Tag Archives: composers

The Monday Moodboard: Stravinsky & The Rite of Spring

Monday mood board

With the start of spring just around the corner (March 20th – just three days away!), we thought we’d pay homage to Stravinsky, one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, and his most controversial work The Rite of Spring in this week’s Monday Moodboard. Let us know what you think of the ballet in the comments below!

1. 999, hello?


In 1939, Stravinsky moved to the US to lecture at Harvard University, eventually settling in West Hollywood and enjoying the cultural life Los Angeles had to offer. He occasionally conducted concerts with the LA Philharmonic and spent his days with other talented musicians, composers, conductors and writers, including Thomas Mann and Aldous Huxley.

Stravinsky did, however, run into a little trouble with the law when his rearrangement of The Star-Spangled Banner led to a confrontation with the Boston Police and a warning that a $100 fine could be issued. Although it’s often said that he was arrested, this is not the case and the supposed mug shot above is actually a passport photo.

2. Les Ballets Russes


A Paris-based company that performed across Europe, North and South America between 1909 and 1929, Les Ballets Russes emerged as one of the most influential companies of the 20th century. Owner Sergei Diaghilev commissioned Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, choreographed by dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, which premiered in 1913 and caused a near-riot among audience members.

Diaghilev died in 1929 of diabetes, leaving the ballet company heavily in debt, with creditors coming along to claim its property and its dancers moving on elsewhere. A few years later, in 1932, Colonel Wassily de Basil co-founded the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, with former Diaghilev associates Leonide Massine and George Balanchine coming on board.

3. Igor Stravinsky

3d73394d32ea4a19dc15908e8f81c0d1Russian composer, pianist and conductor Igor Stravinsky (born June 17th 1882) first shot to fame off the back of three ballets commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev – The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. Very much thought of as a musical revolutionary, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring certainly helped cement his reputation as such. After the premiere of The Firebird in 1910, Stravinsky was much in demand and moved from Paris to Switzerland in September of that year with his family, spending each winter there and summering in Russia, during which time he composed Petrushka and The Rite of Spring.

Les Ballets Russes premiered the latter work on 29th May 1913, which focuses on the tribal rituals often associated with spring’s arrival and ends in human sacrifice. In 1914, Stravinsky described the ballet as a “musical-choreographic work, [representing] pagan Russia … unified by a single idea: the mystery and great surge of the creative power of Spring”. The first showing of the work ended in a near-riot, however, with some 40 audience members being ejected from the ballet theatre – with some reports suggesting that the police had to be involved, although this is unsupported.

4. Vaslav Nijinsky

6541b7fc782ed399aac1245466ebef87It’s perhaps unsurprising that Vaslav Nijinsky went on to become a world-renowned dancer and choreographer. His mother, orphaned at a young age and with four siblings to care for, first earned a living as an extra in Warsaw’s Grand Theatre Ballet, while his father was also a touring dancer, performing with the Odessa Theatre. Nijinsky received his initial training from his father and later went to the Imperial Ballet School in 1900, with his teachers all remarking upon his exceptional dancing ability. His fellow students were less kind, however, and resented his talent – teasing him for being Polish, mocking him for his slightly Japanese looks (Russia being at war with Japan at the time) and even causing him to suffer a fall, which resulted in him being in a coma for four days.

The turning point of his career was when he met Les Ballets Russes’s Sergei Diaghilev, who was very keen to promote Russian culture abroad. Aside from dancing, Nijinsky was an acclaimed choreographer but often thought of as controversial, including The Rite of Spring, which introduced the idea of modern dance to audiences.

5. The Stravinsky Fountain

8502fd7d63513fdefdf0730cc60e7036If you’re strolling through the streets of Paris and find yourself near the Centre Pompidou, make sure you have a look at the Stravinsky Fountain sculptures – 16 works created in 1983 by Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely, each representing one of Stravinsky’s compositions.


The Monday Mood Board: Gramophones!

To celebrate the 80th anniversary of Edward Elgar’s death yesterday (February 23rd), we’ve decided to dedicate our Monday mood board to the gramophone – a piece of technology that Elgar in particular championed, conducting a series of recordings of his works between 1914 and 1925. The invention of the microphone in 1925 meant that more accurate recordings were possible and eventually, Elgar laid down the majority of his major orchestral works, as well as movements from his Dream of Gerontius.

1. Gramophone lighting

ec2c9cd616a6be3a0637509aa98e7135Upcycling old gramophones into lights is a bold interior design choice but one that looks lovely and would be a great addition to any music-lover’s abode.

2. The past vs. the present

3e806fde3b3eba550ef54081371a211eCombining modern technology with blasts from the past is a truly brilliant idea and if you can’t quite reconcile yourself to giving up your mod cons, then match them with this gramophone docking station – definitely the best of both worlds!

