Category Archives: Opera & classical

Review Composition: Wales Concert Hoddinott Hall by James Ellis

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The future of music Welsh lies in events like this. BBC NOW have taken under their wings Wales’ budding composers for years and this reaches its zenith in the Composition: Wales workshops and concerts each year at Hoddinott Hall.

Several pieces were performed on the night and I will try and touch upon each one. Starting off with Haldon Evans and his Y Mynydd Du, we get a vivid depiction of famous Arthurian landscapes. You could feel the breeze, with Vaughn Williams and Britten as friends. The grand, old Welsh composer might just have more music to come. Sam Butler’s Stones Have Memory Here had a focus on time, with Cardiff Castle in mind and the centuries of masonry that lie within. This felt quite nondescript, something I would need to hear again to really drink in. Auburn Dusk from Jonathan Guy was an airy, folk like few minutes which held favour in this concert.

Leading things was the flamboyant Ryan Bancroft, who’s animation is always watchable and exciting. He lives the music in every bar. Tomos Owen Jones and his Daybreak from High House was a charming sign off from the Brecon Beacons, the composer here thinking of his new home and it’s place in the landscape. Nexus by Natalie Roe was an unassuming composition though filled with spice, seemingly venturing into suggestions of other music genres without ever crossing their thresholds. The jazz inspired Ascension by Jake Thorpe had none of the trappings of the genre and crossed over into a harsh encounter. Upper Structures by Jonathan Worsley held up as quite dense and dreamy, the last but one work on the programme. The feel of the theatre lies in BBC NOW’S clarinetist Lenny Sayers’ The Imaginary Carnival, proven by future promises of a staging. This felt like Petrushka hungover, yet the festive imagery was very clear and rowdy.

It is always a joy to hear the musicians play new music. BBC NOW should be proud.

Review Eight Songs for a Mad King, Cardiff University School of Music by James Ellis

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

We lost Peter Maxwell Davies a few years ago and his legacy is being greatly considered. Whilst most might shy away from the blunt nature of his music, there is an always theatrical skill to it and he truly remained one of a kind.

Prior to Max’s masterpiece, the Mad Song Ensemble presented contemporary music of an impressive degree. Anna Semple and her Pinter inspired After Torcello starts as a counting game for the players, leading to wispy playing. Strings of the violin and cello are massaged not stressed, the keys of the flute dampened with no breath. The end also remained curious, the conductor leaves the stage, as the musicians pull poses as if to play on. To start, this was an evocative opening and had a real moody feel to it.

Within Richard Causton and Phoenix, the main point of reference is very clearly Messiaen and his Quartet for the End of Time. Inspired by the mythical bird, there is an energy and valour within, though the piece might slightly over stay its welcome. Blue-Green Hill from stalwart Judith Weir seems to have been forgotten about after an overture was hastily needed in a tour of India. Scottish folk melodies are the major factor and the work is the middle ground between dance work and dense, some uncanny doubts lingering in it’s undercurrent. There is an ending of plummy British feel, a vibrant cleansing of the palate.

For the big gun’s Maxwell Davies Eight Songs for a Mad King finally was heard after cancellations. There are no prisoners for this 30 minutes assault, detailing the madness of King George III. We hear quotes from his real life, though we can’t always make out the excellent libretto of Randolph Stow. How the king shrieks, grunts, babbles and blathers. This is purely because of the shattering of the words into pure letters and syllables. The king tries to teach birds to sing and other curiosities. Also, note worthy is the sheet music, with one page a birdcage creation, a symbol of the mental health struggles on stage and the birds in the sound world.

Truly a great work about going into the psyche, you need a committed performer to take it on. Benedict Nelson shines in this ludicrous role, arriving on stage with a shirt barely buttoned and socks tucked into his sweat pants. At one point he appears to inhale a tin of fish like a jackal puppy and a paper crown is adorned upon his head for a brief few bars at the starting line. Being in the front row might have been a mistake as you feel being too near a tiger in its cage. A violin is furiously smashed at one point, a metaphor for one of the king’s birds he is teaching to sing.

