Monday, 30 December 2013

Classical Journey 10am Tuesday 31 December 2013 Memories of a very musical year

Mitzi Maybe & Patrick Taylor
Live on Phonic FM
Tuesday 31 December 2013

Guest Host
Sorrel Meechan
Sorrel Meechan
This Tuesday we celebrate the new year in style. Actress Sorrel Meechan, who has just returned from London, will be at Phonic FM to help introduce 'Classical Journey'.

(Read Sorrel's theatre review blog 'Stacked Actors' by following this link.)

She will also introduce two more special guests. Mitzi Maybe, who has just returned from Zambia, and called the studio last Tuesday for a chat, will be chatting to us in the studio and singing a few numbers. Patrick Taylor, choirmaster, baritone and song-arranger, will accompany Mitzi on the piano.

Sorrel Meechan
(Cooley & Blackwell)
Mitzi Maybe
"Puttin' on the Ritz"
(Irving Berlin)

Patrick Taylor
accompanies with his own
sensitive piano arrangements

Patrick Romer
Last week we were visited by the incredibly talented actor Patrick Romer - who appeared with Patrick Taylor in 'A Christmas Cracker' at the Bridge Inn Topsham (formerly 'Wassail!' at Aeolean Court).

He opened and closed the show with Shakespeare, and chatted about his career in the theatre. Patrick was a member of the Northcott repertory company for many years during the seventies and eighties. Talk turned naturally to the current production of 'The Incredible Adventures of Mr Benn' and the thrilling visit by 'Graffiti Classics', both at Exeter Northcott Theatre. (See last week's blogpost.)

Quirk Theatre: Simon Hall
Ben Simpson & Marie Kelsel
"Treasure Island"
Mitzi phoned in briefly to discuss shows she's seen with her little boy, since arriving in England, including 'Mr Benn'. She also gave a glowing account of an equally exciting production, showing at Exeter Phoenix, "Treasure Island".

Simon Hall has produced a riveting version of the Stevenson classic, specially adapted for children. The plot is simplified, but true to the original story. Simon's 'Long John Silver' would have been worthy of Robert Newton himself. Ben Simpson was his terrifying (but child friendly) henchman, Cut-Throat-Kevin, and also the more familiar Captain Smollett of the Hispaniola. Marie Kelsell's Jim Hawkins was endearing, while her pirate character, 'Arr Bob', was a work of comic genius. (It is amazing how much meaning she could inject into Bob's only line, "Arr . . .")

Full marks for inventiveness. The company managed to set the whole story in a garden. Many of the costumes were taken from the washing line, while garden tools were pressed into service as all the props. The Hispaniola, and subsequently the besieged stockade on Skeleton Island, were represented by the garden shed. The illusion never faltered and the pace was olympian. Families and children really do get a good deal at the theatre these days.

This week's 'Journey' will be through the year of 2013, starting with the 2013 traditional Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra 'Johann Strauss II Evening' for new year at the University Great Hall, and finishing with the new one for 2014 (this Thursday, 2nd Jan).

Was it only a year ago that Ellie Fagg and Tom Norris of the London Symphony Orchestra brought their Puertas Quartet to St Margaret's Church in Topsham? In the intervening 12 months there have been so many exciting events. Nonclassical at the Bikeshed has continued to flourish, attracting the attention of Soundart Chairman Sam Richards, who still hopes to start a Totnes subsiduary. Sam's 'Jazzlab' in Totnes has had equal success. Meanwhile Nonclassical founder Rebecca Willson continues to enjoy enormous success with the 'Zazou Cowboys', playing her classical fiddle in a western swing line-up.

At the University; Footlights, the G&S Society and the University Theatre Company continue to produce exceptional plays and musicals. Richard Gonski has conducted several major works with the University Symphony Orchestra. He took on the University Choral Society as well, to conduct the Verdi Requiem, following Marion Wood's move to Munster in Germany. The Choral Society is now directed by Roberto Gallo.

