13 January – 11 July 2023
“St Martin-in-the-Fields, the colonnaded landmark on the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square …has been reinvigorated as a venue for high-level concerts,” wrote The Observer in spring 2022. Now, looking forward to next spring, St Martin-in-the-Fields – praised by The Daily Telegraph for its “airy spaces and lively acoustic” – announces its programme for the first half of 2023. Music ranges from Renaissance to the 21st century and from intimate instrumental or vocal music to the grandeur of choral works with orchestra with a rich mix of world class artists and ensembles.
SPRING SEASON AT A GLANCE:
- Sensational US baroque ensemble Apollo’s Fire take up residence for a three-concert weekend
- Benjamin Appl returns for two further highly personal concerts in his three-concert residency
- Theatrical evenings centred on William Byrd and Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges both created by former Director of Music at Shakespeare’s Globe, Bill Barclay
- Instrumental groups include the 12 Ensemble, Apollo’s Fire, Carducci Quartet, English Baroque Soloists conducted by John Eliot Gardiner, The English Concert, Fretwork, London Philharmonic Orchestra and La Serenissima
- Vocal ensembles include Alamire, BBC Singers, Carice Singers, Ex Cathedra, Gesualdo Six, I Fagiolini, Monteverdi Choir, SANSARA, The Sixteen, St Martin’s Voices and Tenebrae
- Soloists include Benjamin Appl, Avi Avital, Peter Donohoe, Isabelle Faust, Jess Gillam, Braimah Kanneh-Mason, Rachel Podger, Christopher Purves and Antoine Tamestit
- Jazz highlights include a welcome return for Jason Rebello with Tim Garland
Central to the artistic offer of St Martin’s, in its radiant acoustic, is outstanding choral music from some of the finest of the UK’s established and upcoming groups.
At the heart of St Martin’s Spring season sits a beautifully-crafted Easter Festival (31 March – 7 April). Taking grief and inwardness as its anchor, it opens with SANSARA directed by Tom Herring, making a welcome return to St Martin’s, performing a concert for choir and electronics in which old and new music collide. The programme juxtaposes Palestrina’s Stabat mater, a renaissance masterpiece for double choir, with the London premiere of a choral-electronic reimagining of the same piece by celebrated British composer Jonathan Harvey. Marking the 10th anniversary year of Harvey’s death, the concert opens with his epic electronic classic Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco.
The subject matter of the Stabat mater, the grief of the Virgin Mary by the Cross, is taken up by The Sixteen (4 April) with a programme entitled ‘A Mother’s Sorrow’; it includes a contemporary Stabat mater by the Russian-British composer Alissa Firsova and works by James MacMillan and Poulenc. Good Friday (7 April) brings Bach’s mighty St John Passion, with St Martin’s Voices and Academy of St Martin in the Fields conducted by Andrew Earis. The next day I Fagiolini close the festival with a concert meditation that interleaves Victoria’s Tenebrae Responses, another of the glories of renaissance choral music, with the profound inwardness of Bach’s solo violin sonatas in the unrivalled interpretations of violinist Rachel Podger.
Candlelit Russian and Estonian Vespers
The first choral concert of 2023 sees a welcome return for Tenebrae, bringing its superlative artistry to Rachmaninov’s Vespers, a work regarded as among the most challenging to perform in the a capella repertory [26 Jan].
In an acknowledgement that the spirituality of great music can bring people together when world events divide them, this Russian Vespers is paralleled by a candlelit Estonian Vespers, devoted to music by Arvo Pärt and other composers from Estonia, which celebrates its Independence Day on 24 February. It includes the London premiere of Pärt’s O Holy Father Nicholas, a significant recent work composed for the reopening of New York’s St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at Ground Zero after its destruction in the 9/11 attacks. The performers are the Carice Singers, directed by George Parris [23 Feb]. This rising young ensemble is named after Elgar’s daughter and they return on 2 June to celebrate the composer’s 166th birthday with a programme of his part-songs and those of his contemporaries Rebecca Clarke and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, the latter described by Elgar as ‘far away the cleverest fellow going amongst the young men.’
The Tudors, Byrd anniversary, the English renaissance and a towering baroque masterpiece
January closes with ‘Secret Byrd’, co-commissioned by St Martin-in-the-Fields and heralding the 400th anniversary of William Byrd’s death, which falls in July 2023. Byrd’s Mass for five voices is theatrically staged in St Martin’s Crypt as it was meant to be heard: by secret worshippers under threat of persecution in Tudor England. For these world premiere performances, Fretwork and The Gesualdo Six create a candlelit community with the audience, breaking bread and celebrating Byrd’s ravishing masterpiece. A costumed, candlelit performance conceived by Bill Barclay and Concert Theatre Works, the event salutes Byrd’s role as a Roman Catholic active in the closing years of the English Reformation, and a leading composer of the first Elizabethan Age [27 & 28 Jan].
