Yorchestra celebrates 30 years of holiday courses and concerts for young York musicians. Applicants welcome for August

Flashback: Yorchestra holiday orchestra members at rehearsals at the Sir Jack Lyon Concert Hall, University of York, in August 2014

YORCHESTRA will celebrate its 30th anniversary of running holiday orchestras for young musicians in and around York in late-August and September.

Yorchestra was founded in 1992 by the late Lizzy Edmondson, otherwise known as author Elizabeth Pewsey. On a visit to Cambridge, she had encountered one such holiday orchestra that had been running since coronation year, 1953.

On the train back north, it suddenly dawned on her that York would benefit from something similar. Gathering friends and fellow parents at the Minster School, they organised the first session there for 27 players.

Lizzy’s vision went much wider, however. She wanted all schoolchildren in the area to benefit, with courses every school holiday that included music for smaller groups – chamber music – not covered by other children’s orchestras.

Within five years, the senior orchestra had won a first prize at the European Festival of Music for Young People in Belgium, a feat repeated two years later.

Since then, Yorchestra has gone from strength to strength, proving that Lizzy’s vision was no mere flash in the pan. It has expanded its activities to include five orchestras at different levels of achievement.

All five will be celebrating Yorchestra’s 30th anniversary at the course from August 30 to September 2, in the well-appointed facilities at the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, or the lovely setting of Heslington Church.

Maestro, the senior orchestra, includes players who are Grade 6 to 8 level and above, and suits budding musicians and experienced players alike, who benefit from working with seasoned professional tutors.

The maestro course will run for the full four days, culminating in a concert on the final evening, September 2. Past repertory has included the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and Shostakovich’s Festive Overture.

Mezzo, the second orchestra, covers Grade 3 to 5 students, who play arrangements of music from assorted periods in a variety of styles, such as Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on Greensleeves and Dukas’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Members enjoy quality time in the company of top-notch tutors and the upcoming course will run for three days from August 31, leading to involvement in the September 2 concert.

The junior of the main orchestras, Primo, is for students aged eight or older of Grade 1 or 2 standard with at least six months’ playing experience. Its role is to give first timers the chance to discover the joy of playing in groups; recorder players are welcome too.

This summer’s Primo course will be for one day only, August 30, and will end with a concert for family and friends later in the afternoon. As with Mezzo, the course will take place in Heslington Church.

Two starter groups complement the main orchestras, one for string players, Young Strings, known colloquially as “YoYo”; the other for wind and brass, Young Winds, alias “YoBlow”. These are ideal for youngsters beginning to find their way around their instruments, keen to benefit from small private and group sessions.

Each course will be held over two mornings, YoYo on August 30 and 31; YoBlow on September 1 and 2, both at the Lyons. Informal concerts will follow the second sessions.

Applications are open for all courses. The deadline is August 6, but if payment is received by July 22, an “early bird” discount will apply and first-time applicant will be given an even larger discount. Please note, no-one should be put off on grounds of cost; Yorchestra has a bursary fund to help anyone otherwise unable to take part.

“Any musical children should be encouraged to join, have a lot of fun and meet new musical friends,” says Martin Dreyer, Yorchestra’s chairman of trustees. “The anniversary celebrations promise something extra-special.”

For more information on applications, head to: yorchestra.org.

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Martin Roscoe, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, March 18

Martin Roscoe: “Let’s his fingers do the talking. They are certainly eloquent

PIANISTS do not come much more deceptive than Martin Roscoe, who closed the British Music Society of York’s season with this recital of Schubert, Brahms and Liszt.

He goes against convention by using a score – no harm in that, especially if you consult it as little as he did. Having walked unassumingly to the keyboard, he plays without fuss or histrionics. In other words, he lets his fingers do the talking. They are certainly eloquent.

Although Schubert’s second set of impromptus, D.935, was not published until 11 years after his death, he had presented them as a foursome to his publisher (who, incredibly, rejected them). There is no suggestion that they are the movements of a sonata, but there is undeniably a feeling that they are related – for one thing, the first and fourth are in the same key, F minor. Certainly, I have never felt them to be so closely linked as they sounded here.

There was an understated elegance in Roscoe’s approach. He unfolded the opening Allegro moderato gently, melting smoothly from the minor to the major key and back again. There was a touch more emphasis in the second, marked Allegretto.

