Selected London Concerts This Week (Mon 5 – Sun 11 Feb 2018)

I’ve been meaning to put together a timetable of concerts like the one above for a few months now.

The original idea was borne out of the frustration I find trying to keep track of what’s going on when across the capital. After last week’s marathon set of announcements – Southbank’s 2018/19 season plus the four resident and associate orchestras, Barbican, and Wigmore Hall – I revisited the original planner idea.


It’s not meant to be exhaustive though could be if I scaled it up (something I wouldn’t mind trying eventually). Instead, it’s just a way for me to map out what’s going in a given period of time. It’s also deliberately meant to be analogue as opposed to digital. The very act of drawing out a timetable, searching through the listings and writing it into a chart increases focus, in turn helping make decisions about what to see and what not.

Note – the London Mozart Players gig is on Wednesday not Monday. We’re all allowed to make mistakes.

Scope, Range and Busy-ness

It became really obvious very very quickly (even restricting myself to just seven days) that there’s not only a lot of options to hear classical music live, but there’s also a lot of information to take in. Potential ticket buyers are having to process location, time, names of performers, and works. That’s a lot of variables being considered before deciding on what to go to.

As a freelancer I have a lot more flexibility now. Concerts on ‘school nights’ aren’t such a thorny issue like they used to be. Interestingly for me however, it’s the lunchtime opportunities which seem more appealing because I feel as though I can fit them into my day more easily where evening concerts present themselves as a commitment.


What surprises me is how an event like Martha Argerich, Janine Jansen and Mischa Maisky at Barbican this week could have completely gone unnoticed. The fact that it’s sold out makes getting a ticket at this late stage a bit of a challenge, but I’m going to give it a damn good shot. But the Marin Alsop conducting masterclasses is a must-attend. It’s free. And on a Wednesday lunchtime. Peachy.

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Organist Colin Walsh plays Durufle, Tournemire, and Vierne at St John’s Smith Square

Colin Walsh lunchtime recital under way with a well-crafted programme that took the audience on a journey from darkness to sunlight via mild peril.

The Prelude from Durufle‘s Op.5 Suite got proceedings off to an eery start before heading off into a heady mix of nostalgia and hope.

Some of the upper manual orchestration lacked fluidity. Still, Walsh exploited the rich storytelling opportunities in Durufle’s music.

(I’ve added a recording of the prelude to the Thoroughly Good Spotify Playlist – you knew about that, didn’t you?)

Tournemire’s Petite rapsodie improvisee is a dark textural oddity, after which Ropartz‘s Prelude Funebre seemed surprisingly orthodox with hints of a rock-like odyssey in parts. A solo flute towards the end gave the melodic subject a palpable fragility.

The real drama was reserved for Vierne‘s third organ symphony. In the first movement lavish chords are unravelled with terrifying effect – a musical illustration of a rag being run dry.

A more contemplative near-confessional second movement follows, after which a dark grotesque waltz full of intrigue, mystery and mild terror.

Here Colin Walsh succeeded in transforming an otherwise sunny lunchtime in SW1 into a thick foggy afternoon with limited visibility. Ravishing.

An exquisite fourth movement tricks the listener into a sense of modest resolution. What followed was pure showmanship: musically unnecessary, but gratefully received nonetheless.

And another important thing: Colin Walsh is the only performer in St John’s Smith Square’s 2017/18 roster whose publicity picture features his own dog.

St John’s Smith Square Thursday Lunchtime Concerts continue next week with the Maclet-Hadjiev Duo playing Handel, Kodaly and Bach



Septura Brass Ensemble: Elgar / Walton / Shostakovich

There was much whooping for the Septura Brass last night.

The ensemble – Huw Morgan, Alan Thomas, and Simon Cox (trumpet), Matthew Gee, Matthew Knight, and Daniel West (trombones), and Sasha Koushk-Jalali (tuba) – includes principal players from the London Symphony, Philharmonia, BBC Symphony, Basel and Aurora Orchestras.

They’re also Ensemble in Residence at the Royal Academy of Music. With a considerable audience of appreciative students, no surprises the atmosphere was buoyant and enthusiastic throughout.

Septura have arranged ‘stolen’ string repertoire for their Kleptomania concert, and opened last night’s concert with Elgar’s string serenade.  A pleasant opener that highlighted the limitations of the work.

Where the first movement of the Elgar Serenade had a rocky start, with the balance of instruments sometimes needing attention, the second movement was beautiful. Septura’s warm tone and deft ensemble did Elgar’s writing justice, although the dynamic range seemed understated in places. The third movement lacked the necessary lilt.

