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OperaPLUS: Where are they now?

OperaPLUS: Where are they now?

Guest post from Thomas Elwin

Ten minute read.

It is just over nine years since I took part in the Jackdaws OperaPLUS project, which in 2011 was Così fan tutte. An intense, extremely busy, and fun filled week. I have very fond memories of my time down there at Jackdaws, working with Saffron and Audrey, my course colleagues, time spent with school children with special needs, and then the performances in the Cheese and Grain of course.

It says a lot for the pull that Jackdaws has that so many from that Così cast have gone on to work in Opera at the highest level. Hannah Sawle (Fiordiligi), Clare Presland (Dorabella), Hannah Bradbury (Despina) and Tim Nelson (Don Alfonso) have all gone on to perform major roles at top Opera houses across Europe, while Sam Queen (Guglielmo) is rapidly developing as one of the go-to singing teachers in the UK (he will be returning to Jackdaws in 2020/21 to run a course).

My own journey since that week has been extremely varied and wide ranging, taking me to opera houses and concerts halls across the UK and Europe, with some incredible highs, and one or two quite significant lows.

At the time of my OperaPLUS course I was just about to finish my vocal studies masters, and about to go on to the Opera Course at the Royal Academy of Music. It was the ideal time to do such a course. For all the lessons, coachings and classes one has as a trainee singer, the opportunities to actually perform full operatic roles are like gold dust and should be jumped at. At this stage, despite being about to go on to specific opera studies, I was very new to opera so this was ideal preparation for the next stage of my development.

In September 2011 I started the Opera course at RAM, and it went off without a hitch. On it I sang a few more complete roles, including another Mozart opera, Tamino in The Magic Flute, and I also sang a role in one of the British Youth Opera productions, in their 2012 season, and continued to listen out for opportunities elsewhere, and consider what step to take next. At the beginning of the new academic year 2012/13, I auditioned successfully to join the chorus at Glyndebourne for my summer after graduation. Then an agent from Germany came to the autumn term Opera, in November 2012, and suggested I might audition for young artist programmes at German Opera houses. This was not something I had considered at all, but I asked a few people about it and then ended up flying to Hannover in January 2013 to audition. It was a very mixed audition, and a mildly terrifying experience – my first audition abroad – but on the back of the opportunity I decided to apply to other ‘YAPs’ (Young Artist Programmes) and soon after I got home from Hannover I was invited to audition in Munich.

What happened next is the first of a few sliding doors moments. After a busy day of rehearsals and lessons at the Royal Academy, in cold January of 2013, I did the same journey home that I had done so many times before. I walked from the academy to the tube, took the Met line to Liverpool St, mainline from there to Manor Park, and a 10 minute walk on the road through Wanstead Flats (a park for those who don’t know it) to my home. Only on this occasion I was followed from Manor Park, and half way along the road through the flats was invited to give my phone and money to two young men carrying knives.
Inevitably I was upset and shaken by the experience of being mugged. It was annoying to lose my phone, and the money, but I was unhurt physically – so I thought.

I flew to Germany again and sang ok in Munich, they decided not to put me through to the next round. Meanwhile I had turned down the place in Hannover because it didn’t feel quite right and the mini German exploration had come to nothing. As a result I applied to the National Opera Studio in London who had auditions a couple of months later.

Over these couple of months my voice didn’t feel right. Slowly and surely parts of my voice that I could rely on were becoming inconsistent. I didn’t think much of it. My final opera at the Academy was a small and easy sing in Eugene Onegin, which would be followed by a few weeks break before heading to Lewes and Glyndebourne in April 2013. I applied to take part in the Kathleen Ferrier competition and was excited for this and the Opera Studio audition. By the time these came about my singing was even more inconsistent, and despite getting through the first round of the Opera studio auditions, both the main audition there and the Ferrier first round were a real struggle.

This was the beginning of April 2013, and on the 6th of April I woke up with no singing voice.
I cancelled some concerts I had that weekend, and just assumed I had a virus or the flu. Yet by the time I had been at Glyndebourne for a month and my voice was still not back I started to really worry. My GP was quite dismissive, nothing that they could see. Then two ENT specialists saw a little inflammation but no real reason to worry or have voice loss. Finally, at the end of June, three months of being mute into a 5 month chorus contract I had been so looking forward to, I had an appointment with an osteopath who had saved me a few years earlier after a car accident.

Within the first minute Michael, my osteo, could tell there were problems. To cut a long story short, it turned out that my physical reaction to being mugged was similar to that of a car crash. The muscles around my neck, shoulders and chest were all extremely tense and locked and Michael was surprised that I could sing at all those initial few months.

I was hugely relieved to have found the cause of my vocal issues, though upset not to have realised earlier and therefore gone into important situations like the Munich, the National Opera Studio, and the Kathleen Ferrier competition auditions without realising that I was fighting a physical battle with myself. Following six months of vocal decline, and accompanying mental struggles, I could now see a way forward. In short, I had to relearn how to use my voice. I had a course of speech therapy with an incredible lady called Maggie Griffith, had an intense period of singing lessons with my teacher at the time, Gary Coward, and had regular osteopathy sessions with Michael.

