Category Archives: Victoria Library

Take Three Girls

Aisha Meade at Westminster Music Library, December 2014 Sue Yieng Lee at Westminster Music Library, December 2014 Aurelia Apanavičiūtė at Westminster Music Library, December 2014

When a talented flautist, pianist and soprano with a shared passion for classical music all found themselves studying together for music degrees at Middlesex University, it seemed like a golden opportunity to combine forces and form themselves into a musical trio. So why not go a step further and share your passion with an audience? We in Westminster Music Library like to think that we’re helping young new talent by offering them a chance to play to the public. OK we’re not The Wigmore Hall, but in order to progress in the highly competitive world of music performance, you have to get that first step into the public domain, and finding venues for chamber groups is not always an easy task.

So it was that a packed Westminster Music Library welcomed Aisha, Aurelia and Sue last Thursday evening, and sat back to enjoy a varied and delightful programme of music ranging from baroque to the present day.

Concert flautist Aisha Meade has performed in such exalted venues as Cadogan Hall, The Barbican and The Royal Festival Hall; soprano Aurelia Apanavičiūtė, although originally a pianist from the age of four, was recently discovered to have “something of a voice”, and pianist Sue Yieng Lee, having already achieved one music degree, is now studying hard for another in performance at Goldsmith’s University.  A multi-talented trio if ever there was one.

Their programme opened with Poulenc’s Sonata for flute and piano; this sonata is as typical of Poulenc as anything he ever wrote, combining elegant charm and sophistication, conjuring up an image of fashionable Parisian boulevard cafés. Although titled ‘sonata’, none of the three movements is in sonata form, and the flute is definitely the star, with the piano cast only in a supporting role. A challenging piece to perform and one which Aisha appears to have mastered with ease.

We were then treated to four works in which the whole trio could showcase their talents: Le Rossignol by Delibes, Caccini’s Ave Maria, the famous song by Schubert – An Silvia, and Pie Jesu from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem.  Le Rossignol (the nightingale), a romantic piece written for flute, voice and piano, features a “call and answer” motif between the flute and soprano, mimicking the song of the nightingale, it transported us from a cold and gloomy winter night in London to a warm, summer evening in the French countryside.

After two dazzling piano solos from Sue – a Schubert  impromptu and an intermezzo by Mexican composer Manuel Ponce –  the concert drew to a close with Sunstreams, a piece for flute and piano by British flautist and composer Ian Clarke, a beautiful piece with a melody that soars up to the very top of the flute.

Aisha Meade, Sue Yieng Lee and Aurelia Apanavičiūtė at Westminster Music Library, December 2014

A memorable evening of relaxing and enjoyable music, played confidently by three girls who are sure to be going places, a sentiment with which our audience seemed to agree:

“It’s lovely to hear such beautiful music and allow students to showcase their talents.”

“Delightful! Most promising young musicians.”

“Most enjoyable – three delightful performers.”

 

[Ruth] 

 

 

 

 

May the force be with you: Six things you might not know about film composer John Williams

John Williams with the Boston Pops OrchestraJohn Williams has written some of the most unforgettable film themes of our generation; his iconic music has lit up the silver screen in films like Star Wars, Jaws and E.T. In an industry shifting away from large orchestral scores, John Williams is the last one standing among traditional film composers.

Here are six facts about the man and his music you might not know…

  1. He doesn’t own a computer.

In his small bungalow on the Universal Studio lot, John Williams composes using pencil and paper on a small writing desk next to his 90-year-old Steinway piano. He’s never owned a computer. Why not? He’s probably been too busy composing to ever learn to use one.

  1. He’s really busy.

He’s written over 120 film scores, a symphony, 12 concertos and numerous other symphonic and chamber works. He doesn’t let a day go by without writing something, and although his pace has slowed slightly, he shows no signs of ever stopping.

  1. Only one person has more Academy Award nominations.

And that’s Walt Disney. John Williams has received a total of 47 Academy Award nominations, but he’s only won five.

