‘West Side Story’ world premiere for San Francisco Symphony


MTT and the San Francisco Symphony present ‘West Side Story’ in Concert
Credit: Stefan Cohen

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony present a world premiere this week – a concert version of the music from West Side Story.  This  marks the first time that the complete musical has been performed in a live concert setting, and the SF Symphony is the first musical entity to receive permission from all four West Side Story rights-holders to present it as such.

The soloists are all making their San Francisco debuts – Cheyenne Jackson appears as Tony, Alexandra Silber as Maria, Jessica Vosk sings Anita, and Riff is sung by Kevin Vortmann.  They are supported by the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, directed by Ragnar Bohlin.


Leonard Bernstein
Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

In 1949, choreographer Jerome Robbins approached Leonard Bernstein with the concept of collaborating on a musical based on the story of a modern-day Romeo and Juliet.  Bernstein thought it a “noble idea”.  Playwright Arthur Laurents was engaged to write the book, and in time the then-novice composer and lyricist, Stephen Sondheim, was persuaded to write the lyrics.

Due mainly to the crowded schedules of its creators, the project was to take eight years of setbacks, delays and revisions, before it even started to become a reality.  Based on the feuding between American and Puerto Rican street gangs in New York’s Upper West Side during the 1950s, it was a reflection of the social issues of the time, and marked a significant turning point in American musical theatre.  Finally, with overall direction and choreography by Robbins, Bernstein’s score, the book by Laurents and lyrics by Sondheim,West Side Story was given its official Broadway opening at the Winter Garden Theatre on September 26, 1957, making what was described as a “seismic impression on the sold-out audience”.


Choreographer Jerome Robbins
Credit: Didier Olivre

Michael Tilson Thomas first met Leonard Bernstein several years after the premiere of West Side Story, and he and Bernstein remained friends and colleagues, working together closely until Bernstein died in 1990.  They also shared a dedication to music education and a passion for promoting the music of Mahler.


Cheyenne Jackson, Alexandra Silber and Michael Tilson Thomas backstage at Symphony Hall
Credit: Stefan Cohen

Tilson Thomas has frequently led the San Francisco Symphony in the music of this celebrated composer and conductor, highlights of which include semi-staged performances of On the Town in 1996, and the all-Bernstein gala concert at Carnegie Hall in 2008, celebrating the 90th anniversary of his birth – a concert which was broadcast on PBS in the Great Performances series – it’s available on the SFS Media label.

While for many people Bernstein is revered as a conductor, MTT believes that it’s for his music that Bernstein will be remembered. “It’s a very authentic voice,” he says, a voice that expresses “the cares and concerns and hopes of a whole generation of American society.”


‘West Side Story’ principals with members of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus
Credit: Stefan Cohen

The music from West Side Story has certainly attracted its fair share of awards.  After the release of the film adaptation, the soundtrack won the 1962 Grammy Award for Best Sound Track Album or Recording of Original Cast from Motion Picture or Television.  In 1984, Bernstein recorded the score from the musical – featuring Kiri Te Kanawa as Maria, José Carreras as Tony, Tatiana Troyanos as Anita, Kurt Ollmann as Riff, with Marilyn Horne’s  offstage rendering of  Somewhere. The recording won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album in 1985, and the recording process was filmed as a documentary.  The 2009 new Broadway cast album, with Josefina Scaglione as Maria, Matt Cavenaugh as Tony and Karen Olivo as Anita won the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album.


‘West Side Story’ principals and members of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus
Credit: Stefan Cohen

Leonard Bernstein recorded the suite of Symphonic Dances from West Side Story with the New York Philharmonic in 1961, and with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1983.  This suite has since been taken into the repertoire of a number of the world’s major orchestras, and amongst the many recordings of the work is one by the San Francisco Symphony under the direction of Seiji Ozawa.

