Posts Tagged ‘St. John’s Smith Square’

Preview – Love’s Exchange – La Nuova Musica with Jamie Parker at Saint John’s Smith Square

October 11, 2012

While this blog normally covers things theatrical, one of my other enthusiasms is Early Music, as my occasional posts about the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music show. I am excited to hear that for once, my two interests will be meeting, in this case at a concert taking place as a part of St. John’s Smith Square’s autumn festival: Early Music ensemble La Nuova Musica performing with actor Jamie Parker (whom you may have seen this summer at the Globe as Henry V, or, further back in The History Boys during its run at the National) in a performance called “Love’s Exchange.”

So what exactly is going to happen at this concert (performed on period instruments) with the seemingly superfluous actor? In this case, Jamie will be reading from the poems (and prose) of John Donne to add a dramatic arc linking the various madrigals by Monteverdi. The concept is that of a love triangle, between a young rake and two women. I have a feeling things may not go very well for the young man.

Monteverdi’s music (the words of which will be projected above stage) are already extremely emotional works, and I think the marriage of Donne and Monteverdi seems very promising. La Nuova Musica, with their vision of music speaking to the audience as immediately as a good friend, would have been well worth seeing on their own: I am quite enthusiastic that this blended approach will lead to an even better experience. This Sunday, 7:30, Saint John’s Smith Square (just a few minutes from Westminster): be there!

I leave you with a selection from one of the poems that will be read during the show:

LOVE, any devil else but you
Would for a given soul give something too.
At court your fellows every day
Give th’ art of rhyming, huntsmanship, or play,
For them which were their own before ;
Only I have nothing, which gave more,
But am, alas ! by being lowly, lower.

(This review is a preview for a concert that will be taking place at St. John’s on Sunday, October 14th, 2012. Tickets are £20/£14. Thank you to Julian Forbes for taking the time to talk to me about the show.)

Review – La Venexiana – 2010 Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music

May 18, 2010

Note: this concert will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 at 7pm 1 June. Don’t miss it!

For the last two years I’ve been excited to attend the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music in London’s St. John’s Smith Square. In Seattle, I used to see a Baroque (or Renaissance, or Medieval) concert about 10 times a year, and after nearly two years of no early music, I was excited to find a banquet at which I could fill my plate over and over again, if only for two weeks’ time. I chose five concerts from this year’s offering (twelve concerts in total) – buying them in February – then settled down to wait.

The festival started in spectacular style with La Venexiana, whom I’m pretty sure I’ve seen before. They performed Monteverdi’s “Vespers of 1610,” a lovely collection of liturgical music written apparently over several years. The texts of the Vespers felt like a very Renaissance mix of sacred and secular: several psalms, “Ave maris stella,” but also some florid selections from the Song of Solomon that sounded very much like love songs (“While the king lay upon his bed, my perfume gave off an odor of sweetness”) and not particularly religious.

The evening opened with an incredible wall of sound: eleven singers and seventeen musicians with crystal-clear projection and tonal perfection nearly blew me out of my chair. Whew! This was some church music! I felt very much in the hands of a master! This feeling was further emphasized by the intense conducting style of Claudio Cavina, who seemed like nothing so much as a puppet master pulling every single singer’s string in a way I found kind of creepy (visions of abusive rehearsals and people debasing themselves to get in his favor kept bubbling up in my head). But there was no denying the results; each singer was perfection. In fact, one of the men singing tenor had this incredible breathy kind of breaks in his solos that reminded me of some movies I’ve seen set in this era – in some ways just over the top, but really done to perfection and incredibly well matched to the music. It may have been a “style” but it sounded great. I’ve got notes in my program for “Laudate pueri” and “Due Seraphim” noting how good the tenors were (quote: “goosebumps”); and they did just hit it again and again. “Nigra sum sed formosa” (I am black but beautiful) was heartbreakingly beautiful. If this is what having a control freak does to a choral group, I’m afraid to say I probably approve, though it seems a bit like saying yes to veal or foie gras.