The ‘Rosamunde’ variations were beautifully contrasted: the three different voices in the second variation, for example, emerged with lovely clarity. The sense of impromptu, essentially improvisation, was kindled most keenly in the final dance, especially in the link to the return of the main theme.

The three Brahms intermezzi, Op 117, which are late, autumnal pieces, emerged as if they were the composer’s innermost thoughts, at once intimate and revealing. A lovely cantabile flow permeated the first, while it was the inner voices of the more sombre second that gleamed to the surface in turn. The syncopations of the third, which might have felt more restless, were not allowed to disrupt its serenity.

Petrarch’s Sonnet 104 finds the poet in a confused state over a burning love affair. Liszt’s reaction to it was first to set it as a song and then, more famously, to transcribe that into a piano piece, which appears in the Italian volume of his Years of Pilgrimage. Roscoe treated its harmonies tenderly, as if aware that the topic was sensitive, and it unfolded logically to its bitter-sweet close.

In both the remaining Liszt pieces, there must have been plenty of temptation to treat the piano as an orchestra; Liszt piles on the pressure relentlessly. Roscoe resisted. Isolde’s Love-Death, his transcription of the closing scene from Wagner’s Tristan Und Isolde, reached a passionate but controlled climax, with the lovers finally achieving satisfaction together after death.

Even more orchestral was St Francis’s triumphant walk on the waves, its rushing, stormy figurations not disrupting the relentless flow. Here we had the only out-and-out fortissimo of the evening. After that, a quiet Beethoven Bagatelle seemed the perfect antidote as encore. An evening of impeccable taste and considerable virtuosity.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on University of York Chamber Orchestra

John Stringer: “Moulded University of York Chamber Orchestra into a fine ensemble”

University of York Chamber Orchestra/John Stringer, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, February 23

THE big attraction of the evening was Mendelssohn’s Second Piano Concerto, but it was attractively preceded by Kaija Saariaho’s Terra Memoria and Britten’s song-cycle A Charm Of Lullabies, in the version orchestrated by Colin Matthews.

Despite this nicely varied menu, it was a slightly strange choice. The Saariaho is for string orchestra, which left wind and brass on the sidelines. No harm in that, except that the remaining pieces relegated the orchestra to an accompanying role, leaving it little chance to show its full colours. For John Stringer has moulded this orchestra into a fine ensemble – it deserved more exposure here.

Saariaho, who celebrates her 70th birthday in October, has lived in Paris for 40 years, although born in Helsinki. Her outlook is very much pan-European. Terra Memoria, which dates from 2007, is marked “for those departed”.

In under eight minutes, it articulates six different moods. Stealing on the ear as if already underway, it meanders gently, with snippets of solo violin: the string principals are a major feature of the piece.

It becomes a little angrier before calming into a plaintive, slithering motif in the upper strings. Still favouring upper voices, it then gets darker. Now laced with tremolo, it becomes more insistent as it gains in rhythmic momentum and reaches a tutti unison, a most effective climax.

Thereafter it slows into something more diffuse, echoing the opening. Although not specifically in a minor key, it has the feeling of one.  The orchestra approached it tenderly, which made it even more engaging.

Time for another gripe. The printed programme fell a long way short of its usual standard here. The five songs of the Britten were neither numbered nor laid out properly, still less were there any texts, which is de rigueur for a solo vocal work. The concerto movements were not listed either.

This was especially unhelpful for the singer, Ellie Stamp. She was listed as a soprano, although the cycle is written for mezzo-soprano: Stamp’s lower range was not really strong enough, but when given the chance she showed plenty of heft above the stave.

Without the texts, however, it was not immediately obvious to the casual listener where she was, a task not made easier by Matthews running the first three and the last two songs together.

In general, despite the added intensity of the title song, the orchestra was a little too heavy in its accompaniment, with a preponderance of low tone provided by three double basses – at least one too many. Stamp has a good sound and a pleasing personality, but she was not best served here.

John Smith – he might be encouraged to use his middle name, if he has one – was the fluent soloist in the Mendelssohn. He graduated from this department last summer. He frowns a lot, no doubt in pursuit of expression, but otherwise is free of histrionics in what is a free-wheeling technique. The runs in the opening Allegro were admirably clear and he discovered plenty of drama in its development section.