3. Museum-going

gramophones-museumWe’re booking a trip to St Petersburg right now, home to the Gramophones Museum which boasts over 400 items from all around the world on display. Or, if you’d rather not go so far afield, London’s Horniman Museum has a brilliant collection of musical instruments that’s well worth a look as well.

4. In fabric

phonograph_vintage_mustard_cream_2_shop_previewFor a simple way to introduce some music into your home, why not use a bit of gramophone fabric as curtains, cushion covers or sofa covers? Compliments guaranteed!

5. Wear it with pride

il_570xN.526497060_luriFor some really unique jewellery perfect for yourself or as a present for a friend, this gramophone necklace is definitely a winner.

RNCM breaks Guinness World Record

cropped-music-notes1.jpgThe Guinness world record for the largest number of people playing the piano at the same time has been broken by a group of students from the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), with 16 students gathering around the keyboard to play a five-minute piece composed especially for the event.

Prior to this, the record was held by by a group of 15 musicians from Vallouise in France, who broke it in 2004. Postgraduate student at the RNCM Tom Harrold wrote his piece, Ticcatoccatina, to ensure that at any one time there would be up to 32 hands on the keyboard. “I am really excited to be attempting to break this world record. The sound of 16 people playing a single piano at one time should be really intriguing, and I am really looking forward to (hopefully) breaking a world record,” he said before the successful attempt.


4 Girls 4 Harps at Christmas

575928_10152688812635052_1955176419_nIf you’re looking for a good classical music-inspired Christmas present for friends and family, you might like to think about getting a copy of 4 Girls 4 Harps at Christmas – a brilliant CD just brought out by the quartet, who have really gone from strength to strength this year.

It includes traditional choral anthems cleverly mixed with jazz and folk and won rave reviews from BBC Music Direct, which described it thus:

“This will blow away the cobwebs – sparklingly energetic arrangements for four harps of favourite carols. The 4 Girls … do the arranging themselves, with versatility and imagination. Ensemble is watertight and there’s a real rhythmic elan to the playing which keeps you listening.”

It’s due to be released on December 2nd and you can pre-order your copy from Amazon now.

800 people stand for Noye’s Fludde!

At rehearsal
At rehearsal

How often do 800 people acknowledge a performance with a standing ovation? In last month’s Two Moors Festival production of Britten’s masterpiece, Exeter Cathedral’s capacity audience did just that. They stood up in recognition of one of the finest performances of Britten’s masterpiece ever to be seen and heard. With no exaggeration, this will remain in the minds of everyone involved for generations to come. Over 170 children from all corners of Devon came together to take part; ‘animals’ sprawled the nave; musicians filled the large stage and to cap it all, and much to everyone’s astonishment, an impressively tall ship’s mast rose from the bowls of the Ark in preparation for the impending storm.

Directed by The Royal Opera House’s Thomas Guthrie and conducted by Greg Pearson, guest presenter on BBC Radio 3’s ‘The Choir’, this was a production at the highest level.

It is hard to describe it in a way to convince the millions in the UK that it was worthy of performance in one of London’s great churches or cathedrals (Britten made it clear that it was never to be performed in a theatre). If it had been lucky enough to have had the critics present, reviews would have been at least 4* without hesitation. Of course, BBC 2’s Proms presenter, Petroc Trelawny as ‘God’ was, so to speak, the icing on the cake.

It was a privileged few who saw Noye. Whether parents, festival supporters, or sponsors, the experience will remain with them forever. For the children, the impeccable production, guidance and involvement in this project will have given them confidence, inspiration and a lasting memory of something they can relate to their grandchildren. I am sure too, that the Festival’s remarkably supportive Patron, HRH The Countess of Wessex will have gone home having been moved almost to tears.

What a triumph this was! It wasn’t local, it wasn’t even regional. Here was something produced ina area of the UK not normally associated with the arts at international level. ‘Noye’ flew the British flag for inspirational music-making, as a showcase for Benjamin Britten in his anniversary year, involvement of children in an age where music is absent from schools and it attracted an audience not used to classical music or attending church. One thing’s for sure, the audience sang the hymns in a way that put Christmas carols in the shade.

I wish you had been there…

Penny Adie, artistic director

An interview with: Martin Roscoe

roscoe_gall_3Last week, we blogged about pianist Martin Roscoe, who set himself the challenge of playing all Beethoven’s piano concertos in just one evening. We thought this was quite an interesting idea, so caught up with the man himself to find out more about this concert to end all concerts, which is taking place at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester on October 5th in aid of the Musicians Benevolent Fund.

2MF: Where did the idea come from for the concert?

MR: My friend and colleague Ronan O’Hors did this in Germany a few years ago… so I know it’s possible !

2MF: How will the evening play out?

MR: 1 and 2 at 17:00, 3 and 4 at 19:00 and No.5 at 21:00.