Marion, however, returns regularly to prepare and conduct the Exeter Music Group Symphony Orchestra. She also continues to sing in the 'Starling Octet' conducted by Ben Pennington. With their newest member, soprano Mary O'Shea, they repeated their profoundly moving 'candlelit vigil' at Pinhoe Church for Remembrance - singing Rachmaninov's 'Vespers 1915' in Russian, in near darkness.

Hilary Boxer's 'Tasty Music' has had another successful series - once again including the flute of Ruth Molins. Ruth herself has created her own series 'One flute, many voices' which, naturally enough, involved the 'cello playing of Hilary Boxer, but also some new collaborators - Emma Welton (violin) and Susie Hodder-Williams (flutes). Ruth teamed up with Rebecca Willson (playing the piano this time) for 'Another Country' in April, and joined her husband Jesse (jazz guitar), and bass-player Al Swainger for 'Silver Summertime' in June. Ruth gave a premiere performance of Michael Colquhoun's 'Speshal Birds', for flute and electronics, in the Phonic FM studio, and repeated the performance at Nonclassical night. As the year drew to a close, Ruth teamed up with flautists Sophie Brewer and Jennifer Campbell in a new trio, 'Flute Cake'.

Andrew Daldorph has been as busy as ever conducting both the Exeter Chamber Choir, and Tiverton's East Devon Choral Society. In May, the EDCS gave a glorious performance of Verdi's Requiem and, as Christmas approached, a sublime rendition of Morten Lauridsen's 'Lux Aeterna' and 'Magnum Mysterium'. Over the year, Exeter Chamber Choir put on three jazz concerts, including Andrew's 'Mass for Life' and 'Jazz Psalms' finishing the year with a huge collaboration with'AJs Big Band' at Exeter Cathedral, which included the sublime soprano saxophone playing of Chris Gradwell. On a smaller Scale, Andrew accompanied many South West Music School students in their showcase performances, and created showcases of his own for amazing new flautist Leonie Stevenson Jones and prize-winning soprano Lucy Bray.

There have been classical music festivals in Shaldon, Budleigh, Branscombe - and across the whole of Devon during the 'Two Moors Festival' in August. Penny Adie selected another four young musicians for the 'Platform Winners Concert', this time in dreamy Dulverton on Exmoor. Devon festivals always attract the very best players and ensembles from across the country, but the children stole the show once again. The high point of the Two Moors Festival was a performance of Sir Benjamin Britten's 'Noyes Fludde' by over 180 children from Devon primary schools.

Local theatre companies have been hard at work creating new productions. Rosie and Midge Mullins' 'Substance and Shadow' theatre company put on two runs of their emotionally charged play 'Skin Deep' and, with 'Four of Swords' theatre company, put on several performances of 'The Strange Case of Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde' including two runs in the supremely appropriate setting of Poltimore House. Louis Ravensfield's 'Exeter Alternative Theatre' company broke from their tradition of presenting several short plays, celebrating Halloween with an extraordinary cabaret programme at the Barnfield Theatre, inspired as always by the burlesque of the late nineteenth century.

The Counterpoint Choir are never far from our thoughts. David Acres presented a series of awe-inspiring choral concerts at Buckfast Abbey, including a collaboration with their French counterparts from Quimper, 'Groupe Vocal Jef le Penen'. After crowning the year's achievements with a highly innovative concert at Buckfast with opera countertenor James Bowman, David flew off to Cleveland in Ohio. In the ice and snow, he has been singing with Trinity Cathedral Choir and 'Quire Cleveland' - and touring the United States singing at various venues. A wonderful new development.

Matt Cann's extraordinary project 'Antiphon' brought together Cathedral singers from around the UK for specialist concerts. Their beautiful 'Missa Papae Marcelli' at Buckfast was, sadly, their swan-song, but hard on the heals of 'Antiphon' came Michael Graham's 'Exodus'. This twelve voice choir brings together many wonderful Devon voices. Julian Rippon joins Matt Cann in the bass section.