He was inclined to over-romanticise the slow movement, which slowed almost to a halt, but when he increased the tone here it was out of scale with what had preceded it. His best was kept till last. His staccato touch in the finale was excellent; he maintained an exciting pace, injecting sforzandos without mannerisms, and the orchestra caught his enthusiasm.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Perpetuo Trio, British Music Society, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, York, February 18

Perpetuo Trio pianist Libby Burgess

THE piano trio called Perpetuo brought Mozart and Mendelssohn to the British Music Society of York’s table, framing a piece by Cheryl Frances-Hoad written in 2005.

The Mozart was run-of-the-mill, the Mendelssohn invigorating, but Frances-Hoad’s ten-minute offering contained much more than its brief length might imply.

My Fleeting Angel was inspired by a Sylvia Plath short story, The Wishing Box, which deals with a married couple’s contrasting dreams. I confess that the story it purported to tell – music cannot describe, only evoke – passed me by, but made no difference to its pleasing effect.

It opened with string harmonics, which did not bode well, but the whirling piano soon shook the others into rhythmic life and all three continued in tight harness. The excitement eventually slowed right down, although the sense of a tonal centre continued.

The concluding Allegretto eleganza delivered an extended wind-up to an abrupt ending. It was a tantalising conclusion, begging the question “What next?”, but none the worse for that.

Cellist Cara Berridge

Mendelssohn’s First Piano Trio, Op 49 in D minor, written in 1839, was acclaimed by Schumann, no less, as “the master trio of our age”. It got off to an expressive start, although Cara Berridge might have made a little more of the cello’s sweeping theme. But all was forgiven in a recapitulation of immense excitement.

Apart from the passionate conversation at its centre, the song-like slow movement made a gentle contrast, with Libby Burgess’s piano setting the tone. It ended in a heavenly hush.

After a neat and light scherzo, which disappeared into the heavens – another trademark Mendelssohn touch – the violin of Jamie Campbell really came into its own in the spirited finale. With the piano cascading up and down, there was still time for a moment to draw in the listener when the strings resorted to pizzicato against the keyboard’s staccato. Best of all, balance remained excellent despite all the exuberance.

Mozart’s G major trio, K.496 of 1786 had not provided the best of starts. The opening Allegro was clear but uninvolving, with more than a touch of caution, and the slow movement was more languid than liquid. There was a certain amount of drama in the final set of variations. But Frances-Hoad livened things up and Mendelssohn did the rest.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on University of York Song Day, 19/2/2022

Christopher Glynn: Put together the University of York Song Day. Picture: Gerard Collett

University of York Song Day, National Centre for Early Music & Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, York, February 19

IT fell to Christopher Glynn to put together this year’s University Song Day. He was an excellent choice.

He is of course well known in Yorkshire for his fine stewardship of the Ryedale Festival. But it was also good to have a full-time accompanist of his calibre presiding. His intelligent, always distinctive contributions from the keyboard were the linchpin of the day.

It was in three parts. At lunchtime, A Shakespeare Songbook attracted the talents of soprano Rowan Pierce and tenor Ed Lyon. In the afternoon, outstanding mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge offered advice to five university students in a masterclass.

In the evening, now transplanted to the Lyons, Pierce and Rudge were joined by up-and-coming soprano Siân Dicker in a programme of Richard Strauss lieder stretching over nearly 80 years of his life.

Shakespeare has almost certainly inspired more musical settings than any other poet. Most are taken from the plays, although the sonnets account for a fair number. Here we dipped into five plays and two sonnets, with Shakespeare In Love to start and finish. There were several unexpected delights.

Soprano Rowan Pierce: “Sinister and sprightly in Tippett’s Songs For Ariel”

Arne’s setting of When Daisies Pied (from Love’s Labours Lost) with echoing cuckoo, daintily given by Pierce, was beautifully enhanced by Glynn’s ornamentation. His pacing of the prelude to Haydn’s She Never Told Her Love (Twelfth Night) was tellingly spacious.

Sylvia’s Charms (Two Gentlemen Of Verona), as imagined by Schubert, were boldly extolled by Lyon, before he turned to Julius Harrison’s much less-known setting of Oberon’s I Know A Bank (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), which was complemented by the fairies’ invocation from the same play, You Spotted Snakes, given by Pierce. Both singers proved Harrison an adept watercolourist.

Michael Head is another underestimated song composer, as heard in Pierce’s account of How Sweet The Moonlight Sleeps (Merchant Of Venice), where pianissimo drew in the listener and the piano twinkled with golden sheen.

