Thoroughly Good Podcast Series 5 Ep 34: Composer James MacMillan and Tenebrae’s Nigel Short

The more Thoroughly Good Classical Music Podcasts I make, the more I learn about a subject which not only yields more and more, but also satisfies both the mind and the soul.

A lot of that is down to what these podcasts are: a chance to speak to practitoners about their work, compensating for a years of missed opportunities by now living vicariously through the life and experiences of artists.

Recent episodes including the Peter Donohoe interview or the podcast spotlighting the work of composer Dani Howard are good examples. This Podcast 34 does the job well too.

It’s largely about the Holy Week Festival at St Johns Smith Square in London (visit sjss.org.uk for more information about the festival which runs from 14-20 April.

This podcast features contributions from (in order of appearance) composer James MacMillan who celebrates his 60th birthday this year and Tenebrae conductor Nigel Short both of whom appear with other artists and ensembles at the festival.

The podcast also includes a cheeky bonus follow-up question I’ve wanted to ask Nigel Short for at least a year. He was game. It’s always rather lovely to nerd out from time to time I find. Be sure to listen out for the bass notes.


Thoroughly Good Podcast Series 5 Ep 34: Composer James MacMillan and Tenebrae’s Nigel Short

The more Thoroughly Good Classical Music Podcasts I make, the more I learn about a subject which not only yields more and more, but also satisfies both the mind and the soul.

A lot of that is down to what these podcasts are: a chance to speak to practitoners about their work, compensating for a years of missed opportunities by now living vicariously through the life and experiences of artists.

Recent episodes including the Peter Donohoe interview or the podcast spotlighting the work of composer Dani Howard are good examples. This Podcast 34 does the job well too.

It’s largely about the Holy Week Festival at St Johns Smith Square in London (visit sjss.org.uk for more information about the festival which runs from 14-20 April.

This podcast features contributions from (in order of appearance) composer James MacMillan who celebrates his 60th birthday this year and Tenebrae conductor Nigel Short both of whom appear with other artists and ensembles at the festival.

The podcast also includes a cheeky bonus follow-up question I’ve wanted to ask Nigel Short for at least a year. He was game. It’s always rather lovely to nerd out from time to time I find. Be sure to listen out for the bass notes.


Introducing Verbier’s 2019 Festival

News of Verbier’s 2019 season reminds me of an important moment in time. A sort-of rite of passage. A coming of age. The moment in time when I discovered chamber music and when the Thoroughly Good Blog was legitimised.

It feels a little odd to be writing about a festival, the memory of which in some respects still leaves a mildly sour taste in the mouth.

For those not aware, those who have forgotten, or those who hadn’t put two and two together at the time, it was Verbier which prompted quite a lot of soul-searching and industry foot-stamping on my part last July.

For the backstory read this.

Festivals, artists and other creative endeavours want coverage. They want influencers to bang the drum (pun intended), but when it comes to thorny question of costs, a lot regard only the mainstream ‘press’ as legitimate editorial platforms.

It turned out to be a difficult issue to grapple with on my part. But I’m glad I did, because it helped me legitimise in my own mind what I was doing on the Thoroughly Good Blog and with the Podcast too.

Verbier marks a transition in this way. A sort-of rite of passage. A coming of age. A really glamorous ex-partner who a year later has got back in touch (via a third-party) with a new brochure, a new-looking logo and details of its newest season.

Verbier: mountains; sky; sunshine; wine; classical music

In some respects Verbier could programme a volunteer to read entries from an archive telephone directory and it would still feel like art.

Such is the power of the environs. Distractions are stripped away, attention is focussed. New musical discoveries can be made because proximity to the artists and immediacy of the art have been prioritised.

It’s Aldeburgh in the clouds. If memory serves me correctly, one person even described Verbier as ‘Aldeburgh on steroids.’

That’s largely because of its relative seclusion. It’s also to do with the clear air and the steep hills. Most importantly its to do with the meeting of artists. We as audience are not so much concert attendees as observers of art in creation. Art in laboratory conditions.

Christian Thompson is Director of the Verbier Festival Academy – a residential training programme for exceptional young musicians. In this podcast, recorded in Verbier in August 2016, Christian explains his vision for the Academy and its participants, and how the Academy is developing the next generation of soloists. The music featured in this podcast is the opening movement from Brahms’ first piano quartet. #VF2016

Verbier is where I finally acquired an appetite for chamber music.

It’s where I discovered Brahms Piano Quartet in G minor, witnessed clarinetist Martin Frost‘s circular breathing technique, marveled at the terrifying energy of Janine Jansen, and finally understood Beethoven’s late string quartets.

Intense performances in intimate surroundings (make a beeline for Verbier L’Eglise over the hangar-like Salle des Combins) that create deeply personal and lasting memories.

Amongst the press pack highlights, a few names stand out. Notably, cellist (and former Verbier Academy student) Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s in a concert appearance with Daniel Hope, Marc Bouchkov, Lawrence Power and George Li. Also, pianist
Evgeny Kissin in a programme of Beethoven works, and violinists Joshua Bell and Alexander Sitkovetsky.

The reappearance of Daniil Trifonov is also a must-listen. I count his performance of Lizst’s Transcendental Etudes as one of a handful of personally transformative experiences. Also, the premiere of Thomas Ades Three Berceuses for Viola and Piano.

I read the press information and see more British representation in the programme as a whole which might help the Festival gain international cut-through outside of France, Germany and Switzerland – something of an aim of theirs as I recall a few years back.

Know that if you want to attend, you’ll need a train journey to the bottom of the mountain and a cable car (or taxi) to get to your destination. And be sure to book early to get the best rates. A cool beer at the cafe in the centre of town is a must. So too a glass or rose in the mountains.

The Verbier Festival runs from 18 July – 3 August 2019. Tickets from https://www.verbierfestival.com/en/

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 leedspiano.com.

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