An exclusive concert celebrates the luminous music of Monteverdi for voice and orchestra
Hearing a sublime singer has always been one of the most thrilling live experiences, in both popular and classical music. The concert with Les Talens Lyriques with Christophe Rousset at this year's Festival, showcasing works by Monteverdi, is a fine opportunity to hear the musical voice as pioneered by the highly influential 17th century composer.
Les Talens Lyriques will have just performed the works in Holland with the Dutch National Opera in the week preceding this concert, so a lot of thought will have gone into the action and drama of the pieces. This show is the only time to hear them perform this work in the UK this year: this is therefore an exciting gig on many levels, be it for the chance to see an in-demand conductor in Brighton, to celebrate the work of a magnificent composer in his 450th birthday year, to hear a rare combination of Monteverdi's works, or to see an internationally lauded ensemble in Brighton Dome's Concert Hall perform some stunning music.
The concert will feature a combination of singers and musicians without any operatic staging, which gives a clear musical focus to the performance and gives you the chance to hear some superb singers without the often intimidating cost of the opera hall. The bill is a selection of madrigals, which is a fascinating form in musical history. A madrigal is a secular vocal composition for a number of different voices, and Monteverdi strove to illuminate every shade of emotion in the poetic works by introducing music to the form (early madrigals were a capella).
You don't have to be a historian or musicologist to appreciate the concert however, just try any of my Spotify playlist to sample some of the beautiful music you'll get to hear. I've selected a punchy, fast-paced Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, because I love how the pace can hurtle along (like it does around the 6.50 mark) and then crawl down into mournful tones with a drone-like backing. It's irresistibly gorgeous, but the riveting twists and turns might take a few listens to unpack for anyone unfamiliar with early music.
You can then switch from the tragic tale of Tancredi mistakenly killing his lover Clorinda in Il combattimento to the more danceable, sprightly Il ballo delle Ingrate, which shimmers with a prominent harpsichord and decadent orchestration. Il ballo is beautiful in a more lustrous, languid and opulent manner to Il combattimento, and I've included a link to a sharply recorded version that handily breaks up all of the smaller movements to give you a taste of the diverse short bursts of the whole piece. The Overture alone is expansive and enveloping, and directly melodic in the bold way that early music can be: immerse yourself in it now to reap the musical rewards on the evening.
Lamento d'Arianna meanwhile sounds more aria-like than the other works, rendered all the more sparsely striking in Anne Sofie von Otter's performance on the playlist. The fragment from a lost opera is imbued with the grief of Arianna who longs for death in words non-Italian speakers might not understand, but the powerful, emotive vocal part is devastatingly moving regardless.
Musical Director Christophe Rousset is a renowned harpsichordist and conductor, who will conduct the upcoming production of early Mozart opera Mitridate, re di Ponto at the Royal Opera House in the summer. You can hear him conduct Les Talens Lyriques performing the work via this Spotify link if you want to hear if Rousset and his ensemble play to your liking!
Whether you're a classical muso or a music lover of any stripe, this concert presents a highly affordable opportunity to hear some of the earliest, most moving writing for voices ever composed, performed by some of the world's best singers and musicians. The works will have been carefully honed over six performances with the Dutch National Opera in the week before the Brighton gig, and it will be thrilling to hear the fresh interpretations that Les Talens Lyriques will bring to the Concert Hall.
Words by Joe Fuller
Brighton Festival Live: Debashish Bhattacharya
Debashish Bhattacharya - slide guitar
Gurdain Rayatt - tabla
After being immersed in the twilight years of Edwardian England, emerge into the vivid Indian sunlight. Songlines Music Awards 2016 winner Bhattacharya will play a traditional raga concert, alongside virtuoso tabla player Gurdain Rayatt. Bhattacharya plays slide guitar, an instrument he has developed himself – a unique event from one of the great artists of world music.
In Pictures: Week 2
The second week of Brighton Festival 2016 saw two performances from our Guest Director Laurie Anderson: the spellbinding Song Conversation, where she performed with fellow musician-composers Nik Bärtsch and Eivind Aarset, and Slideshow, a sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant journey touching on projects, memories and adventures from her past.
On top of this, there were blockbuster performances from Duke Garwood and Haçienda Classical, Children's Laureate Chris Riddell answering questions and illustrating the answers live, the sonically spiritual Lou Reed Drones, and much more besides.