An earlier phase of the Tudor Era is evoked with ‘Anne Boleyn’s Songbook’, a concert in which Alamire, directed by David Skinner, sings music from Anne Boleyn’s own songbook, collected by her and kept with her throughout her short life. Choral music for choir, and solo voice with lute and harp, is interspersed with readings from the love letters of Henry VIII and Anne – courtship, to marriage, to execution. [17 Feb].
The focus is once again on William Byrd when The Sixteen and Harry Christophers return to St Martin-in-the-Fields on their 2023 Choral Pilgrimage. They place him in the context of his influences (notably the Flemish composer Clemens non Papa) and his colleagues (such as Philip van Wilder, also from Flanders). Paying a contemporary tribute to Byrd are two psalm settings by the Bulgarian-born British composer Dobrinka Tabakova, who has been praised by The Strad for her “glowing tonal harmonies and grand, sweeping gestures [which] convey a huge emotional depth” [13 Jun].
On 17 March Ex Cathedra, conducted by Jeffrey Skidmore, take us back to his first love, English renaissance music by Byrd, Tallis, Sheppard, Tomkins, and Gibbons, while on 24 April Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducts the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists in one of the towering masterpieces of religious choral music, Bach’s Mass in B Minor. St Martin-in-the-Fields is the London home of the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra, and Sir John Eliot’s profound insights into Bach’s music, gained through a lifetime of peerless performances and recordings, make this performance an unmissable season highlight.
St Martin’s Voices continue its series of hour-long ‘Beyond the Dawn’ concerts exploring themes of philosophy and discovery. ‘In the Beginning’ features unaccompanied choral works exploring The Creation story such as Copland’s setting of In the Beginning and Rautavarra’s The First Runo [17 Feb], while ‘Fire Songs’ includes madrigals old and new on themes of love, loss and yearning by Lauridsen, Chilcott, Strozzi and Morely [9 Mar]. The series includes the world premiere of a newly commissioned setting of Henry Vaughan’s I Saw Eternity by Lucy Walker in a concert focussing on metaphysical poetry [15 Jun].
ORCHESTRAS AND INSTRUMENTAL ENSEMBLES
The St Martin’s Spring Season opens on 13 January with a concert of Haydn and Mozart in which the English Baroque Soloists are again conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner at their London base. Its centrepiece is Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante with the starry duo of violinist Isabelle Faust and viola player Antoine Tamestit.
Apollo’s Fire Weekend and Vivaldi with a difference
Apollo’s Fire – the GRAMMY-winning ensemble from Cleveland, Ohio, described as the ‘USA’s hottest baroque band’ by Classical Music Magazine – returns to the UK for the first time since 2015 for a series of three concerts at St Martin’s in April.
‘The Four Seasons Rediscovered’ brings all the ensemble’s vibrancy, skill, imagination and flair to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – in the first of three very different takes on this great work at St Martin’s between April and June. That same evening, in a late-night event called ‘Blues Café 1610’, held in St Martin’s famous Crypt, Apollo’s Fire takes us on a pub crawl around the taverns of the early seventeenth century, immersing the audience in a vibrant cultural fusion of ballads and lively dances from around the world [15 Apr]. In their third concert, ‘Exiles’, an ensemble including Jewish, Palestinian and African American artists explore the experience of uprooted and dispossessed Jewish and African peoples with music from renaissance and baroque Italy, and from the Ashkenazy, Sephardic, and North African traditions. [17 Apr].
Vivaldi makes his first notable appearance of the season on 1 February when La Serenissima builds on the success of its acclaimed album of double concertos, Vivaldi x2. Directed by Adrian Chandler it presents a selection of his double concertos for pairs of flutes, violins, oboes and cellos, and also a lavish concerto scored for two flutes, two oboes, violin, cello, harpsichord, strings and continuo, named Il Proteo ò Il mondo al rovvescio.
The Four Seasons, Vivaldi’s great set of descriptive concertos, has always been a core element of the popular candlelit concerts at St Martin’s and wherever possible the church aims to present the work in a fresh manner, both through the most dynamic period-instrument performances, or in new versions. Following the Apollo’s Fire weekend in April, La Serenissima – again directed by Adrian Chandler – performs Vivaldi’s greatest hit once more two months later, this time in the so-called Manchester Version. This edition of the four concertos was made from the original manuscripts preserved in Manchester Central Library. Since they are thought to predate the first printed edition of the works, the Manchester Version represents Vivaldi’s intentions with the utmost possible fidelity [29 Jun].
12 Ensemble do Vivaldi differently on 16 June, performing Max Richter’s Four Seasons Recomposed. When it was first heard in the US (in 2012) The New York Times wrote: “Mr. Richter’s recreation, scored for electronics and ensemble including harpsichord, reflects many of his influences, which range from Baroque composers like Purcell to electronica, dance music and punk.”
