The Manchester premiere of James MacMillan’s Stabat Mater: sacred music concerned with the suffering of humanity

The Manchester premiere of James MacMillan’s <em>Stabat Mater</em>: sacred music concerned with the suffering of humanity

Can a medieval poem meditating on the suffering of Mary, the mother of Christ, as she stands at the foot of the cross have any relevance to these times, or to someone like me who adheres to no faith? The answer given by the performance of James Macmillan’s new setting of Stabat Mater at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall was a resounding yes.

The singers of Harry Christophers’ The Sixteen and the strings of the Britten Sinfonia combined to produce an electrifying performance of Macmillan’s elegiac, angry and often discordant cry of grief and personal commitment in the face of tragedy. I don’t think I’ve attended a more enthralling concert of contemporary music in the classical tradition. Continue reading “The Manchester premiere of James MacMillan’s Stabat Mater: sacred music concerned with the suffering of humanity”

The music in my head (part 3): jazz and beyond

The music in my head (part 3): jazz and beyond

This is the third post in which I recall some of the music I’ve enjoyed in 2015 but never got round to writing about. This one is dedicated (with two exceptions) to music recorded on the record label that is, for me, indispensable – ECM. There’s a lot of jazz, examples of the gift of ECM’s guiding spirit Manfred Eicher for bringing together musicians from different contexts to create wonderful sounds, and some of the contemporary music released on the ECM New Series label. Continue reading “The music in my head (part 3): jazz and beyond”

Ensemble 10/10 explore Europe’s 20th century fault lines

Ensemble 10/10 explore Europe’s 20th century fault lines

In the gilded elegance of the Concert Room in St Georges Hall last week, Ensemble 10/10 led a small but enthusiastic audience on a journey through the aesthetic and  political fault lines that shattered 20th century Europe.

As always, Ensemble 10/10 – a splinter group from the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra – was led by Clark Rundell, who always communicates energy and enthusiasm for the pieces on the programme. I like these occasions for Rundell’s concise, informed introductions to each work, and because I get to hear music that is challenging and which I met never otherwise get to hear.

For example, the main event at last week’s concert was to be the world première of Bosnian Voices by Nigel Osborne, unknown to me at that point, whose new work sets to music verses composed by people of all faiths and backgrounds from the town of Srebrenica in Bosnia. Continue reading “Ensemble 10/10 explore Europe’s 20th century fault lines”

Arvo Pärt in Manchester: music that fulfils a deep human need

Arvo Pärt in Manchester: music that fulfils a deep human need

During the interval at last night’s magnificent Arvo Pärt concert at the Bridgewater Hall I sneaked a look at the latest news on my phone. At the Brussels eurozone summit, Greece was being forced to accept financial colonialism in terms as humiliating as those imposed on Germany at Versailles in 1919.

Back in the concert hall, the programme of Pärt’s sublime music continued with his impassioned work for orchestra and solo soprano, Como cierva Sedienta. With its declamatory choruses, it seemed to speak to the ugly mood in Brussels: Continue reading “Arvo Pärt in Manchester: music that fulfils a deep human need”

Richter/Pärt at the Whitworth, Manchester: no broken hallelujah

Richter/Pärt at the Whitworth, Manchester: no broken hallelujah

Just as the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass asks, ‘What do you suppose is the use of a child without any meaning?’ so the question might arise, ‘What is the use of art without meaning?’

Richter Pärt
Richter/Pärt at Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery

Should a person enter the room at Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery in which the work of Gerhard Richter is currently on display, and should that person have read no advance publicity about the Richter/Pärt show of which it is a part, they would find themselves confronted by four large abstract paintings in which thick layers of paint have been squeegeed across the surface – scorched black on white, smears of bloody red, and patches of disintegrating green. They might then ask, ‘What does this mean?’ Continue reading “Richter/Pärt at the Whitworth, Manchester: no broken hallelujah”

Joanna MacGregor and the eccentric genius of Erik Satie

Joanna MacGregor and the eccentric genius of Erik Satie

An evening in the presence of pianist Joanna MacGregor is always guaranteed to be both enjoyable and informative so we didn’t hesitate when we saw the Capstone theatre advertising ‘an evening devoted to the eccentric genius of Erik Satie’, presented by MacGregor.  We were not disappointed. Continue reading “Joanna MacGregor and the eccentric genius of Erik Satie”

Bartok, Beethoven and Pärt

Martha Argerich

Last night we dipped our toes into the Manchester International Music Festival, attending a concert at the Bridgewater Hall featuring a very varied programme – Bartok, Beethoven and Arvo Part.  I was there primarily for the Bartok (Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste) and Part (Lamentate), but most of the audience were there for pianist Martha Argerich, who played Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, receiving several several rapturous standing ovations. Continue reading “Bartok, Beethoven and Pärt”