I could probably add to this many notes on what an amazing composer Monteverdi is, how his “Audi coelum” was filled with longing, his “Pulchra es” passionate, his “Dixit dominus” captured the babbling brook in “de torrente.” But this is no surprise. Monteverdi is great, and his choral music exquisite; I feel lucky to have attended this show.

Next: Friday the 14th’s show of La Risonanza and Paolo Pandolfo – but as I’ve seen another concert tonight clearly I must get this published or I will get too, too far behind!

(This review is for a show that took place on Thursday, May 13th, 2010. The 2010 Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music continues through May 22nd.)

Review – “A Choice Collection” – Emma Kirkby, Jakob Lindberg, Steven Devine – Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music 2009 at St. John’s Smith Square

May 23, 2009

Last night my partner and I went to St. John’s Smith Square to see the second concert I’d bought tickets for in the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music – Emma Kirkby’s presentation of English song masters of the Baroque era, featuring songs of master composers Purcell and Dowland as well as pieces by less well remembered folks such as Robert Johnson, Thomas Campion, Maurice Green, and William Croft. Truly, it’s one of the pleasures of a series like this that instead of having Baroque music represented by the same music over and over again (my God, may I live without ever once again hearing a tepid concert consisting of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and the freaking Brandenberg Concerto) that at last the richness of the era really comes to the fore. It’s incredible to think of how much has been lost or fallen by the wayside – in a guided walk I took in the City of London Wednesday, our guide told us that only about 12% of the total number of plays produced during Shakespeare’s era were saved – and almost all of that number were his own works! It could make me throw it all in to become a music or theater historian, I tell you, if only I thought there were some chance of me actually being able to find some missing work of genius.

Fortunately the rise of the Early Music movement means there have been rather a lot of people devoted to finding these less-known musical works and giving them the benefit of the light of day – and, more importantly, a fresh performance. Emma Kirkby was, as ever, a lively interpreter of these old scores. She was deliciously over the top for Purcell’s “Bess of Bedlam” and John Blow’s “A Mad Song” (poor Belinda! Poor bess!), but for all the songs she showed a wonderful dedication to the making the text come alive. Of course, for most of these songs, the focus was on sadness and death – very appropriate for the age (did Purcell really only live to 46?) – but also love and seduction. I especially appreciated “She loves and she confesses, too,” with text from Cowley’s “The Mistress” – without hearing Kirkby say it, I would have never appreciated the delicious alliteration of “Noisy nothing, stalking shade” – but the poetry came right to the fore. Ms. Kirkby is probably in my top three of favorite early music performers, at the level where I make special efforts to go see her, and once again she made it an evening well worth my while.

I have to say that her accompanists, Jakob Lindberg on lute and Steven Devine on harpsichord, were also excellent. My preference was of course for the lute (since I find the harpsichord a rather unemotional instrument), and with Lindberg’s ability to sit next to her, a very strong interaction was happening. He was no hired gun – he was playing with her, not for her, in the kind of jazzy interaction style I only ever see with this era of “classical” music. His solos were great, too – Dowland’s “Rosamunde’s Pavane” and “Daniel’s Gigue” made me want to go out and get some more lute music. Devine was fine, but, well, “harpsichord,” what more can I say – great behind something else but not so great on its own (afraid my tastes can’t account for skill). Overall, though, a great night, and I was only sad that there was time for just one encore, William Croft’s Mr Dufy (a song to Venus, though I’m sure I haven’t attributed it correctly).

(This review is for a concert that took place on Thursday, May 21st, 2009. I also saw the Phantasm performance the next night but I don’t have much to say about it and am marking it here just as a reminder to myself.)

