Salisbury International Arts Festival Guest Director awarded CBE in Queen's Birthday Honours List 2019

Composer Jonathan Dove and Thoroughly Good Podcast contributor awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List


Would you look at the influence the Thoroughly Good Podcast has now.

Latest contributor – adorably excited composer Jonathan Dove – features in the Queen’s birthday honours list. He’s being made a CBE. Coo.

It was a pleasure to meet the man. All very last minute and a complete surprise, but an invitation I snapped up too.

What’s in store at Waterperry Opera 2019

Highlights from this year’s Waterperry Opera Festival plus exclusive working costume designs from their production of Purcell’s Fairy Queen.

One of things that has been thrown into sharp relief post-Proms launch last week is how much more appealing other events running over the summer now present themselves.

Summer at this point in time is about planning a season of activities, discoveries, and indulgences. Waterperry Opera Festival is one such event. I’ll be writing about one of the others – the New Music Biennial – later this week.

The frisson of excitement around Waterperry Opera is part down to its scale and its impact.

Only in their second year, the young team of young professionals have quickly established themselves at Waterperry Gardens near Oxford as an energetic bunch, driven but affable, relaxed but professional.

They make a product which is easy to endorse: talk to any one of them involved and the energy they exude is infectious.

If an outsider like me can feel welcome, then the same warmth is going to be felt by their audience.

What’s appealing about Waterperry then is it’s unfussiness.

There’s an Enid Blyton feel to activities on-site – post-graduate entrepreneurs seizing an opportunity to fill a hole in a local community and doing so with style, grace and a down-to-earth kind of sophistication.

There’s something honest about it all. A rural summer opera festival built for a local audience – a mix of connoisseurs and the curious. No airs and graces. The kind of thing that just sells itself.

In that way they could just as likely be singing from a telephone book and I’d happily endorse them.

I am also wondering whether Waterperry could be one of those events which will in time highlight the next wave of talent. That’s going to take a few years to see happen as personnel permeate throughout the industry, but I like the idea of it.

And I wonder there whether that suggests another part of the appeal of Waterperry: its potential.

Working costume designs for Waterperry Opera’s 2019 production of Purcell’s Fairy Queen by Simon Bejer.

Let’s not overlook the most important thing: the programme. Highlights below.

  1. Mozart’s Magic Flute. Tick.
  2. A re-run of Jonathan Dove’s hugely entertaining Mansfield Park performed in an actual Regency house. Tick.
  3. Britten’s Canticle ‘Abraham and Isaac’ (I’ve never heard it). Tick.
  4. Purcell’s Fairy Queen. Tick. (The costume designs revealed at the fundraiser night are a joyful creation in themselves).

What’s key to all of these productions is the proximity of performance. In both the purpose built amphitheatre and Waterperry’s regency ballroom the proximity of audience member to performer makes for a more immediate chamber-like opera.

Working costume designs for Waterperry Opera’s 2019 production of Purcell’s Fairy Queen by Simon Bejer.

But there is another aspect which is important to flag. There’s variety riven in the Festival’s apparent simplicity and accessibility, and that variety represents a careful balance between pushing the performers and the audience. It’s an endeavour which seeks to embed itself in a community. That its done so so very quickly is impressive. I put it down to alchemy.

Waterperry Opera Festival runs from 25 – 28 July 2019. Booking opens Monday 22 April. Tickets will go fast.

St John’s Smith Square 2016/17: Southbank Sinfonia play Shakespeare in Music

Southbank Sinfonia forms an important part of the St John’s Smith Square season this year. This event was an inventive presentation that combined dialogue and speeches of Shakespeare’s plays with incidental music written for a range of RSC productions by a wide range of British composers.

Samuel West – his voice maturing more and more like his father’s as the years speed past – was a beautiful indulgence. So too Patricia Hodge, Southbank Sinfonia patron, Lila Clements and Maggie Service. Benedict Salter gave us a mysterious, possibly sinister yet alluring Puck. David Threfall sometimes seemed a little lost, especially at the end of The Tempest.

It was an interesting exploration of the familiar and unfamiliar which unwittingly competed with the beauty of the poetry. In the context of a theatrical production the incidental music would have made sense, but here with excerpts from each play giving a flavour of proceedings, the inherent lack of development in the music was laid bare.

The flip side was hearing different approaches to musical illustrations scanning nearly a century.

The most notable contrast was that between the musical orthodoxy of Rosabel Watson’s 1925 score to King John and the brooding and sinister writing of Edmund Rubbra’s Macbeth composed 21 years later.

Jonathan Dove’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream from 2002 with its prominent use of vibraphone worked best as a concert experience in amongst a programme which was essentially a multi-discipline root through the RSC archive. It was a good idea but as a whole, I think I wanted a work with more development to contrast the excerpts.

Southbank Sinfonia, a group of post-graduates and young professionals played pit band under the direction of conductor Simon Over. They gave us verve and thunder in places, although the event made it difficult for them to shine beyond the limitations of the music.

Their next engagement at the National Theatre – providing live accompaniment for a new production of Amadeus – is a tantalising prospect. Previews 19 and 20 October.