Lyon brought terrific gusto to Quilter’s setting of Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind (As You Like It), which happened to coincide with snow falling outside, visible through a window of St Margaret’s. We felt the poetry’s chill.

This was signal for a calmer interlude, the duet from Handel’s L’Allegro, As Steals The Morn, which adapts words from The Tempest; it was affectionately delivered. Pierce was both sinister and sprightly in Tippett’s Songs For Ariel, uncovering much of their magic. Similarly, Lyon plumbed the Clown’s infinite sadness in Come Away, Death (Twelfth Night), which was tightly controlled by voice and piano alike.

Tenor Ed Lyon: “Plumbed the Clown’s infinite sadness in Come Away, Death”. Picture: Gerard Collett

Roxanna Panufnik has set three Shakespeare sonnets. Mine Eye treats the words of Sonnet XXIV with utmost care, as did Pierce here. The world premiere of Kim Porter’s duet-setting of Sonnet CXVI made a worthy and equally pleasing companion to it, gentle at its heart, with trickling piano, before building to a triumphal finish.

Both singers relished the challenge of Vaughan Williams’s Fear No More The Heat O’ The Sun (Cymbeline), taking a lead from Glynn’s ever-astute handling of the keyboard. The event was a welcome – and powerful – reminder of the rich treasury that is English song.

Devoted as it was entirely to the songs of Richard Strauss, the evening was almost too much of a good thing. Strauss was virtually besotted with the soprano voice in all its guises – he even married a diva – so the presence here of two sopranos and a mezzo was ideal. They exhibited a contrast in styles which added to the excitement.

Here, more than ever, Christopher Glynn was called upon to exercise his skills to the utmost. He never faltered. Indeed, the powerful, scented aromas that these songs generated owed a huge amount to the colours in his palette.

At every step of the way he simplified the singers’ task. Rowan Pierce opened the evening with the six-year-old Strauss’s cute Weihnachtslied (Christmas Carol), before a peppy, vivid Begegnung (Meeting) and a not quite dreamy enough account of Rote Rosen (Red Roses).

Mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge: “Capturing the nervous essence of young love”

Later there was a lovely transition in Schlechtes Wetter (Filthy Weather), where voice and piano together melted into the waltz, leaving behind the bad mood of wind and rain and conjuring the dance in their place.

Kathryn Rudge began with three songs from Op 10, composed in 1894 and his first to be published. She entered straight into the mood of Zueignung (Dedication), giving its powerful melody a strong line. She never let our attention wander after that either.

Glynn brought bold colourings to Nichts (Nothing), which she amplified, before a wonderfully contemplative Die Nacht (Night), calm, hovering, treasuring the moment. It was a gem.

She later returned with Schlagende Herzen (Beating hearts), capturing the nervous essence of young love with its repeated ‘kling-klangs’. There was no doubt about the depth of her feeling in Sehnsucht (Yearning), and her approach to the final word, Paradise, at the end of Das Rosenband (Rose Garland) was exquisite, once again making time stand still.

These were the work of a singer in her prime, one who knows exactly how to hold an audience in thrall. Spellbinding stuff, the voice beautifully focused throughout its range, right to the very top.

Sian Dicker: “At her best when she did not have to restrain her inner Brunnhilde”. Picture: Benjamin Ealovega 

Sián Dicker’s opening set came from Op 27, composed in 1894. She was at her best when she did not have to restrain her inner Brunnhilde. Ruhe Meine Seele (Rest My Soul) exploded into distress before neatly calming down.

Anticipated ecstasy bubbled through Heimliche Aufforderung (Secret Invitation), before her most controlled singing of the evening in Morgen! (Tomorrow), in which she took inspiration from Glynn’s gently modulated prelude (echoed in his postlude).

She was also given the honour of performing the Four Last Songs, which Strauss wrote in 1948, a year before his death. In Frühling (Spring) she developed terrific resonance at its heart but also revealed a recurring tendency to widen her vibrato when she pushed the tone too hard.

The urgency at the start of the last stanza on Beim Schlafengehen (Going To Sleep) was well judged but it needed to be followed by greater inwardness, the kind she found at the end of the final song. All the while, Glynn was achieving little miracles at the keyboard, larks trilling in the twilight, for example, before another eloquent postlude.

