Thoroughly Good Podcast Series 5 Ep 32 – Fretwork’s Richard Boothby and Kieran Cooper

Podcast 32 spotlights a new release on Signum Classics entitled ‘If’.

It’s the latest release by consort of viols Fretwork, and celebrates the 75th birthday of composer Michael Nyman pairing a collection of contemporary works arranged for the consort with music by Henry Purcell.

The album is out on 22nd March 2019. Pre-order here

Introducing the Festival de Música de Setúbal

I don’t want to boast, but I do attend quite a lot of launch events. Some work, a lot don’t.

The well-thought out well-executed launch event achieves two important things: they sell the event and they provide a networking opportunity.

Such events foster a warm spirit and sense of anticipation for the product the press event is selling.

Attendees leave the event wanting to speak favourably about the pitch not because of the wine or the nibbles, but because of the spirit that exudes the event.

Case in point. Festival de musica Setubal‘s launch event yesterday.

Not heard of it before? Unsure of Setubal’s location? You’re not alone. That doesn’t really matter. Setubal is in Portugal. And given that the nine-year-old music festival brings international musicians and young people from the locality in community-focussed music-making, it’s perhaps not surprising it’s not on the radar of most classical music-related festival goers.

Ian Ritchie (left) with Ed Vaizey

Artistic Director Ian Ritchie began his introduction in the EU Commission in London just as Geoffrey Cox stood up in nearby Parliament to offer his views on the ‘Joint Instrument’.

There was an irony to proceedings.

An invited crowd convened at Europe House – the EU’s London HQ in St Johns Smith Square – to hear British arts administrator Ian Ritchie introduce this year’s festival (23-27 May 2019). His presentation deftly illustrated how differently one European nation regards the value of music education, and the way in which participation can promote wellbeing in the community. 

At the same time just 5 minutes walk away, enraged red-faced Leavers were screaming at similarly bedraggled-looking Remainers, one side demanding an immediate withdrawal from Europe, whilst the opposing side could be heard singing ‘Shove Brexit, shove it up your arse’ to the tune of ‘We Shall Not Be Moved’. 

What makes Setubal’s offer compelling is the way events – a mixture of low-price and free admission – are built as active experiences for audience and participants alike.

The four-days of events bring international musicians, young Portuguese professionals, and composers together designed to inspire around 1500 young people in the Setubal area. Community ensembles and local schoolchildren participate in song-writing projects, drumming parades, and site-specific performances.

It’s difficult not to feel uplifted by the idea of professionals and young people sitting side-by-side in creative endeavours intended ostensibly for the community.  A sort of four-day youth orchestra infused festival of musical loveliness that leads on social inclusion and celebrates music’s power in our everyday lives.

And at its heart, a two-day symposium exploring music, mental health and wellbeing featuring contributions from industry leaders, thinkers and influencers. 

An altogether rich and authentic event in an unexpected location. 

At least that’s my impression. That’s my hope. Because, as I mentioned to an education person during my third modest glass of red (at lunchtime), I can’t think of any funded arts festival in the UK that is built first around community engagement.

Tickets via the Festival de Música de Setúbal website.

Eric Lu Excitement

Earlier this week I wrote about the criteria for writing up a press release. See here for a recap. Note: I’ve added additional criteria since the publication of that post.

Consequently it is incumbent on me to blog about very exciting news. Leeds Piano Competition winner Eric Lu who blew me away with his semi-final performance you may recall (see below if you don’t), is performing at LSO St Lukes in The London on 4th April.

And, in the interests of emphasising that I do consider the world outside of London, he’s also performing at The Venue, Leeds College of Music on 30th March. Both concerts are at 7.30pm.

I’m advised that the programme is:

Mozart – Rondo in A minor, K.511
Brahms – 6 Klavierstücke, Op.118 
Chopin – Ballade No.4, Op.52 
Handel – Chaconne in G major, HWV 435
Chopin – Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35 

I don’t normally get excited about artists; I’m usually more driven by programmes. But the prospect of hearing Lu again is the exception.

