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Dates for Your Diary

Mark Bebbington Recital at St James’s, Piccadilly

Mark Bebbington photo credit: Rama Knight

The young British pianist Mark Bebbington gives a recital at St James’s Piccadilly on July 17 at 7.30pm, with music by Haydn: (Sonata No 54 in G major Hob XVI/40), Beethoven: ‘Appassionata’ Sonata; Ireland’s London Pieces and Chopin’s Barcarolle Op 60; Tarantelle in A flat Op 43; Nocturne No 4 in F major Op 15 No 1 and Second Scherzo in B Flat minor. The contrast of two classical Sonatas, with a second half of English Impressionism and Chopin, is an intriguing one, and – as Bebbington explained - “Early Haydn Piano Sonatas tend to be neglected by pianists in favour of the later so-called 'English' Sonatas, yet there are a wealth of gems amongst the earlier works, including this delicious two-movement G major Sonata (1784). The first movement could almost be transcribed piecemeal to a String Quartet, but the Finale could only be conveyed on a keyboard - Haydn at his wittiest best.

“The advances in the development of the pianoforte could not be more marked in Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata - justifiably celebrated as one of the composer's 'heroic' mid-period works, it exploits both the increased dynamic range of the instrument and Beethoven's mastery of Sonata Principle, to produce his greatest piano sonata to date (1804/5).” 

The critical plaudits which have greeted Mark Bebbington’s performances and recordings have singled him out as a British pianist of the rarest refinement and maturity. Increasingly recognised as a champion of British music, Mark has recorded extensively for SOMM ‘New Horizons’ label to unanimous critical acclaim, resulting in numerous five-star recordings of British works, including London Pieces by John Ireland, which he will perform in this recital.

For Mark, the piano music of John Ireland is not only one of the most substantial, but also one of the most neglected legacies of any twentieth-century British composer:

“John Ireland's impressionistic London Pieces (1914-17) seem entirely apt to include in a London concert hall recital, as does - tangentially - Chopin's Barcarolle, for this late masterpiece was an acknowledged John Ireland favourite; in fact, they both share the same lilting 6/8 rhythm and Ireland's Chelsea Reach is modelled on the mellifluous structure of the former.”  

In demand internationally as well as at festivals and recitals at home, Mark’s appearance in this solo recital gives London audiences a chance to hear this communicative and sensitive artist prior to his Carnegie Hall debut in New York in October of this year, where he will be performing Richard Strauss's ‘Parergon’ for piano left-hand and orchestra, one of two works written for Paul Wittgenstein in 1924, with the American Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leon Botstein.

Mark’s next London solo recital (of contemporary British works) will take place at St John’s, Smith Square on Friday November 7th at 7.30pm. Both London recitals are being managed by Karen Fletcher at Archery Concert Productions; the performing arm of the music consultancy, Archery Promotions.

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Help Wanted

Elizabeth Gaskell’s House in Manchester will reopen to the public in mid October 2014 after a £2.5 million renovation of the building. 

Fully restored on the ground floor, visitors will be able to experience for the first time the authentically furnished home and the beautifully re-established Victorian gardens of one of the 19th century's most important women writers. Part of this restoration scheme has included meticulous research into what was in the house and how it had looked when the family resided there, with a number of pieces of furniture and books already generously donated to the house.

The Trustees of the house are now looking for the donation of a mid-19th century Broadwood demi grand piano, which will take pride of place in the drawing room.  Renowned conductor Charles Hallé taught Elizabeth Gaskell’s daughters on the same type of piano and it was an important purchase by Elizabeth for the house on Plymouth Grove.  The piano will be used for a full programme of musical and educational events and the donor will be fully credited alongside all the other sponsors of the house. Any offers of this specific piano should be made to John Williams, Project Manager for Elizabeth Gaskell’s House at john@1001thelock.com

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Riga 2014 Capital of Culture

Riga

The title of European Capital of Culture moves about from year to year, and 2014 is the turn of Riga in Latvia and the much smaller Umeå in Sweden. Riga has a long history of musical excellence, partly based on Latvia’s strong folk music tradition and partly on Riga’s position on the Baltic as a leading port. Richard Wagner ran the opera house in 1837-39, fleeing by sea when his debts overwhelmed him. Tsarist Russia ruled the country until 1918, but independence was crushed first by the Soviets, then by Nazi Germany and then by the Soviets again until independence was regained in 1991 after the so-called Singing Revolution.

This year Riga has a number of notable musical events, staged in the excellent Opera House and in the acoustically less-excellent Great Guild Hall, home to the Latvian National Orchestra and long overdue for replacement, as well as in a vast arena better suited for stadium games and in a number of smaller venues in and around the city. The great red-brick Gothic cathedral, the Riga Dom, is one of the best places to hear music in Riga, and the year has supported a Bach festival using the excellent organ there and in other city churches.

Latvia, along with the other Baltic states, has a number of composers who have marked the region with their distinctive styles. Kristaps Petersons, a double-bass player in the National Orchestra, premiered his first opera, Mikhail and Mikhail Play Chess, in the studio theatre next to the Opera House, and the first night of this was attended not only by the musical community but also by the chess aficionados, as the subject of the opera was a famous game played at the 1960 World Chess Championship in Moscow between the Latvian Jewish Mikhail Tal and the Russian Jewish Mikhail Botvinnik, who had held the championship for nearly a quarter of a century. Tal, aged only 23, won the championship with dazzling and eccentric chess, but held it for only one year before Botvinnik won it back. However, this victory was enough to make him into a Rigan cultural hero. Petersons used the configuration of the pieces on the chess board in Game 6 of the championship to generate modal scales and melodic patterns, and his librettist (writing in Russian, unusually in a country where only Latvian is an official language, although almost half of the population have Russian as their mother tongue) used chess shorthand notation to provide him with some of the dialogue. The rest was made up of a lecture, sung in a kind of Sprechstimme recitative that from time to time recalled synagogue cantillation, laying out the history of the game. It was oddly thrilling, and one did not need to be a chess player to understand the excitement of the conflict. As in Haydn’s ‘Farewell’ Symphony, the singers and players, each representing a chess piece, left the stage with greater or lesser reluctance as their pieces were taken, leaving only a few to see the game to its conclusion – those few including the double-bass-playing composer himself.

In December, an older and more established Latvian composer, Arturs Maskats, will stage the premiere of his opera Valentina, about a Latvian Jewish woman, later a film critic, who hid throughout the period of Nazi occupation and survived the Second World War, unlike the bulk of the Latvian Jewish population, who were murdered in a series of massacres in a field just outside the city. Other new compositions include a ‘Transcendental Oratorio’ by Zigmars Liepinš, performed in the Riga Dom on 26 April, with its subject taken from the events of a Japanese earthquake in which a mother died protecting her son.

Latvia has produced a high number of internationally-famous musicians, Gidon Kremer, Mariss Jansons, Andris Nelsons and Mischa Maisky among them, and several will take part in the Riga 2014 events. The Kremerata Baltica opened the concert series ‘Born in Riga’ and will hold a festival from 3 to 6 July in the Great Guild in Riga and in the much better concert hall in Sigulda. Jansons will conduct the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in a concert celebrating his father, the Latvian composer Arvids Jansons, on 7 November. Altogether, this would seem to be a good year to come to Riga and explore the city’s flourishing musical scene. Riga 2014 website.

 

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