Walton’s A minor quartet is where Septura really shone. This was an ambitious arrangement by artistic director Simon Cox, giving the players far more material to get to grips with. Walton’s composition style – in particular his fugues – demand tight ensemble playing. Septura played with sparkle and panache throughout. The cackles in the bass trombone and tuba, echoed by flashlight stabs scored for trumpets in the first movement were a real highlight.

Magic occurred at the end of the first movement too: one high note from the outstanding Huw Morgan on trumpet, supported by two equally challenging sustained notes in the trumpets . Crystal clear and unfussy playing. Just what you’d expect from principal brass players.

That gripping sense of drama continued in the demanding and inventive arrangement of the second movement presto, manifest in fiendish articulation deployed at break-neck speed.

The third movement was less successful, highlighting how Walton’s languid intimacy is better suited to strings than brass. Walton is much more satisfying when he makes all manner of demands on the player, and the last movement of the A minor quartet exploits that. Septura played with verve: a deft attack on a relentless and demanding opponent.

Shostakovich’s eighth quartet (above captured during the recording for Naxos) is undoubtedly Septura’s calling card, the brass sound giving the opening andante gravitas and doom I’ve not heard in the string quartet before now. Menace surges around with a twisted glint in its eye during the allegro molto that follows.

Real spectacle in Septura’s performance was found in the third movement allegretto, where each instrumentalist deployed a complex sequence of mutes, increasing the number of voices we hear beyond the six players we see on stage.

When the opening theme returns in the final movement largo this time on trombone, the DSCH motif has a painfully mournful quality to it. A potent conclusion to a work originally dedicated by the composer to those who have suffered at the hands of fascism.

Septura Brass introduce their programme with customary brass player nonchalance, describing their arrangements as ‘ambitious thefts’.

Such self-deprecation makes the sound they create all the more incredible. When they play, we hear fireworks. But, we have no visible sign of what’s they’re actually doing to produce that sound. Their arrangements are respectful compromises that highlight their own considerable technical dexterity as brass players, and pay homage to compositional greats.

Septura repeat this programme at West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge on Thursday 5 October.

Their latest recording is released in November 2017.

Classical on Social Media

Digital is driven by visuals. I say that without bitterness too. Words matter and, my view is that, ever-increasingly longer reads will eventually return to favour, the form resiliently finding its niche in the same way vinyl has slowed clawed its way part-way back into people’s consciousness.

Until words discover their digital advocates, images remain dominant. They’re there to grab attention. In a noisy environment like social media, impact is everything. Imagery not only has to tell a story in itself, but it also has to trigger a reaction, one which commits to the explicit call-to-action. If not that, an image needs to tap into a deeply held personal value.

Imagery then is a harder working asset in the digital sphere. It has to achieve more than words, in far less time. An MIT study in 2014 reported that the brain has the ability to process images as quickly as 13 milliseconds, down from the 100 milliseconds suggested by previous studies.

So, if you’ve got a message to convey, one that advocates a sector which struggles to cut-through, why wouldn’t you invest in making sure the image is doing that heavy lifting?,

Some arts organisations stick a photograph up of a rehearsal and think that will suffice. Others do it really well, straddling inventiveness and resourcefulness accidentally, or in some cases, deftly.

Here’s an in-exhaustive and personal selection. More next Monday.

1. Jugend Ensemble Berlin / Danse!

An image card to promote a youth orchestra concert. That’s all it is.

But it’s a fun, clean design, doing what more orchestras should be doing and leading on the anticipated experience of the audience member rather than composer’s names and works which may, to some, seem unfamiliar.

2. Aldeburgh Festival 2017 Retrospective

This video montage cut with music performed at the Festival this year, plays to Snape Maltings’ strength. A picturesque, restorative location illustrated in the simple beauty of the location, concert hall interior, and in the production of the video itself.

I also really like the way that the call to action is played down, meaning the transaction is sophisticated.

With the festival over, the video draws the eye and drives the user to BBC Radio 3’s on-demand content recorded at Snape. The end product raises awareness and reinforces the brand. It gives those of for whom continuity is important hope that Aldeburgh remains distinctive.

3. NPO announcement from Arts Council England

I was really impressed with the graphical elements that support ACE’s NPO announcement this week. This was helped no doubt by a strong message that permeated most of the write-ups in the arts media.

The engaging images (there was a suite of graphics designed to illustrate how ACE supports a wide range of cultural endeavours in the country) helped shape perception that ACE didn’t just support arts organisations, but was an cultural advocate that was itself creative. Professionalism underpinned the consistent visual identity.

The design was also supported by a clear commitment to open data (the UK searchable map was a bit of a treat) that created a rich user journey from social media to raw data, defying expectations and shattering assumptions.

