his heavy, blood-soaked boots.

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Posted: January 20, 2023, 12:00 pm

Absolute power, misconduct and decline: the classical music pieces that unlock Tár

In his controversial film, Todd Field foregrounds melancholic works by Mahler and Elgar. Are they a requiem for Cate Blanchett’s supremely powerful conductor?

• This piece contains spoilers for Tár

Earlier this month, director Todd Field was interviewed for Radio 3’s Private Passions about his new film, Tár. The presenter Michael Berkeley had seen it the night before and commented: “It’s the kind of film you want to see with friends and have a good argument about. Is that perhaps what you wanted?” Field replied with a confident “yes” before bursting into laughter.

At its root, Tár is a study of power. Field might have conjured up a ruthless politician to make his film about, but he chose to go one step higher – picking a figure of absolutism. It features Cate Blanchett in imperious form playing Lydia Tár, the first female chief conductor of one of the world’s top orchestras, the Berlin Philharmonic. A real-life predecessor of the fictional Tár was Herbert von Karajan, who held the helm at the Berlin Philharmonic from 1956 until his death in 1989. Margaret Thatcher admired him greatly and they became friends, no matter that he was a former Nazi party member. “She envied me,” Karajan once said, “that people always did what I requested.”

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Posted: January 19, 2023, 7:54 pm

Andrew Downes obituary

My friend, the composer Andrew Downes, who has died aged 72, was a pioneering and original voice in British music. As head of the school of composition and creative studies at the Birmingham School of Music (later the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire) from 1975 until 2005, he was a mentor to generations of young musicians who relished his irreverent humour and inspired teaching.

Andrew’s career as a composer saw a steady stream of commissions and broadcasts, including an overture, In the Cotswolds, for the Three Choirs festival, the Centenary Firedances for the City of Birmingham’s centenary festival in 1989, anthems for the BBC Radio 4 Daily Service and song cycles for the singers Sarah Walker and John Mitchinson on Radio 3. In 1997 Andrew’s overture Towards a New Age was premiered by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Symphony Hall, Birmingham, and a long association with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra led to commissions and premieres in the Dvořák Hall and Rudolfinum, Prague, and a CD box set of Andrew’s symphonies.

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Posted: January 1, 2023, 12:00 pm

Feed your soul: the 31-day classical music diet for January

From gentle awakening to explosive fanfare, duelling pianos to one chill lone voice, expand your horizons with a month’s worth of classical ear-openers

For Observer readers, January’s cultural diet is now a habit: first literature, in 2020, then last year’s sequel, short films. The best way to engage with those, surely, was sitting down with a box of chocolates and a hot-water bottle. Here’s a diet where you can listen and walk the dog, lift dumbbells, practise hula or, with care, reverse running. Whatever fitness trend you may have signed up to in a fit of optimism can also, in theory, be done with headphones on.

You can also do nothing but be an active listener: follow the rhythms, instruments, textures, melodies, patterns as they unfold or repeat or turn themselves upside down. Classical music has a reputation for being dusty and difficult, something you have to know about to “get”. (Do you like it or not? Not such a hard question and the only one that matters.) These 31 pieces might lead you to aural pleasures as well as greater confidence in following your enthusiasms.

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Posted: November 3, 2022, 6:15 pm

‘It’s OK to take risks in concerts because there it’s safe to do so’: Conductor Daniel Harding on his double life as an airline pilot

He’s been on the podium with the world’s leading orchestras but, he says, his new parallel career flying for Air France has taught him things he never learned in 30 years of music making

Sitting in a smart hotel foyer a stone’s throw from Berlin’s Philharmonie concert hall, there’s little indication of the dramatic week Daniel Harding has had. He is in town conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in a programme of Vaughan Williams, Strauss and Unsuk Chin’s intensely complex 2008 work Rocaná. He seems relaxed and casual in a hooded tracksuit top and jeans, and as we settle down to chat, I mention how much I enjoyed the concert – and how much he seemed to, as well.

“I’m glad that was the impression,” he says with a laugh, and tells me of the dramas behind the scenes: a whole day of precious rehearsal lost to food poisoning made the first concert – and especially the Chin piece – somewhat nerve-racking. “The piece is very gripping but it’s very difficult,” he says. “There is something about seeing everyone on stage buckling in, and when you’re feeling underprepared – but you’ve got that level of orchestra – there is a different energy.”

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Posted: October 18, 2022, 5:00 am

Royal Opera House announces Jakub Hrůša as its new music director

The Czech-born conductor will take over from Antonio Pappano in 2025. He talks exclusively to the Guardian about what shape the opera house will take under his musical leadership

The Royal Opera House today announces the appointment of Jakub Hrůša as its music director. Hrůša, 41, will begin his tenure in September 2025. He succeeds Antonio Pappano, who steps down from the post at the end of the 2023-24 season after 22 years in the role – making him the Royal Opera’s longest serving music director. In the 2024-25 season, Hrůša and Pappano will share house responsibilities, and both will appear as special guest conductors.

