Full reviews on this page are written exclusively for this site. You can also find links to reviews of concerts in Durham that I have written for other sites.

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The Bishop’s Consort: Monteverdi Vespers

One of the composers with a significant birthday this year is the Italian Claudio Monteverdi, born 450 years ago, so it’s both inevitable and delightful that his music is around in abundance this year. David Stancliffe’s performance last night in the cathedral Chapter House of Monteverdi’s great 1610 Vespers was particularly well timed for me, coming at the beginning of the choir summer break and just after our own first two rehearsals of the Vespers for October. It was good to put the score down, to listen, and absorb the whole work. Read more

Venetian Brass

In the first of two concerts this weekend combining brass and choral music, the Durham BRASS festival took us back to one of brass music’s spiritual homes: St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, where a distinctive style of sacred music developed in the second half of the sixteenth century. The instrumentalists and singers in St Mark’s were positioned around the galleries high above the congregation, and so the composers working there wrote for multiple choirs and groups of brass instruments, allowing the sound to be batted back and forth across the great space of the basilica. This was the sound world that Durham Cathedral Choir and His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts brought to another great space in Durham Cathedral, although practicalities kept them firmly at ground level. Read more

Northern Spirit Singers – a Northern Summer concert

There’s no shortage of choirs in Durham, but I don’t think any group mixes things up in quite the way that Northern Spirit Singers do – where else do you get classics from the Tudor church and 70s disco sung with equal panache in one concert? Northern Spirit’s summer concert at St Oswald’s Church this evening started with a happily lilting performance of William Byrd’s Sing Joyfully and ended with an arrangement of Earth Wind and Fire’s September, but inside these two extremes, the programme’s real focus was on contemporary music from Nordic and Baltic countries, both regions with choral traditions that are as strong and deeply rooted as our own. Read more

DOE: Alice in Wonderland

A quick snap of the Alice curtain call. Photo (c) Edmund Smith

It seems that Durham Opera Ensemble have spent most of this year living in a dreamworld. First it was Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for their major production in February, and now for the summer, a riotous jazz retelling of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Durham-born composer Will Todd. Alice was commissioned by Opera Holland Park, who have made it a key part of their summer repertoire, performing it annually since 2013. Like OHP, Durham Opera Ensemble staged their performance outdoors, on the Library Lawn at St John’s College, under trees decked out with fairy lights and coloured paper lanterns. Read more

DurhamKLANG17: E7B Soundlab – Strong Currents

Usually when I go to a concert, I have some idea of what I might hear, and I can place the music within a mental and cultural framework that’s built up of my own listening experiences, and general knowledge about music. And if I get stuck, there are usually programme notes and The Internet to help me out.  The music at DurhamKLANG17 pulled all that away from me, leaving me with just my ears, and the impressions it made on my mind; it’s a raw, elemental  way to listen to music, and one that I don’t experience often enough. All this is a roundabout way of saying that I’m not properly equipped to write a very formal and precise review of tonight’s music, but as I hugely enjoy listening to and performing new music, I want to share something what I heard.  Read more

St Andrew’s University Madrigal Group

Way back in the mists of time, in my previous Durham life as an undergraduate, I once went to a concert in St Oswald’s Church by the St Andrew’s University Madrigal Group. It’s stuck in my mind as having been a particularly enjoyable evening, and so even though most of the current members probably weren’t even born then, the memory was enough to send me along to see them again when they visited Ushaw College on this year’s tour.  Read more

DUOS: Ravel to Rachmaninov

DUOS poster: watercolour effect of girl playing violinFrom a solo oboe to the blaze of the full symphony orchestra, Durham University Orchestral Society trod a carefully plotted path in their Epiphany term concert, in which each piece on the programme added to what had gone before, from the Chamber Orchestra’s delicate colouring of Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin to a punchy performance of Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances. Read more

either end of the SCALE 2: Stimmung

Six members of Forum Neue Vokalmusik in white trousers and coloured shirts, standing against a brick wall with large windows

Forum Neue Vokalmusik

In the opening pages of “The Silmarillion”, Tolkien weaves a creation myth in which everything is brought into existence by the singing of the supreme beings. I have wondered what that music might have sounded like, and now after hearing Stockhausen’s Stimmung performed by Forum Neue Vokalmusik, my imagination at least has a starting point. Stimmung is music that sounds like nothing else, mathematically pure, and at times painfully beautiful, and so absorbing that it seemed to expand to fill the entire universe.

This was the astronomical end of tonight’s “either end of the SCALE”, the second in a set of three concerts of new music put on by Durham’s MUSICON, with each evening pairing miniature pieces with works of epic scope, taking us from the quantum to the cosmological. Read more

DOE: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

After several years of Mozart and last year’s large scale production of Carmen for their annual full-scale production at the Gala Theatre, Durham Opera Ensemble have ventured into new territory this year, tackling Benjamin Britten’s magical setting of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The musical and artistic challenges that it presents mean that it’s a far harder opera to pull off than a Mozart comedy, so although this production had its weaknesses, it was still an extremely enjoyable evening and I warmly congratulate DOE for their ambition and achievement. Read more

Durham Vocal Festival: NYCGB Fellowship Octet

Alongside the higher profile concerts in the Cathedral, the first Durham Vocal Festival has a very strong educational strand running through it, with plenty of events involving primary and secondary school children. Today, the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain, whose head office is in Durham, brought their support to this new venture by bringing their Fellowship Octet to spend a day at Ushaw working with primary school pupils in the morning, and then giving workshops to their teachers. They rounded off what must have been a pretty hectic day with a short recital in the theatre at Ushaw, with music that somehow took us from Monteverdi madrigals and Renaissance motets to Spiderman and Billy Joel. Read more