Find out what's going on in the third and final week of Brighton Festival 2016.
Photo credits Adam Weatherley, Vic Frankowski
Brighton Festival artist Debashish Bhattacharya wins Songlines Music Award
Pioneering Indian Classical musician, and India’s leading lap steel guitar player Debashish Bhattacharya has won the Songlines Music Award 2016 for Best Album (Asia and South Pacific category).
The results were announced on Friday 6 May in the June 2016 edition of Songlines Magazine and Debashish has picked up the award for his album Slide Guitar Ragas from Dusk Till Dawn.
The awards recognise outstanding talent in world music.
Debashish says, ‘From 1967-2016 my music has crossed five decades and huge changes in the music world, Songlines is a great magazine bringing to the public the best music from different cultures and ethnicities. This award is a big boost and recognition of my hard work, recognition like this is a life-saving drug to a low-profile musician like myself. This award inspires me to keep on driving on my music highway.’
As part of Brighton Festival 2016 Debashish Bhattacharya will play a traditional raga concert on a slide guitar he has developed himself, on 28 May at Brighton Dome Concert Hall, alongside virtuoso table player Gurdain Rayatt, as part of the Dr Blighty concert series.
Sat 28 May, 10.15-11.45pm
Brighton Dome Concert Hall
Visit www.brightonfestival.org or call 01273 709709
Songlines Music Awards 2016 winner Bhattacharya will play a traditional raga concert, alongside virtuoso tabla player Gurdain Rayatt. Bhattacharya plays slide guitar, an instrument he has developed himself – a unique event from one of the great artists of world music.
Watch Again - Brighton Festival Live: The Soldier: From Severn to Somme
Christopher Maltman baritone
Malcolm Martineau piano
Including works by Butterworth, Gurney, Somervell, Mahler, Musorgsky, Schumann, Wolf, Finzi and Poulenc
In the first of two recitals by Malcolm Martineau, the pianist accompanies the celebrated baritone Christopher Maltman – hailed as one of the country’s leading exponents of song ever since winning the Lieder Prize at the 1997 Cardiff Singer of the World competition. Colouring the contrast between the idyll of Edwardian England and the horrors of the Great War, an eclectic programme of songs, lieder and chansons charts the soldier's experience, from boyhood to battlefield and beyond.
Find out more and book for this event.
If you enjoy this live stream, then you might be interested in some of the events still coming up at Brighton Festival:
Gemma Lois Summerfield and Simon Lepper
A selection of chansons and Lieder showcases the expressive talents of Gemma Lois Summerfield, who won the 2015 Kathleen Ferrier Competition, accompanied here by vocal specialist Simon Lepper.
The Marian Consort - Breaking the Rules
Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa and Count of Conza, composed some of the most intense and glorious music of the Renaissance. He was also a brutal killer. As the obsessive composer relives the past and makes his final confession, the full horror of his crimes stands in stark contrast to his astonishing music.
Music, words and imagery combine in this special concert. The Philharmonia Orchestra perform some of the best-loved English works of the period, including Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending (the nation’s favourite piece of classical music as voted by Classic FM listeners), alongside violin virtuoso Kala Ramnath's own traditional music scored for violin, orchestra and Indian folk instruments.
In Pictures: Week 1
Brighton Festival 2016 kicked off in grand sunny style with the Children's Parade (click to see more photos) on Saturday, and we've been celebrating since then!
Here are a few photos from the first week, from the touching Portraits in Motion to a very special canine concert in Music For Dogs.
Photos by Vic Frankowski, Tom Oldham, John Hunter and Adam Weatherley.
Spotlight: Brighton: Symphony of a City
Discover more from Lizzie Thynne and Ed Hughes, as they discuss Brighton: Symphony of a City
One of the Brighton Festival events people still talk about is the screening of Battleship Potemkin (2005) with Ed Hughes’s new score in the Hove Engineerium. When Ed and Brighton based filmmaker Lizzie Thynne proposed a Brighton homage to Walther Ruttmann’s 1927 silent classic Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, we grabbed the opportunity to celebrate Brighton in all its festive, bohemian, campaigning, fun-filled glory.
See more Spotlight films, where we cast a spotlight on some of our special commissions and co-commissions in our milestone 50th Brighton Festival.