The San Francisco Symphony Chorus has an impressive list of Grammy’s to its credit as well.  Recordings by the Chorus have won a total of eight Grammy awards. The 150-member ensemble, led by Ragnar Bohlin, featured on the SFS Media recording of Mahler’s Symphony No 8, with MTT and the San Francisco Symphony, which won three 2010 Grammys, including the award for Best Choral Performance.  Previous Grammys include Best Choral Performance, for Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem in 1995, Best Choral Performance for Orff’s Carmina burana in 1992, Best Classical Album with the SF Symphony for Mahler’s Symphony No 3 and Kindertotenlieder in 2004, and Best Classical Album for its performance of Perséphone as part of a collection of Stravinsky’s music in 2000.

WSS Rehearsal Tony Maria 1

Cheyenne Jackson and Alexandra Silber as Tony and Maria
Credit: Stefan Cohen

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony present West Side Story in Concert at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, from June 27th to July 2nd.  The performances are to be recorded for release in 2014 on the Symphony’s in-house label, SFS Media.


Michael Tilson Thomas, cast and members of the Symphony
Credit: Stefan Cohen


Production photographs taken at rehearsal at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco


San Francisco Symphony

Michael Tilson Thomas

Leonard Bernstein

Jerome Robbins

San Francisco Symphony Chorus 

SFS Media


San Francisco Symphony
Amanda Vaill – Somewhere – the Life of Jerome Robbins

The Royal Ballet takes ‘Manon’ to Monaco


The Royal Ballet’s Nehemiah Kish and Marianela Nunez in ‘Manon’
Credit: Johan Persson – courtesy Royal Opera House

The Royal Ballet goes on tour to the Principality of Monaco later this month, to perform one of the classic works from its repertoire – Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon.  In a co-production with the Grimaldi Forum Monaco and the Ballets de Monte-Carlo, this work of passion, betrayal and tragedy, set to Jules Massenet’s score, will take place in the Salle des Princes of the Grimaldi Forum, with the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Martin Yates.

The Royal Ballet has a special relationship with the Principality, as the founder of the Company, Dame Ninette de Valois, was a member of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes when it was based in Monte Carlo.  The origins of The Royal Ballet go back to 1931, the year in which Dame Ninette assembled a small group of dancers, known originally known as the Vic-Wells Ballet.  In 1939, the Vic-Wells became known as the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, taking its name from the theatre at which it was based until 1946, the year in which it took up residence at the Royal Opera House.

In 1956, Queen Elizabeth II granted the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet and Sadler’s Wells School a Royal Charter, and The Royal Ballet and Royal Ballet School were created.  Under the Charter, a body of Governors was set up to safeguard the future of a Company (now The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet) and School, and to be the custodians of the traditions established by Dame Ninette de Valois in 1931.


Marianela Nunez as Manon and Nehemiah Kish as Des Grieux
Credit: Johan Persson – courtesy Royal Opera House

It was during the time of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet that Dame Ninette recognised the choreographic talent of the young dancer Kenneth MacMillan, and she it was who encouraged him to develop the creative genius which would lead to his emergence as one of the greatest choreographers of the 20th century. Kenneth MacMillan was the first British choreographer to be produced entirely by the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, where he trained as a dancer from the age of 15. He enjoyed a very successful career as a dancer, but stopped dancing at the age of 23, mainly because of the terrible stage-fright which he experienced.

“I turned to choreography as a release from dancing,” he said, “and I was lucky enough that the first thing I did everyone liked.”  That classic understatement preceded the creation of a vast repertoire of works for The Royal Ballet, earning MacMillan his place in history as “a choreographer who changed the nature of classical ballet”, according to Cristina Franchi, Exhibitions and Heritage Publications Manager of The Royal Opera House.


Sir Kenneth MacMillan
Credit: Anthony Crickmay – courtesy Royal Opera House

As Artistic Director of the Royal Ballet from 1970 to 1977, Kenneth MacMillan expanded the repertoire of the Company with the introduction of more works by George Balanchine, Glen Tetley, John Cranko, Hans van Manen and John Neumeier, and persuaded choreographers of the calibre of Jerome Robbins to take their work to London.  Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering was staged at Covent Garden in 1970.

