20 November 2023

Silent Monks sing Hallelujah! Chorus.


This recent YouTube discovery might amuse readers. I think it’s brilliant!


16 October 2023

Martyn Brabbins resigns from ENO

Martyn Brabbins submitted his resignation tonight (15 October) after seven years as music director of English National Opera, saying that he could not continue to serve in a company whose board was proposing heavy personnel cuts to the orchestra and chorus.

He issued the following statement:

‘As Music Director of English National Opera for the past seven years, and Head of its orchestra, chorus and music staff, I cannot in all conscience continue to support the Board and Management’s strategy for the future of the company. While my feelings on this have been developing for some time, it reached its nadir this week, with the internal announcement of severe cuts to its orchestra and chorus from 2024/25 season. In protest, this afternoon I tendered my resignation with immediate effect.

‘Although making cuts has been necessitated by Arts Council England’s interference in the company’s future, the proposed changes would drive a coach and horses through the artistic integrity of the whole of ENO as a performing company, while also singularly failing to protect our musicians’ livelihoods.

‘This is a plan of managed decline, rather than an attempt to rebuild the company and maintain the world-class artistic output, for which ENO is rightly famed.

‘I urge ACE to reassess this situation and recognise the devastating implications their funding decisions will have on the lives of individual musicians, as well the reputation of the UK on the international stage.

‘My wholehearted thanks and support go out to the entire ENO team, especially those in the departments I oversaw. I am incredibly proud of everything we accomplished, and I sincerely hope that the company will find a path that puts exceptional artistry front and centre of its future.’

30 September 2023

Music review: Suffolk Villages Festival opening concert


This late celebration in Hadleigh was enjoyed by Garry Humphreys

THE Suffolk Villages Festival began in 1988 as the Stoke by Nayland Festival of Georgian Music, and since then has gone from strength to strength, offering programmes of music from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, sacred and secular, vocal and instrumental, including semi-staged and concert performances of early operas, all under the artistic direction of the musicologist, harpsichordist, and conductor Peter Holman.

Although there are concerts from autumn to spring, the Festival itself takes place over the August Bank Holiday, this year encompassing music by Bach (at Stoke by Nayland), Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven (the Revolutionary Drawing Room Quartet at Wivenhoe), Elizabethan and Jacobean virginals music (Steven Devine at Sudbury), and ending with Purcell’s The Fairy Queen (directed by Peter Holman at Hadleigh).

It was at St Mary’s, Hadleigh, that this year’s Festival opened with a concert postponed from last October because of Covid: “Heinrich Schütz: Drama, Virtuosity & Splendour”, featuring the tenor Charles Daniels with the vocal ensemble Psalmody and the John Jenkins Consort, directed by Peter Holman. The concert was originally planned to mark the 350th anniversary in 2022 of the death of Heinrich Schütz.

Schütz was Johann Sebastian Bach’s greatest predecessor, renowned for his vivid and profound biblical scenes — “a counterpart to Rembrandt”. The focus was on his work for the Dresden Court during the Thirty Years’ War, with music ranging from virtuoso solo motets (sung by Daniels) to large-scale pieces for multiple soloists, divided choirs, a five-part string consort, harpsichord, and organ.

A pre-concert talk by Professor Stephen Rose of Royal Holloway, University of London — “Schütz and the Thirty Years’ War”  was an enthralling and illuminating introduction to the background. It pointed out the limitations imposed by the War and resulting in music on a smaller scale than would have been normal (and musicians sometimes not receiving payment for a year or more), besides reflecting the spirit of the times.

Schütz, well aware of developments in Italy, spent time in Venice in the early years of the 17th century, studying with Monteverdi and subsequently using Italian-style ornamentation and sometimes Latin words, which did not conflict with Schütz’s German Protestantism; for Latin was regarded as a sort of lingua franca.

What this concert demonstrated more than anything was Schütz’s remarkable range of textures, emotions, and atmosphere, deriving from the use of different forces: solos, groups of voices, and the full choir. Striking moments were Himmel und Erde for three basses and Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich?, with its restless invocations of the crowd.

The heaviest responsibility was that of Charles Daniels, who sang several of Schütz’s solo pieces from Symphoniae Sacrae and the Geistliche Konzerte, besides taking part in larger-scale works, dispatching the coloratura with intense conviction. Soloists from Psalmody were also heard, the sopranos Gill Wilson and Annabel Malton and the tenor Zachary Kleanthous being particularly worthy of mention.

There was instrumental music, too, from the John Jenkins Consort. For me, the highlight of the evening was their playing of Johann Rosenmüller’s Sonata da Camera (1667) — such delicacy and vitality. The bass-violin continuo player, Louise Jameson, must be congratulated for her artistic underpinning of every piece in the programme.

Drama, virtuosity, and splendour was, indeed, what we heard from these different combinations of voices and instruments — heavenly music despite the War — and an imaginative and enjoyable introduction to this year’s Festival.

08 September 2023

The Amazing Vaughan Savidge!

Apologies for the long gap since my last post – and for this perhaps rather silly one – but here is an extract from the LinkedIn page for Vaughan Savidge, former BBC Radio Four continuity announcer and newsreader, indicating a remarkably long career, dating from even before radio was invented. And he’s still going strong!

In the circumstances, his comments are more amusing than perhaps he intended!

  • Voice over artist, film dubbing artist, writer

    different companies in a freelance capacity

     - Present 123 years

    It seems much, much longer.

  • Newsreader and announcer

    BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 3, Economist podcast

     - 117 years 7 months

    **** NOW with added HOME STUDIO ****

    It seems longer.

  • Gob

    BBC WS

     - 97 years

11 April 2023

Guardian cartoon pokes fun at National Trust management


30 March 2023

Classical Music: funding and support - Parliamentary debate


Message from the composer James MacMillan:

An Adjournment Debate has been scheduled today [29 March] for Parliament on funding and support for classical music. I was asked for a quote by BASCA [the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors]:

“The damage being done to classical music by people who should know better – at the BBC and the Arts Council – could impact disastrously on the musical culture of this country in the coming years. Musicians have been nurtured by these organisations over the years and the UK has earned an enviable international reputation for its music as a result. To see these erstwhile allies of culture now turn on us for short term mean-mindedness or ideological prejudice is a body blow for British music. Those responsible need to step back and reassess why they have had any involvement in music and culture in their lives. Let them see the bigger picture – British music is a success story. Please don’t ruin it.”

Here’s a link to the debate:


18 March 2023

BBC music cuts: responses consolidated

Here’s a link to a collection of the various objections to the BBC music cuts:


In addition, the composer John Adams has written:

‘As an American conductor and composer my admiration for British musical culture knows no bounds. For all my life the BBC has been the go-to access for its phenomenal orchestras and choruses, its commitment to opera and new music ensembles and for providing a platform for generations of brilliant and imaginative composers. But now we Americans hear only the worst stories coming from the UK, as if the country is on a determined self-destruct freefall. The BBC now apparently wants to join the march to the bottom by cutting its invaluable institutions. Like the crazed character in the movie The Banshees of Inisherin, it is determined to lop off its own fingers, one by one. I am honored to add my name to this list of composers to ask the BBC to come to its senses and cease trashing the best thing it possesses.’

John Adams, 14 March 2023

11 March 2023

BBC music cuts: interesting comment on Slipped Disc

There was once a culture of Directors General and heads of departments being members of the company that ascended through the ranks. By the time they reached the top, they had learned the value of the entire organization and would seek to further its excellence. This is no more.

Davie, Webb, Moore, et al are suits who have been hired for one reason and one reason only: they’re really really good at filling balance sheets. No appreciation for the cultural importance of the BBC, they simply exist to fill a spreadsheet and log expenses and revenue. They’re simply machines designed to make the automatic cuts that justify maintaining their outrageous ExCo salaries whilst the workers underneath them max out at 20-40k a year.

It’s a crime against humanity that these ensembles are being hacked to the bone but still expected to deliver top quality results. It’s a crime against humanity that the BBC Concert Orchestra and Symphony Orchestra will be merged under one management, whilst being expected to maintain the current output of vastly differing repertoire. It’s a crime against humanity that workforces within the BBC are being forced into voluntary redundancy and their positions are being closed, yet the workload doesn’t get thinner. And it’s especially a crime against humanity that Simon Webb will not be getting a pay cut for his now dwindling responsibilities, he may even get to keep the 'choirs' part of his title despite the BBC Singers being gone.

And what was the response to this? A strongly worded letter? From conductors who hold either chief or principal guest positions elsewhere and will have no issue maintaining active diaries in the wake of this loss?

Or how about a protest in front of Broadcasting House? Surely we don’t really expect Simon Webb and Tim Davie to actually be present in their offices when these protests might occur. Do we really think that this will change their minds?

I hear that change.org petition is gaining traction, but do you really think Webb, Moore, Davie et al will be bothered by it? They have no humanity, they don’t care. They get their salaries and piss off to the Bahamas periodically during the winter on private jets.

Nothing that is currently being done about this will have any real impact. I would expect that the conductors in that letter have some kind of moral high ground and choose to boycott the Proms. Would any of the guest orchestras from outside the UK do the same in solidarity? How about whichever famous soloist they line up for the Last Night?

Furthermore, how come there doesn’t seem to be any solidarity on the part of non-music BBC branches? We don’t hear a peep from the newscasters, the producers, the artists affiliated with the BBC’s mass output of television series. Would the stars of the new Dr Who series care to speak out? Maybe they can hold off on airing the 60th anniversary special until Webb gets his head back on right and undoes this damage?

09 March 2023

Proposed BBC music cuts

The letter below was delivered last night to Tim Davie, the BBC’s director-general. The signatories are the BBC’s leading conductors:

To Tim Davie, Charlotte Moore, Lorna Clarke and Simon Webb:
We, the undersigned, read with disbelief Tuesday’s press release outlining the BBC’s plans to disband the BBC Singers and instigate 20% cuts across the English BBC orchestras.

The worldwide renown of the BBC Singers – the UK’s only full-time, professional choir – has been built over 99 years of groundbreaking, innovative work. To kill it off takes no time at all, but the ramifications of such short-sightedness are incalculable. This decision, if carried out, will be devastating not just to the choir’s present, uniquely-skilled members, but also to future generations of singers. And even a quick glance at the list of world premieres given by the group begs the question – for which professional choir will our composers now compose? Wherever culture is taken seriously the BBC Singers are regarded as exemplars of what dedication, versatility and slowly-built foundations can achieve. To be willing to consign all this to the dustheap in favour of greater 'agility' and 'flexibility' displays a shocking disregard not only of how artistic excellence takes root but, furthermore, how the BBC’s great legacy across the arts is viewed and envied around the world.

Rewarding the outstanding work of our orchestras with bit-by-bit erosion is equally calamitous. Aside from the jargon, to claim that by cutting jobs you are somehow 'reinforcing the distinctiveness of the BBC’s unique orchestras' is nonsensical. And what is the use of 'doubling funding for music education and launching new training initiatives' if at the same time you reduce the number of secure jobs available? Telling our best young instrumentalists that hard graft will gain them only freelance scraps is to misunderstand both their aspirations as well as the nature of a top-class symphony orchestra. The latter can only produce its best work in a stable environment – an environment forged by mutual understanding and a shared vision. To perform the widest repertoire to the highest standard cannot be achieved otherwise. And so we beg you to reconsider making these irreversible, catastrophically damaging cuts.

Excellence must be fought for, and lovers of classical music must be prepared to fight with fierce determination for what they hold dear. Hence we would greatly welcome the opportunity to discuss the proposed plans in person and to enter into a real and genuine dialogue. Together, as guardians of the BBC’s legacy, we can surely forge a path forward – a path which secures the ability of the BBC’s
ensembles to deliver excellence for our present and future audiences. This is no less than they expect and deserve.

Ryan Bancroft – Principal Conductor, BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Jules Buckley – Creative Artist in Residence, BBC Symphony Orchestra
Semyon Bychkov – Günter Wand Conducting Chair, BBC Symphony Orchestra
Alpesh Chauhan OBE – Associate Conductor, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Bob Chilcott – Principal Guest Conductor, BBC Singers
Sofi Jeannin – Chief Conductor, BBC Singers
Anna Lapwood – Artist in Association, BBC Singers
Sakari Oramo OBE – Chief Conductor, BBC Symphony Orchestra (pictured)
Dalia Stasevska – Principal Guest Conductor, BBC Symphony Orchestra

Ilan Volkov – Principal Guest Conductor, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Ryan Wigglesworth – Chief Conductor, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

15 January 2023

Ronald Blythe

There have been so many deaths of people about whom I could write, but did not want to turn this blog into an obituary column! However, news of the death yesterday of Ronald Blythe prompts me at least to refer anyone reading this to the wonderful obituary in the Guardian by Patrick Barkham, at https://www.theguardian.com/books/2023/jan/15/ronald-blythe-obituary

I missed Akenfield when it came out in 1969 but, of course, since moving to Suffolk it has become of particular interest. I first came to notice and appreciate Ronnie’s work when I started to subscribe to the Church Times, as the only way of getting a copy of my own reviews when I started writing for it, and read – usually before anything else – his weekly back-page column, ‘Word from Wormingford’, which I invariably enjoyed. I once wrote to tell him so, and received a lovely reply. His memories of working for Britten and Pears were also very fascinating, especially as told in his book The Time by the Sea (2013). He did well to reach his centenary while still living independently at home.

I never met him, but I thank him for his wonderful evocations of Suffolk life, never sentimental, but always with the ring of truth. May he rest in peace and rise in glory!

01 January 2023

New Year’s fireworks

It was an absolutely stunning fireworks display to welcome 2023 in London, and it cost £1.5 million!

I’m sure homeless people on the streets, those at home cold from trying to save energy, people forced to use foodbanks, would have really loved this demonstration of so much money going up in smoke that could have eased their burdens somewhat (and repeated at various venues around the country).

Not to mention the pollution being thrown into the atmosphere at a time when carbon emissions have already done irreparable damage to our climate and to curb which we are making sacrifices in the hope of easing the situation.

The estimated 100,000 people watching at £15 a head would of course cover the cost, but the pollution problem would still be there, and there would be no benefit to others on whom such a sum of money might have been spent. (And how many new Covid cases will result from so many people in close proximity to each other?)

Sorry to be a killjoy but the country is in a very serious situation and this simply won’t do. The mayor has questions to answer.