Video by Catalina Balan with Neil Whitehead
Brighton Festival 2015 soars to a close
Brighton Festival 2015 - with award-wining author Ali Smith at the helm as Guest Director - came to a soaring conclusion this weekend.
Over the three-week Festival - the biggest and most established in England - many of Ali Smith’s ideas, interests and passions were explored in a thrilling selection of events which spanned music, theatre, dance, visual art, film, literature and debate featuring artists and performers the world over from Ukrainian ‘ethnic chaos’ band DakhaBrakha to the newly Palme d’Or honoured filmmaker Agnès Varda.
Three central themes - Art and Nature, the Crossing Places between art forms, and Taking Liberty - provided a fascinating jumping off point to explore some of the key ideas and issues of the moment as well as a memorable visual image of a swift in flight which proved a fitting and popular emblem for the 2015 Festival.
The opening weekend asked audiences to ‘take flight’ for the annual children’s parade, the largest of its kind in Europe. Supported by regional businesses Class of their Own, Gatwick Airport and Riverford, the annual parade traditionally marks the start of Brighton Festival and was attended by almost 5,000 children from 83 schools and community groups from across the region; each dressed in costumes they had specifically designed and made for the event. Taking inspiration from Brighton Festival 2015 Guest Director Ali Smith’s deep fascination with birds and other migratory patterns, costumes included bird life in all its forms as well as flying machines, creatures from fantasy and fable, bugs, bees and butterflies.
The Children's Parade. Photo by Jordan Hughes
During the ensuing 23 days it wasn’t just the kids who took flight – with more reviews praising the artistic excellence of this year’s programme than ever. One of the Festival’s biggest hits was the European premiere of Tony award-winning playwright Richard Nelson’s highly acclaimed four play cycle The Apple Family Plays from The Public Theater, New York which was lavished with 5 stars across the board. Glowing reviews in The Guardian, The Stage and the artsdesk amongst others described them as “exemplary”, “extraordinary”, “profound” and “faultlessly directed”. This was swiftly followed by the top accolade going to violinist Isabelle Faust’s amazing feat of solo virtuosity, Paine’s Plough’s poignant exploration of love and relationships in Lungs and Nina Conti’s extraordinary tour de force of improvised comedy amongst others.
Fleeting on Brighton Beach. Photo by Chris Bethall
At just under 400 performances across 150 events, including 34 that were entirely free to the public, Brighton Festival 2015 featured the highest number of exclusives, premieres and commissions to date including a sizeable proportion of events that cannot - and could not - be experienced anywhere else outside of Brighton Festival, from Sam Lee’s intimate Nightingale Walks on the Downs to Laurie Anderson’s one-off concert All the Animals and Festival finale Fleeting, the spectacular installation over the West Pier by And Now in which hundreds of individual points of fire created shapes and swathes of glowing light and shade.
In a continuation of the Festival’s dedication to making the arts accessible for all, 2015 saw a plethora of shows - including high profile events such as physical theatre show The Spalding Suite which takes as its subject the UK's basketball sub-culture and Jess Thom’s inspiring and uplifting exploration of her experience of living with Tourette’s, Backstage in Biscuit Land - live-streamed to audiences around the world, for free. Brighton Festival also reached out beyond the centre more than ever before, working with Without Walls to present a number of family-friendly performances in Saltdean and Woodingdean for the first time as well as the enthralling 451 at Preston Barracks and playful Ear Trumpet in Queen’s Park. This was complemented by a fantastic response to community driven events such as a new children’s birdwatching trail which was generously embraced by the business community, and the return of the Guest Director’s Guests, the Peacock Poetry Prize and the Young City Reads schemes.
Backstage in Biscuit Land. Photo by Victor Frankowski
Other Festival highlights included a one off live screening of Peter Strickland’s daring masterpiece The Duke of Burgundy; the English premiere of Vanishing Point & National Theatre of Scotland’s The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler, a homage to one of Scotland's most likeable, most individual and most unexpected 20th century figures; a new lecture specially commissioned for Brighton Festival by acclaimed author Jeanette Winterson OBE on the practices and craft of writing; and the UK premiere of The Forgotten / L’Oublié(e), the directorial debut of Raphaëlle Boitel, one of the most remarkable performers on the European visual and physical theatre scene.