The summer of 2013 having been a complete write-off, I went into the first year of post studies life without any work at all. I had had to postpone all auditions from April onwards, and was only just emerging into a place where I could use my voice again. I started working at a local restaurant where I lived, I also began teaching piano and singing at a local music school, and spent the rest of the time focusing on getting my voice into shape. I could easily have given up at this point but I had put a huge amount of time, effort, and money into getting my voice back and instead of wanting to stop I had a newly honed focus that had been missing before my voice loss. So I applied for YAPs again, in the UK and in Germany. I tried to run before I could walk and initial auditions were not successful, but in January 2014 I sang to the audition panel at the opera house in Stuttgart and got through to the second round on the day. A success! I returned home and waited to hear more. And waited… and waited. I applied again to the National Opera Studio, and then with nothing coming from Stuttgart, decided to apply for other work.

By the time, two months later, that Stuttgart offered me a further audition I was moments from accepting a job in London. But decided to give Stuttgart a go. The panel in Stuttgart were confused when they heard me, there had been such an improvement in two months. I explained a little about my voice loss, and the fact they were hearing a 5 month voice, rather than a 3 month voice, and they decided to take me onto their programme. YAY!

I can pinpoint the decision to join the Stuttgart Opera as the start of my career proper.
Soon after accepting my place in Stuttgart, I was offered a place on two courses with the Solti Accademia Bel Canto. Firstly a week in Venice on their course for pianists, on which six singers are used a guinea pigs. Then on their course for singers in Tuscany in July, working with some of the best coaches and singers for a few weeks in the Italian sun. Not a difficult time.

Stuttgart turned out to be the making of me. Over my year as a young artist I performed in seven different productions, and over 50 nights on the stage. I sang small and medium roles in German, Italian, French and Russian and just loved the life of working in a full time opera company. The years real highlight came in my last couple of months, when I was covering/understudying the role of Ferrando in Così fan tutte. (Having sung it at Jackdaws in English the music was all there but I needed to fill in the words with the Italian.) I was just in the right place at the right time as the person I was covering ended up being sick for the last two performances and I got the call. Out of seeming despair and the end of a career before it had even started in the summer of 2013, I was now, less than two years later, singing one of the major Tenor roles on stage in a major European opera house.

I owe a lot to the people in Stuttgart, not least the head of the Opera studio there at the time, Bettina Giese, and I was very grateful that at the end of my year in the studio they kept me on a half fixed contract for another season. This meant that I would do a three productions in Stuttgart in the 2015/16 season, two I had done the previous season and one new one, but also allowed me to work elsewhere and I was thrilled to be able to sing the role of Belmonte in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail for the first time, in a new production in Bregenz, Austria. So in addition for 5 months in Stuttgart, I spent a lovely three wintery months in Bregenz, on the edge of Lake Constance and the Alps. Such a beautiful part of the world. It was also conveniently placed, a four hour train journey away, for me to step in last minute for a few more performances of Così fan tutte at Stuttgart, who then offered me my own performances for the following season.

Around this time I picked up an agent, Jonathan Groves and Helen Hogh at Ingpen and Williams (which soon became Groves Artists), and through them auditioned for English National Opera in summer 2016. Having developed my career away from the UK for two years I was glad that ENO asked me to cover Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni for a new production in autumn 2016. Before this came around, I ended up singing Così fan tutte once more, in the UK and France with Diva Opera, by this point singing Ferrando in Così was almost second nature. At ENO for the Don Giovanni I was covering Allan Clayton, a singer I have always admired and looked up to, and it was great to be working in London. To top it off, Allan was unfortunately taken sick for a few days during the run and I stepped in for two performances, making my London professional operatic debut and receiving a glowing review in Opera magazine for it. An unexpectedly positive start to the 2016/17 season. This was soon followed by my first studio recording as a tenor soloist, singing the role of Alfred in The Mountebanks with the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by John Andrews.

Tom Elwin in the Il ritorno d'Ulisse with Grange Festival

Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (The Grange Festival)
© Robert Workman

The 2016/17 season then became the year of the ‘jump in’, as I found myself stepping in last minute for the whole run of, you guessed it, Così fan tutte with a company called Teatro Barocco. Having received the call just five days before their opening night, I flew out to Vienna and speed learned the production before seven performances in the theatre at the Schloss Laxenburg, a venue used by Mozart himself and an incredible experience. Being in Vienna, and singing Mozart there, was a career highlight and on the back on the contract I was invited back for a production the following season, in early 2018. I went from Vienna directly to Stuttgart, for the production of Così fan tutte I had been booked for a year beforehand, and while I was there I was asked to step in as Telemaco in the new Grange Festival’s first show, The Return of Ulysess, with rehearsals starting just after the end of my Stuttgart contract.

