Review – classical music highlights from the first week of the Brighton Festival

Brighton Party

at the Brighton Dome Concert Hall – Monday 9 May (7.30pm), Brighton & East Sussex Youth Orchestra, conductor Peter Davison, piano Jeneba Kanneh Mason: George Gershwin, An American in Paris (1928); Florence Price, Piano Concerto in One Movement (1933); Symphony No. 3 in C minor (1938).

at All Saints Church, Hove – Tuesday 10 May (1pm), countertenor Hugh Cutting and piano George Ireland: ‘Untethered’ – Claudio Monteverdi, ‘E pur io torno’ (Again I am Drawn, from opera L’incornazione di Poppea); Franz Schubert, ‘Ganymed’; Ernest Chausson, ‘Hebe’; Hugo Wolf, Herr, was Trägt der Boden Yesterday? (Lord, what will grow in this soil?); George Benjamin, Ceci, dit l’Ange (from the opera Written on Skin); Herbert Howells, King David (Walter de La Mare); Gabriel Fauré, Swan on the Water (Swan on the Water); Reynaldo Hahn, To Chloris; Nico Muhly, Old Bones; Piers Connor Kennedy, Wait, Two Worlds, Trees (from the Rough Rhymes song cycle).

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Friday May 13 (1 p.m.), piano Iyad Sughayer (‘Ee-yad Soo-guy-er; Jordan-Palestine): Helen Ottaway, Levantina; Haydn, Piano Sonata in F major Hob.XVI:23; Sibelius, Six Impromptus Op5; Robert Schumann, Faschingschwank aus Wien Op26 (Carnival Prank in Vienna).

I was at three concerts featuring young talent – a giant herd of debutants in a youth orchestra, thrust into the city festival spotlight with up-and-coming piano soloist Jeneba Kanneh Mason, 19, an undergraduate at the Royal College, who this week was one of four now-born adult individual talents performing these selected concerts. Four new artists for our future.

The Brighton & East Sussex Youth Orchestra, barely a year old, combines three distinct alumni in the Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival’s crucial Create Music project for the musical education of today’s children. Nearly 90 young musicians took to the stage with six coaches from the London Symphony Orchestra, all responding to their industrious conductor, composer and orchestrator Peter Davison, ahead of the orchestra’s first tour, to Normandy in July.

Their dual task and responsibility was to lift the curtain on classical music on the most important month of the year in their home town. Something particularly exposed, and raising their performance bar even higher, invoking fortune to favor the brave. It was also about marrying in rehearsal and performing on stage the reunited 20th century black American composer Florence Price at England’s biggest arts festival, asking the bold to be their friend.

In Price Piano Concerto, Jeneba Kanneh Mason, fourth in her famous family seniority, led them with a totally assured account of piano writing, entertaining and energizing, if conventional and without exception. Jeneba, tall and slender with dramatic waist-length hair braids, dialed in on the keyboard, already has a distinctive stage presence.

Assessing and evaluating Florence Price’s unfamiliar, overlooked musical voice was a public goal that was complicated and frustrated by the inevitable inaccuracies in a mass of outstanding teenagers still in varying shades of confidence and accomplishment on the occasion of intense and focused effort.

Price is taking up the challenge that the visiting Dvorak has issued nationwide, to create classical music with ethnic inflections and a unity as American as his was Bohemian. Price alludes to sung spirituals and uses dance beats. The punctuation of the percussion gives color and flavor to the street or performance music, which in this concert responded to the atmospheres of Gershwin’s previous ballet, An American in Paris.

None of the music was fast in a more relaxed Piano Concerto, less confined by European concert rigor. The “Juba” dance, a precursor to ragtime, present in the Concerto, was then associated with elements of habanera in his Symphony, whose sonic palate entertained with printmaking, castanets, harp, xylophone and celestial .

The Philadelphia Orchestra will perform Price’s First Symphony on the penultimate night of the BBC Proms (September 9). This will ensure a cloudless experience of his music, which until this century suffered politically unsurprising scorn after his death in 1953. His death ended his production of a string suite for Barbirolli’s Hallé Orchestra in Manchester.

The B&ES Youth Orchestra gained invaluable experience here in front of their families, friends, supporters and curious audiences. And when they put on something more rooted to perform, they showed more courage in their encore: the incandescent coda of Stravinsky’s Firebird.