2MF: How have you trained for this marathon?

MR: I’ve been playing these pieces for 35 years with great regularity ! Otherwise, I’m trying hard not to think too much about it, but will focus on enjoying it.

2MF: What draws you to Beethoven as a composer?

MR: For me (as for so many others), Beethoven’s music encapsulates all of the human experience, with every piece having something different to say, and , at the same time, stretching the boundaries of musical expression.

2MF: Are you worried the audience won’t have the staying power for the whole performance?

MR: They have the opportunity to book for individual parts, or all three. I’m hoping the hall will be full for all three, obviously ! It is short of three hoursof  music so Wagnerians will find it very easy!

2MF: What other classical music challenges have you set yourself in the past?

MR: I did both Brahms concertos a few years back so this seems a natural progression.

2MF: What will you be trying next?

MR: All the Mozarts? But that might need to be spread out a bit more… five days ?

A classical music marathon!

A portrait of BeethovenDo you remember a few years ago when the Two Moors Festival put on Beethoven & Biscuits, where all nine of the composer’s symphonies were played at concerts throughout the main two-week event in October, with a monologue at the beginning of each one written from the point of Beethoven himself? We thought that was a bit of a marathon Beethoven celebration and were particularly impressed by those who made it to each performance – and we’re equally impressed by pianist Martin Roscoe who has set himself the challenge of playing all five of the composer’s piano concertos in one evening next month.

If you’re in Manchester on October 5th, it might be particularly interesting to make your way to the Royal Northern College of Music to hear Martin take on the five-hour endurance test, put on to raise money for the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund, with the Royal Northern’s own Daniel Parkinson conducting.

In the last few years I seem to have developed a bit of a reputation for Beethoven, having now recorded all the Piano Sonatas and played many of them in all-Beethoven recitals,” Martin told Mancunian Matters. “I have played all the Beethoven concertos many times and always feel very at home in these wonderful pieces. Four years ago, I played both Brahms’ Piano Concertos in one evening. My friend told me he had played all five Beethoven piano concertos in one concert in Germany. So I thought why not in the UK?”

It all gets going at 17:00 on the 15th, with tickets starting at £12 if bought in advance.

Have you ever set yourself any classical music challenges?

An interview with: Manchester Camerata

learning_our_moss_sideLast month, we blogged about Manchester Camerata’s work with pupils in Moss Side in Manchester, where they composed an original piece of classical music called the Moss Side Symphony – a blend of classical music, rap and African drum beats, designed to challenge negative stereotypes about this part of the city. We were so impressed with the work the group did with school children in the area that we caught up with head of learning and participation with Camerata Nick Ponsillo to find out more.

2MF: How did the Moss Side collaboration come about?

Nick Ponsillo (NP): Jane Delfino (director of enterprise and internationalism at Manchester Academy) and I were introduced mid-way through 2012 and we realised that the match between Manchester Academy’s aspirations and Camerata’s Learning and Participation ethos was strong so we jointly devised a project that would encourage an even greater working relationship between the primary schools and Academy but in a way that empowered the young people to lead the creative direction of the project themselves.

2MF: What was the inspiration for the Symphony?

NP: The inspiration came from the idea of celebrating Moss Side as a vibrant, diverse and cultural place to live and grow up.

2MF: Will you be doing any more performances of the piece?

NP: So far the premiere was a unique performance that will last long in the memory of everyone that took par,; performers and audience alike.

2MF: How did the children respond to classical music?

NP: The children and young people used music as a creative learning tool to create and perform their own new piece. This project wasn’t about classical music, in fact it took in a broad range of influences and experiences that the participants brought with them, from steel pans to Polish beat-boxing. When people use music as a creative tool they begin to lose the idea of different classifications that we use to pigeon hole music, seeing, hearing, composing and performing the different influences simply as their own music.

2MF: Do you think it’s sparked a long-lasting interest in the genre?

I think it’s definitely sparked an interest in using music creatively. The children, young people and staff at all the schools will no longer feel that they can’t do music and I’m certain that they will see Manchester Camerata as their orchestra and one that they will want to listen to in the future.

2MF: How else will you be working with Moss Side residents/children in the future?

NP: We delivered a number of projects with Moss Side residents over the past year and I hope that this one in particular will be the catalyst for an ongoing annual and inclusive event .

2MF: Would you be interested in working with the Two Moors Festival to boost classical music study in schools?

NP: I’d definitely be interested in seeing how we might be able to use music as a way to positively engage people of all ages and encourage a sense of personal and social development within all members of our communities.

2MF: What other projects are you involved in with schools in the north?

NP: There are a number of different projects with schools and all based in cross-curricular learning through creativity. Projects range from half-day workshops that create a new piece of music from a famous speech to fully sung operas about the Holocaust, Great War and Victorian mill workers, which are all created by the children that we work with. Projects are bespoke and developed in partnership with the schools that we work with so the projects are only limited by our joint imaginations.

