Archive for November 2015

OperaPLUS Nominated for Best Classical Music Education Initiative

UPDATE [17 December 2015]: Voting is now open! Please visit ClassicFM to vote for OperaPLUS as “Best Music Education Initiative”

Jackdaws OperaPLUS has been nominated in the Music Teacher Magazine Awards for Excellence in the category “Best Classical Music Education Initiative”. The award, sponsored by ClassicFM, is recognition of the incredible work this project has done to share high quality opera with children and young people in hard to reach communities across Somerset.

OperaPLUS was the first of many projects created and set up by Jackdaws Artistic Director, Saffron van Zwanenberg:

“It was borne of many different personal experiences which led to a great desire to bring about a combination of outcomes, namely that children and young people have a positive experience of opera and benefit from the well documented effects of participating in music. Young artists receive training and experience in community and education work, in a supported and career enhancing way and hard to reach communities have access to high quality opera in an accessible and affordable setting. It was also important to me that the operas came from the mainstream repertoire to give context to the varied, everyday use of this repertoire that the children and audiences hear in their daily lives.”

OperaPLUS is a key part of Jackdaws Music Education Trust’s work to enable creative expression by bringing music to life in an accessible, inclusive and inspirational way.

The project brings together primary school children and professional opera singers from Jackdaws Young Artist programme, to perform full length versions of well-known operas, sung in English. It is directed by Jackdaws Artistic Director, Saffron van Zwanenberg, with the musical direction of Audrey Hyland, Royal Academy of Music professor and vocal coach. The young, professional cast take the lead roles and the chorus’s and other roles are adapted for performance by the participating children, numbering up to 120 per performance. There are a series of workshops prior to the performances with the cast and director and then the cast and children perform alongside each other in accessible venues in the heart of their communities to large audiences, many of whom are new to opera.

OperaPLUS Stylist of Somerset

The Stylist of Somerset, OperaPLUS 2015

The first OperaPLUS production was The Magic Flute by Mozart in June 2010, with one performance in Frome, Somerset, involving three local schools. Since then, the project has developed year on year so that in 2015, OperaPLUS was able to present the most ambitious production yet. Working with 14 schools from across Somerset, Jackdaws delivered 5 performances of the Stylist of Somerset (Rossini’s Barber of Seville) in different areas throughout this rural country.

The production was featured on BBC Somerset Radio by Ben McGrail, who used OperaPLUS as an opportunity to ask the public what they thought of opera. The result was overwhelmingly positive which is reflected in the way it is received by the children and families who participate.

In 2016, OperaPLUS will continue to build on its past successes by presenting a production of Donizetti’s The Love Potion (L’elisir d’amore) with 5 performances including 18 schools. Each school will work with the cast and production team to prepare their music for the performance and are supported with a free set of resources including sheet music and recordings of their parts, all downloadable from the Jackdaws website.

OperaPLUS is supported by Sound Foundation Somerset, the Music Hub for Somerset and Arts Council England.

Jackdaws logoExternal Links

Music Teacher Awards for Excellence Nominations


BBC Radio Somerset

Concert by Candelight – Celebrate Christmas with Jackdaws

Great Elm ChurchChristmas by Candlelight has fast become a firm favourite in the festive calendar and once again, there is a feast of musical delights in store for the annual Jackdaws Christmas concert.

Taking place in the beautiful village Church of St Mary Magdalene at Great Elm, near Frome on Friday 18 December from 6.30pm. The church will be dressed for Christmas and glowing with candlelight, providing a perfect setting for an evening of wonderful music. The Concert will feature performances by many members of the Jackdaws Family, brought together in this joyful seasonal celebration.

Jackdaws’ Artistic Director, Saffron van Zwanenberg, will be performing a selection of well-loved operatic arias. Saffron studied at the Royal College of Music and leads a busy life as a performer and opera director, too. She will be accompanied by David Price.

Jackdaws Songbirds Community Choir will be familiar to many people already. The Songbirds rehearse each week in Frome on Tuesday afternoons and Wednesday evenings, and enjoy singing a wide range of songs from around the World and across the centuries, under the leadership of Caroline Radcliffe. They will perform ‘Poor Li’l Jesus’, a traditional Christmas spiritual.

Tickets: £10 in advance, £12 on the door (subject to availability)
01373 812383

Members of Jack’s Music Club have been working on a piece to perform for the concert, too. Jack’s Music Club is open to all young musicians and singers aged 11 – 17 from the local area, and meets at Jackdaws to learn and perform together every Friday evening during term time from 4.30pm – 6pm. New members are always welcome!