  1. He started as a jazz pianist.

You can hear him in Henry Mancini’s 1958 Peter Gunn theme playing the famous main riff:

  1. He’s scored all but one of Steven Spielberg’s feature films.

Their forty-year partnership started in 1972. Since then, they have had one of the most important film collaborations in history. Spielberg calls Williams a “chameleon of a composer” because of his ability to match the tone of any theme or subject matter. And the one he didn’t score? The Colour Purple, which was scored by Quincy Jones.

  1. We have recently added a number of John Williams’ orchestral scores to the Westminster Music Library collection!

Including: Music from Star Wars, March from Superman, the theme from Warhorse, March from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone and if you’re feeling ambitious and fancy performing a John Williams medley with your orchestra, we have a set of parts featuring music from Star Wars, Jaws, Superman, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and E.T.

John Williams scores in Westminster Music Library

No orchestra? Then why not try The very best of John Williams arranged for piano solo. Realise the power of the Dark Side…

[Ruth]

For the love of opera

Nico Castel - complete set of opera libretti at Westminster Music LibraryBorn in Lisbon in 1931, American tenor Nico Castel was raised in Venezuela, and finally made his way to New York to pursue his musical interests where he became the first winner of the “Joy in Singing” award which launched his career. Soon after, he made his debut with Santa Fe Opera, New York City Opera, and then the Metropolitan Opera Company where his tenure includes 21 years as staff diction coach.

Nico Castel’s contributions to the world of opera are vast and varied. His over 45 years of work in this field – performing, studying, teaching and developing and perfecting his skills and many talents – have earned him the international acclaim as tenor, teacher, translator and unparalleled diction and style master coach he enjoys today.

Nico Castel is a true polyglot (he speaks fluent Portuguese, German, French, Spanish, Italian and English), a man of vast culture, a multi-talented artist and scholar, who in addition to having carved himself a career as one of the world’s pre-eminent character operatic tenors, with over 200 roles in his repertoire, has also developed a parallel career as vocal coach and teacher of multilingual lyric diction.

Nico Castel’s heritage and lifetime of knowledge and experience in the fields of language, singing and opera have culminated in his publications of opera libretti translations and diction manuals which after many years of hunting down (due to usage rights, exorbitant shipping costs and some rather uncooperative mid-Atlantic suppliers) Westminster Music Library is now the proud owner of a complete set. It has been described by some pretty starry people as the definitive reference for diction, pronunciation and translation for all of the major operas:

Nico Castel has undertaken a stupendous task with his Operatic Libretti Series — a work that should have been done years ago … How much time these publications could have saved me when studying a new opera! How fortunate are the present day students to be able to refer to these books, constantly improving their understanding of the complete work.
Dame Joan Sutherland

My good friend and colleague of many years, Nico Castel, has undertaken the Herculean task of writing translations and phonetic transcriptions of practically every opera in the current repertoire. It is an undertaking that has engaged the passion so typical of him. These books will become the standard by which a new generation of singers can better understand and interpret their opera roles in a way that was never practicably possible heretofore. Bravo, Nico, for this invaluable legacy!
Placido Domingo, tenor/conductor, Metropolitan Opera

Bravo Maestro!

[Ruth]

 

Stepping into Vaughan Williams’ shoes

Behind the Lines: The music and composers of the First World WarJust when you thought Westminster Music Library’s Behind the Lines programme* was drawing to a close, along comes another workshop, featuring the First World War music of Ralph Vaughan Williams.

This was a specially commissioned adult music workshop for members of Open Age, an organisation with whom Westminster Music Library has forged a fond and fruitful relationship in recent years.

Thanks to generous funding from the Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust, we were able to re-enlist musicians from The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to facilitate a workshop, focusing on the life and music of Vaughan Williams during The Great War, a composer who holds a special place in our hearts as he opened the library to the public in 1948.