The players also shines in an incredibly demanding piece, the fitting harpsichord and flurry of random percussion are just some highlights. We of course expected there to be bird whistles and the like, though it is the brief blast of a didgeridoo that proves the work’s hippy period execution. Maestro Joshua Ballance is a young, bright keeper of proceedings and all through the evening he proved a love of experimental music.

Review Royal Philharmonic Orchestra St David’s Hall by James Ellis

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

When seeing the Royal Philharmonic there is always a mood in the air. Most certainly one of the finest orchestra’s on earth, any visitation to Cardiff is always welcome.

There was no collar-pulling with the presence of Vasily Petrenko, who has right denounced titles in Russian roles he has held. What is their loss, is the rest of the peaceful world’s gain, with a hawk eyed conductor with some showy gesturing and buzzing physicality. Walton’s Johannesburg Festival Overture is a new discovery for me, this brief starter for the 70th anniversary of the namesake city’s formation. It’s a romp, with strident dance motifs and a seething celebratory nature. Note worthy is the percussion including maracas and claves, adding to the sun kissed vibe. I would say I’d be down to hear that live again.

Another Russian exile would be Boris Giltburg, who on piano passed us by with Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto. Known as the Emperor, this has many recognisable themes, the soloist having more subtle phases than the clamour the composer is usually known for. Boris grinds the piano, dizzying in his warm, rampant strides. Where the piece goes wrong is with a lot of time spent with the orchestra and not the piano, perhaps the biggest flaw of the piece. You do get those earthy, manic moments from Ludvig and they are forever embedded into classical music. Boris blessed us with a Rachmaninov prelude as an encore. It is easy to fall for Boris in moments such as these.

Vaughn Williams’ Second Symphony would end proceedings. Given the nickname “London” it’s easy to think of your own time spent in The Big Fog. The sweeping, large work is a love letter to the city, even with the fatigue one can feel from the place. The love-hate relationship feel is here, moments of jovial carnivals can be jarring and overblown. Vaughn Williams’ mastery over the English idyll still features here, some green spaces traversed sparingly. The fabric of the music might conjure up a soundtrack feel, images not always defined by a location. A harp clearly mimics the bells of a clock (perhaps Big Ben), though it does not complete the melody associated with the time and ends at what would state quarter to the hour. Contemporaries such as Holst and Walton offer shared harmonies and chords, the piece not always sounding as English as the composer if often accredited with. Quite charming.

Review Ellen Kent Productions, Tosca, St David’s Hall by James Ellis

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

It was the Ellen Kent production of Madam Butterfly in 2020, that Cardiff would not be seeing. In a usual return, Tosca and Carmen would be back in the Welsh capital. I’ve seen Kent’s collaborative productions before, working extensively in eastern Europe, this recent venture a timely journey through the UK and Ireland with the Ukrainian National Opera of Kyiv.

Kent has truly done amazing work to introduce new audiences to opera since the early 90s. I’ll confess some of the marketing promises animals and water features, only to be present at a select venues. Though billed in the poster, we would not see any Royal Greyhounds in Cardiff, though there presence fleeting and a bit showy any. Maybe the appeal comes from seeing more traditional opera productions, most directors today awash in fanciful experimentation and warping of setting and costume.

This staging in St David’s Hall does not really impress. Some doors appear unpainted and undecorated, not ready for showing. Other gates should stay closed only to open again, breaking the mood of the final act prison scene. Tosca in one moment touched a pillar only for it to buckle again the wall. I’m thinking about the durability of these sets and probs knocking about the entire British Isles, though I feel a bit more work is needed. Stage hands arrive in tracksuits to hurl the furniture about, this ramshackle feel is never far away.

Having said this, the singing was just fine. Our Tosca is Elena Dee well armoured in the demanding prima donna role. Her famous aria is delivered with emotion and a well versed knowledge of Puccini’s vision. She shines well with the decent looking costumes, she parades through in the three acts. Her lover, Cavaradossi is here from Vitalii Liskovetskyi, another great venture. He is perfect for the role, a sweeping vocal line and tenderness are never far away. The villain Scarpia is Vladimir Dragos, who embodies the role with terror, a sexual predator who always gets what he wants. His downfall is always satisfying, mock booing is fair game at the curtain as Dragos comes out laughing. I remained unsure about the voice of Eugeniu Ganea as the escaped prisoner Angelotti, though this is a small role.