2MF: Why do you think there’s a bit of a barrier to classical music education?

NP: This is a big question and one that many people decidedly more qualified and eminent than me have tried to answer! From my perspective there are a number of barriers that different people experience. For example, it could be that individuals had a bad experience of music in school that carries over into their adult life which might also inform their child’s view of music. However, if I was forced to focus on one area I think that would be how classical music presents itself and the way in which people within classical music talk about it, which can be totally alien and alienating – it certainly can be for me. If you listen to Camerata’s music director, Gabor Takacs-Nagy, talk about music he thinks about creating an emotional connection between musician and audience. Music is with us from before we are born to the very end of our lives, sitting deep within our memories and connecting us to emotions, smells, tastes… We all have the ability to make some sort of connection to all types of music, including classical, but the path to this with classical music often feels blocked.

Once somebody can make that connection, in whatever way possible then the barriers are broken. Camerata’s Youth Programme and the REmix project takes classical music and fuses it with the influences and experiences of young people who are not classical musicians to create brand new music. Through this process the barrier has been smashed and these young people are much more open to listening to and using classical music within their lives and music making. Music of all types is a live art form and we connect with it best when we hear, see and experience it in a live context.

2MF: How can people get involved with the Youth Programme?

NP: Camerata’s Youth Programme and the REmix project takes it’s inspiration from 1970s New York hip hop and is an opportunity for young people to take part in creative music-making projects that fuse their experiences with classical music to their own create new music. Alongside this is a Youth Forum, which is a collective of young people from across Greater Manchester who guide and develop Camerata’s youth engagement – they are now responsible for the development of the Youth Programme and have already started to devise and deliver projects with us as well as act as ambassadors at events, concerts and board meetings.

There is a rolling application process for the Youth Forum, which is an open process. For people wanting to take part in Youth Programme projects, keep an eye on the website.

2MF: What advice do you have for young musicians intent on making a living through music?

NP: Be committed, be prepared for knock backs, be resilient and don’t underestimate the amount of hard work that it takes to succeed. The musicians I know are unbelievably dedicated and have been for many, many years.

Elephants at a lunchtime concert

#One of our favourite programmes taking place at this year’s Two Moors Festival main two-week event in October has to be Elephants at a Lunchtime Concert – a show that includes Poulenc’s Babar the Elephant and excerpts from Debussy’s Children’s Corner Suite.

Taking place on October 18th at 13:00 at All Saints’ Church in North Molton in the very heart of Exmoor, the concert involves Year 6 pupils from North Molton Primary School who will be participating as narrators throughout the hour-long programme, accompanied by acclaimed pianist Harvey Davies.

This is definitely going to be one of the most fun events throughout the whole two weeks – and just because the pieces by both these composers were written for children certainly doesn’t mean that adults won’t have a brilliant time if they come along as well. You can bet we’ll be there!

Babar the Elephant was originally written by Poulenc for the children of his cousins and takes the form of narration alongside piano accompaniment, telling the story of the little elephant Babar whose mother is killed by a huntsman and who is then befriended by a little old lady. Eventually, Babar marries Celeste, becomes king of the elephants and lives happily ever after (as all excellent stories end).

The six-piece Children’s Corner Suite by Debussy was composed in 1908 for his daughter Claude-Emma (or Chou-Chou to her friends!), including an excerpt called Jimbo’s lullaby. The elephant in this story originally came from the French Sudan and lived in the Jardin des Plantes at around the time Debussy was born (part of P T Barnum’s circus), and which one of Chou-Chou’s toys was named after.

Check out these little videos of the pieces, just to whet your appetite ahead of October 18th!

Manchester Camerata introduces Moss Side pupils to classical music

A violin on a black background.Professional musicians in Manchester have been working with primary and secondary school children on a new piece of music called the Moss Side Symphony, which blends classical music, rap and African drum beats to celebrate the area and dispel any negative stereotypes about this part of the city.

Manchester Camerata’s 30-minute tribute to the district was premiered last week and had audience members at first in tears and on their feet at the end in a standing ovation. More than 90 adults and children performed, with students coming from St Mary’s CE and Webster’s primary schools, with Nick Ponsillo – the orchestra’s head of learning and participation – saying: “Through their unique perspective, energy, creativity and innovation, the students have captured the spirit of the community. Camerata is their orchestra and we will continue to collaborate with our partners and young people from Moss Side to develop music making opportunities for all.”

As those of you who follow the Two Moors Festival will know, we do a lot of work with young people in schools all over the south-west helping to introduce them to classical music and providing them with opportunities to work with professional musicians. This is exactly the kind of story we just love hearing about – it’s always great to hear that other groups are doing all they can to bring classical music into schools. Keep up the good work, Manchester Camerata!