Laurence Blyth, Exeter Cathedral events co-ordinator, has his hands full during his off-duty hours. He still directs three choral societies, in Exeter, Exmouth and Wellington, in addition to his own countertenor engagements. Concerts run by Laurence draw his musical colleagues from across the country, including the dazzling soprano Elizabeth Drury - who is often joined by her husband, countertenor James Armitage. Handel's 'Samson' with the Exmouth Choral Society at Holy Trinity was a stunning success. They start 2014 with another great oratorio: 'Elijah' by Felix Mendelssohn.

At Dartington Hall everyone works feverishly to bring great music to Devon. Sadly, there was no 'Home' festival this year. (Last year's festival was a sensation!) The Tagore Festival, and 'Ways with Words' are still firm favourites on the Dartington Calendar, but the biggest event by far is the 'International Summer School'. For five weeks in August, the entire estate is bursting at the seems with internationally renowned musicians leading workshops, and hordes of eager students. Two or three concerts are put on every day of the Summer School - and the number and variety of different top quality programmes can be bewildering.

Devon Baroque are still in business at the Hall, now directed (often from the harpsichord) by Jonathan Watts. Jonathan is also the director or the Dartington Community Choir, so collaborations between the two ensembles are rapidly becoming a regular feature of life in South Devon. In yet another innovative move 'Devon Baroque Voices' performed Handel's Messiah at Totnes in November. Eight Soloists sang the entire score accompanied by baroque instruments. Among that happy crew were - Elizabeth Drury and James Armitage!

For a low-cost or free introduction to classical music, St Stephen's and St Michael's Churches in Exeter have organised several lunchtime and evening concerts, which one can attend for little or no cost. Many thanks go to Professor Matthew Wright for setting up 'Music at St Michaels' this year. Meanwhile, in Exmouth, David Lee is keeping the spirit of classical music alive at Glenorchy United Reformed Church, where he organises a free concert every Wednesday lunchtime in the 'season' (September to May) while also singing bass with the Exmouth Choral Society. Keep an eye on the parish noticeboard at Broadclyst too. Organist John Scarfe is still at work organising his 'Coffee and Music' concerts on Saturday mornings.

Janet Macdonald has worked tirelessly to provide interesting and engaging programmes of opera highlights to draw in a new generation of opera lovers. Her 'Opera Glass' and 'QQuorum' concerts bring together talented amateurs and professionals from across Devon (and sometimes Cornwall as well). Recently Julian Rippon and Ed Woodhouse were joined by Alison Kettlewell and Rebecca Smith (plus Janet herself) in a seductive synopsis of Georges Bizet's 'Carmen'.

In Sidmouth the star of any musical evening is likely to be soprano Val Howels. Val seems to be at work non-stop organising and singing in musical events. In November Val was at the Sidholme Hotel with fellow songsters Cathy Moore (soprano), Keith Wainwright (tenor) and John Brindley (baritone) for a delightful evening of entertainment called 'Love is in the Air'. There was even a brief appearance by an interloper from Exeter - Luch Càise-Dearg! The pianist was Dorothy Worthington, a talented and reliable accompanist who works with many soloists and groups. Someone we are seeing more of lately is another of Dorothy's soloists - mezzosoprano Dorothy Ferrier.

In the Summer Fiona McLean's 'South West Camerata' were at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to play Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons' at St Giles' Cathedral. 'The Joined Up Thinking Project, Music' (JUTP) run by Fiona includes  the senior ensemble, Camerata, and the introductory and intermediate groups 'Camaratinis' and 'Tutti'. Back in England they returned to their regular rehearsal evenings at Exeter School, Colyton Grammar School and Dame Hannah's at Ivybridge.

