Meet Jonathan Berman

This afternoon Jonathan Berman conducts a BBC Proms Plus Portrait to celebrate Sir Peter Maxwell’s Davies’ 80th birthday. A selection of his chamber works will be played by alumni from our London Sinfonietta Academy, interspersed by conversation between Sir Peter and Andrew McGregor.

The concert starts at 5.45pm in the Royal College of Music, tickets are free and available on the door. If you can’t make it, the event will also be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 at 10.15pm tonight.

We spoke to Jonathan about what to expect, and asked what he’s currently listening to…

This afternoon we are going to hear three pieces by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, one for solo viola and two for small ensemble interspersed with a conversation with the composer himself. Antechrist is a short six-minute overture which was written for the opening concert of the Pierrot Ensemble in 1967.  The idea of an ‘Antichrist’ reoccurs in Maxwell Davies’ music, from The Lighthouse where the antichrist figure manifest itself as the ‘beast’ which destroys the lighthouse keepers from the inside out to the actual resurrection of the Antichrist at the end of the ballet Vesalii Icones.

Antechrist begins with a 13th century motet, accompanied by handbells, drums and tambourine which even though it is stretched over nearly three octaves is easily recognisable and plays the role of the ‘Christ’ figure. The following section distorts this religious medieval motet (although the pitches are very closely related), even making a joke of the motet using grotesque violin glissandi, hence playing the role of the ‘Antichrist’. These two characters alternate until they play together in a climactic final rendition of the motet with the ‘Antichrist’ section superimposed on top of the motet.

The second piece Runes From a Holy Island is a set of five short pieces giving little snapshots of the Island of Hoy, where Maxwell Davies lives. They are a set of miniature seascapes describing specific places around the island, which he conjures up through the use of hidden (and some less-hidden) compositional ‘crossword puzzles’.


Fantasia and Two Pavanes by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies 

Preparing for this concert I have been listening to a lot of Maxwell Davies and I have been so struck by both the volume and the variety of his work. In my searching I have come across these pieces, which have, among other things, made me laugh a great deal!

Maxwell Davies’ arrangement of Purcell’s Fantasia and Two Pavanes is wonderfully humorous, including an organ with a stop that doesn’t work, and the two pavanes are presented as foxtrots played on a record player where the player slows down and speeds up in places and other hidden surprises…

Click here to hear a clip.

Recently I have had a, possibly unhealthy, addiction to Italian music. Here are some choice hits that I’ve become particularly fond of:

Ave Corpus Sanctum by Marchetto da Padova
This is really early music – but I’m very fond of the weird turns it makes.

La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina by Francesca Caccini
This is a very nice opera all about gender equality in 1625.

Ah si ben mio by Verdi, sung by Fernado de Lucia
This is just a beautiful recording from 1917. I love the rhythmic freedom and sensitivity to the drama of the music. Also amusing to hear the tuba doubling on the bass line!

Inverno in-ver by Castiglioni
I was introduced to Castiglioni some years back and have become a great fan of his music and I wish it was played much more. Again I find such humour and delicacy in this piece which, as it was once describe to me, is ‘like Vivaldi and Respighi up a few octaves’!

Satyricon by Maderna
It seems that quite a bit of what I have been listening to recently has been humorous music – which isn’t always the case – but to round that off here is a chamber opera by Bruno Maderna. Written in the 1970s, this is a section of scenes that can be performed in whatever order the performer wants, each with its own musical style and language. (Make sure you get to 3.55 for the first little surprise.)

And finally a couple from Spotify:

Moro, Lasso, al mio duolo by Gesualdo

No look into Italian music could ever be complete without some Gesualdo. This is one of his later motets from Book Six which from the very first bar inhabits a world different to anything of the time (or even after).

Concerto no 2 by Paganini, played by Ivry Gitlis
Paganini has a slightly bad name, mainly from the caprices that are often too difficult and so are played badly! However he is, for me, the very best bits of Italian belcanto opera distilled into solo violin pieces with the most wonderful characters participating in the drama. Here Gitlis plays so endearingly and flirtatiously in this canzonetta – one can even see it on stage, being sung underneath the window of the leading lady with guitar accompaniment!

Through the Lens: Exhibition round-up

We can’t believe it’s been over a week since our Through the Lens exhibition! Here are some snaps of the event taken by photographer Hildegard Titus. Don’t forget, you can check out our gallery featuring the photos selected for the final exhibition here and you can take a look at the full selection of this season’s photographs here.

Through the Lens: Exhibition

On Friday 18 July, we celebrated our season-long collaboration with photojournalism students from the London College of Communication in our Through the Lens exhibition. The four photographers worked with their mentor, professional photographer Briony Campbell, to each select five images for the exhibition. Here’s the final cut:

Abdi Ibrahim

Maja Smiejkowska

Hildegard Titus

Claudia Vye

Jon Farey’s London Sinfonietta Academy diary – Day 7

Jon Farey reflects on his last day at this year’s London Sinfonietta Academy… We’re going to miss our daily dose of Academy news! A big thank you to Jon for all his work on the blog this week.

Concert day with the London Sinfonietta Academy 2014! It’s been such a week, it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come in seven days. At 10am, all bleary eyed, we ran the concert programme and made a final few tweaks. We were at a point where we knew the music and it was just a case of bringing out the final few colours that we wanted. Another early lunch, on the walk to finding my concert fuel I passed, once more, the children’s book illustrations that are advertising the House of Illustrations’ Quentin Blake ‘Inside Stories’ exhibition, that details the artist’s illustrations for authors that include Roald Dahl and Michael Rosen. My favourite is this cheeky chappy by Anthony Browne:

After lunch it was concert time. Pierre-André had asked us to keep the focus when moving from piece to piece – since we were playing six very contrasting pieces it was crucial to ensure that we were clinical in focusing and locking in for each piece. After my pre-concert banana and coconut water ritual, I read through my music and clarified to myself my intentions in each piece and before I knew it, it was concert time.