The three singers signed off with the trio from the end of Der Rosenkavalier, Hab’ mir’s Gelobt (I Made A Vow), when the Marschallin bows out, leaving Octavian and Sophie to each other. It was beautifully, even touchingly, done and crystalised the heady perfumes that all four musicians had concocted throughout the evening.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Paul Lewis, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, January 14

Paul Lewis: ” A strain of melancholy threaded through the evening but the result was riveting”

PAUL Lewis is among Britain’s finest pianists. So to have him visit York at the invitation of the British Music Society – which is enjoying a bumper season – was a special privilege.

He presented two of Beethoven’s better-known sonatas, the ‘Pathétique’ and the ‘Appassionata’ (not names assigned by the composer), which framed a Debussy suite and Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasy.

A strain of melancholy threaded through the evening but the result was riveting. The opening Grave of the ‘Pathétique’ was exceptionally spacious, with chord-resolutions delayed to the absolute maximum, so that the succeeding Allegro, taken at lightning pace, felt even quicker by contrast.

The accompanimental figures in the slow movement were rich and dark, which lent the main melody, beautifully sustained, an autumnal fireside warmth. In contrast, the rondo theme in the finale was surprisingly light and frisky at first, becoming progressively more urgent until its resolute last appearance, which recaptured the intensity of the very opening of the work.

Debussy’s Children Corner suite is not kiddies’ music, either for players or listeners. Lewis offered the pretence that it was, touching in the details of these character-pieces with a delicate brush while keeping their droll humour to the fore.

Jimbo’s clumsy lullaby, the doll’s clockwork serenade and a snowy white-out were but preludes to the loneliness of the little shepherd and the Golliwogg’s self- satisfied strut (with a moment of self-doubt thrown in). It was hard not to smile throughout.

Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasy Op 61 in A flat. which dates from 1846, three years before he died, is one of the most forward-looking pieces he ever penned. It belonged next to Debussy in this programme exactly because it is so impressionistic.

Its dance element – the polonaise section of the title – only really becomes clear towards the end, after a considerable stretch of varying, improvisatory ramblings. Lewis excelled in differentiating its many changes of colour, where lesser pianists can get lost in its brambles. In his hands it became a ballade, often tinged with melancholy, with the third of its three main sections building persuasively into dramatic closure.

By now, Lewis’s adrenaline must really have been flowing: volatility was the name of his game in Beethoven’s ‘Appassionata’, Op 57 in F minor. Where there was some cloudiness in the first movement’s bass line, its very detail endowed the central variations with a marvellous nobility, stoically underpinning the increasingly taxing decorations.

He preferred to gloss over the ‘ma non troppo’ (not too much) of the third movement’s Allegro – which added to its fearsome frenzy but left little acceleration in reserve for the closing Presto. No matter: it still became a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, daringly delivered.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on The Heath Quartet, British Music Society of York

The Heath Quartet, now led by violinist Marije Johnston, second from right

The Heath Quartet, British Music Society of York (BMS), Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, December 3

THE Heath Quartet last appeared in York exactly ten years ago. At that time, they were led by their founder, Oliver Heath. Then he decided to seek pastures new and Marije Johnston took his place.

What you would never guess from this performance is that that exchange took place a mere four months ago. Johnston’s pedigree as a chamber musician allowed her to slot seamlessly into place. Bear that in mind as you read on.

At first sight, the pairing of late Janáček and late Beethoven string quartets – played in that order – looks quirky, even fanciful. The works were written almost exactly 100 years apart, each within a year of the composer’s death. They formed the Heath Quartet’s sparkling, I dare even say memorable, programme for the BMS of York.

Janacek’s Second Quartet – known as ‘Intimate Letters’ and encapsulating the turbulent emotions of his more than 700 letters to Kamila Stösslová, his much younger muse in his final decade – has four movements but with constantly changing tempos in each.

The seven movements of Beethoven’s Op 131 in C sharp minor run into one another, making the work equally restless, if not more so. Near death they may have been, but each man was writing in the white heat of unbridled inspiration. The parallels are uncanny.

So the Janáček turned out to be a perfect intro into the Beethoven: they were men on the same kind of mission. The Heaths tuned into that immediately.

Apart from the cellist, who sat on a small plinth, the others stood to play, which allowed them freedom of movement. Johnston, playing second fiddle here, and viola player Gary Pomeroy took full advantage, swaying and bending ceaselessly. Sara Wolstenholme, leading, remained much calmer. But none of this affected their ensemble; they breathed, and played, as one.