I still remember Jackdaws very fondly, and genuinely consider many of the things I learnt in that week to have been hugely beneficial

Having sung mostly Mozart for much of 2015/16 and early 2017 it was fun to explore Monteverdi for a few months, and also to perform in an English summer opera festival. I was then thrilled to sing my first BBC Prom concert later in the summer but having gone from contract to contract since starting in Stuttgart in September 2014, I was glad for a little time off in the autumn of 2017.

Time off for freelancers is a difficult thing to come to terms with sometimes. It means we don’t have income… but on this occasion it was a much needed break and I knew that I had my contract back in Vienna in early 2018, and also a few performances with the Classical Opera Company who had made me as associate artist for the season.

Sadly, for various reasons, the contract in Vienna did not work out and I was out of pocket by quite a lot of money. Despite working almost non stop for three years up to that point, much of the income had been young artist level fees and I was in no position to lose out on that sort of money. The cancellation really knocked me sideways. My agent managed to get me a little work to fill the time, covering again at ENO in early 2018, but the income lost was never replaced and I have felt that ever since.

Not only did the financial hit affect me, but I slightly lost confidence at this moment too. I didn’t want to be covering, and losing the chance to sing a role again in Vienna felt like a slight on me – though it wasn’t of course. I suspect this confidence loss was felt by audition panels, and I just lost out on a few jobs after this.

It came as a relief then to be invited back to Bregenz again, where I was to sing Jaquino in Fidelio in early 2019, and soon after getting this news I successfully auditioned to be part of Barbara Hannigan’s Equilibrium Young Artist initiative, a mentoring programme including well paid performance opportunities with Barbara conducting.

The Bregenz experience was a slight disappointment compared to the first time there. A number of things contributed to this. The first time I was there the cast were more sociable, and there were more English speakers. It was also a bigger role, a role I enjoyed more and the apartment I was in the first time was better placed for the lake and mountains and the town centre. I left Bregenz the second time slightly less in love with the town than I was the first, and went directly to Munich for two Mozart requiem concerts with the Munich Philharmonic and Barbara Hannigan. This turned out to be a genuine career highlight, something I will always remember.

My final contract of the 2018/19 season was singing the role of Sam Kaplan in Street Scene at the opera in Cologne. Street Scene has a huge cast, and this was a wonderful production with some great colleagues both on and behind the stage. Cologne is a really great city to be in and I was living quite centrally for two months. Yet, with Bregenz running into Munich running into Cologne, I hadn’t really been home for most of the first 6 months of 2019, so was glad for a few months at home that summer.

A few months at home turned into singing the role of Nemorino in The Elixir of Love for a new opera company, Into Opera, set up by a friend I had met at the Grange Festival. I actually sent an abysmal audition tape over from Cologne, but thankfully the conductor for the production was John Andrews who already knew my singing from the recording I had done with him in 2017. We performed the show in a Barn just outside Norwich, to 150 very willing audience members a night. A lovely team of people again and a good end to the 2018/19 season.

ETO Cosi fan tutte Tom Elwin

ETO Spring 2020 Così fan tutte
© Richard Hubert Smith

Which brings me onto this season… 2019/20. A lighter autumn saw me spending a few days in Venice performing at an Opera Gala, and a couple of weeks in Brussels workshopping new productions of the Da Ponte/Mozart operas. I sang my first, and a week later second, Verdi Requiem and then stepped in very last minute to sing Finzi’s Dies Natalis live on BBC Radio 3 from Maida Vale, with the BBC Concert Orchestra. The main contract for the season though came in the spring of this year, with the English Touring Opera tour of Così fan tutte (yes… that one again) and Bach’s St. John Passion.

Many things attracted me to a tour with ETO. Not least the chance to perform so many times all around the country. So it was a real sadness when the tour was cancelled after just two venues. I have had my ups and downs career wise, and I know we will all come out of the pandemic at some point. Life will continue, music and art will continue and thrive. But it hasn’t felt easy and I would be lying if I didn’t admit to having significant career doubts over these months.

ETO Spring 2020 St John Passion
© Andreas Grieger

Happily, there seem to be shoots of hope within the industry and I am hopeful for some performances in the near future. I have enjoyed the time at home with my wife and our dog. I have also enjoyed the time to focus on my singing practise and also get fit, but I will jump at the chance to sing on stage again.

I still remember Jackdaws very fondly, and genuinely consider many of the things I learnt in that week to have been hugely beneficial over the following nine years of my burgeoning career.

Piano Club at Jackdaws

Piano Club at Jackdaws

From October, we will be restarting the on-site Piano Club at Jackdaws.

It will run simultaneously with the online club on the first Friday of the month. Places are limited to 8 for the on site sessions because of Covid-19 restrictions, and must be booked in advance at £5 a place.

First meeting Friday 2nd October, 10am – 12 noon.

Email us to book your place at this or future Piano club meetings.

Jack’s Music Club restarts 25 September

Jack’s Music Club restarts 25 September

We are delighted to announce that Jack’s Music Club will return for a new term at Jackdaws with in person sessions starting Friday 25 September.

There will, of course, be a few changes to adapt to the changed situation and help keep everybody safe. Please read the important information below.

COVID SECURE

  • Visit England - We're Good to Go LogoSessions are limited to 8 attendees; please pay in advance for the term (dates below; Please email us to confirm space).
  • New timing of 4:30 – 5:45pm to allow Jacks attendees to leave before weekend course participants arrive
  • Parents should remain in their cars for drop off and collection to avoid people gathering while waiting
  • Cash is no longer accepted; please book and pay in advance
  • Please bring your own drink and music stand. There can be no sharing of instruments in the session
  • Masks not obligatory but wear if you prefer
  • Hand washing is required of all attendees and tutors before and after sessions
  • Please do not come to Music Club if you have or have been in contact with anyone with symptoms or a confirmed infection of Covid-19

Jack’s Sessions this Term:
25 Sept – Welcome back!
2 Oct
9 Oct
16 Oct
23 Oct
£2.50 per session; Please email us to book a space

Subscribe to the Jack’s Mailing List for the most up-to-date information on Music Club

20-21 Season Open for Bookings!

20-21 Season Open for Bookings!

We are delighted to welcome you to a new season at Jackdaws. We have lots of wonderful opportunities for you to set your creativity free in this, the 28th season of music making in our glorious corner of the valley, here in Great Elm.

SPECIAL OFFER – £10 off any course if you book before September 7th 2020

Please do book early as course numbers will be reduced initially to enable social distancing. This will be reviewed as new guidance is issued.

View all Courses by Date
Visit England - We're Good to Go

We understand you may have concerns about attending in the current circumstances. We have worked hard to be Covid-19 secure and have “We’re Good to Go” accreditation from Visit England in place, which demonstrates our commitment to safety. Please read more about our Covid-19 readiness and how it affects booking on our website.

We hope you enjoy this new online only format and full information can be found on courses in each section by clicking on the title box and other links.

New Courses

Charlotte TomlinsonAs ever we have dedicated time and effort to finding new opportunities for you to explore music and we are delighted to welcome Sara Harris (Vocal Health, 13 Dec), Charlotte Tomlinson (Freedom in Piano Playing, 15-17 Jan – Pictured) and William Westney (The Perfect Wrong Note, 30 April – 2 May) to our team. All incredibly eminent in their fields, we know they will be a positive musical force when we welcome them into the studio.

One benefit of the lockdown was the ability to reach more musicians through our online provision.

This has led to the development of “Jack IN Daws” and we are also delighted to offer two exclusively online courses, one in piano – Piano Technique Online, with Melanie Spanswick – and one in voice – Nuts and Bolts: Fundamental skills for singing healthily in classical and musical theatre, with Samuel Queen and John Lattimore of the London Singers Studio.

One Day Courses

Nicky Knowles Art DayOur ever popular one day courses offer the ideal way to try something new, whether it is the chance to sing for health or, for the first time this season, to create your own art with local artist Nicky Knowles, and maybe make a Christmas present or two.

Piano Courses

William WestneyPianists can look forward to some wonderfully varied themes including some Beethoven with James Lisney, which could also include chamber ensembles, and a new focus on an integrated approach with Julian Jacobson. We are also thrilled that Graham Fitch is running two Practising the Piano courses with us this season – November 2020 and May 2021.

Our pianists enjoy the benefit of using our Steinway in the main studio during sessions and also have the opportunity to use one of the practice rooms during breaks to consolidate and reflect on the musical process.

Voice Courses

Rosa MannionSingers have a selection of repertoire and technical based foci to choose from including the return of Rosa Mannion solving the “Performance vs Technique” conundrum (pictured) and opportunities to sing in every language and style from Russian with Alexandre Naoumenko and French with Robin Bowman, interpreting text with Amanda Roocroft and Joan Rodgers, tackling opera with Mary Plazas and a new theme from Evelyn Tubb and Michael Fields testing the boundaries of dynamic expressiveness. There is something for all songbirds.

Strings Courses

Our Guitar Ensemble led by Eden Stell has returned to it’s regular spot in January (21 – 24), and at the other end of the year Nic Fallowfield is leading Strings and Things in August (12-15).

Wind Courses

Recorders, clarinets, oboes and bassoons are all individually catered for with opportunities to play solo and in ensembles.

Ensemble Courses

Ensemble CoursesThe big news for our ensemble players is new leadership of the Chamber Music weekend (16 – 18 July). We owe a huge debt of thanks to Sarah Francis as she retires from her long serving role and are delighted that Stephen Gutman has stepped in to take this incredibly popular course forward for the future.

We are also delighted that William Lyons and Richard Thomas are giving an extra opportunity to make music as an ensemble by running two weekends of The City Musick (12 – 14 February & 10 – 12 September)

Plus of course the ever popular Stylish Baroque with Theresa Caudle and Alastair Ross (3-5 Sept), there are some great opportunities to make music with others.