 JUTP Music have more exciting musical ventures planned for 2014, including a collaboration with the North Ayrshire String Ensemble over the weekend of 7/8/9 February including a lunchtime concert at Exeter Cathedral and possibly workshops at Buckfast Abbey.

Fiona's 'Four Seasons' string quartet, with Lindsay Braga, Cathy McCracken and Rebecca Allnatt, was recently at Powderham Castle. Fiona's place was taken by soprano Jeni Melia for an evening of baroque elegance and style in the eighteenth century James Wyatt music room. Professor George Pratt was there to direct the proceedings and play the newly refurbished 1769 Bryce-Seede organ. An unforgettable evening of Christmas entertainment.

The English Touring Opera have been here twice! In the spring they delighted everyone with Mozart's Italian classic 'Cosi fan Tutte', and then mellowed the tone with two more modern and tragic operas 'Simon Boccanegra' and 'The Siege of Calais' by Verdi & Donizetti. In the autumn they took us to countertenor heaven with an advance visit to Crediton to perform music by Vivaldi (as Vivaldi would have wanted it performed). Then in November they gave us three amazing performances of Italian operas, translated into English. Cavalli's 'Jason' was a comic masterpiece in the early baroque style, Monteverdi's 'Coronation of Poppaea' brought that bitter-sweet element of tragedy. Finally Handel's 'Agrippina', though also somewhat grim in subject-matter, was a delightful romp from start to finish.

The ETO even stayed a further day to entertain us all at the Cathedral with Handel's 'Carmelite Vespers', joined by members of the Cathedral Choir, Counterpoint, and Isca Voices. In May 2014 they will be here again for Mozart's 'Magic Flute' (three nights running!) They are also planning Britten's 'Paul Bunyan' and Tippett's 'King Priam'- all at the Exeter Northcott Theatre.

In October Chris Caldwell and his wife Susie Hodder-Williams got together once again for a 'Music on the Edge' concert, to mark the opening of a nautically-flavoured Exhibition by Barnstaple artist Ed Crumpton, coincidentally titled 'Mariners Way'. In November we celebrated three anniversaries. First Chris Caldwell's 'Delta Saxophone Quartet' were here in Devon for two nights (1st & 2nd Nov) to play concerts to celebrate thirty years in the music business. The following night (or rather afternoon, in Buffalo NY) flautist Michael Colquhoun and his band 'Unusually Different' were at the Montante Centre in Carnasius College Buffalo for Mike's sixtieth birthday celebrations and a retrospective concert called 'Dualities'. Finally, on 13th November Soundart Radio at Dartington Hall celebrated seven years of community radio broadcasting (two years more than our own 'Phonic FM').

One last word should go to Julie Hill and Emma Welton of 'Exeter Contemporary Sounds'. Together, they have created a new monthly musical event for parents and children on Sundays. The incredibly popular 'Family Fun Day' started at Exeter Phoenix in September, with 'Earworms' in the Voodoo Lounge at 2pm. Hundreds of parents and children packed themselves into the Phoenix to hear Stephen Tanner's 'Isca Voices' break through the babble of bawling babies with their sweet singing. Subsequent events, which have involved other musicians, all introduced by Mervyn Bedford, have become so popular that the venue has been moved to the more spacious (and definitely family friendly) Exeter Northcott Theatre.

The musical year ended, as always, with a beery Christmas celebration at the Bridge Inn Topsham. Many thanks as always to landlord Nigel Cheffers-Heard and to the public spirited 'Show of Hands'. Steve Knightly and Phil Beer were there to sing and play fiddle. Miranda Sykes, their double bassist, was there - but just to sing along. Warwick Downes played the bull fiddle, while Paul Downes brought his guitar, and Chris Hoban added a little special something with his accordian. (See below.)

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

'Show of Hands'
Phil Beer
Warwick Downes
Chris Hoban
One vital ingredient: beer
Another: audience participation
"Five Gold Rings!"
Joining the happy throng:
Louis & Emma Ravensfield

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