The key player in the Janáček is the viola, who represents Kamila. Pomeroy did not disappoint. The work veers, sometimes wildly, between tension and lyricism and he skilfully spearheaded the latter.

Janáček’s yearnings welled up regularly, almost physically so in the slow second movement with palpitations and a devilish Ländler-style dance. The ebbs and flows of the third movement seemed to disintegrate into disillusionment in its adagio section, while the Dumka finale with its spine-tingling tremolos juxtaposed slow-moving melancholy with much livelier excitement. This was vivid musical autobiography, tellingly told.

In the Beethoven, the violinists changed places, so that Johnston now led. This symbolised just how closely all four players are integrated with one another. The piece marks a virtual renaissance of the 18th century divertimento, so diffuse is its layout.

The duos of the opening fugue were quietly menacing, but the succeeding Allegro was both playful and intimate; once again the Heaths were alive to sudden mood-changes. The central variations were delicately drawn.

The Presto, taken at a good clip, was treated like a scherzo, full of good humour and a lightness of touch we might expect in Mendelssohn. The finale’s two themes were beautifully contrasted, culminating in a ferociously determined final burst. Here, more than ever, we had the sense of theatre that infused the whole evening. This always was – and still is – a quartet worth travelling a long way to hear.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on University of York Symphony Orchestra

Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York

University of York Symphony Orchestra/Stringer, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, November 27

THE statistics were impressive. In their first public appearance for 20 months, the 85 members of the University of York Symphony Orchestra came from 20 different departments and nine nations – a truly cross-cultural ensemble.

The programme was equally eclectic. An Elgar second half was preceded by three 20th century pieces, including a tuba concerto.

George Walker’s Lyric for Strings – which, like Barber’s better-known Adagio, was originally
part of a string quartet – is a gentle elegy that does not reach quite as powerful a climax as Barber achieved. But the orchestra, under its regular conductor John Stringer, treated it tenderly enough, if with a certain caution.

In similar mood was Elgar’s heartfelt Elegy, also for strings alone, but given here with
reverence and a greater measure of conviction.

Thomas Adès quoted Julian of Norwich for the title of his ‘… But All Shall Be Well’ (taken up
much later by T S Eliot among others). Interjections by percussion threaten to disrupt the swirling strings until quite near the end, when the title motto begins to hold good. For all its complications, the piece relies on a simple five-note motif that gives it coherence. The orchestra sounded as if it understood exactly what was going on.

The agile soloist in Edward Gregson’s Tuba Concerto was Christopher Pearce, whose contrasts in colour were greatly helped by the sensitivity of the orchestral accompaniment. He cleanly pointed the difference between the two opening themes before bringing a smooth legato to the slow movement’s songlike melody. Despite the exciting, jazzy textures in the finale, he kept his eye on the ball and his phrasing crisp.

Elgar’s Polonia is one of those works that would fit neatly into the last night of the Proms, bursting with nationalistic fervour and produced as a fundraiser for Polish refugees during the First World War.

Its opening was on the ragged side here, but the cellos settled nicely into its big tune and the rest of the orchestra followed suit. Vigorous percussion accented its martial flavour and there was hardly any holding the brass when the theme returned in an Elgarian nobilmente.

The orchestra clearly relished its chance to be back in live action. A full house enjoyed it too.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on University of York Music Department’s Practical Project, Antigone

The artwork for the University of York Music Department’s Antigone

University of York Music Department Practical Project: Antigone, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, November 3 to 5

REWRITING Sophocles is a dangerous exercise. The tragedy Antigone is the last of his so-called Theban trilogy and a cornerstone of western drama, as relevant today as when it was written nearly 2,500 years ago.

Seamus Heaney wrote a concise version of the story, leaning towards poetry, while Jean Anouilh’s play, inspired by the Nazi occupation of Paris, explores its meaning.

Sadly, Jon Hughes’s abridged paraphrase is not in either category. Its use in the university music department’s latest Practical Project, a rite of passage designed to welcome and incorporate the latest intake of undergraduates, meant that barely half the evening, its incidental music, was devised by the students themselves.

His introduction mentioned Antigone’s possible parallels with Greta Thunberg or Malala Yousafzai. Yet his play remained rooted firmly in ancient Greece, whereas a modern scenario – surely not beyond the wit of these talented students – might have justified reinterpreting this ancient text.

