Jem Muharrem

Words on thought, art and music

BrightonNoise: Classical Music in March

By Jem Muharrem

Classical Music in Brighton: Birds, Love-rats, Dance, Opium-induced cries of passion, and the Islamic angel of the trumpet.

No, I am not describing any old Friday night in West Street, nor am I rounding up the day’s headlines; I am describing the very best classical music going on in our fair city in March 2012.

Classical music, what’s it all about eh? It’s losing funding fast, it’s only for white-haired Saga louts and it’s so long and boring… so go the usual gripes. According to some, the bell is tolling.

For me, classical music takes one on an extraordinary emotional journey, it is slow and fast and exciting and difficult and ambiguous and challenging; it is infinitesimally quiet, like a breath, it can shatter like a nuclear explosion, shaking you to your very core. It runs the entire gamut of human experience. Plus (roll over Harry Potter), conducting is the only real job where in effect, you wave a wand and wonderful things happen.

Here are a few golden opportunities to start, or indeed continue, your own journey.

The month kicks off on Friday, 02 March 2012 at St Bartholomew’s Church at 9pm. The curious theme of this concert is ‘Sleep’ but slumber you shan’t as the Brighton Festival Chorus and the world-renowned Brodsky Quartet take you on a meditative and atmospheric programme of choral songs and pieces for string quartet. Formed in 1972 the Brodsky Quartet has performed over 2000 concerts on the major stages of the world and released more than 50 recordings. They will perform The Ecstasies Above by Grammy award-winning Tarik O’Regan, 34. The piece, commissioned by the Yale Institute of Sacred Music in 2006, is a setting of the poem Israfel byEdgar Allan Poe(‘Israfel’ meaning the angel of the trumpet in Islamic tradition). There will also be music by the Argentian-Jewish Osvaldo Golijov, Bournemouth’s finest Sir Hubert Parry and a special arrangement of Gustav Mahler’s ‘I am lost to the world’ from his Ruckert Lieder, arranged for a capella choir by Clytus Gottwald.

On the 3rd March, the ‘Britten Sinfonia at Lunch’ series continues at the Brighton Corn Exchangewith the world premiere of Luke Bedford’s Three Intermezzi. Bedford’s music is characterised by its brooding intensity, which makes the piece a perfect counterpart to the main work of the concert, Cesar Francks Piano Quintet in F minor. Hold onto your husband! This piece was composed during winter of 1878-1879, a time when it’s said Franck was besotted with a pupil of his. An outré -expressive powerhouse – Nadia Boulanger said it contains more ppp (softest possible) and fff (really very loud indeed) markings than any similar work– it may have been inspired by this illicit passion. Franck’s wife had a very public disgust for the work. This piece thrashes about and is definitely not a happy, well-adjusted child.

On the 4th March at the Brighton DomeBarry Wordsworth conducts the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra in a programme including English and Czech musical portraits. Arnold Bax’s Tintagel evokes the stormy Atlantic seas and rugged cliffs of Cornwall. This is followed by Elgar’s searing Cello Concerto (composed in Sussex) with Robert Cohen as soloist, and Vaughan Williams’s Norfolk Rhapsody which make up the first half.Dvorak’s ebullient Symphony No.8 comprises the second half and is a paean to Czech folk dance.

Paddle back over to the Dome on the 10th and hop on board the HMS Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra for a ‘Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage’ with Mendelssohn’s so-named overture. This begins a concert of popular favourites, with Sibelius’ Finlandia, Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture, and Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No.1 (if you don’t recognise this, think Alton Towers theme), topped off by a performance of Grieg’s Norwegian folk-tune inspired Piano Concerto with the renowned Freddy Kempf. Born in Croydon to German-Japanese parents, Fred the Shred (no no no, not that one) tears his way up and down the ivories with the world’s best orchestras with an authority and maturity that belies his 34 years.

On the 17th at the Dome, 27-year-old violinist Fanny Clamagirand will play Mendelssohn’s evergreen Violin Concerto in E minor with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Fabien Gabel. As if that wasn’t enough for her, Fanny will also play Vaughan Williams’s Lark Ascending (recently voted England’s favourite piece of classical music) in which – and I quote the press release, the lark (represented by the solo violin) is “spiralling, floating and propelling its way towards the firmament with a sense of aspiration and discovery: a lone creature set against the expanse of the skies.” Very apt… poetic too… well done that PR officer, but please, don’t take their (or my) word for it. This work takes you on a transcendent journey all of its own, do listen to it. The second half is Sibelius’s Symphony No.5, which was inspired by swans in flight, and has a swaying ‘swan-call’ introduced by French horns in the finale leading to a soaring, exultant finish.

On the 18th the Berlin-based Kuss Quartet give a concert in the Corn Exchange of Mozart’s Dissonance Quartet, Stravinsky’s Trois piéces and Tchaikovsky’s Quartet No.1 in D major. The Kuss’s playing has been described as ‘…provocative, driving, impassioned playing… the purity of sound was almost heavenly’ by the Houston Chronicle.

The Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra gives their final concert of the season at the Dome on 25th March with the fearless John Lill as soloist in Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.3, one of the most physically demanding and technically challenging of piano concertos. The BPO also playBerlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. Completed in February, 1830, the programmatic symphony portrays a romantic tale of a young artist meeting a woman, his un-reciprocated love, and the eventual tragic sequences (one hears the musical description of a beheading!). The story was based on Berlioz’s own passion and despair for Harriet Smithson, the English actress who first dazzled him by playing Ophelia in a production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The composer was purportedly off-his-face on opium when composing the work.

Quite a month…

Jem Muharrem


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