Having retired after seven years as Artistic Director, MacMillan held the dual roles of Chief Choreographer to The Royal Ballet and Associate Director of American Ballet Theatre until 1992.  He collapsed and died backstage, during a performance, on October 29th of that year.

MacMillan wrote Manon in 1974 – his second three-act ballet as Artistic Director for The Royal Ballet.  Following scathing criticism of the subject of his previous work, Anastasia, he opted for a less controversial story, and one which had already been used for an opera by both Massenet and Puccini.  Based on the 1731 novel L’Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by the Abbé Prévost, it is set in 18th century Paris, at a time when decadence, corruption and depravity were rife.


Edward Watson as Des Grieux and Mara Galeazzi as Manon
Credit: Bill Cooper – courtesy Royal Opera House

Manon, beautiful but desperately poor, is adored by Des Grieux, a young student.  Having confirmed their love – in what must surely be one of the most exquisite pas de deux in the repertoire – their idyll is interrupted by the intrusion of Manon’s brother, Lescaut, and Monsieur GM, a wealthy older man to whom Lescaut has sold her.  Attracted by the life of luxury on offer, Manon deserts Des Grieux.

She and Des Grieux meet up again at a night of revelry in the establishment of a local Madame, and they escape together after he’s caught cheating at cards.  Manon is later arrested for prostitution, and – followed by Des Grieux – finds herself being deported to the penal colony of New Orleans.  She escapes from gaol and the two lovers flee to the swamps of Louisiana, where Manon collapses in Des Grieux’s arms and dies.


Leanne Benjamin as Manon
Credit: Bill Cooper – courtesy Royal Opera House

Composed in 1884, Manon is one of Massenet’s most popular works.  He was born in 1842, and his future involvement with the arts was influenced by his mother, a talented painter and pianist.  In 1853 he entered the Paris Conservatory and rapidly became something of a sensation. In 1859 he won the Premier Prix, Piano, and four years later the Premier Grand Prix de Rome, after which he departed for the French Academy in Rome at the Villa Medici.

Massenet started composing his operas in the early 1870s, and in 1878 was offered the position of Professor of Composition at the Paris Conservatory.  At the age of 38 he was elected a member of the Academy of Fine Arts.  During the 1900s Massenet forged strong links with the Principality of Monaco.  His work was much admired by Prince Albert I and opera director Raoul Gunsbourg, and he composed Le Jongleur de Notre-Dame (1902), Chérubin (1905), Thérèse (1907) and Don Quichotte (1910) for the Principality.  He died that year.


The Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra
Credit: Monaco Press Centre

The Royal Ballet’s production of L’Histoire de Manon takes place from 27th to 29th June, 2013, at la Salle des Princes du Grimaldi Forum, 10 avenue Princesse Grace, Monaco.  For information on ticketing please visit the Grimaldi Forum website  www.grimaldiforum.com


The Grimaldi Forum, Principality of Monaco
Credit: Monaco Press Centre


The Grimaldi Forum (centre foreground), Principality of Monaco
Credit: Monaco Press Centre



Ballets de Monte-Carlo, Royal Opera House

Ballets de Monte-Carlo
Dame Ninette de Valois
Sir Kenneth MacMillan
The Royal Ballet
Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra 
Visit Monaco

MTT and San Francisco Symphony celebrate the work of Stravinsky


Record cover for ‘The Rite of Spring’
Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Michael Tilson Thomas, that most creative of music directors, follows his recent Beethoven Festival with another celebration – this one dedicated to the composer who was arguably one of the most influential of 20th century – Igor Stravinsky. Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the first performance of The Rite of Spring, MTT and the San Francisco Symphony present two programs featuring this seminal work, together with some of Stravinsky’s less well-known music – his Violin Concerto and his scores for Agon and Les Noces.  American-Israeli virtuoso, Gil Shaham, is the soloist in the concerto, and Les Noces features the Dmitry Pokrovsky Ensemble.


