The Week in Classic: Manchester Collective & Abel Selaocoe; Music@Malling; Music x Museums | Classical music


VSuriosity, like Abel Selaocoe reminded us in his welcome Manchester CollectiveThe first date at Queen Elizabeth Hall is the key to music, to its future, to its vitality. The multi-talented cellist, who grew up in a South African township and completed his formal education in Manchester Royal Northern College of Music, is right. It is the sap itself. This applies as much to an ensemble like the Collective, which plays experimental concerts, dresses as it sees fit, puts on its shoes or not, and moves freely from one style to another, to a symphony orchestra performing Brahms or a choir singing Handel. Each live performance is both a first and a last. How do musicians assume this responsibility? You know the issue hasn’t been addressed when a good performance falls flat. There was no danger here. Energy and intensity prevailed.

Already a fixture in pioneering venues such as Kings Place, Selaocoe has established a large following. Now everyone wants a bit of his magic. His rise, achieved through virtuosity and hard work as well as charm and flair, was swift and deserved. The same goes for the Collective. Founded in 2016, their journey from offbeat venues (I first heard them in an old cricket bat factory three years ago) to main stage prominence is nothing short of remarkable. Their challenge will be to maintain their characteristic sense of risk and open-mindedness. Under the musical direction of the violinist Rakhi Singh they have every chance.

Their program with Selaocoe, called the oracleranging from improvisation to Vivaldi and Stravinsky – played crisply and incisively, with restrained additions of electric guitar, talking drum and gourd – to In Nomine, by 16th-century English composer Picforth, and a haunting, slippery nocturne and nebulous, by Oliver Leith, Full Like Drips, by honey mermaid (2020). Mica Levi’s Love, world premieres of own compositions by Selaocoe Camagu, Tshepo and Kae Mo Rata (in which we joined in the vocals) and a traditional Danish song, Bridal Piece, completed this exuberant set. You can watch it (for free) at 4 p.m. today on Manchester Collective website or Youtube channel.

Just as wild in a totally different way was the whole day Music@Malling festival: Bach’s six Brandenburg concertos paired with six world premiere commissions, contrasting in style but sympathetic to each other and to Bach. This annual event is the brainchild of conductor Thomas Kemp, the music superbly performed by Estate Room and star harpsichordist steven devin who, alternating with Kemp, conducted from the keyboard. The glorious setting is Malling Abbey in Kent, one of the first women’s monasteries after the Norman Conquest, suppressed in 1538 (the nuns’ refusal to surrender is a separate and gripping story) and now a convent again active Benedictine.

Doing justice to each composer is impossible, but in the order of the concertos that inspired their works: Brian Elias Suite, colored by the sound of three oboes, bassoon and horns, had the precision and brilliance of marquetry. In The Malling Diamond, Michael Price keeps everything in a shimmering balance then gives free rein to the trumpet (dazzling playing by Neil Brough). Deborah Pritchard’s Illumination, distinguished by solo violin and prominent double bass pizzicato, reflected the expansive sound of the strings of Brandenburg No. 3.

Flautists Emma Murphy and Louise Bradbury perform at Music@Malling. Photography: Tom Bowles

At this point, I was relieved that we didn’t have voting buttons: each work spoke so eloquently of Bach that there was no choice between them. Daniel Kidane’s Concerto Grosso experimented with microtones of strings and magnificent leaps and bounds of two recorders. Bach’s Shadows by Joseph Phibbs, played as a prelude to Brandenburg No. 5, drew ghostly trills from the harpsichord, in a poetic duet with solo flute. Finally, Stevie Wishart’s Gold and Precious Silver began and ended with a recorded blackbird song and featured both violas. It was inserted before the last movement of No. 6, so we ended the day with expanded minds and ears, with Bach. It all happened in a flash. Let’s hope that other ensembles perform these complementary pieces.

In a week with so many new releases, another company has stood out. Music x Museumsinitiated by the conductor Olivier Zeffman, is a series of concerts in major museums (starting last year at the V&A). All are filmed for future streaming. Coinciding with the recent British Library publication Beethoven: idealist, innovator, icon exhibition, the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, directed by Zeffman, performed Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral” and the Choral Fantasy. The first editions of the two works appeared in the exhibition, which we were able to visit beforehand.

The concert took place in the main atrium of the British Library. In a visual and auditory coup, Bach’s choir delivered its short, punchy contribution to the choral fantasy from the top of the stairs, with Peter Donohoe, the classy soloist, and the orchestra below. Next : May 17 at the Science Museumfeaturing two 1960s classics, Terry Riley’s In C and Harrison Birtwistle Tragoedy. And on July 12, Sarah Connolly is on board the Cutty Sarksinging Elgar Pictures of the sea the safety of a drydock.

Star ratings (out of five)
Manchester Collective & Abel Selaocoe
Music x Museums


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