Covid-19 Information

Seclusion Discs – Owain Browne

Seclusion Discs – Owain Browne

Music has been a very important part of my lockdown experience. At first there was silence: long-anticipated projects cancelled

Seclusion Discs – Karolyn Curle

Seclusion Discs – Karolyn Curle

We have asked our friends and tutors, while they are marooned in isolation, which 8 tracks mean the most to them, so we can share some new listening ideas with you and find out a bit more about them. This week, Office Manager Karolyn Curle, introduces her picks.

Our Office Manager, Karolyn, joined the Jackdaws team in May 2012 having previously worked at the Merlin Theatre in Frome as the Front of House Manager. If you have booked on to a Jackdaws course or event in the last eight years, chances are that you have emailed or spoken to Karolyn personally.

“I’ve really enjoyed delving through my record collection and musical memory for this piece. Music has always played an important part in my life, and although I’m not a great musician I appreciate the ways in which it has influenced and empowered me. My love of singing in choirs has brought me a lot of pleasure, particularly in recent years, and created some wonderful friendships along the way”

Track One: Abba – Dancing Queen
There was always music playing at home and in the car during my childhood, but this was the first song that made me aware that music could make me ‘feel’ something. The first notes take me right back to my first year at school and a disco in the main hall; the music embraces me and I’m filled with the joy of the moment, it still makes me smile!

Track Two: Vivaldi – ‘Gloria in excelsis’, Gloria
I enjoyed and embraced all musical opportunities at school and was fortunate to have some wonderful teachers. My time at the small village Primary School was filled with recorder lessons and ensemble groups and lots of singing; choirs, assemblies and church services. However, my favourite activity was the weekly BBC ‘Singing Together’ radio broadcast – according to my teacher, Miss Kynaston, I was an enthusiastic member of the class!

At Secondary School I learned piano and clarinet, and continued to enjoy singing in choirs and school productions. The highlight was a performance of Vivaldi ‘Gloria’ under the direction of Head of Music, Ruth Phillips, in a local church. This was my first experience of singing choral music with a large group, as an alto in the chorus, the opening bars still fill me with that sense of nervous excitement.

Track Three: Fairground Attraction – Allelujah
Through my teens I loved having a record player in my room, buying new vinyl with money from my Saturday job at the Roman Baths. I was drawn to music with a folk/roots base and female singers in particular. It was hard to narrow down the choice here, in the end, Eddi Reader won. My choice is not the wonderfully popular ‘Perfect’, still heard on tv and radio today, but the more wistful ‘Allelujah’ which brings the album to a close. I love the dreamy, wistful quality of this waltz, the sweeping range of the vocals and the positive and uplifting lyrics.

Track Four: Oysterband – Love Vigilantes
I had great fun during my ‘year out’ working at Our Price in Bath, where I met so many amazing people who introduced me to an even wider range of music. There were two branches of Our Price in Bath at that time – the cool shop was on Union Street, where new releases and cutting edge sounds filled two floors and then there was the more sedate branch in old Southgate shopping centre, that’s where I worked! We sold an awful lot of Phil Collins and Eric Clapton I seem to remember…

This track is a favourite find from that year and blends my love of folk with a new discovery of Indie; an Oysterband arrangement of a New Order track.

Track Five: The Cranberries – Dreams
I studied English and Drama at Worcester College of Higher Education; Delores O’Riordan and her band provided the soundtrack for my final year and Dissertation writing! Having heard ‘Dreams’ on the radio (John Peel show, I think) I eagerly anticipated the album, which I bought on cassette tape (so that I could also play it in my car, of course!) the day it was released. I played it over and over, singing along with these anthems which seemed to sum up the angst I was feeling at the time.

‘Oh, my life is changing every day, in every possible way’.

Track Six: Hayseed Dixie – Holiday
Fast forward a few years, several house moves, a wedding and two children later and we’re on the road on family camping trips with Hayseed Dixie on the car i-pod. This song reminds me of those days, driving down through France with the car/trailer/van/bikes all packed up, to our favourite spot in the Loire, Le Chant D’Oiseau. Although ‘Holiday’ isn’t actually about a holiday it’s sweeping fiddle and chirpy banjo & mandolin never fail to remind me of family time and these journeys. Hayseed Dixie are an incredibly talented bunch of musicians, I’ve seen them live a few times and they never fail to entertain.

Track Seven: Handel – ‘His Yoke Is Easy’, from ‘Messiah’
This is one of my favourite choruses to sing, especially the way in which the music starts to sweep along towards the end, with longer notes and beautiful harmonies.
My Mum and I joined the choir of the first Frome Voices project in 2012, to rehearse and perform Handel’s ‘Messiah’. It was wonderfully uplifting and challenging at a time when I needed the support of music in my life, having recently been made redundant from my job at the Merlin Theatre due to cuts in Arts funding. Little did I know that the job at Jackdaws was just around the corner…

In January this year, Frome Voices again chose Messiah, and I once again found myself in the community of altos, making new friends and enjoying the sheer pleasure of singing the score. However, coronavirus restrictions arrived; rehearsals were stopped and the performance remains postponed, but this definitely isn’t the end of my journey with Frome Voices.