If this Monday concert had finally shown a naive flair in a perhaps ill-calculated pride, the enterprise and the imagination of the two following programs were carried out on All Saints’ Day with complete assurance and a still young authority which gave the Festival its first class stamp.

Both drew large audience numbers – I thought about 85% with a capacity of 400 people. Seating arranged laterally across the nave of the church created intimacy and although the potentially chaotic large ambient space tested the pianists’ dynamic control, one reward was an almost mystical pianissimo effect, qu ‘Ireland and Sughgayer have exploited time and time again with great skill in finger touch and pedaling.

The countertenor’s song is on the crest of a wave. Who paved the way for all of this? The Beatles and pop? Now here’s another Brit to match the Europeans: Hugh Cutting, the first recipient of the Kathleen Ferrier Countertenor Award.

Not just the enticing, sumptuous, confident, startling vocal communication that is the countertenor, but a singer with dramatic awareness and insight, a suddenly revealing low register, and someone already in demand by the opera. And already a confident and courageous artist with, on Tuesday, some pandemic-induced psychological and philosophical perspectives on personal liberation experienced through Untethering or Untetheredness.

Appropriate material for this Festival in this exhausting time. Covid has made us reconnect with death – artistically and spiritually for the better, one might argue. Cutting displayed an incisive intellect in working out parallel or allusive examples from the world of tunes and lieder. The public received the full lyrics of the songs as well as the program notes written by curator Cutting.

Mortals were attached to the service of the ancient gods enjoying freedom (Schubert, Chausson). The lovers are attached to obsession (Ottone’s attachment to the unfaithful Poppea). Through the sacrifice of Christ crucified, believers can be bound to their thirst for the afterlife (Wolf). The jealous protector kills his presumed rival, then his own lover whom he had already tried to murder, commits suicide by suicide (Benjamin). Seeing the wider world more freely softens it and releases King David from his grief (Howells).

Seeing a swan soaring inspires calm to engender release from one’s troubles (Fauré). The discovery that one is truly loved frees the recipient from jealousy or infatuation (Hahn). Attentive writer feels intense empathy for maligned and physically ailing Plantagenet King Richard III as he is exhumed from under a city parking lot and then somehow exonerated by medicine, science and modern research (Muhly). The soldier freed from earthly dangers and agonies by religious salvation (Kennedy).

An engrossing and enriching concert experience – concluded by Ireland’s superbly expressed instrumental partnership with her singer, and by her own verbal recitation of Michelangelo’s 30th Sonnet (love entrapped with ecstasy), and her own reading by Cutting from an article in the Guardian newspaper on the reappearance of Richard III in Leicester.

Many in attendance on Friday will note with satisfaction the career progress of intelligent and amiable Arab pianist Iyad Sughayer. Audiences he has also spoken to could see the beauty of his playing inspired by Somerset folk composer Helen Ottaway (65) in his Levantina – commissioned for Sughayer by his sister Frances. His original source of folk songs is the coded, wind-blown messages to men gone to war, chanted by their wives at home.

Many will thank Sughayer for believing that this sweet piece would effectively and with dignity open his concert. Also, for his insight, knowledge and innate respect for Haydn, this composer is not just a routine recital warm-up number, but possesses the multiple masterful qualities to sit anywhere in a recital program. concert. In music for centuries-old keyboards on a modern grand piano, Sughayer’s delivery was wonderfully skillful yet direct, light yet assertive, witty and deep.

Many were also grateful for his enthusiastic launch into his repertoire of Schumann’s last almost delirious instrumental expression of his longing and adoration for the hard-to-get bride-to-be, Clara Wieck, before he turned his attention to songwriting. poetry for the whole following year. Sughayer was the ardent, exuberant lover personified.

And, above all to many, listeners were enlightened by his presentation of Sibelius as a piano composer, with Impromptus written to tick a young composer’s bank balance, but audibly his distinctive brooding Nordic self, plenty of tonality. minor and introspective intimacy or Finnish folk meditation turning into occasional dance. Local pianists were gratefully notified.

Katchachuryan’s slow, melancholic article from his Childhood Pictures, with its sudden ending “Oh, let’s now play outside”, was a callback to an artist we shouldn’t hesitate to listen to again.


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