Bristol based Pianist Joshua Bishop has worked at Jackdaws for over 4 years; he will play his favourite selections from Bartok’s Hungarian Christmas carols in addition to music by Beethoven and Scott Joplin.

Join in with traditional Christmas carols, to help get you in the festive mood, as the programme also includes some favourites for all to sing, including; ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ and ‘Hark, the Herald Angels Sing’. Seasonal refreshments of hot Mulled Wine and Mince Pies will be served in the interval.

Last year’s concert was a sell-out, so book early to be sure not to miss out on this festive musical treat! Tickets cost £10 in advance, £12 on the door (subject to availability), and are available from Jackdaws on 01373 812383 or email or purchase online at

Jackdaws voted Second in UK Piano Course Rankings

Popular piano blogger Frances Wilson – the Cross-Eyed Pianist – asked her readers to rate their favourite Piano courses and Jackdaws came second place on the competitive list.

We were delighted to read this news as Jackdaws courses are a unique resource for musicians of abilities.

Philip Fowke at JackdawsThe survey also revealed the reasons people come on courses like ours. At the top of the list was the the opportunity to work with leading teachers, something Jackdaws offers at every weekend course, and to gain “useful, critical feedback”.

Survey answers concluded that people enjoyed the social element of meeting other pianists, as well as the opportunity to play in front of others in a non-competitive environment. A further bonus was the chance to focus on their piano playing “without having to deal with cooking or family matters”.

Jackdaws piano courses run on weekends throughout the year and are taught by leading pianists such as Mark Tanner, Philip Fowke, Graham Fitch, Margaret Fingerhut and Melanie Spanswick. Courses are limited to ten participants to ensure all musicians get a fair share of the tutor’s time, with all meals provided on site by our renowned cooks Alex and Loo.

Read the full article on The Cross-Eyed Pianist.

Jackdaws Tutor Julian Jacobson

Winners of the Maureen Lehane Vocal Award 2015

Programme CoverThe 2015 presentation of the Maureen Lehane Vocal Awards was an exciting afternoon of music making. As always, the finalists presented recitals of the highest standard and were commended by the panel for the variety and diversity of their repertoire choices.

First prize went to Julien Van Mellaerts, who impressed the panel with his recital of Del minacciar del vento (Ottone) by Handel, Peter Wishart’s Henry and Mary, A Poison Tree by Britten and Mein sehnen, mein Wähnen by Korngold. It is especially impressive that Julien was a reserve place and only offered the opportunity to perform at 6pm on the evening before the final, when Oliver Johnston fell ill.

It was an exceptional year for the Vocal Awards, the finalists were all well prepared and offered really interesting programmes. The general standard was very high which made the adjudication challenging, but the panel were clear about which performances had stood out, most notable of which was Julien’s singing of Britten’s evocative A Poison Tree.Saffron van Zwanenberg, Chair of the Adjudication Panel

2015 is the 23rd anniversary of the Award, which is unique for the recognition of potential as much as achievement and has supported many extraordinary young singers at the start of their careers. This year’s prize winners join a succession of past winners including Amanda Echalaz, Christopher Maltman, Sarah Fox, Andrew Kennedy and Anna Devin.

The Maureen Lehane Vocal Awards are run annually by Jackdaws Music Education Trust for singers under the age of 30. The first Award was contested in the Somerset village of Great Elm, where Jackdaws is based, and participants were required to present a song by composer Peter Wishart, Maureen Lehane’s late husband, and an aria by Handel. Maureen was a celebrated Handelian singer and maintained that every singer should sing Handel at some point in their development. The same elements are required today in celebration of both Maureen and Peter’s legacy.

The Maureen Lehane Vocal Awards are generously supported by The Rosemary Bugden Charitable Trust, Cooper Hall (Emerging Artists), Geoffrey and Margaret Batten, Frome Voices and Jackdaws Trustees.

Winners of the Maureen Lehane Vocal Awards 2015
Maureen Lehane Winners and Judges 2015First Prize
Julien Van Mellaerts, Baritone (27)
Second Prize
Grace Durham, Mezzo-Soprano (27)
Third Prize
James Newby, Baritone (22)

Accompanist Prize
Edward Liddall (26) and Natalie Burch (23)
Audience Prize
James Newby, Baritone (22)

Upcoming Vocal Courses

Jackdaws BirdsJackdaws Vocal Courses run throughout the year and cater for musicians of all abilities, from your first note ( Discover Your Voice ) to perfecting your high notes ( The Vocal Technician ). Our courses are based on our cores values – inspiration, access and inclusion.