4. Largest Orchestra Selfie / Gewandhaus Orchestra

What really appealed to me in this tweet was the simplicity of the idea. On a personal level I’m growing a little tired of images taken from the concert platform – its all looking a little too familiar now. So, if you’re going to tweet a picture from the stage, ensure there’s something distinctive about it.

This one tells a story – one of pride, enthusiasm, and scale. It has an unwitting message too – many thousands of people will happily sit and listen to an orchestra in the open air. Something to strive for. There’s also something infectious about those smiles.

5. OHPGiovanni / Company Photo

There’s a fine line between insightful backstage photos, and photographic backstage evidence of impenetrable self-absorbed cliques. Opera Holland Park are, thankfully, the correct side of that line.

This shot communicates enthusiasm, warmth, commitment, and excitement. There’s hunger and pride in everyone’s eyes. It is an uplifting sight and, though this may seem a little odd to say, makes me go all warm and fluffy about Opera Holland Park.

The picture humanises a brand. It makes me think they’d want me there as a punter.

6. Stefano Bollani / Concerto Azzurro

I include this tweet because I don’t think it works especially well. I tend to use social media without any headphones – in a quiet moment when I’m bored. I tend not to listen to sound – I’m grazing for content. I’m not inclined to hang around unless there’s something which is hooking me in where I need to see a conclusion.

This video works too slowly, doesn’t communicate very much, and what it does communicate is rather ponderous and pompous in style. It’s the equivalent of the X-Factor-esque titles put on competition shows underpinned with a bass-dominant soundtrack contriving a sense of overblown drama.

OK, that might be going a little too far where Bollani’s gig is concerned. But what I would like to have seen is 15 seconds of some detail of the musician playing, with all of the concert details conveyed in one stab.

Digital doesn’t have time for movie-style openings. If you’re going to use them, then the pay-off better be worth the investment. In all the noise in my feed, I want to feel like someone’s trying to seduce me.

7. St John’s Smith Square / LIACC

I have a soft spot for St John’s Smith Square already – the simplicity of the venue, its authenticity, and its energy all collide into an authentic no-frills concert-going experience that puts the music-making at the heart of its activity.

SJSS use their Instagram feed well, leading on imagery to preview and report on events.

St John’s Smith Square launches a new season of concerts for 2017/18

The St John’s Smith Square season launch is a fixture in my calendar. I’ve been to three.

Every year it’s been stiflingly hot, the cool interior of the rebuilt Baroque church offering sanctuary from the heady intensity of London in July.

St John’s Smith Square is where I discovered a glorious musical celebration of Westminster, gasped at the musical delights created when pianist Christina McMaster and a pupil of her joined forced on stage, and heard an electrifying performance of Brahms 1 from (fanboy alert) the brilliant Aurora Orchestra.

My Top Ten Must-See Events

Previewing a year long programme of events is a daunting affair and do, inevitably as you would expect from a classical music blogger, result in a personal selection. But based on a first browse through a deliciously aromatic brochure, here are my top ten must-attends.

All of the London Mozart Players Piano Explored series
Listen to the marvellous Howard Shelley point out how a great musical work is put together, before settling down to listen to the work in its entirety played by his London Mozart Players. Grieg, Schumann, and Shostakovich feature in this year’s selection. Starts Wednesday 4 October at 1.05pm. Civilised start time. 

Dmitry Masleev plays Lizst (and a bit of Tchaikovsky)
Masleev won the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition in 2015 (see Medici.TV for his 70 minute winning performance in which he doesn’t even break a sweat). Can’t wait to see him in a solo recital at St John’s Smith Square. Thursday 30 November at 7.30pm. 

Bach at Advent
An inspired choice for Advent – a range of organ works throughout December. All but the last starting at 6pm, lasting 45 minutes, and completely free. Yes. Free. Runs from Sunday 3 December until Thursday 21 December. See website for details. 

Reverie: The Life & Loves of Debussy
Simon Russell Beale reveals part of Debussy’s life using excerpts from the composer’s journal. Words interspersed with live performance from pianist Lucy Parham. Neat.  Sunday 28 January 2018 at 3pm.

European Union Chamber Orchestra
I’m including this solely because I want to hear Haydn’s Little Organ Mass live for the first time in 27 years. Sang it at school and adored its efficiency and infectious enthusiasm. There’s a Mozart symphony in the line-up too. Wednesday 21 February at 7.30pm.

Special word to SJSS Chairman who’s passionate address at the top of the event recounting memories of the European Baroque Orchestra’s final gig post-Brexit, led into a similarly blunt warning about life for cultural institutions post-Brexit.