Earlier in the season, 12 Ensemble looks history straight in the eye with a programme entitled ‘Tragedy & Totalitarianism’. It comprises two works from the mid-20th century, both responding to the tragedy of war and specifically to the destruction of Dresden: Richard Strauss’s deeply elegiac Metamorphosen and Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony in C minor, Op 110a – Rudolf Barshai’s transcription of the String Quartet No. 8, which Shostakovich wrote in 1960 after a visit to East Germany. The same quartet in its original form is the final work in the Carducci Quartet’s concert, ‘Testimonies of War’ on 20 April. It is preceded by two works that recall the Holocaust: Steve Reich’s Different Trains and Oswaldo Golijov’s Yiddishbuk, which commemorates three children who were interned at the Terezín concentration camp. Their poems will be read in the concert [23 Mar].
Internationally acclaimed cellist Johannes Moser joins Academy of St Martin in the Fields to direct an all-strings programme of JS Bach, CPE Bach, Corelli, Biber and Geminiani [9 Feb]. Academy of St Martin in the Fields returns in July with ‘explosively charismatic’ (The New York Times) mandolin virtuoso Avi Avital for Anna Clyne’s ‘Three Sisters’ concerto – premiered by Avital in 2017 and one of more than 100 contemporary works written for him – and his own arrangement of Bach’s A minor Violin Concerto. The programme is topped and tailed with works by Tippett and Walton [11 Jul].
Coming to St Martin’s for the first time with her ensemble, saxophonist Jess Gillam presents a programme that crosses eras and genres from CPE Bach to Bernstein, Piazzolla and Meredith Monk, and on to Philip Glass, Will Gregory and Rune Sorensen [12 May].
Mozart takes the spotlight in the first visit to St Martin’s by the esteemed master of the harpsichord and fortepiano, Kristian Bezuidenhout who directs The English Concert from the keyboard in an all-Mozart programme including his brooding Piano Concerto No. 21 in D minor and the joyous and much-loved Jupiter Symphony [7 Jun].
London Philharmonic Orchestra presents ‘The Chevalier’ – the remarkable life of Joseph Bologne
An 18th-century composer of African and French descent is the subject of The Chevalier, a theatrical concert written and directed by Bostonian actor and musician (and former director of music at Shakespeare’s Globe) Bill Barclay. It tells the story of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, who was born on the Caribbean Island of Guadeloupe in 1745 as the son of a white plantation owner and his wife’s African slave. A man of many talents, he became renowned in France for his skills as a violinist and a composer – and with a fencing foil. He even became friendly with both Queen Marie Antoinette and Mozart and further made his mark as a campaigner for the abolition of slavery. Matthew Kofi Waldren conducts members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, who are joined by violinist Braimah Kanneh-Mason and actors Chukwudi Iwuji, Merritt Janson, David Joseph and Bill Barclay himself [21 Mar].
SONG AND SOLO PIANO
Following a deeply personal recital with 96-year-old Auschwitz survivor Eva Fahidi in October 2022, baritone Benjamin Appl returns for two further imaginatively programmed concerts at St Martin’s this spring. The first, with pianist James Baillieu, carries the title ‘Forbidden Fruit’ and muses on the theme of temptation with songs by a rollcall of great late-romantic composers, including Debussy, Fauré, Grieg, Gurney, Hahn, Mahler, Poulenc, Quilter, Schoenberg, Schumann, Strauss, Weill and Wolf [24 February]. Returning to the innocence of earlier age, Appl is joined by pianist Simon Lepper for Schubert’s evergreen cycle Die schöne Müllerin, which was composed 200 years ago. Complementing Schubert’s masterpiece is a new work, specially commissioned for the anniversary, by American composer David Lang; called flower, forget me, it embraces all the flower references in the texts of the 600-plus songs that Schubert wrote. A number of these are to be found in Die schöne Müllerin itself [27 April].
Simon Lepper joins another of today’s finest bass-baritone recitalists, Christopher Purves, for ‘Songs of Refuge and War’. Imaginatively recreating the sound-world of pre-war Weimar, Purves has chosen works by Bach, Schubert, Schumann, Mahler, Strauss, Weill and Eisler and is joined by Lucy Shaw (double bass), Miloš Milivojević (accordion), Sarah Field (saxophone), Lily Vernon-Purves (flute) and Rafael Onyett (guitar), adding further colour and intensity to recreate the sound-world of pre-War Weimar [ 9 May].
The season’s unmissable piano recital is something of a landmark. 41 years after his triumph in the International Tchaikovsky Competition, Peter Donohoe celebrates his 70th birthday with a monumental programme of the repertoire in which he is renowned: Rachmaninov, Busoni, Brahms and Beethoven [2 March].
Jazz drummer Buster Birch pays tribute to silent comedy legend Buster Keaton with ‘Buster plays Buster’. Birch and the other members of his jazz quartet provide a live soundtrack – with improvised elements – to a classic Keaton movie [14 Jan].
A week later, two British musicians whose flair for jazz grows from classical credentials reaffirm a performing relationship of more than 30 years. ‘Life to Life’ makes clear just why saxophonist Tim Garland and pianist Jason Rebello remain at the top of their game [14 Jan].
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