Track Eight: Johnny Flynn – Treasure
This song is the title music for the tv series ‘Detectorists’, one of my favourite programmes; currently available on i-player if you’ve not yet experienced it’s quiet charm. For me, this song evokes a feeling of appreciation for seeing the beauty in our surroundings and the small pleasures to be found in nature. I’m missing being at Jackdaws in my riverside office, but have been taking walks along the riverpath locally in Frome instead, listening and watching the spring unfurl day by day.

I’ve been a member of Jackdaws Songbirds community choir since 2007. Caroline Radcliffe our choir leader arranged ‘Treasure’ for us a few years ago, it was a delight to sing!

‘I heard the calls of all the songbirds, they sang all the wrong words’

Seclusion Discs – Mark Tanner

Seclusion Discs – Mark Tanner

We have asked our tutors, while they are marooned in isolation, which 8 tracks mean the most to them, so we can share some new listening ideas with you and find out a bit more about them. This week, pianist Mark Tanner, introduces his picks.

Mark Tanner is a concert pianist, composer, B.I.F.F. adjudicator, teacher and writer. His performing and academic work takes him regularly to all five continents. Solo appearances include many recitals at London’s Wigmore Hall, South Bank Centre and St John’s Smith Square, as well as St George’s Bristol, where he performed in piano duo with Alan Schiller at the Mozart 250th Anniversary Celebrations. He appears regularly on luxury cruise liners, having given in excess of 300 recitals on all of the Cunard, P&O and Saga ships.

Track One: Chabrier – Idylle, from ‘Dix pieces pittoresques’ (played by Richard McMahon)
Richard was my piano teacher while studying for my MA in performance during the early 90s, and I’ve always greatly admired what he stands for as a pianist, teacher and musician on so many other levels. This particular performance is ideal (or should that be Idylle?) for its sense of freshness and immediacy. Just listen to that dancing left hand accompaniment, which in itself deserves our attentive listening, but also the melodic line, which sits above it so poetically and sings with what could also almost be a French accent.

Track Two: Vaughan-Williams – Symphony No.5 (Royal Liverpool Philharmonic conducted by Vernon Handley, 1990)
There’s something rather epic and rousing about this work, composed across the WW2 years. Its wonderful tunes, dense harmonic texture and slow, patient unfolding gives it such a satisfying impact. A coming together of pastoral charm, suave tunes and all things British.

Track Three: Ravel – Gaspard de la nuit (played by Ivo Pogorelich)
Although there have been plenty of critics who’ve sought to pick away at Ivo Pogorelich’s eccentric behaviour at the piano, and in particular his tendency to tug at the normal bandwidth of acceptability for speeds and dynamics, I’ve always been a great admirer. Pianists simply can’t win when it comes to garnering the affections of audiences, critics and fellow pianists; it seems they’re either too similar, or too daring. Listen to Pogorelich’s pristine fingerwork in Gaspard, and I bet you won’t find another interpretation to rival it. There’s the famous Argerich one of course, which many prefer, though the darkness and vitality of Pogorelich’s, for me, wins hands down. In Ondine, his playing ripples impossibly fluidly; in Le Gibet, the hangman’s noose is scarily real to my ears, and in Scarbo, the repeated notes surely couldn’t sound crisper if you fired off a few rounds from a Browning machine gun.

Track Four: Rachmaninov – Piano Concerto No.3 (Played by Ashkenazy on Decca)
Though often dubbed “Rach Three” (an unnecessary abbreviation which I absolutely hate, by the way), this confirms the enduring popularity of this effervescent, large-scale concerto. Whether it’s the cadenzas which bring you close to a cold sweat, or that nonchalant opening ‘simple’ tune, this is a work admired, feared and loved the world over. Ashkenazy, who has just retired from the public scene, is on splendid form, bringing a staggering amount of muscularity and pathos from his small frame. There are more fragrant, or more powerful accounts from today’s crop of younger virtuosi, but for me the Ashkenazy rendering is par excellence.

Track Five: Messiaen – Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jésus (played by Yvonne Loriod)
Who better to be the ambassador for this immense two hour-long work than Messiaen’s utterly devoted wife, Yvonne Loriod? Every note is brimming with colour (the composer famously bringing his synaesthesia to good purpose in his compositions), and I love the rumble of the Paris Metro, which can occasionally be felt to vibrate through your toes if you crank up the volume to a sufficiently neighbour-annoying level. The piece is one worthy of being sent to the moon, or any another distant celestial rock for that matter – it teems with religious connotation and is quite simply a tour de force in 20th century pianism.

Track Six: Finzi – Eclogue (played by Howard Shelley)
This all too brief work, which was originally to be the middle movement of a piano concerto, ended up being left to its own devices, a stand alone gem, which we don’t hear often enough. Shelley brings to it a most fragrantly perfumed pianism, a truly crafted and insightful performance of this contemplative miniature.