The subtitles above the stage could not always keep up with the drama. Conductor Nicolae Dohotaru held the tension throughout, though the orchestra may have had a little slip up here and there. For such a small orchestra they made a lot of noise and worked hard in the pit. Though I’m sure the tubular bells did not sound quite right. The chorus blasted out in the Te Deum, with Oliver Papadakis getting the pretty little solo as the Shepherd Boy.

Expectedly, the night ended with a rousing rendition of the Ukrainian anthem. Dee looked stoic here holding up the flag with Liskovetskyi, with some of the chorus wiping away tears. A touching moment, made all the more real for this opera company who’s thoughts are with home.

Tosca continues on tour with Carmen and Madam Butterfly.

Review St Matthew Passion BBC National Orchestra & Chorus of Wales St David’s Hall by James Ellis

Photo credit: Dario Acosta
3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

I return to Cardiff to Easter festivities. If you’re going to hear anything classical around this time of year live, its usually one of Bach’s Passions. What was originally planned for Easter 2020, we finally get to hear the St Matthew Passion at St David’s Hall. I genuinely don’t recall there being a performance of it in all my time frequenting the venue.

I make it a tradition to listen to the EMI recording of the Philharmonia doing the Matthew Passion with Otto Klemperer conducting. I doubt you could find a better recording, well regarded as one of the greatest ever on disc. So with this, I didn’t want to compare too much with the BBC NOW getting it’s live outing after a two year hiatus.

It’s a regal affair, the formulated sophistication of this Passion lingering in every bar. It commands a lot out of it’s listeners, with most going along with the thick translation in the gaudy looking programmes. Jeremy Budd took over the narrative role of the Evangelist after Gwilym Bower had to drop out. Budd keeps the whole passion in check along with conductor Harry Bicket, a new face to the regular Cardiff concert goer though, having a command over all the musicians and chorus. I cant begin to comprehend how demanding it would be to keep up the momentum of the over two hours Bach has blessed us with. Budd is subtle and calming, telling of Jesus’ last days with a detached nature. His voice never stops being lovely, quite golden even if the role gives little to no ornament.

It’s always jolting to hear Jesus as a bass, here sung with conviction by David Shipley. You’d expect it to be an intense role and it frequently is. Shipley given little flickers of acting here and there, with a touching voice. Soprano Mhairi Lawson getting arguably some of the finest solos, the famous aria used in the films of Tarkovsky. There is a glamorous feel to Lawson, she sings with much splendour, Jess Dandy the contralto both getting a sweetly scented duet together. Dandy also sings from the heart, a voice as clear as a window pain. Antony Gregory as tenor is in and out of the score, though a well suited guest and often the lighter side of the men’s earthy voice ranges. Baritone James Newby ended the line up of soloists, coming into his own when getting some flurried solos.

Of note is the orchestra is separated into two sets and there is no brass nor percussion. One wonders what the first audiences would have thought of a work like this nearly 300 years ago, or even the audiences Mendelssohn reintroduced the work to, after it having dropped out of favour for around one hundred years. The Viola de gamba is also present, not used enough with it’s nuanced charm. It takes a lot to focus on the entire piece, cough syrup prevented me from taking in the entire second part. Though there are very few theatrical elements to the passion, recent years have seen stagings, something I’d be keen to see. The BBC National Chorus of Wales also blossomed here, the opening a highlight, the fiery finale perhaps the most bone chilling passage in the entire work.

Finally another masterpiece of Western music to tick off the bucket list.

Review ENO New Harewood Artists Recital, St Martin-In-The-Fields by James Ellis

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

My time in London is wrapping up. A day spent with English National Opera would herald a fine last day in the capital and I couldn’t have been happier. Though my health has comprised my enjoyment somewhat, I ventured on the New Harewood Artists recital at St Martin’s-in-the-Field.

