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Michael White’s classical & jazz news: Richard Wagner; Peter and the Wolf; St Pancras clocktower concerts

03 July, 2020 — By Michael White

Peter and the Wolf

RICHARD Wagner was living proof that great composers are not necessarily great human beings. When he wasn’t writing the most sumptuous, seductive operas of all time, he was seducing other people’s wives, pretending to return the affections of the gay King of Bavaria, and behaving with a monumental arrogance and self-regard hard to believe. But at the same time, it’s a damn good story. And a notorious bit of it has been turned into 45 minutes of music-theatre, streaming online from the empty stage of Grange Park Opera as part of a heroically inventive 2020 rescue-season. Called The View from the Villa, it’s effectively a dramatisation of the steamy song cycle, Wesendonck Lieder, that Wagner wrote when he was living as the guest of a wealthy patron, Otto Wesendonck, while having a tempestuous emotional if not physical affair with Otto’s wife. A sort of bedroom farce ensued that inspired not just the music of the Lieder but the opera Tristan und Isolde. And though it’s not entirely clear what happened, the pianist Iain Burnside has exercised some imagination and created this entertainment: a tragi-comedy to brighten up a locked-down evening when there’s nothing else to watch on TV except reruns of EastEnders. That said, The View from the Villa does bear some resemblance to an EastEnders plot line (with better music). And you can access it from the company website, www.grangeparkopera.co.uk – where you’ll find other interesting things specially created for these godawful times. All of them free-access, though donations are encouraged to help keep the company afloat. Be generous.

ONE of the most charming lockdown projects I’ve come across is a virtual performance of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf put together by the London Mozart Players with some help from their pets, their children and the TV presenter Alexander Armstrong, who narrates. Filmed in what seem to be the performers’ own back gardens, with cartoon inserts, it’s home-made but delightful. And as ever with these things, it’s free online at the LMP’s YouTube site where you can also find a video of an entire concert filmed the other week in the eerily empty Westfield shopping mall: face masks, distancing and all. It looks like a less gory variant on a zombie movie – but that only brings home the terrible truth that the LMP, like so many orchestras, is facing potential extinction. So don’t forget to donate.

I’VE already flagged the City Music Foundation’s weekly invitation to meet at 6pm on Wednesdays for a concert streamed live from St Pancras station clocktower, and there’s a commendable one next week on Wednesday July 8, with violinist Emily Sun and pianist Samson Tsoy playing Schumann, Ysaye and Scriabin. Both artists are on the CMF programme to support young musicians of exceptional talent, and it’s impossible to understate how badly these musicians need support right now. Next Wednesday’s concert is free to watch on the CMF YouTube site, but also accessible from the CMF’s own website www.citymusicfoundation.org where, needless to say, you can donate. Please do.

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