Brighton Festival 2015 featured 396 performances across 150 events including 45 exclusives, premieres and commissions and 34 free events.
Andrew Comben, Chief Executive of Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival says: “From the 5 stars across-the-board success of Richard Nelson’s extraordinary Apple Family Plays to the headline-grabbing performance of Kate Tempest and a very special personal appearance by newly Palme D’Or honoured Agnes Varda - this year really has been a Festival to remember. Ali Smith, as Guest Director, has been an absolute pleasure to work with and a wonderful inspiration to us all. Her remarkable sense of possibility, wonder, imagination and excitement at anything that she encounters has been evident every step of the way, from her invaluable input during the programming process to her lively and engaging presence throughout the month. The Festival’s continued ability to not only bring such an eclectic range of artists onto one bill but to make it a resounding success, is testament to the extraordinary support we have from funders, sponsors and from audiences themselves. It’s an exciting time for Brighton Festival as we look towards our 50th birthday next year. I cannot wait to lift the lid on what surprises we have in store for the city and beyond.”
Director Susannah Waters on Being Both...
Being Both is an original production commissioned by Brighton Festival, directed by Susannah Waters and starring renowned mezzo-soprano Alice Coote. Inspired by Handel’s ‘bravura, amazing, profound’ arias and his ‘incredible compassion for human foibles’, Being Both curates the richest moments from Handel’s repertoire, in order to explore the complexities of gender in a modern context.
The production brings together vocals from Alice Coote, the world-class English Concert Orchestra led by Harry Bicket, and visual references from Ali Smith’s book How to be Both in a beautiful and thought-provoking meditation on what it is to be male, female and everything in-between.
We chatted to Susannah about the complexities of gender, her love affair with Handel, and how the orchestra in Being Both will be part of the action.
Susannah Waters on…
…The role of gender in Being Both
“Really, what we’re doing is trying to explore the whole hugely complex subject of gender and the world as it is today and how we’re affected by our own sense of gender: how masculine or feminine we feel we are and if that is a bit of a mismatch with how we’re meant to be, or how our job asks us to be. Also, very much thinking about how an audience sitting in a theatre is affected by gender: by someone’s costume, or the way they look and if someone costumed like a man is singing those words. If someone who has the appearance of a woman is singing those exact same words, they’re very different and they have very different connotations, even if it’s the exact same text.”
“All the music is by Handel which is, of course, the best starting point in the world. I keep saying to Alice that there are some arias that are almost unbreakable in terms of the director screwing them up, or anyone screwing them up. They’re like Shakespeare: there are some pieces in the world that you can do almost nothing bad to, because they are infinitely playable and so full of richness. So we’ve got quite a lot of those really bravura, amazing, profound arias in the piece. Harry Bicket was saying yesterday, it’s kind of the greatest hits of Handel that we’ve collected. It’s really, actually, the pieces that Alice and I really wanted to explore and she wanted to sing.
He’s much above in terms of humanity, and understands everyone’s weaknesses and strengths and courage. For me, that fluidity is in his music; that compassion. He was very much a theatre maker. Like Shakespeare, he would nab a bit of music from that thing he’d written twenty years ago, and put it in this bit. A lot of the pieces were very piecemeal: recycling bits of music, recycling bits of ballet and sticking it here, and turning that into an aria. You never feel that it’s just kind of, lazy un-thought through music. He was very much a man of the theatre. He felt happiest in that theatrical milieu, in the middle of all those people that create an opera.”
…On working with Harry Bicket and the English Concert Orchestra
“I’m such a fan of this orchestra. I’ve gone to see them in concert, doing concert performances of operas. The last time I saw them, doing Alcina at the Barbican, it was an amazing line-up of singers, but I spent a lot of my time watching the orchestra, because they are so engaged when they play. Sometimes you go and see orchestra concerts and the orchestra look a bit jaded, they look a bit kind of ‘another show’. The English Concert Orchestra are just in their bodies, they’re so with the music, so in our show they’re very much onstage. I’m bringing forward some of the soloists to the forestage to be part of the action with Alice. I really wanted them to be an equal part of the visual show, so they are very much there on stage. They’re just fantastic, for me they’re my favourite Baroque orchestra around – just amazing players.”