I found joy in hearing more of Clara Schumann and her friend Brahms, in a mostly Germanic programme from bass William Thomas. With smouldering good looks and a surprising, volcanic voice, William has much promise, this set from him proving how perfect he would be for Don Giovanni and possibly some Wagner baddies, the Russian repertoire a must. There was a sensuality with these German lieder, a romance often awash in the joy of nature, true love and broken hearts. This was an opening I found very impressive.

A coughing fit would prevent me from hearing all of soprano Alexandra Oomens. I did get to savour Night by composer of colour Florence B. Price and sadly with eyes streaming and throat raging, I had to leave to acquire water. I stood at the back for the rest of the concert. What I did hear of Alexandra was an exquisite voice that I was upset I missed most of. Her recent outing in ENO’s HMS Pinafore proves her quick wit and broad repertoire outings. I can only apologise for my temperamental throat.

Last but not least, New Zealand born Sāmoan baritone Benson Wilson grappled with war and it’s aftermath. You can’t think of George Butterworth without thinking of A Shropshire Lad, a staple of WW1 memorials. These tender and often considerate songs were as English as cricket, builder’s tea and bulldogs. A touching orb seemed to hover over each song, the lingering sense of loss and regret is never far away. Butterworth was one of over the million men who lost their life at The Somme. Benson has meaty vocals, his looming stature and rugged nature also evident. The end with Robert Wiremu’s Ake Ake Kia Kaha E (Victory and Glory), the feel of an Italian art song, leading to a soaring haka, which rang out into the church. Marvellous.

The conclude all three singers offered a trio from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale. Witty and delightful, this fragments again, proved the power of these three singers, talent and more talent. It’s only up from here!

ENO in the Fields counties with concerts till 30 April 2022.

Review Joyce DiDonato: Eden, The Barbican Centre by James Ellis

Photo by Mark Allan
5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

I returned to the Barbican, to watch American mezzo Joyce DiDonata who gave a supreme evening of hand picked songs and arias inspired by the thrill of nature. Even as we sat down, seeds had been left on our seats for us to take home, a sweet little gift. This had the feel of an ambitious work, the small platform Joyce loiters was constantly shifting, with two silver orbs courting around her, her own ring cycle if you will. Ives’ The Unanswered Question lost the trumpet and Joyce took on the role in an ethereal change to the notation. Rachel Portman’s premier of The First Morning of the World was a luscious evocation, leading to some Mahler, Copland and Gluck. Opera lovers will relish this buffet of sweet treats from Theodora, Orfeo ed Euridice and La Calisto.

I was filled with sheer joy to hear Joyce sing, the world simply glows when she does. There is a grand, sumptuous quality in her execution, I now know what all the fuss is about. Different languages are easily converted, Joyce easily going in between English, German and Italian with ease. A funny moment came when a part of the rotating rings disconnect and with a smile, she put a finger to her lips. The concluding Mahler, the final song from Rückert-Lieder was of such a devastating impact, I found it hard to keep things together. The words are of a figure dying, leaving the world to the feel of some of Mahler’s finest, calmest music. Joyce captured the intensity of the lieder and is one of perhaps the finest living singers to tackle it. I could have cried for longer.

Encores of Wagner and Handel were so appreciated. It also has to said how wonderful Joyce’s time spent with children in music workshops is, leading to a touching new song delivered by them all and performed to the audience of opera lovers and proud parents. She spoke of how we’ve changed after Covid and how they couldn’t find a choir for workshops in Luxembourg (think of that happening in Wales!). Children and adults alike need live music now after all we’ve been through. Grabbing her autograph, she remarked I was the first critic she’d met who was after such a thing. I will cherish it, just like this concert.

Joyce DiDonato: Eden runs at the Barbican Centre till 6 April 2022.

Review SoundState and London Symphony Orchestra by James Ellis

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Eva-Maria Houben & GBSR Duo

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) Claire Chase Presents Pauline Oliveros

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) London Symphony Orchestra

A intense weekend of events wrapped up nicely with the conclusion of SoundState at the Southbank Centre. I had officially crashed around this point, though keen to see more. Till the bitter end really.

