Jiri Belohlavek (1946-2017)

Jiri Belohlavek, former chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, has died aged 71 after a long ‘serious’ illness, the Czech Philharmonic have announced.

The news he was ill came as a surprise to me. The picture used in the Daily Mail story was a shock. Physically a shadow of his former self, its stirring to see he resolutely continued in the work that he loved as late as January of this year.

BBC Music Magazine includes a touching quote from an interview conducted last year:

If you begin to be bored, you should go home,’ he told BBC Music Magazine’s James Naughtie in March last year. ‘Indeed I think it would be a crime to stay, because you would be cheating the people – your musicians and your audiences. It would be unthinkable to stay’.

A man brimming with integrity, commitment and passion for the medium, Belohlavek’s career spanned over years and saw him conduct the Czech Philharmonic, Prague Symphony, and Prague Philharmonic orchestras in his native country. He later became Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, before signing a ten year deal with the Czech Philharmonic in 2012.

He exuded a warmth and passion for the genre that was touching. Many years ago when I prommed at a Berlin Philharmonic concert at the Royal Albert Hall, I saw Belohlavek stand at the side of the arena with the rest of the prommers to listen to proceedings. His act aligned himself with the audience, making a great artist all the more endearing.

St John’s Smith Square’s Young Artists for 2017/18

Get an early glimpse of some of St John’s Smith Square’s 2017/18 season with the announcement of their Young Artists for next year.

Numerous arts organisations make a big play of supporting new talent. Sometimes the message is bigger than it should be: trumpeting the philanthropy of the organisation just a little too much.

But read between the lines and you’ll pick up something distinctive from St John’s Smith Square latest announcement.

Their 2017/18 investment isn’t just about introducing new performers to an expectant audience. St John’s Smith Square is supporting three groups in their development as producers and arts administrators as well.

The final three (listed below) were selected from over 140 applicants for the scheme. Twenty shortlisted applicants auditioned at St John’s Smith Square before the 3 successful Young Artists were selected.

In addition to three performance dates at St John’s Smith Square, each group will have access to funds and support to market their own concerts, and commission or produce their own works. A pragmatic, sustainable, and realistic offer.

Percussion and Piano Duo George Barton and Siwan Rhys

George Barton & Siwan Rhys

Individually George Barton and Siwan Rhys perform as soloists and chamber musicians, and work with the London Symphony Orchestra, Colin Currie Group, Nash Ensemble, and the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.

Building on their 2014 and 2016 appearances at St John’s Smith Square, the percussion duo will take the to the stage in four performances featuring a range of contemporary works.

Sunday 17 September 2017 3.00pm
Open House London: Young Artists’ Showcase
Francesca Le Lohé Father and Son, The Veil, and The Kiss (from Saida Portraits)
Georges Aperghis Quatre pièces fébriles
Howard Skempton Dance VI (from Gemini Dances)
Howard Skempton Duet for piano and woodblocks

Thursday 5 April 2018 1.05pm
Patrick Brennan New Work (new commission)
John Luther Adams Four Thousand Holes

Thursday 24 May 2018 7.30pm
Eric Wubbels doxa (2014)
Morton Feldman Dance Suite (For Merle Marsicano)
Oliver Leith New Work (new commission)

Sunday 24 June 2018 3.00pm
Cage Music for Amplified Toy Pianos
Mauricio Kagel Transición II
Peter McGarr Night Scented Stock
Vinko Globokar Drama

Violinist Mathilde Milwidsky

Matilde Mulwidsky

Mathilde’s biography is teams with a dizzying array of competitions, broadcast appearances, and concert halls. She was born in 1994 and with her St John’s Smith Square platform consolidates her ascendancy.

The relative orthodoxy of being a solo violinist makes audience cut-through all the more demanding both amongst the classical music cognoscenti and mainstream audiences.

Her associations with some of the world’s greatest present-day violinists – Vengerov, Kavakos, and Ibragimova, for example – promises to make her performances highlights of the St John’s Smith Square year.

Sunday 17 September 2017 3.00pm
Open House London: Young Artists’ Showcase
Debussy Violin Sonata
Brahms Scherzo from the F.A.E Sonata
Ysaÿe Solo Sonata No. 4
Sunday 7 January 2018 3.00pm
Janáček Sonata
Arvo Pärt Fratres
Ysaÿe Solo Sonata No. 2
Ravel ‘Sonate posthume’ No. 1
Strauss Violin Sonata in Eb Op. 18
Thursday 19 April 2018 1.05pm
Tartini Violin Sonata in G minor ‘Devil’s Trill’
Grieg Sonata No. 3 in C minor
Bartók Romanian Folk Dances

Thursday 31 May 2018 7.30pm
Sally Beamish New Commission
C. Schumann Romances Op. 22
Beethoven Violin Sonata No. 8
Elgar Violin Sonata in E minor
Ravel Tzigane


Bukolika Piano Trio


The Bukolika Piano Trio are Rona Tic, Joanna Gutowski, and Anna Szalucka.