Track Seven: Andy Williams – Up, Up and Away
What can I say? This is, for me, one of the most joyful, ebullient ditties lingering on my phone – always ready to Bluetooth across to my ancient Mercedes convertible’s radio as I finesse my way along country roads, top down, wind in my eyes. I even love the slightly out of tune backing singers.

Track Seven: Petula Clark – Down Town
I’ve written elsewhere that this song holds a very special place in my heart. It holds a sentimental charm that I don’t often detect in other pop tunes of the era. Maybe it’s because it was written around the time of my birth, by Tony Hatch in 1963, or perhaps simply that it captures a feeling of yearning, tinged with whimsy, tinged with optimism. Whatever.

e-Song Club starts Friday 15 May

e-Song Club starts Friday 15 May

The first Jackdaws e-Song Club starts at 10am on Friday 15 May!

Our e-Piano Club, run by one of our volunteers, has been a huge success so we thought it might be something our singers would like to try as well.

Join for free by dialling in over Zoom every Friday morning at 10am for one hour. Meet and chat to other singers in a supportive, supervised setting, and, if you would like to (no requirement to do so!), sing a piece to the group. Give your practice a focus and carry on honing performance skills.

Sing unaccompanied or with a backing track. We can also put you in touch with one of our accompanists, Nigel Foster, if you would like to buy a backing track (costs start at £30 per song but may be more depending on length and complexity).

Please view our e-Club Guidance and Safeguarding before participating.

Donate via PayPalOur e-Song Club is free to attend, but if you would like to donate £5 to help keep Jackdaws going at the time of great uncertainty, you can do so on PayPal.

Subscribe to the mailing list to receive details of the next meeting:

Jackdaws will never share your information with third parties, in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

Seclusion Discs – Flora Curzon

Seclusion Discs – Flora Curzon

We have asked our tutors, while they are marooned in isolation, which 8 tracks mean the most to them, so we can share some new listening ideas with you and find out a bit more about them. This week, violinist Flora Curzon, introduces her picks.

Flora Curzon is best known for her musical versatility. Whilst she is firmly rooted in the Western Classical tradition, her horizons are broad: she is passionate about and well versed in many musical traditions from around the world and the role of improvisation in all music making.

Her unique combination musical interests and skills have sparked a fast growing and eclectic resumé of worldwide collaborations, performances and recordings, including work with many outstanding artists and ensembles.

“I’m lucky enough to be locked down with several music lovers who have introduced me to all sorts of new music over the last 6 weeks. So I’ve been enjoying a mixture of old favourites and new discoveries which I’m very excited to share with you.”

Track One: Bach – St John Passion (Sir John Eliot Gardiner, English Baroque Soloists)
My usual musical diet over the Easter period is a lot of JS Bach; this year I would have been touring Bach’s St John Passion with English Touring Opera, so I thought I would share with you a rendition of it which I absolutely love, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner, sung by the Monteverdi Choir and played by English Baroque Soloists. I love how each movement keeps moving without ever feeling hurried.

Track Two: Bach – Sonata no. 1 for Violin and Harpsichord (Played by Lucy van Dael and Bob van Asperen)
I’ve also been feeding my Bach cravings in other ways. Lucy van Dael’s recording of Bach’s Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord are bringing me great joy right now, particularly No.1 in B Minor BWV 1014. The way she pulls out that first note and allows it to emerge from the harpsichord is just exquisite. I love the way this first Adagio flows – it’s sounds so natural it’s hard to imagine it written down.

Track Three: Enescu – Impressions d’enfance (Played by Sherban Lupu and Valentin Gheorghiu)
But Bach isn’t all I have been listening to. I have also been attempting to learn an absolutely stunning piece by George Enescu, ‘Impressions D’enfance’ performed here by the musical legends Sherban Lupu (violin), Valentin Gheorghiu (piano). I am particularly drawn to this piece because of the way it captures the spirit and sound world of traditional Romanian music; the first movement, for solo violin, reminds me so much of a meandering Romanian ‘doina’ – an arhythmic, highly ornamented, often improvised introduction to a set of tunes.

Track Four: Anna & Elizabeth – Long Time Travelling
As well as classical music, I am a great lover of many styles of traditional music and have recently discovered two incredible all-female duos. Anna & Elizabeth – traditional singers and instrumentalists from the USA – are performing here on Tiny Desk, starting with a particular favourite of mine, Long Time Travelling. I love the way their very different voices blend, and the purity in the harmonies stops me in my tracks.

Track Five: Brittany Haas & Lena Jonsson – Keeping the Cats Happy
The second is fiddle duo extroadinaire, Brittany Haas and Lena Jonsson. Brittany is steeped in American music, and Lena in her native Swedish. Together they bring the house down with interweaving melodies, tight harmonies and irresistible grooves.