Starting off with ‘together on the way’ from Eva-Maria Houben & GBSR Duo. By far one of the quietly intense concert experiences I’ve ever been too, the Queen Elizabeth Hall was awash in stillness, if not the odd cough and shuffle. One part quite demanding, it also found it rather zen, a well needed mediation after a non-stop few days. Nature comes to mind and outer space, the organ here only ever a drone to the interplay of piano and percussion. You can feel the spirit of Morton Feldman, though it doesn’t quite reach that plateau. Amazing how the organ could sound like train whistles or an an earthquake when the stops are teased. Wales’ own Siwan Rhys played oh so softly on the piano, with some Henry Cowell like string strums and stimulating chords. George Barton was another fine addition on percussion, an attractive array of gongs, temples bowls amongst other delights. Eva-Maria Houben had some deeply impressive concentration levels to keep the organ on the straight path in it’s never ending backing ambience.

Following on was a fine highlight of the entire festival. Claire Chase and the music of Pauline Oliveros was a mere 45 minutes in length and had a massive, lasting impact. Endlessly charming, Claire plays flute supremely well. Her acting also note worthy, since Oliveros demands a performer musicianship, something right up my line of work. Sounds from childhood, asks the audience to create noises they loved making as a child, something I had to abstain from due to my usually temperamental throat, Senem Pirler on live electronics capturing the noises for a unique performance then manipulated it into a brittle soundscape. She did a super job throughout.

13 Changes featured written, Magritte like visions leading to traditional flute, panpipes, and other similar woodwind, Claire showing her breadth in the field. A little boy behind me spoke of this confusion cornering the words, some funny little moments here. Ending with Intensity 20.15 – A tribute to Grace Chase, Claire has taken the posthumous poetry her grandmother left around. A fabulous circus theatre here, as the words become almost Gertrude Stein like, moment after moment of Jaime vu intensity, as the ludicrous heights only gets higher. Shoes and scrappy hand bags frequent the space as all this occurs. Her grandmother’s poetry is piffy, witty, with flickers of sharp observation constantly on show. The grand finale was a solo on the massive contrabass flute, a sight not to take lightly. This touching performance will be on my mind for some time.

To end the huge weekend was a trip to the Barbican, making me sadly miss the last event of SoundState Music of Today: How Forests Think. London Symphony Orchestra gave an evening of mostly new music, an exciting night of premiers. Finish composer Joel Järventausta’s Sunfall was a world premiere and had the heat of the sun going for it, inspired by our own very star and early, blazing impressionistic paintings. Helen Grime’s Trumpet Concerto featured soloist Håkan Hardenberger, in a slick three piece grey suit. Somewhere between jazz and contemporary classical, the piece never found any ground to call it’s own. Though the opening and closing was a clear reference to The Unanswered Question by Charles Ives. I felt little for the piece, though Håkan did excel her, face bright red in what comes across as a concert that will require further listing to really understand it.

The pearl of the premiers came from Spain’s Francisco Coll and his Violin Concerto. Soloist Patricia Kopatchinskja dazzled in her charcoal affronted white dress. She rarely stoped playing and the whole piece was frantic, alive in a locomotive bombardment. A touching slow movement was powerful, the final few minutes taking on a jolting, free form style as if the composition was buckling under its own weight The audience were very much impressed with this new work and it should do the round more. Coll is a composer to follow for sure. Even his self-portrait in the programme proves even further talents.

The evening would also feature two of Richard Strauss’ tone poems: Till Eulenspiegel and Death and Transfiguration. Whilst the first had cheeky, trickery inspired by the German trickster, the latter had a deep soul, fine harmonies leading to a rousing conclusion. Strauss excels in writing for orchestra, François-Xavier always on top form as conductor be it premier or a concert classic. He excites audiences every time he grabs the baton.

The London Symphony Orchestra concert will stream on Marquee TV for a future broadcast.