Opera Workshop
Mary Plazas

Friday 19 – Sunday 21 February 2016

Performance vs Technique
Rosa Mannion

Friday 11 – Sunday 13 March 2016

they created a safe environment for experimenting with our singing

The Vocal Technician
Joy Mammen

Friday 13 – Sunday 15 May 2016

Discover Your Voice
Penny Jenkins

Friday 3 – Sunday 5 June 2016

Jackdaws Autumn 2015Staged Opera Scenes
Saffron van Zwanenberg and Audrey Hyland

Thursday 7 – Sunday 10 July 2016

Our residential weekend courses are the perfect retreat, where you can focus on your singing immersed in the calm of the Somerset countryside. You will work one to one with the best tutors in the country.

Singing Ensembles
Jessica Walker and David Knotts

Thursday 18 – Sunday 21 July 2016

Saffron and Audrey are an amazing team as well as experts in their field

Jump to all Jackdaws Voice courses

Maureen Lehane 2015: Meet the Panel

On Thursday 12 November, seven singers will contest the Maureen Lehane first prize on the stage of London’s iconic Maureen Lehane Vocal Awards at Wigmore Hall. Let’s meet this year’s adjudication panel…

Mary Plazas
Jackdaws Tutor Mary PlazasMary Plazas studied at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, where she was awarded the Curtis Gold Medal, and at the National Opera Studio. She won the 1991 Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Scholarship and the NFMS/Esso Award for Young Singers, and has received support from the Peter Moores Foundation. She has worked for periods of intensive study on interpretation in Geneva with the Swiss tenor, Eric Tappy.
Mary is represented by Owen White Management

Adrian Thompson
Adrian ThompsonAdrian is one of Britain’s leading operatic character tenors, long established on the stages of Covent Garden, English National Opera, Welsh National Opera, Glyndebourne Festival and Garsington Festival and has made guest appearances at La Scala, Milan, Geneva Opera, Canadian Opera Company, Nederlandse Reisopera, Aix en Provence Festival and has sung in concert with all the leading orchestras of the UK and abroad. Over his career Adrian has long established a specific relationship with the music of Britten and Elgar for which he is much in demand on both the concert platform and recording studio.
Adrian Thompson is represented by Hazard Chase

Phillip Thomas
Phillip ThomasIn a career spanning over three decades, Phillip Thomas has worked as a vocal coach, casting associate, record producer, accompanist, vocal consultant and conductor.

As a student at the Royal Academy of Music in London, he worked for the Welsh National Opera and upon graduation, he joined the staff of the English National Opera at the London Coliseum. At ENO, he became head of the Young Artists Training Programme and still regards this part of his career as highly exciting, challenging and rewarding.

His prolific concert career apart from performances all over the Uk and Ireland include concerts in New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, New Orleans and St Louis, as well as Frankfurt, Bayreuth, Paris, Sydney, Buenos Aires, Taipei, Tokyo and the Caribbean with Amanda Echalaz, Dame Josephine Barstow, Susan Bullock, Jane Eaglen, Lesley Garrett, Paolo Gavanelli,  Elizabeth Watts, Sergei Leiferkus and Sir John Tomlinson. For many years he was official accompanist at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition. He has worked as a vocal consultant for the BBC, Decca, EMI, Chandos, BMG and Sony, and with such eminent conductors as Sir Edward Downes, Sir Reginald Goodall, Sir Mark Elder, Zubin Mehta, Sezi Ozawa and Sir Georg Solti.

Since taking up the baton himself, he has conducted Rigoletto,  La Traviata, Il Trovatore, Requiem (Verdi), Tosca (Puccini), Francesca da Rimini (Zandonai), L’Ajo nell’Imbarazzo (Donizetti),  Il Matrimonio Segreto (Cimarosa) and most recently Fidelio (Beethoven).

FINALISTS ANNOUNCED: After two days of preliminary auditions, we present with great excitement, the finalists of the Maureen Lehane… Read more.

Saffron van Zwanenberg
Jackdaws Artistic Director Saffron van ZwanenbergSaffron has been Artistic Director at Jackdaws since 2009. She trained at the RCM and became a 1st class associate before graduating from the Opera Course with Distinction. She then won a prestigious RCM Junior Fellowship sponsored by the Rosemary Bugden Foundation and has worked as a singer for many companies including Garsington, the London Handel society and the Aldeburgh Festival. At the same time she maintains a successful directing career and has directed shows for Garden Opera at the RCM and the RAM, a show at the Cochrane Theatre in Holborn as well as very diverse projects for Mid Wales Opera and ENO Baylis, and of course for Jackdaws.

2015 is the 23rd anniversary of the Maureen Lehane Vocal Awards, which will see seven finalists compete for the first prize of £2,000. In addition to the cash prizes for the top three singers, there is also the £1,000 prize for best accompanist and, voted for by audience ballot, the £250 audience prize.

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