They’re currently studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London, came to prominence as a trio only last year, and will have their Wigmore Hall debut on 22 September this year. A rapid trajectory.

Theirs is a varied series of programmes that goes beyond the usual fayre. Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time is definitely one to look out for.

Sunday 17 September 2017 3.00pm
Open House London: Young Artists’ Showcase
Haydn Trio C Hob.XV
Hanna Kulenty The Cradle Song

Monday 23 April 2018 7.30pm
Panufnik Piano trio Op. 1
Górecki 6 Bagatelles
Polish Composer New Work (commissioned piece)
Schubert Piano Trio No. 2 in Eb Op. 100

Thursday 3 May 2018 1.05pm
Dvořák Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor Dumky
Martin Piano trio on Irish folktunes

Sunday 17 June 2018 3.00pm
Debussy Piano trio in G
Boulanger D’un soir triste
Boulanger D’un matin de printemps
Messiaen Quartet for the end of time

John Adams on classical music: ‘it is something you need exposure to and familiarity with to appreciate’

Ben Lawrence writes in his Telegraph interview with composer John Adams :

In the past he [John Adams] has been somewhat downbeat about his career and seems surprised when I quote him stating that, as a contemporary classical composer, “we always have to live with the assessment that classical music is dead.

“Did I say that?” he asks with a small sense of bewilderment. “I don’t feel that’s the case. I am currently staying at an apartment in the Royal Academy and, last night, I found a stack of very old copies of Gramophone magazine from 50 or 60 years ago. It seems that things were just the same then. Classical music always felt endangered because it has always been an elite activity. I don’t mean that in a snobbish way – it is something you need exposure to and familiarity with to appreciate. It has nothing to do with class or money.”


52/365 Mozart’s Requiem in Dresden

Mozart’s Requiem is a remarkably intimate work. I’ve always thought so, always felt the benefit of its modest intensity. An unwavering promise is built into its musical foundations that gives it a strangely restorative quality.

I’m listening to the BBC Singers on Radio 3 sing the work in a performance recorded at Milton Court in London. It, like the work, is a compelling listen. No flabby bits, no extraneous material, just one absorbing musical treatment after another. That, I suspect, is the genius of Mozart.

It helps I know the work: introduced to it as a teenager by my music teacher who ran the school chapel choir; played it at county youth orchestra; sang in it again at University; the leader of the orchestra in that University concert sings in the choir tonight — it’s therefore difficult not to listen to the concert on the radio without thinking of University nearly 25 years before.

What really makes Mozart’s Requiem intimate isn’t those personal memories. Or at least, not those ones. Instead, it’s a memory of a performance given as part of the 50th anniversary commemoration of the bombing of Dresden, when I was working with the English Symphony Orchestra that this work with a particular emotion.

We had been given instructions not to walk to the concert venue, close as the Dresden Culture Palace was to our hotel. “We’re expecting there to be violent protests,” warned Jennifer the Australian orchestral manager, “everyone take the bus.”

The protests never materialised. I suspected over-dramatisation of the circumstances so that managerial responsibilities could be inflated.

We did as we were told. The bus made its quiet way to the venue, like the many hundreds of people walking in silence into the auditorium. A sombre mood prevailed. Mozart’s music matched the solemnity of the occasion. Nobody clapped. Nobody spoke. Instead, they listened intently, stood respectfully at the end to acknowledge the performers, before exiting the auditorium in silence at the end.

Afterwards, the deafening post-concert silence ringing in our ears, we followed the crowd out of the Culture Palace. We walked down a thoroughfare before hanging back in a shop doorway to watch thousands of Dresden inhabitants process in silence with candles in their hands.

It was the most most beautiful moment of solidarity I’ve ever seen.

Aldeburgh Festival 2017: Advance booking opens on Tuesday 7 February

Those lovely people at Aldeburgh Music (actually, I mean ‘Snape Maltings‘) have sent out their delicious printed brochure ahead of the 2017 Aldeburgh Festival.

As you would expect from East Anglia’s finest music festival, the font is a delight, the layout delicious, and the printer ink heady.

The programme of events looks pretty tasty too. Some personal highlights below. Billy Budd is a must see. Book ‘ere.

Britten / Midsummer Night’s Dream
Friday 9 June / Sunday 11 June

A Film Music War Requiem / London Sinfonietta
Saturday 10 June

Piotr Anderszewski / Piano Recital 
Tuesday 13 June

Pierre-Laurent Aimard / Piano Recital
Friday 16 June

CBSO / Widman UK Premiere / Beethoven
Saturday 17 June

Steven Isserlis / Cello Recital
Monday 19 June

King Arthur / Vox Luminis
Thursday 22 June

Billy Budd / Opera North
Saturday 24 / Sunday 25 June