Review SoundState & London Philharmonic Orchestra Southbank Centre by James Ellis

Photo credit: Benjamin Ealovega

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) Arditti Quartet

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Mark Knoop

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) London Philharmonic Orchestra

Arditti Quartet Programme:

Christian Mason: This present moment used to be the unimaginable future (UK premiere)
Clara Maïda: … das spinnt for amplified string quartet
Betsy Jolas: String Quartet No.8 (Topeng) (UK premiere)
Tansy Davies: Nightingales: Ultra-Deep Field (UK premiere)

After the giddy thrill of seeing Meredith Monk live for the first time, I wanted to check out more of the Southbank Centre’s SoundState festival. In an intimate afternoon, the Arditti Quartet tackled new work, pushing the boundaries and listeners with the medium of the string quartet. I must put my cards on the table, and say I struggled with this repertoire. I find it hard to believe coming from me, who has always been on a journey of new discoveries. Christian Mason’s opening piece had an interesting use of space with two of the players standing towards the back corners of the Purcell Room, the piece ending with them all leaving the stage still playing.

It would be hard to pinpoint any markers within this music. My concern lies in the blunt method of music making, a hang over from the Second Viennese School. It would be reductive to say this felt like a Webern Fan Club, though his influence was there along with other serialists. The expected shrillness and unhinged sounds couldn’t formulate any visual stimuli, perhaps more abstract sights would be fitting? There was little in rest bite of the anxious, nimbly bow play, the strange prodding of the senses. For once I cried out for a melody…never thought I’d say that. I left flustered and with a headache.

There was some tinkering with show times on this Saturday at the festival and Sex Magic by Liza Lim was given a later slot, giving a three hour break after Arditti for Mark Knoop’s recital. I would miss Liza’s show and was sad to do so. Knoop’s concert had some curious work, a premier from Akiko Ushijima and more. Materia opened with rowdy electronics and Knoop proving his tricks as a musicians itching to take on bold pieces. A dance between man and the electric gave off a wondrous show. They complimented each other, the brittle noises joining the elongated piano writing.

Canon in C from 3 Canons for Ursula by Nancarrow was less impressive. Not the MIDI type playing the composer is notorious for, essentially piano music so complex a human could not physically play it. There is elegance in this Canon, Knoop fitting this choice and it left you hungry for more of that outrageous music. For my sins, I sadly, missed the final piece on the programme: Matthew Shlomowitz’s Explorations in polytonality and other musical wonders Volume 1. From what I did see I must express how invigorating it was hearing these strident works up close and personal. Will absolutely see more of Knoop.

Rushing over to the other side of the centre, a chance encounter with the London Philharmonic gave rise to a super evening from France and Germany. I’ve spoken in recent reviews about the unrepresented nature of female composers. With Lili Boulanger, a French artist who died tragically young, her sister Nadia is best remembered as one of the big teachers of composers in the 20th century. Lili’s Psalm 129 was only a few minutes in length, though had a big impact and a bigger heart. It is the early Debussy likeness and soundtrack feel that stand her apart, way ahead of her time. The chorus really pelting out some sublime harmonies, though brief and still teary. Olivier Messiaen’s Le tombeau resplendissant is a fine example of his early output of music, the influence of Stravinsky and his Catholic faith being most on stage. The exhilaration and veneration seeps throughout all the orchards groups shining with bold, rampant passages. Messiaen withdrew the piece from his canon for reasons we may never know, a strange decision since the piece is brilliant and a great gateway to the hurtling, mouth dropping later scores.

Edward Gardner continued to show his casual brilliance with Brahms’ A German Requiem. The might of the large orchestra and massed London Philharmonic Choir and The Rodolfus Choir. The singing also help up extremely well the constant declarations in this mass being direct and clearly executed. Baritone Roderick Williams remained highly skilled during his solos, a friend at the concert remarked his German was “on point”. Always soft and centrally one of England’s finest baritones, this cant be denied. The one solo featuring soprano Christiane Karg sat with the choir was a pleasant feature, praise indeed for her even it was the only time she sang. I’ll take or leave Brahms and this German Requiem may not always grab me, but I can’t deny the effort that was put in this and it execution bordered on the exemplary.

SoundState continues until the 3rd April.