MTT in the PBS documentary ‘Keeping Score: Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring’
Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Tilson Thomas has had a passion for the music of Stravinsky since he first worked with the composer during his student days in Southern California, so he’s designed these programs to give audiences a new insight not only into The Rite of Spring, but also into the inspiration which the composer drew from Russian folk music.

“The folk music he heard in Russian villages made an enormous impression on a young Stravinsky,” said MTT in the PBS television documentary, Keeping Score: Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. “In The Rite of Spring, he wanted to use the sophisticated symphony orchestra to evoke the wild power of village music.”

The first of the two Stravinsky programs – featuring Agon, the Violin Concerto and The Rite of Spring – takes place on June 19th and 20th.

NYCB -c31844-9_Agon_WhelMarco

New York City Ballet’s Wendy Whelan and Sébastien Marcovici in Balanchine’s ‘Agon’
Credit: Paul Kolnik – courtesy NYCB

Stravinsky began composing Agon, a ballet for 12 dancers, in December 1953, set it aside, returned to it in 1956, and completed the work in April 1957.  Dedicated to Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine, it was premiered in a concert performance in Los Angeles on June 17th, 1957, conducted by Robert Craft.  The premiere of the stage performance, by the New York City Ballet, took place on December 1st in the same year.  The first performance of the music by the San Francisco Symphony was in March 1959, under the baton of Enrique Jordá, and Michael Tilson Thomas conducted it most recently in June 1999.

MTT was at the New York premiere. “It was a Sunday night at the New York City Ballet: December 1, 1957,” he says.  “NYCB was the most exciting institution in New York’s artistic life, choreographer George Balanchine was in his glory period, and Stravinsky, seventy-five that year, had just entered his wondrous Indian summer. Agon, the eleventh of Balanchine’s twenty‑three Stravinsky ballets, proved to be a dazzling feast of musical and dance virtuosity, with the choreographer matching the composer’s wit and invention step for step with his own Stravinskian twists on familiar dance language.”


Balanchine and Stravinsky
Credit: Martha Swope – courtesy New York City Ballet

Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto was completed in 1931, the first performance taking place on October 23rd of the same year, with Polish violinist Samuel Dushkin as soloist, and the composer conducting the Berlin Radio Orchestra.  The concerto was, to a degree, a collaboration between Stravinsky and Dushkin who, with the support of music publisher Willy Strecker, initially put the idea to Stravinsky.  The composer was at first somewhat reluctant – mainly because he doubted his ability to write a work which would be “at once brilliant and practicable for the violin”, an instrument with which he wasn’t entirely comfortable.

The partnership with Dushkin turned out, however, to be a successful one, as was the development of the concerto – as we now know.  According to Dushkin, his function was “to advise Stravinsky how his ideas could best be adapted to the exigencies of the violin as a concert display instrument.”  The friendship between the two men lasted until Stravinsky’s death in 1971, by which time Dushkin had introduced the concerto to audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, and he also made the first recording of it in 1932.


Gil Shaham
Credit: Luke Ratray

Gil Shaham is widely regarded as one of today’s most accomplished and engaging violinists, appearing with leading conductors and orchestras around the globe.  He also gives frequent recitals and ensemble appearances on the world’s great concert stages, and at the most prestigious festivals.

During his 2012-13 season, Shaham has continued a long-term exploration of ‘Violin Concertos of the 1930s’, a project which he started in 2010.  Included are the Barber, Berg, Stravinsky and Britten concertos, as well as the Bartok Violin Concerto No 2 and the Prokofiev Violin Concerto No 2, and by the end of the season, performances will have taken place with the orchestras of Baltimore, Boston, New York, Chicago, Montreal and Kansas City, the Orchestre de Paris, the NHK Symphony and, of course, the San Francisco Symphony. In October,  Mr Shaham releases his first recording relative to the project on his label, Canary Classics, which includes the Barber, Stravinsky and Berg violin concertos, with three leading orchestras, under the baton of David Robertson.


