Review of ‘O Come, Come, Emmanuel’ by Ely Choral Society and Ely Youth Choir on Saturday 3rd December at St. Mary’s Church, Ely

December 4, 2016

The concert given by Ely Choral Society and Ely Youth Choir on Saturday 3rd December at St. Mary’s Church Ely was splendid. The title: ‘O Come, Come, Emmanuel’ indicated the nature of this interesting programme which focused on Advent rather than the usual Christmas Carols and readings.

The first work by Alan Bullard was written for Selwyn Chapel Choir which our own Sarah McDonald  directs. (Sarah is also Director of Ely Cathedral’s Girls’ Choir). The opening of the prelude was based on the familiar hymn ‘O come, O come Emanuel’ and the first phrase recurred regularly, making the whole piece that took up the first half of the progamme a cohesive whole.

The choirs under the baton of Andrew Parnell and accompanied on the organ by Edmund Aldhouse, were impressive. The adult choir voices were balanced beautifully and the youth choir’s singing was positively charming.

A very attractive piece by Andrew Parnell, ‘Advent Tidings’, opened the second part of the programme and the choirs really came alive. One of the loveliest performances was the full choir singing ‘Sing of a Maiden’ by Tim Alban Jones. Of the works sung by the Youth Choir, ‘Waiting for the Word’ was particularly impressive.

Moments for audience participation which was remarkably successful under the guidance of Andrew enhanced the evening.

The culmination of the programme was ‘That Wondrous Birthday’ by Ely-composer Arthur Wills who was present at the time. Andrew spoke glowingly of Arthur who came forward to express his delight at the performance: ‘Wonderful!’ he said. Arthur’s intriguing sense of atmosphere and unique arrangements of traditional music were fascinating.

This was indeed a wonderful concert. The next performance by Ely Choral Society is on 8th April in Ely Cathedral singing ‘Messiah’ by Handel.

contact: http://www.elychoralsociety.org

Review of Antony Peeble’s piano recital in the Hayward Theatre on Thursday 1st December 2016.

December 3, 2016

review-antony-peebles-1Ex-Trinity College Cambridge student and experienced performer and teacher, Antony Peebles, gave a splendid piano recital as part of the King’s School Ely Concert Series in the Hayward Theatre on Thursday.

He played two sonatas by Beethoven, two works by Scriabin and Ravel’s ‘Gaspard de la nuit’. The latter piece was an amazing culmination of the programme and this fine pianist proved himself a master of producing really soft sounds that maintained their musical quality no matter how wide-ranging the textures from delicate trills and rapid runs to masses of chords. Fortunately the Steinway piano provided could respond to his skill. No matter how varied the pictorial episodes were in this composition, Antony captured their essence exactly. From the fluidity of the first movement and the haunting B flat in the second movement to the macabre antics of ‘Scarbo’ in the third, this excellent artist gave credence to every articulation. Even if it was ‘a nightmare to play’ it was no problem for this performer!

Needless to say, Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Appassionata’ sonatas were expressed magnificently, revelling in Beethoven’s contrasts: one minute smooth, calm and unhurried, the next suddenly excitable and agitated at great volume and strength yet all perfectly under this musician’s control. His use of the split second pause before important musical episodes kept us entranced.

Many pianists prefer the right hand to the left and would rather avoid the flat keys. Not this pianist. His performance of Scriabin’s Nocturne in D flat for the left hand flourished and the music flowed as if played by two hands. His expert touch made the sound appear to have several dimensions as the music surged across the piano.

Not satisfied with the challenges of this nocturne, Antony then played Scriabin’s Etude in D sharp minor, which was indeed a demanding study but magnificently mastered by this amazing pianist.

What an uplifting and memorable concert this was! It was no wonder there was a demand for ‘encore’!

The next concert in this series will be on Thursday 19th January 7.30 in the Recital Hall featuring Gemma Rosefield (cello) and Tim Horton (piano).

contact: sophiecollier@kingsely.org

 

Review of Snail Tale’s ‘The First King of England in a Dress’ in the Maltings on Wednesday 30th November 2016

December 2, 2016

review-snail-tales-nov-16Up and coming production team, ‘Snail Tales’ entranced a packed Maltings on Wednesday with fanciful tales of the Fens and Knut, a king in a dress.  The script developed from workshops in schools that stimulated the imagination of the children, helping them to make up fantastic tales that were seamlessly woven into the action.

While a clear summary of the real history behind events was given, the accuracy of historical events in the play was a little suspect, but that was what it was all about. With an array of delightful songs and story-telling crammed with moments for audience participation, this splendid group engaged an audience of mostly children in a world that stretched the imagination and brought to life snippets of reality of a time for which there are few records. There should be much more of this kind of activity!