Review – The Harp Consort’s “The English Dancing Master” – Lufthansa Festival of the Baroque, St. John’s Smith Square

May 17, 2009

On Saturday afternoon I went to my first concert of the Lufthansa Festival of the Baroque – the Harp Consort, performing a program called “The English Dancing Master,” described as “dance tunes and ballads from the theatres, homes and taverns of Baroque London.” I was feeling a little under the weather and not sure if I shouldn’t just go home and get some sleep, as I had doubts that the show would be energetic enough to get through my exhaustion. My doubt, however, were unfounded, as the show far surpassed my expectations.

I was a little disturbed to see that there was going to be a dancer accompanying the music (though given the title of the set I shouldn’t have been). Back in Seattle we had Anna Mansbridge dancing rather frequently to various of the local Baroque and Early Music groups, and while her costumes were lovely, it was distracting (verging on bizarre) to watch her tottering back and forth in front of the musicians, her feet generally completely invisible, looking like a gaily-painted ship fighting the waves in a brave attempt to make it into port. It had turned me off of the Baroque dance altogether.

Steven Player, however, was a far cry from modest Mansbridge, with his swagger and braggadocio. His showmanship was paired with a far more interactive and theatrical performance than I’d ever seen from a group of Seattle players, not to mention the fact that our Player also showed a fine hand at the guitar. In short, that his dancing was fully integrated into the overall performance, and none of the performers had to overdress in period costume in order to get the right effect – white shirts and handsome vests pretty much did it for the men, and violinist Clare Salaman was dressed entirely modernly and yet with the enthusiasm and good humor that did more to create an atmosphere than a room full of panniers would have done.

The performance was divided in five sets – “A Poem of Dancing,” “The Boatemen,” “The New Scots Jig,” “Assemblee” and “A la Mode de France.” Each set featured rather a lot of spoken text, from sources such as Shakespeare, Soame Jenyns “The Art of Dancing,” and the anonymous tract “A Parley betweene Prince Rupert’s Dogge and Tobies Dog” (1643), but also some great singing from the various players (my favorite being Ian Harrison’s “King Orfeo,” I believe, though it seemd like he might have transitioned right into “Johny Faa”). And while we might have just had our silent dancer, not only did he sing and play, but he also entered into duets – and duels, in “The French Dancing-Mastr & the English Soldier” – and a great performance of “The Fidler’s Wife” that had him, Harrison, and Salaman all hamming it up on stage like you never expect of people that have spent most of their life in the conservatory.

Of course, King Ham was Player himself, who came out on stage (with a bit of a strip-tease introduction) in a big-nosed Carnival mask and proceeded to walk out on and over the chairs and into the audience (“There goes the fourth wall,” I thought), there to flirt with, harangue, and amuse the groundlings. This, of course, was on top of his actual dancing, in which he leapt and capered (perhaps like a galliard was meant to be performed?) and kicked his heels up ever higher, egged on all the while by Andrew Lawrence-King, with whom Player had been reciting lines from Twelfth Night.

This was, none the less, very much a group performance, with everyone completely paying attention to each other and in the moment, as you would expect from, say, a jazz ensemble. This was highlighted during a moment of solo violin playing that took place during the “New Scots Jig” set, when everyone on stage had their eyes closed and was listening with pleasure to Salaman’s strings. It wasn’t a bunch of people waiting impatiently for “their turn;” what was happening was beautiful and they were all taking the time to enjoy it. While the music itself was gorgeous, I have to say I was also impressed by the Harp Consort as a whole for displaying the kind of appreciation they did. I think that spirit is part of why the overall effect was so very good; it wasn’t about ego or domination (though there was ego certainly on display, of the good-natured sort); it was a bunch of very talented people having a good time together. I felt lucky to be able to listen with them.

Overall, it’s hard to point at a moment that was the very best, as I was so caught up from one moment to the next I found no real valleys against which to measure the peaks. Who would ever think a harp consort would produce an event so lively? I felt like going and thanking Mr. Lawrence-King afterwards for such a good show. This was a great start (for me) to the series and I look forward both to seeing the next evening’s performance and to finding an opportunity to see this group again.

(This review is for a performance that took place on May 16th, 2009. The Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music continues through May 23rd.)