Igor Stravinsky and Pierre Monteux
Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Stravinsky composed The Rite of Spring  in 1911-12, with further alterations being made in 1913 and 1943.  He dedicated the score to Nicholas Roerich, designer of the sets and costumes for Sergei Diaghilev’s original Ballets Russes production.  The premiere, on May 29th, 1913, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, was conducted by Pierre Monteux, who also led the first San Francisco Symphony performances of the original 1913 version, in February 1939.

Something of a late starter in terms of composition, Stravinsky got his breakthrough as a result of his collaboration with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes in Paris. His first major success was  The Firebird in 1910, followed by Petrushka in 1911, after which came The Rite of Spring in 1913.

The account of the 1913 premiere in Paris – the reaction of the audience, and the rioting and brawling which ensued – has been well documented.  Even the orchestra – during numerous rehearsals – was said to have been perplexed by the work, and Diaghilev’s ballet master, Enrico Cecchetti, was scathing about it, declaring:  “I think the whole thing has been done by four idiots: First, M. Stravinsky, who wrote the music. Second, M. [Nicholas] Roerich, who designed the scenery and costumes. Third, M. [Vaslav] Nijinsky, who composed the dances. Fourth, M. Diaghilev, who wasted money on it.”


Sergei Diaghilev, Vaslav Nijinsky and Igor Stravinsky
Courtesy San Francisco Symphony


Dancers in the original production of ‘The Rite of Spring’
Scanned from ‘First Nights: Five Musical Premieres’ by Thomas F Kelly. Yale University Press, New Haven 2000. Originally published in London, 1913, in ‘The Sketch’ – via Wikimedia Commons

Nevertheless, the ballet is still being performed today, and numerous productions have been mounted worldwide, either during its centenary celebrations over the past year, or are still to come, as are orchestral performances of the work.


San Francisco Ballet in Possokhov’s ‘The Rite of Spring’
Credit: Erik Tomasson

The second Stravinsky program by the San Francisco Symphony – Stravinsky’s Russian Roots – takes place on June 21st and 22nd, and features, in addition to The Rite of Spring (1947 revision), a selection of traditional Russian folk songs performed by the Dmitri Pokrovsky Ensemble, who also appear in Stravinsky’s score for the ballet Les Noces.


The Dmitri Pokrovsky Ensemble
Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

The Dmitri Pokrovsky Ensemble was founded in Moscow in 1973.  A prominent musician, scientist and researcher of Russian national culture, Dmitry Pokrovsky (1944-1996), created it as a living laboratory of Russian folk traditions, and members of the Ensemble have traveled extensively throughout Russia, studying and documenting the different musical traditions they encountered.  Collaborating with musicians, contemporary composers, theatrical directors and filmmakers, the Ensemble has now become internationally renowned, and makes  its debut this week with the San Francisco Symphony.

Les Noces (The Wedding) is described as a dance cantata – or ballet with vocalists – and was another collaboration between Stravinsky and Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.  Stravinsky began writing it in 1913 – drawing inspiration once again from Russian folk traditions – and completing it in October 1917.  The orchestration went through a number of variations during this time, but Stravinsky finally decided on scoring the work for soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor and bass soloists, with a mixed chorus, and four pianos.  Other variations have since been taken into the international orchestral repertoire as well.  Stravinsky wrote the libretto himself, basing it on the lyrics of traditional wedding songs collected by Russian folklorist Pyotr Kireevsky, which were published in 1911.  The songs are usually performed in Russian or French.