The singers and actors were highly entertaining, and special commendation should go to Olivia Balzano who is only eleven years old. She held her part magnificently. Chip Colquhoun was an impressive actor and singer. He kept things moving and played his made-up lyre well. When he plucked single notes, rather than strumming chords, it was quite effective. Laura-Jean Robinson was also amazing, her facial expressions a sheer delight. Even the Mayor of Ely, Ian Lindsay, was encouraged to appear on stage, and made a very good impression of a ‘bad monk’.

Congratulations must go to the actors, designer Jenny Stevens, illustrator Dave Hingley, graphic designer Jack Stevens, and the primary schools for their contributions to the storyline: St Andrew’s in Soham, Littleport community and Millfield.

This was a wonderful show packed with ideas – even giving the children an opportunity to have their faces painted. This team should go far. Watch this space.

Review of ‘The Railway Children’ by King’s Ely Junior School in the Hayward Theatre on Wednesday 23rd November 2016

November 24, 2016

The Kings School is known for its high standard of productions and the Junior School’s presentation of ‘The Railway Children’ was as delightful as expected. All the characters were there and well presented. The three children soon developed their personalities and indulged in realistically childish banter. They were Bobbie (played by Eva McGrath), the more ‘grown-up’ oldest child, Peter (Nicholas Denny), the only boy making efforts to keep up his macho image but not always getting it right and the youngest Phyllis (Isabel Duckworth), who had wonderful facial expressions and gave  hilarious reactions and comments.

Representing people who are much older is not easy, but Mother (Abigail Hughes) and Father (Hugo McGuinness) made excellent parents. We could really believe they were adult and living through the nightmare.

Other essential contributions to this very successful show included: Perks (Bertie Whymark), Old Gentleman (Edward Spencer), Mr Szezcpansky (William Biggs), Maid/Mrs Perks (Olivia Thomas), Butler (Rhys Williams), Doctor (Jesse Dennis), Cook (Charlotte Donnelly), Mrs Viney (Minty Gordon), Jim (Robbie Allan), Perks’ children, Persons one and two and the railway workers.

The realistic train was especially impressive as were the lights in the night scene and the sound effects, notably the landslide and staging and costumes were splendid.

Congratulations must go to the director Miss Charlton and the rest of her team for a highly entertaining evening.

Review of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra in Cambridge Corn Exchange on Tuesday 15th November 2016

November 17, 2016

The concert given by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra in Cambridge Corn Exchange on Tuesday was splendid. The conductors Heiko Mathias Förster and Libor Pešek and the soloist Natalie Clein worked with this highly competent orchestra to present a most entertaining programme.

Musicologist Jonathan James began the evening with an enthusiastic and informative talk in Cambridge University Bookshop, explaining the highlights of the composers and their works in preparation for the event.

Schubert’s delightful  ‘Unfinished Symphony’ conducted by the orchestra’s principal guest conductor Heiko Mathias Förster opened the concert in the Corn Exchange. The performers brought out Schubert’s lyrical mastery beautifully, shaping the phrasing colourfully with moods transforming clearly from sweetness and light to sudden dramatic darkness.

In Shostakovich’s ‘Cello Concerto No 1’ the solo cellist Natalie Clein performed with passion, infusing her performance with the essence of the pain and urgency of Shostakovich’s style. There were some stirring moments in the orchestra which played with immaculate precision even in the trickiest places. The demonic woodwind were amazing.

The cellist’s encore was an enchanting extra.

After interval under the baton of Libor Pešek we were treated to a lovely performance of Dvořák’s ‘Symphony no. 8 in G major’. It was melodious from the start, the sonority of the cellos and the bird-like flurries from the flute fully explored. This work provided a much lighter contrast to the previous composition and moved easily with momentum from moments of fluffy joy or calm to flashes of anxiety.  The conductor’s management of the pauses was exquisite.

Their encore provided yet another delightful contrast. Latin rhythms and sensuous turns in ‘Tango Siempre’ by Piazzolla allowed the trumpet soloist to demonstrate his capacity for genuinely intoxicating showmanship. This was real entertainment.

The next concert in the Cambridge Classical Series at the Corn Exchange will feature the Zürich Chamber Orchestra on Saturday 3rd December.

Contact: www.cambridgelivetrust.co.uk/cornex/cornex/classical-series-1617

 

Review of a Guardian Column Writing Course: Owen Jones on Monday 14th November 2016

November 15, 2016

This was well worth attending, mostly because of Owen’s undoubted enthusiasm for his job as a columnist for the Guardian newspaper.

He is quite right when he says that journalism should hold the powerful to account.

He gave an interesting account of his background, of the decline in the print media and of investigative journalism although now newspapers online are thriving.

Advice I found most useful:

Write a blog and update it two or three times a week. (Yes, I must do this.)

Register a domain in your own name. (I’m not sure I’ll do this one because it will cost money.)

Your approach to a subject should be different, unique and should be made relevant to current events/opinions.

Your blog should be written with:

  • font 12, Arial
  • each paragraph should have more than 9 lines (I must take heed.)
  • a photo with each blog
  • long-winded sentences (yes, my downfall)
  • always spellcheck

Your column should be no more than 600-800 words, snappy with information about you and your background (but not too much) e.g. ‘Here’s my experience…’ You should show your personality.

He is in favour of effective blog headers e.g. Laurie Penny’s. (I’m not sure how to do this. L)

You must use Twitter (While I am on twitter, @DrRoe, I’m not using it much). What I do notice is that it is important to make sure what you say will make sense to someone who hasn’t been following the thread.)

Use Facebook – the optimum time is 0900 Monday to Thursday. (Interesting!)

Useful sites to write for, where they pay or not and whether they edit your work:

Labour List: no fee, minimal editing

Huffington Post: no fee, some editing but feedback given. It has a bigger audience.

New Statesman: £50-75 editing

Comment is Free: £90 some editing

 

Pitching:

Write only 5 or so sentences: ‘Here’s me, here’s the issue, here’s my take, here’s my previous work.’

Don’t pitch with a finished article. (I did this with the Times Ed, – they thought it would be OK as a letter and never heard from them again – I’ve no idea if they published or not and I certainly didn’t get paid for it. L)

Start with an intriguing question: e.g. ‘Have you wondered if turtles are responsible for the financial crisis?’ Say why you are the person to write it, give a link to your blog and attach a CV.

Hook your content to recent stories – even pop culture.

The best pitching time is 8 am (a bit early for me!)

Getting ideas: sources:

  • NGO press officers. (He never did say what NGO stands for – I suspect it means National Government Offices.)
  • think tanks
  • upcoming books
  • seminars, public talks,
  • foreign e.g. American, Indian press (being Australian born, I try to use the Aussie papers)

online:

  • googlebooks and google scholar ( have used these, but never thought of them as source material before)
  • JSTOR academic , have to pay (I wonder JSTOR what it stands for?

 

Use a hyperlink to your source: cover your own back.

 

Use personal stories and if you’re going to use statistics, weave them inside your story.

When you generalise and talk about groups of people it loses its impact.

When you’re having to explain what you’ve written, you are losing.

Emotionally compelling stories are better.

 

Getting stories:

-stop people in the streets, get out of London (already there!)

-use internet forums for interest groups e.g. disabled campaigners

-make requests to NGOs/campaigners

-on Twitter, ask someone who has a lot of followers to retweet your requests. (I assume that was RT stands for.)

 

The opening:

The first sentence has to grab your attention – no beating about the bush. Make it punchy and short.

Use a dramatic contrast e.g. everyone is saying this, but they’re wrong.

Knock down something that is commonly accepted.

The last paragraph should be a summary of what matters and what should be done about it, and what happens if nothing is done.

 

Language

Use the simplest words that accurately sum up the meaning. (Why then do Guardian reviewers of concerts use such highfalutin words? – maybe there’s an opening for me here?)

Use the active not the passive voice i.e. not ‘The child was bitten by a dog.’ but ‘The dog bit the child.)

Avoid cliché’s/f figures of speech metaphors. (I’m not sure I agree with this, for I think they help to colour the text and indicate something of your personality.)

Avoid jargon, elitist, foreign, ‘aren’t I clever?’ – types of words.

Be conversational/chatty, but don’t overdo it.

Use radical ideas but moderate them.

Start with where we are e.g. ‘We all know…’

 

For tabloid columns use:

-shorter snappier sentences

– more emotive language, e.g. ‘They are downright lies.’

– use rhetorical questions e.g. ‘Who’d have thought…?’

 

launch pad:

Start with saying where you’ve got expertise – you don’t want an editor to think your material should be good for someone else to write.

 

Guardian contacts that Owen praises that might be worth seeing what they write as examples of their interests and style:

Simon Jenkins e.g. ‘home ownership is rubbish’,

Mark Steel exposes absurdity of situations

Tom Olivers – shows two extremes – both wrong, I’m in the middle – always right

Peter Oborne – I’m Labour but I’m going to surprise the Tories

 

You can write anonymously

Stick to the deadlines.

 

Dealing with responses:

-don’t’ take them personally

-know the difference between critics and trolls

-learn from critics, it’s easy to be defensive

 

How to change the world:

Public shame through the media is more effective than approaching the powers that be personally with your stories/with information.

 

To pitch to the Guardian:

  • look up commissioning editors e.g. Joseph Harker, Sarah Phillips.

 

END of my review of Own Jones.

 

I hope to present some of these ideas in my 20-minute talk at ‘Ely Writers’ Day’ on 1st July 2017, 1000 to 1500 in Ely Library Cambridgeshire for the ‘Ely Arts Festival’. Spaces for this free event are limited, so book early by contacting rjwestwell@hotmail.com (Free coffee and biscuits and lunchtime refreshments will be provided, although donations against costs may be requested.)

Review of Elgar’s ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ in Ely Cathedral on 12th November 2016

November 13, 2016

Elgar’s ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ in Ely Cathedral on Saturday was magnificent. Under the baton of Mark Williams, choirs from Jesus, Clare, Gonville and Caius, and Selwyn colleges, Cambridge University Chamber Choir, choristers of Jesus College and Girls’ Choirs of St. Catharine’s College and Ely Cathedral and Britten Sinfonia gave a most moving performance.

Every nuance of Elgar’s style was explored. The anguish and wide-ranging emotions of a dying man’s soul were beautifully and effectively revealed, the choirs harmonizing with a full rich tone, creating well-balanced, complex textures in the more intense sections. The singers filled the cathedral with demonic fire, strong Parry-like angelic praise, or gentle serenity as the mood of the work changed.

The soloists: Ben Johnson (tenor), Allison Cook (mezzo soprano) and Duncan Ross (bass) were splendid, colouring vital words with drama and characterizing their different roles wonderfully. The single word ‘Alleulia’ was exquisitely expressed by Allison as the Angel, a typical example of her expertise that was equally matched by that of Ben and Duncan. Ben gave an especially credible sonorous performance.

Britten Sinfonia is an excellent orchestra, all sections responding skilfully to create a wonderful effect, moving through a wide range of expressions from dramatic urgency and intensity, poignancy, and despair to sheer joy and serenity. Elgar’s leitmotifs, such as ‘judgement’, ‘fear’, ‘prayer’, ‘sleep’, and ‘miserere’ were seamlessly interwoven in a meaningful way throughout the work from the beginning.

It was no wonder the whole performance had the packed cathedral transfixed.

The next event for the Cambridge Music Festival will feature Philip Higham (cello) in Trinity Chapel on Tuesday 15th November at 8 pm.

contact: http://www.cambridgemusicfestival.co.uk

Review of Viva’s production of ‘The Lady in the Van’ in the Brook on Friday 11th November 2016

November 12, 2016

Viva’s productions are always a delight to see. ‘The Lady in the Van’ by Alan Bennett Viva produced in the Brook on Friday was no exception. There was something quite magical about this performance. Not only had the characters all been clearly defined, but careful management of pace, diction and action brought the script alive and captured the essential qualities of Alan Bennett’s style perfectly.

Key actors, the older Alan Bennett (played by Daniel White), the younger Bennett (David Blyth) and the Lady in the Van, Mary Shepherd (Mary Barnes) established an easy, credible relationship that never lost strength from the beginning. The skillful writing developed moments of down to earth reality that readily joined other more fanciful ideas. The talent of all of the actors held us right there with events. These amazingly people included the lovely ‘depressed’ Mam (Gail Baker), the caricatured up-and-coming couple Rufus (Jon Bolderson) and Pauline (Emma Moat) and the excruciatingly ‘sympathetic’ Social Worker (Kate Weekes). Other essential and effective contributions were made by Underwood (Frank Crosby), Leo Fairchild (Vaughan Moll), Lout (Scott Robertson), Miss Shepherd’s doctor (Geoff Fisher), Interviewer and Mam’s doctor(Sarah Boor), Interviewer (Emily Docwra) and Priest and ambulance man (Lars Carr). Mention should also be made of the singing coach (Sophie Plachcinski) who produced such a wonderfully realistic, natural but imperfect singing from the symbolic motley crowd that opened and closed the show.

The witty jokes and philosophic words of wisdom were invariably appreciated. Some of these gems had us laughing out loud, making the ghastly thought of having a dirty, unkempt, slightly off-key old lady park in your garden and march into your house making demands, just one of those things that can happen. As Bennett says, he thought that having someone like this taking over your life made you mark time, but no, time marks you.

Of course, as always, the support people to the production helped make it such a success: with wonderful props, scenery, costumes, lighting, sound and back and front stage arrangements.

Congratulations must go to director and producer David Moat and associate producer James Wood for such a fantastic production. This was an excellent production and it was no wonder that Friday night was sold out so soon.

You should book early when you can for their next production: ‘Shakers’ 9-11th February 2017. More information from http://www.viva-group.org.uk/current-events.html

 

Review of The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Alexander Shelley with violin soloist Carolin Widmann at Cambridge Corn Exchange on Saturday 28th October 2016

October 29, 2016

After a fascinating talk by James Williams, Managing Director of The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the orchestra gave a splendid concert in Cambridge Corn Exchange on Saturday.  Conducted by Alexander Shelley, these highly talented musicians performed with rich, expressive precision while never missing an opportunity to bring out the most subtle nuances and dramatic intensity of the pieces.

The concert opened with Rossini’s ‘William Tell Overture”.  It is only when you hear an orchestra of this calibre play this very popular work live that you realize the work’s full musical potential. With pinpointed intonation and timing, incredible speed and smoothness of articulation these instrumentalists gave this composition new life so that we could easily forget the hackneyed versions we have all heard before

Then the violin soloist, Carolin Widmann, entered the stage to perform Mendelssohn’s ‘Violin Concerto’. Her breathtaking performance wowed the audience. With real virtuosic flair, sonorous depth and an affinity with the poignant beauty of the themes, she worked sensitively with the orchestra to create meaningful dialogues, while constantly maintaining a sense of excitement and pathos. It was no surprise that as she ended the piece she was met with rapturous applause and time and time again she was called back to the stage for more. Her Bach encore was a delight.

The final piece for the concert was the second symphony by Sibelius. After an interesting account of the background to this piece by the conductor, again this orchestra performed superbly. The conductor and the instrumentalists revelled in the music, exploring perfectly the constant flow of musical ideas, carving delightful moments of contrast, or sudden changes of mood and unexpected harmonies.

This was indeed a splendid first concert for this season for the Cambridge Classical Concert Series. It is no wonder that this orchestra’s next concert in the Cambridge Corn Exchange on Saturday 21st January 2017 featuring the music if John Williams is already sold out! You should book early for their performance on 17th June next year. contact: http://www.rpo.co.uk 02076088800

photo copyright: Lennard Ruehle (published with permission from Cambridge Live)rpo-photo-28th-oct-2016

 

 

 

Review of the concert given by Ely Sinfonia and Martin Roscoe concert in Ely Cathedral on Saturday 22nd October 2016 (photos featuring Steve Bingham Martin Roscoe and members of the audience Dr Arthur and Colin Wills)

October 23, 2016

review-gershwin-16-arthur-and-colin-wills-yreview-gershwin-16-steve-bingham-yEly Sinfonia members, under the directorship of Steve Bingham, were excellent on Saturday when they performed works by Bernstein, Gershwin and Aaron Copland in Ely Cathedral. They handled the tricky rhythms, rapid runs and sonorous harmonies with real aplomb. This orchestra has certainly come on a long way since it first started.

The star solo performer of the night was Martin Roscoe, a highly accomplished and experienced musician. He played Gershwin’s ‘Piano Concerto in F’ with calm assurance, using an amazing variety of touch and virtuosic technique that made the piece sparkle. He gave the impression of playing in three-dimensions, sharp melodic phrases being brought out clearly with other subsidiary phrases shaped carefully underneath.  He had that special quality that only first class pianists have; he pulled back almost imperceptivity with Gershwin’s emotional passages so that every nuance of feeling was explored. When Martin said at interval that he enjoyed his visit to Ely Cathedral, I am sure we certainly enjoyed having him come and considering his wealth of knowledge of piano concertos it is to be hoped he comes again.

Of the purely orchestral pieces for the evening, Aaron Copland’s ‘Quiet City’ appealed to me most. This mostly quiet composition was performed very well, conveying exquisitely a serenity that created a magical atmosphere, stirring the imagination wonderfully.

Bernstein’s ‘Overture to Candide’ was colourful and expressive with the changes in dynamics brought out particularly well. In Aaron Copland’s ‘Appalachian Spring’, the performers gave a highly skilful and entertaining performance giving us fitting snippets of America that ended the evening perfectly. It was heartening to hear the well known tune ‘Simple Gifts’ included. (This tune is known to us as ‘The Lord of the Dance’.)

It was indeed a splendid evening. Ely Sinfonia’s next major event will be ‘Symphonie Metamorphosis’ with works by Hindemith, Ravel and Franck on 6 May 2017 in Ely Cathedral.

contact: box.office@elycathedral.org.review-gershwin-16-martin-roscoe-2-y