It’s a test. Did I imagine what I heard that night in Leeds? Did I just let emotion run away with me? Was I in fact drunk?

As it happens, I wasn’t drunk that night at the Piano Competition, nor at the competition final a few days later. But there’s still a level of interest around whether Lu’s playing can transport me in the way it did in September last year. There’s also the question of what impact the competition had on his playing. Will I detect something different given that the competition is no longer present in the mind of artist or audience? Or will there be greater pressure on the part of the artist to prove their win?

Questions, questions, questions.

Oh. And I should add. There are other concerts that form part of the Leeds Piano Festival 2019 – Steven Osborne in a programme of Beethoven on 3rd (Leeds) and 5th (London), Barry Douglas playing Tchaikovsky, Schubert and Rachmaninov on 5th (Leeds) and 6th (London). And on 1, 2, and 4th April
Aliya Alsafa, Jasper Heymann and Shuheng Zhang (the Young Scholars in the Lang Land International Music Foundation) also make their Leeds Piano Festival appearance.

Much. Excitement.

Ticket information via

Listen to the Leeds International Piano Competition Thoroughly Good Podcast on Audioboom or via Spotify.

Prince Charles in a hard hat at the Royal College of Music

I recently participated in a PhD survey investigating how descriptive text used for the blind or partially sighted, deepened the understanding sense of recall when a sighted individual listened to it and looked at the corresponding picture at the same time.

Now whenever I see a picture I can’t help thinking what the audio description would be for it. The habit of describing literally what you see does risk draining some of the joy from a visual experience. At the same time it also injects a mild bit of humour into proceedings. As with the picture above: Prince Charles in a hard hat in a partially completed room.

For those in need of a slightly more useful description …
pictured above is the 150-seat Performance Hall, The Prince of Wales, Royal College of Music’s Chairman, Lord Black of Brentwood, and a collection of RCM musicians who performed Haydn’s March for the Prince of Wales (March in E flat major HobVIII:3bis).

It’s all terribly good news for the Royal College of Music as it illustrates another milestone in their ongoing building development works.

Now it’s the fit-out and the race to pick-out highly sought-out desk positions with the nicest chairs (and other such delights I vaguely recall when I was advised I had a desk in Broadcasting House a few years back).

And when it’s complete, it’s going to be quite the cracking transformation for both building, students and public alike. Much. Excitement.

Be in a symphony

Take a wander around the Southbank Sinfonia whilst they play Beethoven 3 on 27 March. Also, post-concert party. Bethnal Green. See you there.

I normally balk at writing-up press alerts, a joyless process that necessitates deciphering what the message is, rewording it (to pass it off as your own), or coming up with a new angle entirely.

When you’re not deriving money from your art resentment isn’t far below the surface.

The decision to write up a PR’s email is often decided upon based on other factors. It’s worth sharing those ideas here. You know, in the spirit of full transparency.

  1. Do I like the brand?
  2. Do I like their print?
  3. Do I like the person sending the email?
  4. Do I like the idea?
  5. Is there an idea?
  6. Are they trying hard?
  7. Have they committed a massive howler?
  8. Do I want them to be better?
  9. Is there something unusual and/or engaging about what they’re sharing?
  10. Does the event include pianist Eric Lu?
  11. Do I want to attend the event?

In the case of the Southbank Sinfonia’s gig on 27th March in Bethnal Green, I am delighted to announce that seven of the ten criteria have been met. Easily.

The Sound Within (part of their deftly tagged #ConcertLab season) captures the spirit and joy of the Philharmonia’s Virtual Orchestra installation I visited in Bedford last year.

Only here, Southbank Sinfonia ventures north to the Oval Space (where I interviewed Anna Meredith for a podcast) in Bethnal Green and gives audience members the chance to wander around the orchestra as they doing their playing thing. There’s even a party at the end of it.

It’s basically like taking a trip down Youth Orchestra Lane.