Royal Ballet - Christina-Arestis-as-the-Br

Christina Arestis as the Bride in The Royal Ballet’s production of ‘Les Noces’
Credit: Johan Persson/Royal Opera House

The ballet, choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska (sister of Vaslav Nijinsky) – depicts the rituals of a traditional Russian wedding, from the consecration of the bride and groom to the celebratory wedding feast.  It was premiered on June 13, 1923, at the Théâtre de la Gaîté in Paris, by the Ballets Russes, with Ernest Ansermet conducting the orchestra.

Another version of Les Noces was created by Jerome Robbins for American Ballet Theatre, which premiered at New York State Theater, Lincoln Center, on March 30, 1965.  He later re-staged the work for New York City Ballet – to a recording by the Pokrovsky Ensemble – which premiered on May 20th, 1998, also at the New York State Theatre.

Michael Tilson Thomas conducts Stravinsky’s Agon, his Violin Concerto and The Rite of Spring at Davies Symphony Hall on June 19th and 20th.  For further information please visit the San Francisco Symphony website.  This concert will also be broadcast on Classical KDFC  on Tuesday, July 2nd, at 8 pm (PST).

MTT conducts Stravinsky’s Russian Roots, also at Davies Symphony Hall, on June 21st and 22nd.  For further information, please follow this link to the San Francisco Symphony website.


The PBS documentary ‘Keeping Score: Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring’
Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

For more information on Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony’s work with The Rite of Spring, please follow this link to the SF Symphony website

Igor Stravinsky
Michael Tilson Thomas
San Francisco Symphony
George Balanchine
Gil Shaham
Bronislava Nijinska
Jerome Robbins

Michael Steinberg (Agon and Violin Concerto) and James M Keller The Rite of Spring – courtesy of San Francisco Symphony
Les Noces – Amanda Vaill – “Somewhere – the life of Jerome Robbins”

English National Ballet’s ‘Swan Lake’ in-the-round


English National Ballet’s ‘Swan Lake’ at the Royal Albert Hall
Credit: Daria Klimentova

London’s dance event of the summer will soon be captivating audiences at the Royal Albert Hall, as English National Ballet presents Swan Lake in-the-round. The largest production of its kind in the world, this spectacular theatrical experience – now in its seventh season – has been seen by nearly 550,000 people since its premiere in May 1997.


The sumptuous auditorium of the Royal Albert Hall
Credit: Chris Christodoulou

The Royal Albert Hall is the world’s most famous stage.  It opened in 1871 as part of Prince Albert’s vision for a centre for the Arts and Sciences, and its stunning auditorium today hosts over 370 shows a year, presented by some of the greatest international artists.

Set to Tchaikovsky’s classic score, English National Ballet’s Swan Lake, with traditionally sumptuous costumes and sets, has a cast of 120 performers – dancers, acrobats and jugglers – and features the mesmerising sight of 60 swans gliding across the stage simultaneously. Nevertheless, Derek Deane’s imaginative staging succeeds in creating a sense of intimacy as well as spectacle.  It’s a production which represents many of the Company’s key values – “taking classical ballet to the widest possible audience, at a price everyone can afford”.


Pas de deux from ‘Swan Lake’ Act II
Credit: Daria Klimentova

It also marks the completion of Tamara Rojo’s first year as English National Ballet’s Artistic Director – and Principal Dancer for the Company as well.  “I joined English National Ballet as a young dancer on the opening night of the first Swan Lake in-the-round in 1997,” she says. “I had never seen anything so beautiful, and as I watched the rows of swans moving in unison, like a Busby Berkeley movie, I felt I was witnessing ballet reaching out to fresh a new audience. I am proud to continue this work by presenting and dancing in this production that has reached, as well as moved, over 550,000 people worldwide.”

Ms Rojo, partnered by Dutch National Ballet Principal, Matthew Golding, will dance Odette/Odile on the opening night, June 12th, and in two further performances as well.