The net result was that the ‘theatrical’ side of this drama, co-directed by Lucy Grehan-Bradley and Roseanna Schmidt, was seriously undercooked. Despite the use of face microphones, too few of the actors observed two basic rules: face your audience and project to the back row. Dialogues were carried on quietly like conversations over a cup of coffee rather than shared with the audience.

There were notable exceptions. Kieran Crowley’s Tiresias, who also voiced the prologue, made a laudable attempt to inject drama into his lines. So too did Christina-Alexandra Higgins as Antigone’s sister Ismene, albeit in a much briefer appearance.

Dom Sutton’s Creon, a pivotal figure here, at least made us aware of his dilemma as a ruler whose power base might crumble. But Katerina Poulios, despite singing her lament with conviction, otherwise gave a shy, retiring Antigone, quite the reverse of the figure found in Sophocles. Several lesser characters despatched their lines robotically, as if barely involved.

Things were altogether better on the musical front. The seven episodes of the drama were interwoven with 11 musical interludes which generally exhibited admirable craftsmanship. Musical director Becky Lund, who took the lion’s share of the conducting with considerable authority, also contributed a War Prelude of heavy percussion and catchy rhythms. Helen Southernwood offered a passionate lament for Ismene in modal minor style, although her concept of ‘continuo’ – unabated background noise, even during the interval – was less appealing.

There were several attempts to bring back choral speaking, which enjoyed a certain fashion before the Second World War. But this hall is so unkind to speech that they were regrettably doomed to failure and proved virtually unintelligible.

Anna Benton’s neo-Romantic lament for Antigone was intriguing, however, and Anna Nightingale’s two odes used a wide range of techniques. Both choir and orchestra showed great commitment under duress. But in the end the formula was too prescriptive, as if to ward off failure rather than taking risks and allowing full rein to the new students’ imaginations.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Stephen Hough, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, October 6

Stephen Hough: “A hungry lion newly released from his cage”

THE resumption of the University of York’s Live Concert series was greeted with a full house on Wednesday. No wonder: we were there to welcome a titan of the keyboard.

Stephen Hough was in pugnacious mood, as well he might be after prolonged lockdown, a hungry lion newly released from his cage. He had chosen to satisfy his appetite on meaty chunks of Schumann and Chopin, leavened by two British composers, Alan Rawsthorne and Hough himself.

Rawsthorne’s Bagatelles, his first serious piano music that coincided with his first international recognition in 1938, launched Hough straight into a tempestuous whirlwind, although that was soon moderated by more pensive lyricism, a skittish interlude and a sad duologue between the hands, as if looking back at what might have been these past two years.

Forward-looking Schumann, stretching tonality as far as he ever did, came with Kreisleriana, dedicated to Chopin but written in 1838 with Clara Wieck in mind, in the long run-up to their marriage two years later.

The two sides of Schumann’s personality, fiery Florestan and easy-going Eusebius, actually mirrored the eccentric conductor Kreisler (a figment of E T A Hoffmann’s imagination), who is pictured here in eight “fantasies”, in G minor or its relative major, B flat.

In truth, it was Florestan who had much the upper hand in this account, with the forte passages cumulatively becoming an angry tour de force and the slower melodies tending towards moodiness. But there always a keen sense of shape, even when Schumann was at his most temperamental.

Hough’s own five-movement Partita, written only two years ago, proved a substantial treat. The martial opening of its Overture returns in driven style after a flightier Trio (such as every march should have), before a cute little coda.

A jittery Capriccio and two eloquent song-and-dance routines inspired by Mompou, the one very high, the other elegiac, preceded a hugely demanding Toccata, which could not help recalling Widor’s eponymous movement from his Fifth Symphony. It reached a breath-taking climax.

Finally, to more familiar Chopin, which was greeted with rapt attention. Ballade No 3 came across as an entity, rather than a series of episodes and its continuity was wholly convincing.

Hough’s unique ability to sustain a melody had really begun to emerge. In two nocturnes we were in piano heaven, with the most delicate of decorations in the F sharp (Op 15 No 2) and a gorgeously restrained, barely audible ending to the E flat (Op 9 No 2).

There was considerable urgency in the Second Scherzo, in B flat minor, which meant a mildly garbled ending when it accelerated, but by now Hough could do no wrong. This virtuoso lion was taking no prisoners – and we loved him for it. What a return!

Review by Martin Dreyer