Hrůša was born in the Czech Republic and studied conducting at Prague’s Academy of Performing Arts, where his teachers included Jiří Bělohlávek. He is currently chief conductor of the Bamberg Symphony, a position he has held since 2016, and principal guest conductor of the Czech Philharmonic and the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. Between 2010 and 2012 he was music director of Glyndebourne on Tour, and he has led opera productions for the Salzburg festival, Vienna State Opera, Opéra National de Paris, Zurich Opera and Frankfurt Opera.

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Posted: October 17, 2022, 2:55 pm

‘I’m not saying we won’t make mistakes’ – violin sensation Nicola Benedetti on becoming EIF’s first female director

She was leading an orchestra at the age of eight and won Young Musician of the Year at 16. What is the virtuoso’s vision for Edinburgh international festival? Audiences moved to tears and bagpipes going global

Seventy-five years since it was founded, the Edinburgh international festival finally has its first female director – and its first Scot. In March, it was announced that the concert violinist Nicola Benedetti would be taking over from Fergus Linehan, who had held the position for eight years. Benedetti was born in West Kilbride, Ayrshire. Now 35, she has spent her life at the pinnacle of British classical music, leading the National Children’s Orchestra of Great Britain aged eight; studying at the Yehudi Menuhin school for young musicians under the maestro from 10; and winning the BBC Young Musician of the Year award at 16.

Benedetti is confident that this total immersion in the highest of high culture has given her the vision and expertise to lead Scotland’s foremost arts festival. “I’ve watched an average of 90 to 100 concerts a year since I was 16 years old,” she tells me over mint tea in the lobby of a fancy hotel in London’s West End. “I can’t tell you how much I’d like champagne and salmon,” she says, “but I’m not going to have that.” Her next stop is at Classic FM round the corner.

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Posted: December 2, 2020, 1:24 pm

Without Ethel Smyth and classical music's forgotten women, we only tell half the story

Expanding the classical canon brings us incredible music and extraordinary stories, not least that of Ethel Smyth, whose compositions and pioneering energy filled England in the interwar years

In 1934, all of musical England gathered to celebrate the 75th birthday of one the country’s most famous composers – Dame Ethel Smyth. During a festival spanning several months, audiences crowded into the Queen’s Hall, London, to hear her symphonic cantata The Prison, or settled in at home to listen to the BBC broadcasts of her work. At the festival’s final concert in the Royal Albert Hall, the composer sat beside Queen Mary to watch Sir Thomas Beecham conduct her Mass. By this point, Smyth was nearly completely deaf, and could barely hear a note of her own music. But she could understand the uproarious applause that surrounded her when the concert ended, acknowledging the lifetime she had given to music.

After her death in 1944, Smyth spent several decades out of the limelight, but she is now coming back on to concert programmes and recording schedules. The CD release that blew me away this year was Chandos’s world premiere recording of The Prison, delivering stellar performances from Dashon Burton, Sarah Brailey, James Blachly and the Experiential Orchestra and Chorus. And Smyth is not alone in enjoying a resurgence of interest. Thanks to decades of work by campaigners, performers, and musicologists, diversity is now firmly on musicians’ agendas. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but it feels as if we might be reaching a turning point. The BBC and Classic FM have been running programmes about composers of colour, publishers are turning their attention to figures currently absent from their catalogues, and both #MeToo and Black Lives Matter have led to institutions being held to account on their commitments to gender and racial equality.

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Posted: September 12, 2019, 4:20 pm

The best classical music works of the 21st century

Over the coming week, the Guardian will select the greatest culture since 2000, carefully compiled by critics and editors. We begin with a countdown of defining classical music compositions, from X-rated opera to high-tech string quartets

Read an interview with our No1 choice

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Posted: November 24, 2016, 3:42 pm

A musical tour of Europe's great cities: Berlin

Our series ends in the German capital with Berg, Busoni, Bowie and Bernstein.

Also in this series: London | Paris | Venice | Helsinki | Prague | Hamburg | Rome | Vienna | Amsterdam

In putting Berlin under the microscope in the last of our post-Brexit tours of the great cities of Europe, it seems that all roads lead to Kurt Weill. “Berlin will forever be associated with the turbulent times of the 20th century,” says @abkquan, whose suggestions have been a mainstay of these surveys. “The Weimar period produced the definitive Berlin work – Weill’s Threepenny Opera with its many familiar tunes, especially with Lotte Lenya singing Jenny.”

The Threepenny Opera, a collaboration between Weill and Bertolt Brecht based on 18th-century dramatist John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, was premiered at Berlin’s Theater am Schiffbauerdamm in 1928, and after some initial resistance was a great success, vindicating Weill’s ambition to reclaim opera as an art form for the people (though Berlin’s elite of course delighted in its scabrous tale of cutthroats and prostitutes).

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