The Black Swan pas de deux
Credit: Daria Klimentova

The Company was founded by Dame Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin in 1950, and known as The London Festival Ballet – the name having been inspired by the then imminent Festival of Britain. It was in 1989 that the Company became the English National Ballet.  One of the four major ballet companies in Great Britain, it has been committed, since its establishment, to presenting the highest standards of performance – in terms of music as well as dancing.  An important component in the success of the Company is the critically acclaimed Orchestra of English National Ballet. The ensemble is the largest of its kind in Europe, and English National Ballet, one of Europe’s foremost touring companies, is one of only a few in Europe to tour with its own symphony orchestra.


Svetlana Zakharova as the Swan Queen
Credit: Daria Klimentova

Swan Lake in-the-round runs at the Royal Albert Hall from Wednesday June 12th to Saturday June 23rd.  For more information, visit the English National Ballet website www.ballet.org.uk.  For ticketing, contact the Royal Albert Hall Box Office on 020 7838 3100 or visit www.royalalberthall.com

Memories of the Home Front with the BBC Concert Orchestra


The BBC Concert Orchestra
Credit: Kevin Clifford

The BBC Concert Orchestra rekindles memories of wartime Britain in a performance entitled The Home Front, part of Southbank Centre’s The Rest Is Noise Festival, on Friday, June 7th.  Capturing the spirit of Britain in the 1940s, the Orchestra, under the baton of Principal Conductor, Keith Lockhart, presents a programme of music which celebrates the role of the BBC and British cinema in boosting morale on the Home Front during the Second World War.

The Rest Is Noise Festival is a 250-event cultural and musical history of the 20th century, which is being held over the course of this year.  The BBC Concert Orchestra is presenting a series of eight concerts, each exploring a different musical era of the last century, featuring key classical works which were the product of the social and political environment in which they were composed.  Thus far these have covered British music from the beginning of the 20th century to the time of the First World War, the music of Kurt Weill, and American music – from William Grant Still to Henry Gilbert and Duke Ellington.

The Home Front includes music from two BBC Radio programmes of the time – Sincerely Yours which was presented by the Forces’ Sweetheart, Vera Lynn, and Music While You Work – designed to keep factory workers motivated during those dark days.  John Ireland’s Epic March – commissioned by BBC Radio in 1942 – is included, as is Clifton Parker’s score for the film Western Approaches – widely regarded as one of the most influential propaganda films ever made.  Victor Sangiorgio is the pianist in Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto, composed for the film, Dangerous Moonlight. which highlighted the important role of British cinema during the War.

Actor Samuel West will present Henry V – A Shakespeare Scenario, a recreation in music and narration of Walton’s music from the Laurence Olivier film which was dedicated to ‘Commandos and Airborne Troops of Great Britain, the spirit of whose ancestors it has been humbly attempted to recapture’.


“This is London” – a microphone of the kind used by the BBC in the 1940s

The BBC’s partnership with Southbank Centre for The Rest Is Noise will include a three-part documentary series – The Sound of Fury: A Century of Modern Music – co-produced with The Open University, which will be be screened on BBC Four and at Southbank Centre.  BBC Four will also broadcast archive material across the year, which reflects and comments on the music, composers and events featured in the Festival. A special BBC archive collection on the composers featured during the Festival will be available online, and there will be a complementary programme of broadcasts by BBC Radio 3.  Full listings are available at www.bbc.co.uk/radio3.

One of Britain’s most versatile ensembles, the BBC Concert Orchestra has, since 1952, been the house orchestra for BBC Radio 2’s Friday Night is Music Night, and broadcasts regularly on BBC Radio 3.  BBC soundtracks which they’ve recorded include Africa (for BBC TV) and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (for BBC Films).

In 2012 the Orchestra celebrated its 60th anniversary, and in addition to performing at The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert, helped celebrate the 70th anniversary of Desert Island Discs and performed in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Yeomen of the Guard.   The Orchestra performs regularly at the BBC Proms, and – as always – on the last night, they’re outdoors for Proms in the Park.