The stage, pre-concert:

On the whole I was really happy with how the concert went – a couple of slips, but nothing that detracted from our musical intention. Pierre-André’s face as we finished the final piece in the programme, Xenakis’ Jalons, was a picture – if I had been able to take a picture it would have told you all that you needed to know. The biggest grin I had seen all week; he looked happy, relieved and satisfied. Needless to say that I share these feelings, it has been an incredible week that couldn’t have gone smoother – we have worked hard and reaped the benefits in playing an incredibly fun and satisfying concert. A huge thank you to all at the London Sinfonietta, including Pierre-André, the principal players, Tina Speed, Shoubhik and the team – thank you all for such an inspiring week and for giving me the chance to write about it in this blog!

Jon Farey’s London Sinfonietta Academy diary – Day 6

We’ve reached the penultimate day in horn player Jon Farey’s London Sinfonietta Academy diary! Here’s what happened on Day 6…

The penultimate day of the London Sinfonietta Academy! An absolutely glorious morning, I went for a stroll around the perimeter of Central Saint Martins and found my new favourite street name…:

The front of Central Saint Martins, basking in the sun:


Pierre-André kept it short today, just running everything and neatening up a few corners. It’s amazing how well we have got to know the pieces and I’m really looking forward to the concert. If I play the pieces as I did today I would be happy, however having had quite a heavy day of playing yesterday it’ll be great to have fresher lips tomorrow after a lighter day today.

During the lunch hour I went for a little stroll around Kings Cross, this time exploring the half of the station that I hadn’t seen. I really like the way that the warehouse structures have been stylishly re-used:

It’s been amazing to have so much time to work on the pieces, it’s so rare that we have the chance in this profession to learn a piece inside out and I will miss it!

Jon Farey’s London Sinfonietta Academy diary – Day 5

The London Sinfonietta Academy is over for another year! We still have a few diary entries left from Jon Farey to reflect upon this week. Here’s his entry from the fifth day on the course.

Day five and things are really starting to take shape. We started the day with Iris by Tansy Davies – it’s amazing how this week has really opened up my ears, we’re reaching a point where we know our own parts and we are listening to each other and bringing the best out in each other. Usually I’m not a huge fan of percussion, having to be right in front of them in orchestras, but there are some really interesting colours used and the classy playing of Joe Richards is really coming out in Iris – it is quite a catchy part! Along the same line of catchy rhythms, Pierre-André impressed today by relating John Woorich’s After the Clock to the tango – in order to make the most cohesive sound he told us to aim for the exact point that his beat goes down, just like tango dancers do.

An early lunch ensued after a good morning’s work: a few of us went to the canteen at Central Saint Martins, a well priced and tasty bean burger in pitta and roast vegetables for myself after a slightly over-indulgent wine, pizza and garlic bread supper last night… It’s been really fun meeting new people on this course, and a few of us decided against braving the miserable weather and stayed in the dry after lunch:

Greg missed his graduation from RWCMD to be with us today, so he mocked up his own Central Saint Martins graduation ceremony! Many congrats Greg!

Fake graduation

This afternoon we worked through OG, neatening a few corners before moving onto Richard Causton’s Untitled 2014. To create a more subdued colour he now has the strings using practice mutes! To compliment this and our brass harmonicas (see day 3), he also has a typewriter being played expertly by Daniel Chappell:

Pre-dress rehearsal dress rehearsal tomorrow (including an hour extra in bed, hooray!), before the concert day on Sunday. This week is flying by!

Jon Farey’s London Sinfonietta Academy Diary – day 4

As the London Sinfonietta Academy week goes on, Sunday’s Musicians of Tomorrow final performance is getting ever closer! Here’s Jon’s latest entry from day four.

Grab your free ticket for the final performance at Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design here.

Day four of the London Sinfonietta Academy. Bright and early first thing today we ran through Xenakis’s Jalons. Quite a start for 10am! It was great to work on it with the rest of the ensemble after yesterday’s sectional on it, and it was interesting to hear where my part slotted in with the others. In the sectional yesterday we also worked on the different playing styles and how in the type of music that we are learning this week we should aim for a different sound to the typical orchestral sound that we are usually taught, it was great to put this into practice.

After the Xenakis we worked on Rune Glerup’s Divertimento to take us through to lunch. It has been great to work on a piece dedicated to our conductor Pierre-André Valade, he really knows exactly what sounds and colours he wants in the music. The biggest challenge of the piece is a pianississimo semi-tone dissonance that I have with the clarinet. Tutor Mark van de Wiel gave some great advice, that we should find how it feels when it works and to then be a technician and reproduce that every time.

Now that we are over halfway through the week it is starting to feel like we have made real progress – we are getting to a point where we can comfortably run a piece and know where we slot in. During the lunch hour we managed to commandeer one of the table tennis tables in the entrance to Central Saint Martins. What fun! I haven’t played since primary school (naturally I was beaten hands down by the talented Jamie Kenny (double bass) and Toby Street (trumpet)):

After lunch we finished the day with a quick rehearsal of OG and then a session with Richard Causton, the composer of the new commission for this week. It was great to get more of an insight into what he wants from the piece and it also meant that myself and Toby had another chance to perfect our harmonica entries!

Pierre-André and Richard Causton deep in discussion about the new commission:



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