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Michael White’s music news: Mark Simpson; Opera Holland Park; Wigmore Hall free livestreams

16 April, 2021 — By Michael White

Mark Simpson. Photo: marksimpsonmusic.com

THERE aren’t too many operas where the curtain rises on a subterranean urinal in a gay bar with a sympathetic toilet cleaner (aka the prima donna) who delivers motherly advice to her itinerant clientele. So when the boundary-extending Pleasure premiered five years ago under the aegis of the Royal Opera House, it generated instant notoriety for its composer: the dynamic, young Mark Simpson. And it turned out to be more than just a flash in the pan, because Simpson has gone on to prove himself one of the most enterprising figures on the modern music scene.
He kept himself busy during lockdown writing a violin concerto for the equally enterprising Nicola Benedetti. And though Covid rules still don’t allow for an audience-present performance – it’s going to be some time before music gets the same freedoms as hairdressers and gyms – the piece will premiere online later this month, with a free-access streaming by the LSO.
Simpson says he was inspired to the write the piece by hearing Benedetti playing Brahms and feeling the performance speak to him as a composer like “a voice saying: this is it. This is why you do it. This is what music is about.”
Benedetti is reciprocally fulsome, describing the process of learning the concerto as “all consuming… it’s had me up at night and taken over my life”. And to make the point, she’s been posting her progress on Instagram.com/nickybenedetti
official For the end result, watch 7pm, April 29 at marquee.tv/series/lso And while you’re waiting, you might want to catch Benedetti playing the Tchaikovsky concerto in an Albert Hall concert available on demand from 7.30pm April 15: tickets £15, rpo.co.uk/whats-on

One of the most fabulous (in every sense of the word) music venues I know is Leighton House, Holland Park – formerly home to the Victorian painter/fantasist Lord Leighton whose pictures were revolting but whose lifestyle was exotic, with interior design to match. They give concerts in what used to be his studio. And if you’ve never seen it, check out the YouTube site of Opera Holland Park which has just posted a recital from there of a Vaughan Williams song cycle: the magical House of Life, sung by tenor David Butt Philip with pianist James Baillieu. It’s a fine performance, available on demand for the rest of the month with free access, though donations to OHP invited. And the good news is that OHP is going ahead with its 2021 season – scheduled to start June 1 with Marriage of Figaro, Cunning Little Vixen, Traviata, and Mascagni’s rarely seen L’Amico Fritz.
Capacity will be just 40 per cent of normal, so book early. operahollandpark.com/season-and-events

The Wigmore Hall’s free livestreams, which have underpinned the cultural life of London during lockdown, are still going strong – with two distinctly stand-out concerts next week: violinist Chloe Hanslip and pianist Danny Driver playing Messiaen and Prokofiev on April 19, and harpsichordist-with-attitude (not to say genius) Mahan Esfahani playing Bach on April 20. Both 7.30pm at wigmore-hall.org.uk , and to be made the most of. As we edge back into life-as-it-was-previously-known, these gifts won’t be around for ever.

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