The Royal Festival Hall at Southbank Centre
Credit: Morley von Sternberg

Southbank Centre is the UK’s largest arts centre, located in London’s most vibrant cultural quarter on the South Bank of the Thames. The site has a fascinating creative and architectural history, stretching back to the 1951 Festival of Britain. Southbank Centre is home to the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and the Hayward Gallery as well as The Saison Poetry Library and the Arts Council Collection.

For more information on The Home Front please visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/orchestras/events/1288, and for tickets, www.southbankcentre.co.uk.

Tine Thing Helseth hosts music festival at Munch Museum


Tine Thing Helseth
Credit: Paul Marc Mitchel/EMI Classics

Norwegian trumpet virtuoso, Tine Thing Helseth, is to host a music festival as part of the Munch150 celebrations being held this year to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Edvard Munch, his art and life.

Tine@Munch – to be held at the Munch Museum in Oslo this coming weekend – presents a series of concerts featuring not only Ms Helseth herself and her jazz/tango ensemble, Tine Thing Helseth Quintet, but also pianists Leif Ove Andsnes, Kathryn Stott and Gunnar Flagstad, violinists Nicola Benedetti and Charlie Siem, cellist Truls Mørk, soprano Isa Katharina Gericke, and pianist and humourist Ingrid Bjørnov.

One of the foremost trumpetists of today, Ms Helseth has appeared with many of the world’s leading orchestras – including the NDR orchestras of Hamburg and Hannover, the Swedish and Danish Radio orchestras, the Swedish and Australian Chamber orchestras, Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and BBC Scottish Symphony orchestras.

Tine Thing Helseth has also appeared in recital at Carnegie Hall and at London’s Royal Albert Hall, to which she returns in August to make her BBC Proms debut, with the London premiere of Chute d’Étoiles: Hommage à Anselm Kiefer by Matthias Pintscher.  She also appears at an intimate chamber Prom at Cadogan Hall, with her all-female brass ensemble, tenThing.


Leif Ove Andsnes
Credit: Ozgür Albayrak

Ms Helseth had the honour of opening the Nobel Peace Prize concert in 2007, and in the same year she was awarded the Luipolde Prize at the Kissinger Sommer festival for the “best and most intriguing young artist”.  She also won a Spellemann Award (Norwegian Grammy) for her debut album, ten Thing.  Tine Thing Helseth is an ambassador for Born to Play, which aims to encourage and engage young musicians.


Nicola Benedetti
Credit: Simon Fowler

The idea behind Tine@Munch is for visitors to be inspired by Munch – perhaps by one of his paintings, or by the music to which he listened.

“A festival is to me an intense and intimate meeting with music and feelings,” says Tine. “To be able to present a festival in the heart of Edvard Munch’s art is a privilege, and special in so many ways. I grew up just a few steps away from The Munch Museum, and I visited it ever so often when growing up. When I’m abroad I’m both proud and touched when seeing how Munch’s unique artistic language communicates with people in all ages and on all continents. To me communication is a key word for music and art.”


Charlie Siem
Credit: www.charliesiem.com

The opening concert will take place under Munch’s Alma Mater and his draft for The Sun, in the main hall of the museum. More intimate concerts will be held in smaller areas of the museum.  Composers featured during the festival include Beethoven, Bach, Puccini, Brahms, Delius, Richard Strauss, César Franck, Erich Korngold, Ravel, Debussy, André Previn, Christian Sinding and Jeno Hubay, and there’s a world premiere by contemporary Norwegian composer Gisle Kverndokk.

In this anniversary year for Edvard Munch, the Museum will hold an exhibition of his work entitled Munch150, presenting main works from various stages of the artist’s career, to show his distinctive contribution to modern European fine art.  Around 220 paintings and 50 artworks on paper will be exhibited.

Tine@Munch runs from June 7th to 9th at the Munch Museum in Oslo.  For further information, please visit the Tine@Munch website.