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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Stop me if I’ve said this before (I know I have…), but I often wonder how it felt to be at the first performance of a piece of music that has become a deeply embedded cultural cornerstone. How did it feel to hear Beethoven’s Ninth, Bach’s St Matthew Passion or Handel’s Messiah for the first time, fresh and new, with no idea of the significance and love that these pieces would acquire? Opera dei Lumi’s performance of Messiah at Ushaw this afternoon took us back to its first performance one April night in Dublin in 1742 not just through the version of the music that they sang, but in a fresh and vivid performance, that was full of surprises for me. Read more
The harpsichord that Esfahani played in Durham. (photo Willie Hendry)
Musicon, Durham University’s professional concert series, always brings us an impressive line up of musicians, but every so often, a name appears on their schedule that really stands out, that makes me look again and think “really? here? In Durham?”. Such was my reaction when I saw that harpsichord superstar Mahan Esfahani was coming to perform a work that he’s made his name with – Bach’s Goldberg Variations. I was a bit disorganised about booking and was extremely surprised to find that there were still tickets left a week before the concert. Read more
I’ve had a lot of fun this week making friends with members of a choir from our German twin town Tübingen. Chor Semiseria have been visiting Durham this week, finishing their trip tonight with a concert in the cathedral with Cobweb Orchestra and Durham County Youth Orchestra. They’re clearly a choir that takes their singing more than semi-seriously, because as well as taking in all the sights, they arranged joint rehearsals with Durham Choral Society and with us at Durham Singers, and they’re so unstoppable, they even carried on singing in what turned into a very lively pub session afterwards. This group have a lot in common with us and we’re looking forward to seeing them again when we visit Tübingen next September. Read more
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
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
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
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
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
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
From 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