SoundState | South Bank London

Review James Larter & Meredith Monk with Bang on a Can by James Ellis

Photo Credit: Victoria Frankowski

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)James Larter

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)Meredith Monk & Bang on a Can

St-Martin-in-the-Field Church in London maintains a calendar of concerts all year. The raw energy of percussionist James Larter should shock an idle Friday afternoon audience in an hour of sizzling, sonic sounds. One might run afar from the music of composer and mathematician Xenakis, yet his Psappha was a powerhouse of force, James greatly showing off the demands of the work with ease and determination. Richard Rodney Bennett and his Marimba Concerto (the first movement) followed featuring on piano Tyler Hay, representing the allusive orchestra in this reduction. Perhaps the most stringent of the programme, Bennett’s time with Pierre Boulez shows here, with some moods of brief Messiaen, the composer being well known for more traditional film scores. James here flexed his percussive muscles with the marimba his gym rack, with Hay a smooth and well equipped companion.

Composer Param Vir introduced his premier work: Drum of Deathless, in a solo arengment. Taken from time spent in a freezing monetary in South Korea, Via has flung into the air a work of great magnitude, quite showy as James chants and clamours away beautifully. Both small percussion and the marimba are on offer, with a dexterity needed in the transfer of sounds. Temple bowls added flavour to an already spicy broth in what could proof to be a percussion favourite in years to come. James’ own piece Bedawi, utilised electronic beats, call to prayers and a middle-eastern inspired musicality. This wrapped things up well, evocative in nature, though slightly too shorty feeling more like an encore. James is one to watch.

Leading to an evening at the Royal Festival Hall with a music legend, an woman of charm and filled with vim. There was much anticipation for Meredith Monk’s first concert back in the UK for some years. During lockdown I began to engage much more with her canon: Zoom workshops, a kick starter (which I gladly pledged to) and my interview with her all added to my quest to know more, to get a more rounded sense of this interdisciplinary artist.

Entitled Memory Game, the night would feature hand picked work from Meredith’s extensive output. Starting with The Games, a galactic examination of fascism in the guise of a science fiction opera. What lovely things to hear, as always with this music. Meredith’s singers: Theo Bleckmann, Katie Geissinger and Allison Sniffing are individually brilliant in their vast scope of roles. The joy of the absurd thrives here and the thrills that feature leaves faces beaming. The dance work is also unexpected, grounded in simplistic modes of expression, yet always achieves its goal. The utter delight that was Tokyo Cha Cha from Turtle Dreams Cabaret held up as funny and endlessly charming. Migrations from The Games, saw Ukrainian tributes with blue and yellow lighting, as this touching moment stirred hearts, with Meredith near wailing, child like in voice. Double Fiesta ended with that rush hour speed, the ear worm of the night. A few encores also appears this hungry audience, the show being under 90 minutes.

I’d have loved to have heard Hocket and The Boat Song from Facing North, since Theo Bleckmann was present who premiered the work with Meredith. Though Theo’s ludicrous Gamemaster’s Song, another selection from The Games, had a bouncy keyboard riff and oodles of poses and vocal frontiers for him. The Memory Song also from the opera a sweetly scented venture into the characters thoughts as they venture out into space, with a shopping list of things now gone to them. Spaceship which opened the night gave the musicians time to wrap up and enter this universe of thoughtful ideas, harmony never comprised, melodies never to approachable. The years of collaboration with Bang on a Can Allstars also shows. The instrumentalists shined with funk, patience and the passion for every bar of music. It’s the sincerity that surprises you the most in Meredith’s art. A lack of sung words also open up much more interpretation, with a general minimalistic vein exposed. Few would argue she remains an unique voice. Few other artists have chirped, shrieked, scoffed and teased their voice like Meredith has and we love her all the more for it.

The evening ended on a high note with a relaxed post show talk with Meredith and musicians from the night. I finally had the chance to meet her in person and she always speaks so kindly of Wales, hoping to return one day. Photos and autographs were greatly appreciated, as I left filled with love and warmth.

Join Zoom song and dance workshops with Meredith Monk and her singers, see her website for details.

Meredith Monk will continue with Memory Game with her Singers and Ban on a Can All-Stars, with film screenings and Cellular Songs on tour at the Rewire Festival in The Hague, with the Cellular Songs in Nantes, Paris and Luxembourg.