This was also to be a morning of ceremony as we were joined by two distinguished guests – Lt. Cdr Tony Pringle and Honorary Alderman Frances Blois – the former to present to the City of Westminster a copy of the magnificent reference guide – Stepping Forward” – a tribute to the Volunteer Military Reservists and Supporting Auxiliaries of Greater London 1908 – 2014, compiled by The Reserve Forces’ and Cadets’ Association for Greater London. The book was first published in 2008 as a simple guide to Titles and Battle Honours of the Territorial Army in Greater London since 1908. This new and revised edition now includes all Reserve unit links with the London Boroughs (including Westminster) and contains historical listings of Reserve Forces Centres and the locations of memorials to the fallen.

Open Age workshop on Vaughan Williams, November 2014

But back to the music… the focus was first on A Pastoral Symphony. Contemplative in nature, it’s a meditation on a lost generation as well as a celebration of the return of peace; the work embodies a hope that the nation might be healed and made whole again.  This symphony is the third of nine symphonies he wrote, and was composed between 1916 and 1921.  It reflects Vaughan Williams’ experiences in France as a wagon orderly during WW1, not the common misconception that it reflected the English countryside.  The final movement of this symphony includes a wordless soprano line, which the group learnt as the first interactive group activity.  In performance, this is often sung by the soprano from a distance to create a sense of space and emptiness, adding a ghostly lament to the music that depicts the tragedy of the war.  The first half of the session also included an in-depth discussion about the composer and his music.

Following a break we moved on to look at Dona Nobis Pacem – a cantata written at a time when the country was slowly awakening to the possibility of a second European conflict.

Premiered in 1936 and with its dramatic settings of Latin liturgical text and Walt Whitman’s poetry, its emphasis is on reconciliation. Dona Nobis Pacem was performed at countless festivals and concerts in the years leading up to the Second World War.

Open Age workshop on Vaughan Williams, November 2014

Given its connections with both World Wars it reminds us that war inevitably brings misery and loss. Vaughan Williams, like everyone else, was a member of his community, and while he was ready to warn his countrymen of the horrors that might lie ahead, he had no hesitation in playing his part in both of the Great Wars once they had started.

Following an interesting discussion between the musicians and participants, the whole group performed their version of two sections of the cantata:  Agnus Dei – a fervent cry for peace, and Dirge for Two Veterans – a mother, portrayed by the moon, watches over the funeral march for her son and husband, who were killed together, symbolic of all families’ losses in lives cut short from one generation to the next.

Presentation of the book 'Stepping Forward' - Open Age workshop on Vaughan Williams, November 2014

Time was rapidly running out on our workshop and there was still an important presentation to be made. On behalf of the Reserve Forces and Cadets’ Association for Greater London, Lt Cdr Tony Pringle presented Honorary Alderman Frances Blois with “Stepping Forward”, in memory of all those men and women from the City of Westminster who gave their lives in the Great War 1914-1918. A fitting finale to our workshop, and one which I suspect RVW would have approved.

[Ruth]


* Between September 2013 and August 2014, to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, Westminster Music Library teamed up with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for a programme of workshops focusing on composers who lived through and were influenced by the conflict.

Funded by Arts Council England, Behind the Lines featured interactive and creative workshops for adults, families and primary and secondary school children and concluded with an inter-generational Summer School and final performance at St John’s Smith Square. Using the resources and collections of Westminster Music Library and the expertise of its staff, the workshops were facilitated by a team of musicians from the RPO.

 

The Last Post: A tribute to the First World War generation

The Last Post projectIn this anniversary year of the outbreak of the Great War, communities across the UK have been commemorating the lives of those who lived through and died in the conflict.

For our part at Westminster Music Library, we in the past year have been exploring the music from the wartime period in our project Behind the Lines; and our participation in Superact’s Last Post Project was an apt culmination.

Fittingly stationed between Remembrance Sunday and Remembrance Day was our poignant “The Last Post” evening. It was our great pleasure to be involved in this project, the initiative of arts organisation Superact (with support from the Department for Communities and Local Government, and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund). Ours was just one of over 230 such events taking place up and down the country between 4 and 18 November, all featuring an all-important rendition of that well-established remembrance tradition: the Last Post. More information can be found at www.thelastpostproject.org.uk.