Track Six: Shver Un Shviger (Played by Alicia Svigals)
Klezmer (Jewish music) also holds a deep place in my heart. This not-exactly-new record is a new discovery for me, and one which I listened to on repeat for a few days when I first discovered it. Here, Alicia Svigals, one of the Klezmer communities most renowned and stylish fiddle players, creates a really evocative sound world on this record, and performs many tunes which are now considered core Klezmer repertoire. For anyone wanting to hear or learn more Klezmer this is a great place to start!
Fidl – Alicia Svigals

Track Seven: Jamie Doe – Albatross
I’ve also been listening a lot to an album by my pal Jamie Doe (aka The Magic Lantern). ‘To the Islands’ is his third album, was released in 2018. I absolutely love his songwriting, and the instrumentation and production on this record is exquisite. This is his song ‘Albatross’, performed live at Abbey Road Studios.

Track Eight: Kate Tempest – Hold Your Own
Lastly, in a completely different vein, The latest Kate Tempest record, ‘The Book of Traps and Lessons’ (2019), could not have come at a better time for me. I found this album incredibly resonant and thought-provoking, even though it was written before Coronavirus hit. This track, Hold Your Own, one of the warmer tracks on the record, I found very inspiring and comforting.

Seclusion discs – Stephen Marquiss

Seclusion discs – Stephen Marquiss

We have asked our tutors, while they are marooned in isolation, which 8 tracks mean the most to them, so we can share some new listening ideas with you and find out a bit more about them. This week, pianist Stephen Marquiss, introduces his picks.

Stephen was born in Bath, England and was educated at Wells Cathedral School, a specialist music school, and then at Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he gained an MA in Music. During his time at Cambridge, Stephen travelled to New York to study with Sophia Rosoff, a pioneering teacher and former student of Abby Whiteside. This sowed seeds that led eventually to the creation of Piano Portals, over a decade later.

“I love lists and questionnaires that offer a glimpse into someone’s personality, history and influences. I could easily have included only piano and 19th-century orchestral music. But I feel compelled to shoehorn in a couple of other influential genres. I honestly don’t listen to a lot of music these days – I’d much rather spend all my time playing it – but tracks like these have been sometime obsessions.”

Track 1: Mendelssohn – Hebrides Overture (Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert Von Karajan)
As child, I loved to conduct an orchestra formed of my cuddly toys. Their repertoire was limited – and supplied by my trusty Toshiba – chiefly to The Christmas Tape, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and this overture. It features the world’s greatest antecedent and consequent phrases (between strings and brass), delivered with appropriate gusto on this recording.

Track 2: Schumann – Piano Concerto, First Movement (Played by Murray Perahia, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis)
My favourite recording (paired with the Grieg concerto), growing up. Perahia was my pianistic hero. It was a toss-up between this and his recording of Brahms’s Third Piano Sonata. He’s the only pianist I’ve heard to play the repeated phrases in the animato section as delicious echoes, which still takes my breath away every time.

Track 3: Handel – ‘But who may abide’ from The Messiah (Played by Charles Brett, Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, Sir John Eliot Gardiner)
This album was the soundtrack to most of my third year at uni. I had to include one conducted by Gardiner. For me, he’s unrivalled as an interpreter. I’m no longer religious, but I find the pathos and then fury of the singing and playing on this track utterly ravishing.

Track 4: Bruckner – Symphony No. 7, First Movement (Played by Berlin Philharmonic, Daniel Barenboim)
Barenboim had long been another of my piano heroes. Then I discovered Barenboim the conductor, through this Bruckner Symphony, and the sheer majesty of the epic first phrase in the cellos and violas (surely one of the longest in the repertoire) stopped me in my tracks. I bought as many of his Bruckner CDs as I could afford (at £5 each) in the old-skool record shop behind my college halls of residence.

Track 5: Schumann – Symphony No. 2, First Movement (Played by Vienna Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein)
The way this movement emerges from slow introduction to vigorous allegro is rivalled only by Schubert’s 9th Symphony and Beethoven’s 4th, in my book. This track showcases Bernstein – force of nature, conductor, presenter and composer. It also brings to mind Schumann’s struggles with expressing himself in the symphonic genre in the shadow of Beethoven.

Track 6: Prokofiev – Piano Sonata No. 3 (Played by Gary Graffman)
As well as being a barnstormer of a piece – by turns bubbly, dark and achingly tender – it reminds me of one of the few childhood masterclasses I remember fondly, given by Tamás Ungár, in which he drew attention to how everything is a melody in Prokofiev. It also brings to mind Gary Graffman’s well-documented struggles with injury, which resonates with my own journey – though quite different in its details – of studying with Sophia Rosoff and developing Piano Portals.

Track 7: Jim Moray – Horkstow Grange
I simply had to include some folk – it’s close to my new religion. It helped me to discover my ‘voice’ as (so far, an amateur) singer and songwriter. Playing my own folk song arrangements helped to kickstart my journey towards fluent, expressive piano technique and Piano Portals. This a cappella version of a poignant story invokes a tear every time.

Track 8: House Avengers – Something Special
It’s impossible to choose just one EDM track (Electronic Dance Music), as I love so many aspects of the genre. This reminds me of driving around central London one evening, many years ago, cocooned in my old yellow car, the outside world blurring like a time-lapse. My love of EDM has massively influenced my own piano compositions.

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