Friday, 22 November 2019

Philippa Mo 'Classical Journey' Phonic FM 2pm Friday 22 November 2019

Violin: Philippa Mo
(Photography: Guy Carpenter)

Violin: Philippa Mo
(Photography: Guy Carpenter)

On Saturday 2 November this year Leo Geyer held the inaugural concert of his 'Devon Philharmonic Orchestra'. In addition to the sensual and evocative 'Lontano' by György Ligeti, and the mighty Fifth Symphony of Dmitri Shostakovich, Leo and the orchestra had also prepared the Violin Concerto in A minor by Antonin Dvořák.

For the Concerto, Leo was able to call on the very skilled playing of a former musical collaborator, Philippa Mo.

Violin: Philippa Mo
(Photography: Guy Carpenter)

Philippa graduated from the Royal Academy of Music to the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. She has since returned to Beijing to teach - and given performances in Turkey, Kazachstan and even Mongolia.

Philippa has given the premiere performance of works specially composed for her by modern composers, including the founder of Nonclassical, Gabriel Prokofiev. On October 26th this year Philippa was in Anglesey to perform a special composition dictated by the shipping forecasts, "I bawb yn y môr", to commemorate the loss of 460 lives when the 'Royal Charter' was dashed to pieces on the east coast of Anglesey on 26 October 1859.

Philippa played for a similar memorial at the Tate St Ives on 9th April 2016. Exactly 40 years earlier the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden was created at the Tate, featuring her six sculpture suite, 'Guarea'. After the death of her son on an RAF mission in Thailand in 1953 Barbara took a trip to Greece and was inspired to create the six sculptures. They are all carved from the trunk of a single guarea tree from Nigeria.

Leo Geyer composed 'Guarea' to reflect the form and symbolism of three  - Delos, Corinthos & Delphi.

'Delos' is played on two strings, just as the sculpture extends from the two central piercings. 'Corinthos' is played on the bass string with 'woody' microtonal harmonics relating to the great mass and solidity of the sculpture. 'Delphi' responds to the lyre-like internal strings of the sculpture. The pizzicato sequence reworks the First Delphic Hymn - one of the earliest notated pieces of music.

We will have a chance to enjoy Gaurea on today's 'Classical Journey' programme, with commentary by Philippa herself. From the Leeds College of Music, Philippa will phone in to discuss this and many other projects. Her recordings of rarely heard works for two violins with Harriet MacKenzie (as the Rhetorica Duo) have featured on several programmes this year. She has also created several concert series. At Sladers Yard in Dorset Philippa performed the complete violin repertoire of Bach, and all the Telemann violin Fantasies.

There have now been ten '@Shortwave Nights' recitals involving Philippa's violin in duet with a wide range of musicians playing a variety of instruments - not to mention the countertenor voice of Will Towers. Today's show will also include recordings of Philippa playing Handel Sonata in A in London with guitarist (and arranger) Martin Fogel - and a recording made in Rio de Janeiro of 'Nightclub 1960' from 'L'Histoire du Tango' by Astor Piazzolla, and 'Praeludium and Allegro' (in the style of Gaetano Pugnani) by Fritz Kreisler arranged and played with Philippa on the marimba by Ronni Wenzell.

Classical Journey airs today, Friday 22 November, from 2-4pm on Phonic FM (106.8 FM and online at

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Substance & Shadow Theatre Company "Walking with God" St Nicholas Priory Tue-Thur 19-21 & Wed-Fri 27-29 November 2019

Midge Mullin
is Donald Swanson
"Walking with God"

(Photography: Matt Austin)

Queen Victoria:
Ronnie Kerswell-O'Hara
The ancient Benedictine Priory of St Nicholas in Exeter was built shortly after the Norman Conquest and has been the scene of nearly a thousand years of history. This November, for a few nights only, there is a chance to have a chilling encounter with some more recent events. In 1888, a three year spate of violent murders began in the Whitechapel district of London. In the atmospheric confines of the Priory, Substance and Shadow Theatre Company recreate the story of those harrowing times.

Donald Swanson: Midge Mullin
Voice of Jack the Ripper:
Philip Kingslan John
Midge Mullin is Inspector Donald Swanson, the real life detective whose unswerving devotion to Queen Victoria (portrayed briefly and imperiously by Ronnie Kerswell-O'Hara) drove him to pursue the murderer with unrelenting determination. Midge is magnificent in his performance as the single-minded hunter - but his masonic lapel pin hints at conflicting interests at work in the case. The actual words of the killer (or was it a contemporary hoaxer?) are voiced over by the wonderful Philip Kingslan John as Swanson reads the now infamous letter from 'Jack the Ripper'.

Mary Jane Kelly:
Lola Pawlikowska
Lola Pawlikowska is Mary Jane Kelly, who was the fifth of the first five murder victims ('the canonical five'), still considered to have been killed by the same person. Her descriptions of life in Whitechapel, and the destitution and crime which were already commonplace there, starkly set the scene for the carnage that follows. Lola's playfulness is mixed with the ground-glass of dark experiences. She perfectly depicts the gallows humour of terrified Londoners living in daily fear of death.

Inspector Swanson (Midge Mullin)
tracks down his man
John Smith Sanders (Al Wadlan)
There was a suspicion at the time that the murders had been committed by a London surgeon - the mutilation of the bodies being likened to an autopsy. Al Wadlan, as the surgeon John William Smith Sanders, is very much under suspicion.Within a month of his appointment in 1888, Swanson had identified three medical undergraduates who had been declared insane. Sanders was the hardest to trace - he had been transferred from Holloway to Exeter. In a brilliant plot twist his story is changed. The Sanders in this story makes his own way to Exeter where, for reasons which are at first unclear, he is committed to Digby Hospital, and the care of Rosie Mullin.

Reviewing news of the case
Michael Maybrick:
Richard Pulman
Our narrator, and confidant of  Sanders, is the very dignified Michael Maybrick, played by Richard Pulman. Maybrick was a popular composer and singer in the 1880s, who used the pseudonym Stephen Adams. As Maybrick, Richard guides us unerringly through the machinations of the plot using prose and song - and some magic lantern slides provided by his assistant Cecil (played by Alex White - who is also in charge of the lighting back-stage). Maybrick also gives some insight into Sanders background - as fellow Cambridge alumni they are familiar with each other's careers. Keep an eye on Maybrick though. He has more than a passing interest in Sanders, and he also sports a masonic lapel badge - suggesting a more sinister interest in the case.

Enhanced Interrogation
Inspector Swanson: Midge Mullin
John Smith Sanders: Al Wadlan
This dramatisation not only evokes the terror of nineteenth century Whitechapel, it also blurs and confounds the details of story, characters and interactions. It is hard to keep track of where history and drama diverge. The writers and directors, Midge and Rosie Mullin, have created something profoundly moving in this transfigured reenactment of a true tale of horror.

Digby secrets
Inspector Swanson: Midge Mullin
Nurse: Rosie Mullin
With just one set, and a few props, the actors take us from a travelling freak-show to a comfortable gentlemen's club, then to the fearful back streets of Whitechapel and the cloistered confines of Digby Hospital. As always in Substance and Shadow productions, lighting, sound effects and voice-overs (all controlled by Alex White and Samantha Bearder) create a captivating and compelling atmosphere. On this occasion, the atmosphere is one of dark dread and suspicion.

A portentous gift
Michael Maybrick: Richard Pulman
John Smith Sanders: Al Wadlan
This magnificent piece of theatre is a delight for lovers of history and horror alike. The venue is perfect, and the stagecraft quite magical. It is worth arriving early - drinks are available in the bar downstairs and the actors are already in character, waiting to greet you. Anyone who appreciates a gruesome murder mystery will be well satisfied by the experience of Substance and Shadow's latest production

The macabre spectacle of 'Walking with God' is showing at St Nicholas' Priory for five more nights. After a single 7pm performance tomorrow there will be two performances on Thursday, and two per night from Wednesday to Friday next week.

Midge Mullin
(Photography: Matt Austin)
Substance & Shadow Theatre Company
St Nicholas Priory
Tuesday 19 November 7&9pm
Wednesday 20 November 7pm
Thursday 21 November 7&9pm
Wednesday-Friday 27-29 November 7&9pm
Directors: Midge Rosie Mullin

Starring:  Midge MullinAl Wadlan

              Richard Pulman, Rosie Mullin
              Jola Pawlikowska, Fern Stone
              Ronnie Kerswell-O'Hara
Lighting & Projections: Alex White
Tickets: £10
Online BookingTicketSource

Richard Pulman is Michael Maybrick
- opening monologue

Jola Pawlikowska is Mary Jane Kelly
- opening monologue

Fern Stone is Molly
Jola Pawlikowska is Mary Jane Kelly
- life in Whitechapel

Midge Mullin is Donald Swanson
Al Wadlan is John William Smith Sanders
- interrogation at Digby Hospital

Midge Mullin is Donald Swanson
Ronnie Kerswell-O'Hara is 'Dark Annie'
- dream sequence

Monday, 4 November 2019

Devon Philharmonic Orchestra & Philippa Mo, Violin, Ligeti, Dvořák & Shostakovich Exeter Cathedral Saturday 2 November 2019

Philippa Mo
Antonin Dvořák
Violin Concerto in A minor

(Photography: Guy Carpenter)

This weekend's inaugural concert by Leo Geyer's 'Devon Philharmonic Orchestra' was an outstanding success, to say the least. After several months of painstaking preparation, Leo brought the musicians - and several impressive guest players - to the Cathedral in Exeter to play three spectacularly atmospheric pieces to an enraptured audience.

Contrabass Clarinet
Sarah Watts.
Their opening work was György Ligeti's 1967 atonal masterpiece, 'Lontano'. After leaving the repressive musical regime of Communist Hungary following the revolution in 1957 Ligeti was free to experiment in new and innovative styles. 'Lontano' is certainly different! Initially a single note is passed from instrument to instrument, the ambient sound modified by the subtle introduction of new tones and rhythms by successive sections of the orchestra. Sitting centre-stage Catherine Clements leading the flutes seemed to be the focus of the ever-changing mêlée of sound. John Welton's bass clarinet made several notable incursions into the fray, but was ultimately eclipsed by visiting woodwind specialist Sarah Watts and her contrabass clarinet - 'The Beast'!

For everyone involved, this, initially apparently simple, concoction involved quite extraordinary precision and cooperation. Each section of the orchestra responded perfectly to Leo's skilled direction to produce a fabulous and unexpected tapestry of sound which perfectly introduced the many talents of the Devon Philharmonic Orchestra to its appreciative audience.

Dvořák Violin Concerto
Philippa Mo

(Photography: Guy Carpenter)
Almost immediately Leo returned to the rostrum, followed by the evening's soloist - violinist Philippa Mo. Philippa first featured on Phonic FM when she appeared on exactly the same platform at Exeter Cathedral with 'cellist Mats Lidström in June 2014. Philippa's  recordings with Harriet MacKenzie as the violin duo 'Rhetorica' have also featured many times. Philippa has since created concert series at The Shortwave Café (Bermondsey's Biscuit Factory), Sladers Yard in Dorset, and the Tate Gallery in St Ives - where she played the première of Leo's own composition 'Guarea'.

Working together again Leo and Philippa launched into an impassioned performance of  Dvořák's exlosive Violin Concerto in A minor. Under Clare Smith's leadership the string section gave Philippa one of the most rousing introductions any violinist could wish for. And she responded with exquisite precision and poise. 
Rapturous Applause
Philippa Mo

There followed three gripping movements of amazing music, with the superbly professional playing of the orchestra framing Philippa's incredibly stylish performance. Long passages seemed to be played using only her left little finger racing back and forth to the very end of her violin's fingerboard. Hypothenar eminance indeed! What a very special treat for an Exeter audience to enjoy such a performance by an international star of Philippa's calibre.

The first half of the concert ended in near-pandemonium as the Leo and Philippa - and then Philippa alone, made repeated returns to the stage to receive well-deserved acclaim from a thrilled audience.

Dmitri Shostakovich
In an inspired programme choice, Leo returned to the outpourings of another musician who had known suppression and control behind the Iron Curtain. Dmitri Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony was written to appease the ultimate arbitrator of Soviet musical creativity, Joseph Stalin. Despite being in the life-threatening dog-house of Stalin's disfavour following the poorly received première of his opera 'Lady MacBeth of Mtensk District', Shostakovich managed to combine orchestral compliance with delightfully imaginative musicality. There were even some subtle musical gags slipped in along the way. A very daring move by a man for whom incurring Stalin's displeasure could mean certain death!

Flute: Catherine Clements
The introduction is somewhat more sombre than Dvořák's, and the opening movement more ponderous. But each section of the orchestra has its chance to shine. Clare Smith amazed the audience again with her own delightful violin solo. There were also special moments for Catherine Clements and her flautists, who included Robert Stephenson and his trademark piccolo, for Isabelle Woollcott's double basses, for Ben Edmond's oboes, Richard de la Rue's clarinets, and the wonderful solo bassoon playing of Prue Tasman.

Trumpet: Myles Taylor
Myles Taylor of the Exeter Symphony Orchestra stood in for Brian Moore (who sadly seems still to be out of action) to lead some splendid trumpet fanfares. High on the stage Harrison Coomber led the three mighty trombones, including Charles Dowell's bass - and the stentorian roar of Rob O'Byrne's tuba. Less visible, but equally prominenet musically, was Beth Osment and her small band of French horn players. Beth and Catherine playing horn and flute duet was a particualarly memorable and beautiful moment.
Harp: Susan Sherratt

Shostakovich also called for special performances on on harp and piano, provided by Susan Sherratt and Dodie Bowman, which were as delightful as they were impressive. Dodie also joined Alfie Pugh and Alex Sadler to provide the most high profile and challenging rôle of all - the percussion. With military precision they punctuated the performance with timpani, snare, vibraphone, cymbals and - to top everything - the big bass drum.

Leader: Clare Smith
Conductor: Leo Geyer
This mesmerising cornucopaea of sound was the perfect foil to Philippa and Dvořák. The overall effect was as stunning as it must have been in Leningrad in 1937. Every section received praise from Leo and the audience for their impassioned performance. The Leader, Clare Smith, in particular was to be praised for her overall contribution as well as her delicate solo performances.

Many thanks to Leo, Clare, Philippa, and all the musicians and supporters of Devon Philharmonic Orchestra for creating such a dazzling evening of music to mark their launch. Rehearsals begin again almost immediately, of course - this time for performances of Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov's orchestral suite 'Scheherazade' and Igor Stravinsky's ballet score 'The Firebird' in a double bill at Exeter Cathedral on Saturday 25 April next year. A spectacle worth waiting for!

Devon Philharmonic Orchestra
Exeter Cathedral
Saturday 25 April
Conductor: Leo Geyer
Leader: Clare Smith
Nicolai Rimsky Korsakov:
Igor Stravinsky: "The Firebird"
Tickets: £17/£14/£12/£10
          (student/U16 half-price)