The Last Post began life humbly, as a bugle call to mark the end of the day in military camps in an era before soldiers had watches. Over the course of the nineteenth century it started to take on a memorial role, being played at the funerals of those killed in battle. During the First World War, as the numbers of those dying grew rapidly, this haunting tune was played with increasing regularity, and now has a central role in the remembrance of the war dead.

Interest in our Last Post event was huge and we were soon so fully booked it was standing room only! The audience of local residents was augmented with the forces of South Westminster and Church Street Community Choirs whom we were delighted to welcome to add extra depth and harmony to the singing. The singing was brilliantly led by Ruth with fine accompaniment from Anthony on the piano.

Last Post Event at Westminster Music Library - November 2014

The evening began with a sing-along featuring all the old favourite First World War songs. Audience, staff and the choirs were in good voice as we launched into It’s a long way to Tipperary and Pack up your troubles – classic uplifting songs from early in the war, reflecting the nation’s optimism and hope in a swift resolution. It soon transpired, though, that the war would last longer than any had dared to conceive. The country’s musical output became more reflective, giving voice to a greater determination and perseverance. Our programme represented this trend with inclusion of the beautiful and wonderfully nostalgic If you were the only girl in the world, Keep the home fires burning and Roses of Picardy.

We then belted out Oh! It’s a lovely war from the satirical music hall show which, when written, tapped into the increasing cynicism as the war dragged on. When the Americans entered the war they brought their popular songs over with them and we joined in rousing versions of Over there and There’s a long, long trail.

Last Post Event at Westminster Music Library - November 2014To give our singing voices some rest, our songs were interspersed with readings from Ruth. We heard poems and letters home – some humorous, some sad, but all poignant, reflecting the varying experiences of those who lived both through the trenches and on the home front.

Our final song was, perhaps inevitably, the ever popular Good-bye-ee, but the evening’s climax was still to come. As the applause died down, hidden from sight behind the bookshelves, came the words of Laurence Binyon’s poem ‘For the Fallen’, movingly recited by Andrew. You could hear a pin drop. After a moment’s pause we heard the opening notes of the Last Post. The audience spontaneously stood in respect as this ever-moving bugle call, brilliantly played by Jon, broke through the still silence. As the music came to an end, we paused for two minutes’ reflection.

And so our tribute to the First World War generation came to a close. The contrast between the lively sing along and the intensity of the Last Post at the end was stark and heartrending.

Here are some comments from members of the audience:

“A lovely evening with readings and songs and a very moving Last Post”

“Wonderful to have a singing event! Very nostalgic and very moving”

“Wonderful – released all sorts of emotions- excellent readings by Ruth. Whole concert was well thought out and performed”

Finally, we would like to extend our gratitude to South Westminster and Church Street Community Choirs for their support.

Here are Andrew and Jon performing The Last Post:

The Last Post Project: sponsors and supporting organisations

[Andrew and Jon]

A swell party

A Celebration of Cole Porter at Westminster Music Library, October 2014“A packed house of satisfied customers,” - so said Irving Berlin upon attending a performance of Cole Porter’s ‘Can-Can’ in 1953; and, indeed, matching feedback from attendees of Westminster Music Library’s Celebration of Cole Porter proved that Porter’s music continues to stir up the same enthusiasm today.

“Most enjoyable – loved by the audience,” wrote one guest, while another commented, “These events give us a kick!” – a reference to Porter’s timeless song  I Get a Kick out of You.

Our Celebration of Cole Porter marked the 50th anniversary of the prolific songwriter’s death, and the evening’s programme spanned nearly 30 years of tireless composition, featuring songs from Paris (1928) through to High Society (1956). In classic Westminster Music Library form, audience participation was encouraged and our guests became fellow performers as we piped our way through classic numbers such as Anything Goes and I’ve Got You Under My Skin, led by Anthony on piano and ‘Principal Chorister’, Ruth! We also heard a selection of anecdotes, extracts from letters and biographical details about Porter’s fascinating life, in addition to a number of solo performances from Anthony on piano, demonstrating the wide variety of interpretations that Porter’s songs have been treated to over the years.

A Celebration of Cole Porter at Westminster Music Library, October 2014

 

Our guests’ confident singing and familiarity with all the evening’s numbers, some 50 years on, is sufficient to prove that Porter had a gift for penning enduring songs. His training in violin and piano at a young age surely contributed to a great understanding of music, and reports of his infamous rigorous self-discipline demonstrate that his lasting success was indeed earned through unflagging work. His lyrical output, too, exhibits a certain knack for communicating with the listener. As we heard during our event:

“His lyrics were literate, sophisticated, yet could be charming, suggestive, even naughty.”

Perhaps this natural ability to resonate in relevance to the audience is a key factor in determining the secret of Porter’s success. Indeed, our closing song, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, speaks just as loudly in 21st century London as it did in 1950s America:

“Who wants to be a millionaire? (I don’t!)
And go to every swell affair? (I don’t!)

Who wants an opera box, I’ll bet? (I don’t!)
And sleep through Wagner at the Met? (I don’t!)
I don’t, and I don’t, ‘cause all I want is you!”

[Jonathan]

Miraculous Mandolins

“Our mandolin ensemble would like to perform at Westminster Music Library”

“Fantastic! Err… how many of you will there be?”

“Oh just sixteen or so…”

Well I like a challenge and we’d never hosted a mandolin ensemble before – how could I refuse? So it was that sixteen enthusiastic musicians – not just mandolins but also double bass, guitars, mandolas (aka the mandolin’s big brother), and not forgetting talented Musical Director James Young – arrived here last Thursday evening, all tuned up and raring to go.

Sure enough, fitting all our musicians and audience into one small space was a challenge, but everyone was soon settled without too much loss of elbow room.

The London Mandolin Ensemble at Westminster Music Library, October 2014

The London Mandolin Ensemble (indeed the only mandolin ensemble in London) was formed in 2012 (they have revived in name the original London Mandolin Ensemble, which first met in London in the early 1970s) by a group of enthusiastic amateur musicians who discovered a shared passion for making music on this diminutive plucked string instrument. Their goal is to maintain the tradition of an ongoing mandolin ensemble in London, and to encourage an interest in mandolin orchestras (which were hugely popular in the UK up until the 1930s), through performance, workshops and master classes.

The concert began with an arrangement of Valentine Roeser’s Sonata no. 6. Originally written for two mandolins and guitar with an added bass continuo part, Roeser is known to have worked in Paris from about 1762 – 1782. There’s a hint of Vivaldi about his style and form but with a little more kick.

This was followed by an anonymously written Partita Antiqua, new to us but famous amongst mandolin aficionados.

The first half of the concert ended with a Mandolin Concerto by Johann Adolf Hasse. Though Hasse was a prolific 18th-century composer whose works included more than 100 operas, oratorios, and sinfonias, most were destroyed in the Siege of Dresden. This surviving concerto for mandolin is an outstanding representation of his skill, brilliantly performed by The Ensemble and featuring guest soloist Travis Finch.

Suitably refreshed, we returned to two arrangements of keyboard sonatas by baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti. Something of a prolific chap, he wrote more than 600 keyboard sonatas including many not yet listed, newly discovered ones and doubtful ones, they certainly lend themselves brilliantly to the mandolin.

A leap forward in time to the twentieth century with Rêverie de Poète by  the Italian composer Giuseppe Manente, and finally, the pièce de résistance, the first movement of Palladio by Karl Jenkins. This arrangement of one of Jenkins’s most recognized works was inspired by 16th-century architect Andrea Palladio and is in the style of a concerto grosso. It certainly sounded very familiar, Musical Director James commented: “just think about buying diamonds”*

The London Mandolin Ensemble gave a captivating and very warmly received performance which ended far too soon, but the good news is they’ll be back here next February; I’m booking myself a front row seat right now.

The London Mandolin Ensemble at Westminster Music Library, October 2014

[Ruth]

*Palladio, in varying arrangements, has served as the music for diamond merchants DeBeers TV advertising campaigns since the 1960s. Have a listen to this performance by the Het Consort: