Orchestra of the Swan News and Press Coverage

For further information please contact the Orchestra office by e-mail or by phone on 01789 267567.

7 February 2017

Orchestra of the Swan celebrates its love of British music with the world premiere of a newly commissioned masterpiece

“Ballet, hip-hop, dirge and rumpus” a contemporary musical interpretation of traditional dance forms.

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This Valentine’s Day, Stratford-upon-Avon based Orchestra of the Swan (OOTS) invites you to delve into the world of the ‘considerable talent’* of renowned composer Joanna Lee’s ‘Blue Blaze – Dance Suite’. This feast for the ears is the third of four pieces commissioned to celebrate OOTS 21st Anniversary season.

‘Blue Blaze – Dance Suite’ is a work for solo oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn accompanied by string orchestra and consists of four movements inspired by four different dance styles – ballet, hip-hop, dirge and rumpus.

David Curtis, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of Orchestra of the Swan (OOTS), said; “Joanna Lee is one of the great, young composers in the UK today. OOTS believe in championing emerging talent and I have always been struck by her inventiveness and highly individual voice. I would describe her work as witty and light-hearted as it lovingly takes advantage of the characteristics of the solo instruments.”

Joanna’s compositions have been shortlisted for a British Composer Award and Arts Foundation Opera Composition Award as well as being featured in Classical Music magazine.

During this prestigious season, four established composers have written “companion pieces” to well-known classical works. The Autumn commissions, Douglas J Cuomo’s ‘Objects in Mirror’ and Paul Moravec’s ‘Nocturne’, were both well received by audiences, drawing high praise all round.

‘Blue Blaze – Dance Suite’ will be performed at Stratford Artshouse, Stratford-upon Avon, on 14th February and at Town Hall Birmingham on 22nd February.

31 January 2017

Orchestra of the Swan returns to Worcestershire

The renowned Midland’s chamber orchestra will perform six top-notch orchestral concerts in Worcestershire this spring with a selection of spectacular international soloists.

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Stratford-upon-Avon based Orchestra of the Swan (OOTS) is returning to Malvern and Pershore with two series of concerts celebrating classical music throughout the ages from Purcell and Mozart to the British greats of the 20th century.

The Malvern Spring Series, in support of St Richard’s Hospice, features three BBC Young Musician of the Year winners with two rising young conductors.

On 23rd February, OOTS is thrilled to welcome the 2000 BBC Young Musician winner, British cellist Guy Johnston, who famously wowed audiences despite breaking a string live on television! He will be performing Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D directed by world renowned Jason Lai, Associate Conductor with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and the Hong Kong Sinfonietta.

Next in the Malvern Series, on 13th April, young Hungarian conductor Máté Hámori will guide the Orchestra and clarinettist Emma Johnson through Mozart‘s sublime Clarinet Concerto, known for its delicate interplay between the soloist and orchestra.  The finale of the Series will be on 10th May with the exemplary technique of violinist Jennifer Pike in Mozart’s Violin Concerto no3 conducted by OOTS Artistic Director David Curtis.

Rachel Jones, Fundraising Manager at St Richard’s Hospice, Malvern said; “We are delighted to be working with the Orchestra of the Swan this spring. It is a great opportunity to listen to some fantastic young musicians, whilst at the same time supporting your local hospice.” To ensure local families benefit from St Richard’s Hospice’s continued care, we encourage guests to book online with Malvern Theatre, quoting SRH, thus securing the 50% donation of ticket profits.

The Spring Series, in Pershore, is composed of three concerts at Number 8 Pershore and will hit the ground running with an entirely Mozart affair on 17th February followed by a celebration of our finest British composers on 24th March from Holst, Purcell, Tippett and  Walton to Elgar and Britten. The Series finale will bring a taste of Scandinavia to Worcestershire with the music of Grieg, Mendelssohn and Dvořák.

11 November 2016

Orchestra of the Swan goes international again!

After a series of successful tours to China (January 2014) and Turkey (May 2016), Orchestra of the Swan (OOTS), the world class professional chamber orchestra based in Stratford-upon-Avon, is once again taking British excellence overseas with two international tours.

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At the end of November, the orchestra will visit Mexico touring three cities, Morelia, Leon and Mexico City with a special programme celebrating the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. They will be joined by local celebrity guitarist Morgan Szymanski, performing Roth’s ‘Concerto for Guitar and Strings’.

As part of the BBC Music’s Ten Pieces initiative, OOTS will be introducing Vaughan William’s ‘Lark Ascending’, one of the world’s most popular classical works, to the Mexican Trinitate Philharmonia, an El Sistema-styled orchestra for 200 students, aged between 6 and 18 years from deprived backgrounds.

Orchestra of the Swan is the UK’s first orchestra to take the well-known BBC Music’s Ten Pieces project overseas. This project aims to nurture a love of classical music at primary and secondary school level engaging and inspiring children to respond creatively to classical repertoire.

Celebrating its 21st Anniversary this year, Orchestra of the Swan is delighted to share its success and increasing profile with international partners. David Curtis, OOTS Artistic Director says, “It is so important to share not only our expertise, but our love for classical music with young people all over the world. To be given the opportunity to play with the emerging talents of the Trinitate Philharmonia is extremely exciting and we look forward to getting started”.

But that’s not all! In February 2017, Orchestra of the Swan will spread its wings even further with a concert at the world’s most famous concert hall, Carnegie Hall, an essential part of New York’s cultural fabric. Alongside young American pianist Thomas Nickell, the orchestra will be performing the American premier of David Matthew’s ‘Piano Concerto’.

25 October 2016

Orchestra of the Swan brings a touch of Viking flavour to raise money for Worcester’s Rory The Robot Appeal

After an extremely successful concert on 21st September, Orchestra of the Swan (OOTS) will perform again at Huntingdon Hall, Worcester, on 2nd November to help raise money for Worcestershire’s Rory the Robot Appeal.

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The second of three concerts at Huntingdon Hall, will be directed by OOTS virtuoso leader David Le Page from the violin as the audience is led through a Scandinavian and Slavic focused evening.

It will include largely undiscovered gems such as Dvořák’s ‘Miniatures’, a simple piece he wrote for his violinist friend, Suk’s ‘Meditation on the Old Czech Chorale St. Wenceslas’, a work of great power and presence, and Halvorsen’s ‘Three Hardanger fiddle pieces’, written for the traditional string instrument used to play Norway’s national music.

The concert will also feature popular and well-known interludes such as Grieg’s ‘Holberg Suite’ and ‘Two Elegiac Melodies’. Both of these beautiful pieces will linger hauntingly in the mind.

Tickets are £20 (concessions £17.50) and 50% of revenue on all tickets purchased using the code RORY will go directly towards helping the Rory the Robot Appeal radicalising treatment of Prostate Cancer in Worcestershire.

To get your ticket please call the Huntingdon Hall Box Office on 01905 611427 or book online at www.worcesterlive.co.uk and don’t forget to mention the code RORY.

24 October 2016

Sex and the City composer, Douglas Cuomo is set to delight Orchestra of the Swan audiences with his newly commissioned work, ‘Objects in Mirror’

American composer Douglas J. Cuomo, known for the ‘Sex and the City’ theme tune, has written a new work for Flute, Oboe, Trumpet, Violin and Orchestra. This work is one of four commissions to mark Orchestra of the Swan’s 21st Anniversary Season.

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‘Objects in Mirror’ has been composed as a companion piece to Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no2. Like the warning on American cars -“Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear” – the relationship between the two works is stronger than at first glance with Cuomo using Bach’s instrumentation and musical form alongside several note sequence samples.

Cuomo’s music is as personal, distinctive and recognisable as it is varied, with influences from jazz, world music, classical, and popular sources.

This iconic work premieres on Tuesday 8th November at Stratford ArtsHouse and Wednesday 9th November at Birmingham Town Hall.

For tickets please visit www.stratfordartshouse.co.uk or www.thsh.co.uk.

Over the last 21 years, Orchestra of the Swan has premiered over 60 new works by established composers and emerging talent. A further three new works for OOTS’ principals by Paul Moravec, Julian Philips and Joanna Lee will be premiered later this season.

27 September 2016

Orchestra of the Swan joins Warwickshire’s leading musicians to celebrate the opening of Warwick Hall

As part of Stratford-upon-Avon based, Orchestra of the Swan’s 21st anniversary season, they are teaming up with the immeasurable talent of Warwick School’s music department to celebrate the opening of the newly refurbished Warwick Hall on 1st October.

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Opening with Benjamin Britten’s National Anthem, Orchestra of the Swan will be joined by two Warwick School students, Lionel ‘Archie’ Whitby and Sam Young, and by international baritone Roderick Williams, who performed at this year’s ‘BBC Proms’.
The audience will hear the first two movements of the world famous Elgar Cello Concerto by young cellist Archie. Having first picked up a cello at the tender age of seven, he immediately embraced encouragement and support from the school’s staff going on to apply for the Birmingham Junior Conservatoire. This inspirational young man’s performances have been described as ‘highly musical and stylish’ with a ‘lovely sound’.
From full symphony orchestras to a harp quartet, Sam Young’s compositions know no boundaries. His pivotal piece ‘Lux Noxque’ is no different. The Warwick School student has written his most recent composition for soprano saxophone, two cellos and choir as a musical representation of light and dark. Sam’s passion for improvisation and composition stems from a love of jazz alongside an immersion in all things classical.
Orchestra of the Swan is very proud to be supporting the next generation of wonderful Warwickshire musicians and celebrating the opening of the region’s newest concert hall.
For more information, and for tickets please visit www.orchestraoftheswan.org /event/celebration-gala-concert-with-roderick-williams/

15 September 2016

Orchestra of the Swan roars into action for the Worcestershire Prostate Cancer Appeal – or Rory the Robot for short!

Join OOTS for a fabulous opportunity to help raise money for Worcestershire’s Rory the Robot Appeal by enjoying an international orchestra in its series of three chamber concerts in Huntingdon Hall, Worcester this autumn!

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Orchestra of the Swan has a well-deserved international reputation for excellence. You may have been one of the 2.2 million people that heard them live on BBC2 on 23rd April performing at the RSC for the Shakespeare Live! birthday celebration.
This autumn however, the focus will be shifted to the wonderful Rory the Robot Appeal, Worcestershire’s landmark appeal to raise £1.6 million to purchase a new state of the art robotic surgical system for supporting Prostate Cancer sufferers across the region.
According to a recent survey, approximately 2,500 men in the region are currently surviving Prostate Cancer with between 120 to 150 invasive prostate cancer operations taking place each year. This revolutionary, less invasive system incorporates high tech surgical equipment that helps the surgeon see vital anatomical structures more clearly and precisely. The patients are left with five small incision marks instead of a large eight to ten inch scar.
The first of these exciting concerts will be at 7.30pm on September 21st 2016 and will feature the ever popular and highly accessible Vivaldi ‘The Four Seasons’. The second concert, on November 2nd 2016, will include Grieg ‘Holberg Suite’, Dvorak ‘Romance’ and more. The final concert of the series, on December 14th 2016 will feature Vivaldi, Bach and Corelli putting you in the perfect Christmas mood!
All the concerts will be directed by OOTS virtuoso leader David Le Page from the violin.
You don’t need to be a classical music buff to enjoy these programmes!
Tickets are £20 (concessions £17.50) and 50% of revenue on all tickets purchased using the code RORY will go directly towards helping the Rory the Robot Appeal radicalising treatment of Prostate Cancer in Worcestershire.
Full details of how to get your ticket can be found on the attached flyer or please call the Huntingdon Hall Box Office on 01905 611427 and don’t forget to mention the code RORY.

3 August 2016

Orchestra of the Swan 21st Anniversary Season 2016-2017  – Nurturing the next Generation

Orchestra of the Swan (OOTS), resident at Stratford ArtsHouse and Associate Orchestra of Birmingham Town Hall, presents its 21st anniversary season bringing together worldwide talents from the youngest ever BBC Young Musician winner Jennifer Pike to the world renowned cellist and conductor Julian Lloyd Webber, championing the undeniable talents of the next generation.

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OOTS celebrates its 21st Anniversary with over 40 performances throughout the Midlands, ranging from the jubilant phrases of Mozart to the dulcet, romantic tones of Dvorak. Guest artists include previous winners of the BBC Young Musicians of the Year contest, such as Laura van der Heijden, Jennifer Pike, Emma Johnson and Guy Johnston.

Laura van der Heijden, BBC Young Musician of the Year 2012 and OOTS Associate Artist, opens the season with Haydn’s technically demanding Cello Concerto in D on 27th September. This will be followed by a second appearance in April performing Tchaikovsky’s ‘Rococo Variations’ conducted by Julian Lloyd Webber at the Town Hall, Birmingham.

Two further concerts bring a touch of virtuosic imagination to spring at the Forum Theatre, Malvern. These feature BBC Young Musician of the year 2000, cellist Guy Johnston playing Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D in February, followed by Emma Johnson performing Mozart’s sublime Clarinet Concerto in A in April directed by the rising young Hungarian conductor Máté Hámori.

Lucia Caruso, the young Argentine-born pianist and composer, will join the programming in October to demonstrate her technical and emotional mastery of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 13.

Last, but by absolutely no means least, the youngest ever BBC Young Musician winner and BBC Young Generation Artist Jennifer Pike, will undoubtedly delight audiences with Mozart’s Violin Concerto No 3 throughout May 2017. This simply spectacular violinist has taken the classical world by storm with her ‘dazzling interpretative flair and exemplary technique’.

It’s not just guest artists who join the Orchestra for this special season. There are also guest conductors including Julian Lloyd Webber (swapping his bow for a baton), Máté Hámori and Jason Lai. Add four new concertante works showcasing OOTS principals by Douglas J Cuomo (famous for his ‘Sex & the City’ music), Paul Moravec (Pulitzer Prize winner), Joanna Lee and Julian Philips and it will surely be an exciting season for OOTS.

27 July 2016

Orchestra of the Swan receives Catalyst Evolve funding from Arts Council England!

One of only 24 Arts organisations in the Midlands to receive this funding, we are the only professional classical chamber orchestra in the country to have been awarded this grant.

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Catalyst: Evolve is a new initiative that aims to support organisations to develop successful and sustainable fundraising models to help create a more resilient arts and culture sector.
£150,000 has been awarded to Orchestra of the Swan over 3 years of which £45,000 will assist with training staff, trustees, musicians and volunteers in the ‘art’ of fundraising and the balance will be match funding ‘new’ donations secured from individuals, companies and trusts on a £1 for £1 basis.
David Curtis, Artistic Director said “Coming on top of our successful 3 year G4A Arts Council Grant ‘Catalyst Evolve’ will be transformational for Orchestra of the Swan and is further recognition of OOTS’ artistic excellence and contribution to the Midlands world-class cultural ecology. OOTS is an extraordinary ‘family’; players, Friends, audiences, Trustees, volunteers and staff, and I would like to thank all for their support and hard work. We have a great future ahead!”
Peter Knott, Area Director, Arts Council England said: “Across the Midlands, arts and cultural organisations are working hard to secure alternative sources of income, which is why we launched our Catalyst Evolve programme to help support and develop long-term fundraising plans. Over the coming years, I’m looking forward to seeing how our match funding can make a real impact locally, delivering greater returns and helping our region’s world-class arts and culture continue to thrive.”

 

22 July 2016

The joy of music brings lasting smiles to the faces of Midlands care home residents

As the 2016 Summer Season draws to a close and the musicians of the Stratford-upon-Avon based Orchestra of the Swan (OOTS) momentarily set down their bows for a little rest, care homes of the Midlands reflect on their series of interactive workshops aimed at those suffering with dementia. These performances have been taking place on a weekly basis in the Warwickshire and Worcestershire regions offering interactive sessions in a group setting or, in the case of the less able residents, a personal 1:1 performance in the comfort of their own room.

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During a varied season of over 90 workshops, a collection of duos and trios have been performing renditions of hymns, folk songs, classical pieces and well known ditties to bring a little light to the sometimes gloomy world of people living with dementia.

Sue Pope, OOTS’ Learning & Participation Manager, and Dementia Friends Champion said: “At the end of every session we encouraged players to think more deeply about how their music was reaching residents – the setting being so much more intimate than the concert hall where they usually perform. Music has such a powerful role in supporting people at whatever stage of their dementia journey.

“It is such an amazing experience to see people come alive with the music; join in, tap their feet, sing along and really get involved with the sessions. We are so pleased to be able to bring our professional musicians to these homes and know that our players are gaining a great deal from the experience too.”

“As well as superb musicianship, players showed sensitivity in tailoring their performance to the mood of both the group and individuals in varying care home settings.  The sessions  helped residents with dementia to reconnect, bringing them not only joy but a sense of hope too”, said Dr Anthea Holland of Mindsong, the renowned music therapy charity with whom the Orchestra has been delivering these valuable workshops.

This project forms part of Orchestra of the Swan’s on-going commitment to champion the role of music and the arts in helping people with dementia. During 2016 alone, members of the Orchestra have so far visited over 20 care homes and performed to in excess of 200 residents.

The Orchestra’s Artistic Director, David Curtis, has pledged to visit every care home in Warwickshire and Worcestershire, caring for those with dementia, over the next three years, a huge undertaking, but one that shows how important this work is to both the residents and the ensemble. David says; “Music is a non-verbal means of communication, a language that tells a real story. The incredibly rewarding work the Orchestra undertakes in these care homes has profound benefits not only for those living with dementia, but for their carers, their families and also our own players.”

12 July 2016

Orchestra of the Swan brings ‘The Lark’ to Barrs Hill School

Musicians of Orchestra of the Swan (OOTS) have been exploring the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams with thirty year 7 and 8 pupils at Barrs Hill School and Community College, Coventry. This 4-week project aimed to transform the well-known work by Williams ‘The Lark Ascending’ into something completely new and culminated in a festive performance of the pupils’ new work Awakening Life at Barrs Hill on 1st July.

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In four sessions during June and July orchestra members Naomi Rump (violin), Ruth Woolley (viola) and Matthew Forbes (cello) have taken themes from ‘The Lark Ascending’ to inspire young composers to develop their own creative responses through poetry and music. The project was inspired by the BBC Ten Pieces initiative, which aims to open up the world of classical music to a new generation of children.

‘The Lark Ascending’ was inspired by a poem of the same name by George Meredith and describes the song of the skylark though a soaring violin solo. Vaughan Williams was writing this piece at the outbreak of World War 1. The children’s new composition featured mixed instruments such as cornet, clarinet and steel pans alongside haiku, poetry and excerpts from The Lark Ascending performed by Naomi Rump.

OOTS’ learning & Participation Manager Sue Pope said: “This project has been a wonderful opportunity to bring professional musicians and young people together to develop new ideas. OOTS musicians have been impressed by the students’ eloquence, creativity and use of language to create a work to be proud of. We have all learned a great deal from the experience.”

11 March 2016

Shakespeare Live! BBC2 and the Royal Shakespeare Company celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with a unique 2-hour gala performance accompanied by Stratford upon Avon’s resident orchestra, Orchestra of the Swan

Hosted by former Dr Who star David Tennant on Shakespeare’s birthday (April 23rd), broadcast live on BBC2 and screened live from Picture House Cinemas nationally, this star-studded show celebrates Shakespeare’s plays and their enduring influence on music, dance, opera, musical theatre and comedy.

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RSC Artistic Director, Gregory Doran, has assembled a once-in-a-lifetime cast to perform in a unique tribute to the genius and influence of the world’s greatest playwright and storyteller. They include Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen, Joseph Fiennes (who played the lead in the film ‘Shakespeare in Love’, Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Al Murray, Alison Moyet, Noma Dumezweni, Ian Bostridge, Rufus Wainwright, Tim Minchin, Paapa Essiedu, Pippa Nixon, Alexandra Gilbreath, Akala (Hip Hop Shakespeare), The Royal Ballet, English National Opera, Orchestra of the Swan and Birmingham Royal Ballet!
Unveiling details of the live broadcast at the launch of the BBC’s Shakespeare Festival, Tennant said: “We have opera, we have ballet, we have hip-hop – all celebrating Shakespeare and what he’s done for our cultural heritage.”
The BBC Shakespeare Festival 2016 is billed as “the most far-reaching celebration of Shakespeare’s work ever broadcast”. BBC director general Tony Hall said it aimed “to make Shakespeare irresistible to everybody”.
David Curtis, Artistic Director of Orchestra of the Swan said “This fabulous opportunity will be one of 4 broadcasts during Shakespeare’s birthday week featuring the orchestra on BBC2, Radio 3 and Radio 4. In a year when we have tours to Mexico and Istanbul, new CDs with Raphael Wallfisch and Peter Donohoe, and sell-out concerts in Stratford ArtsHouse and Birmingham Town Hall, this is further raising our national and international profile.”
To hear the live performance on April 23rd, tune in to BBC2 or visit your local Picture House Cinema.

5 February 2016

Orchestra of the Swan performs in Worcestershire with Martin Roscoe and Peter Donohoe

Stratford-upon-Avon based Orchestra of the Swan will continue its inaugural Worcestershire concert series this March with two concerts in collaboration with two of Britain’s most highly acclaimed concert pianists: Martin Roscoe and Peter Donohoe.

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Their forty years of international performing experience includes joint performances at the Bath Mozartfest and Edinburgh Festival. Together, they recorded discs of Gershwin and Rachmaninov, the latter of which was described as “a remarkable achievement” by BBC Music Magazine.

Martin Roscoe has over 30 solo recordings and more than 500 broadcasts including seven BBC Radio 3 Prom appearances to his name, making him one of the most regularly broadcast pianists on BBC Radio 3. On the 2nd of March he will perform Mozart Piano Concerto K271 ‘Jeunehomme’ with Orchestra of the Swan at Worcester’s Huntingdon Hall.

Since winning the Silver Medal at the 1982 7th International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, Peter Donohoe has built an extraordinary world-wide career. Known for his musicianship, stylistic versatility and commanding technique, he will perform as part of the Orchestra’s Double Concerto Series. He will be playing Shostakovich Piano Concerto No1 and Mozart Piano Concerto K414 on Wednesday 30th of March at the Forum Theatre in Malvern.

13 January 2016

New Learning and Participation Manager announced at Orchestra of the Swan

Orchestra of the Swan announces a new appointment to deliver its educational strategy, following grants from Arts Council England and the Steel Charitable Trust

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Susan Pope has secured a key appointment at Stratford-upon-Avon based Orchestra of the Swan. The new Learning and Participation Manager will be responsible for overseeing all educational activities, developing, coordinating and promoting learning and community projects which complement, and are complemented by the orchestra’s UK concert programme and residencies in Birmingham, Stratford-upon-Avon and Worcestershire.

Susan has worked for almost 20 years in museum education, managing education services at Avoncroft Museum in Bromsgrove and for Museums Worcestershire which included the learning services provided by The Commandery Worcester, County Museum at Hartlebury Castle, Worcester City Art Gallery and a mobile Museum bus.
A practising musician herself, Susan brings with her a wealth of knowledge and experience in teaching and driving engagement that will be instrumental in carrying out the two key areas of OOTS L&P programme: projects for people with Dementia, a growing need, especially in Warwickshire and Worcestershire, and the Orchestra’s programme for children in SEN schools in Stratford and Birmingham.

6 January 2016

Orchestra of the Swan will perform with Australian born guitarist Craig Ogden for two stunning concerts in February

Unhappy and tired of the bad UK weather? Come and enjoy a sunny Italian Reverie with Craig Ogden and Orchestra of the Swan on Wednesday 3 February 2016 at Huntingdon Hall and a warm Mediterranean evening on Wednesday 24 February 2016 at Malvern Theatre.

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Australian-born Classic FM celebrity guitarist Craig Ogden, one of the most exciting artists of his generation, will open the Inaugural Worcestershire Concert Series of Orchestra of the Swan at Huntingdon Hall, Worcester on 3rd February 2016. A real chance to get up-close and intimate in this converted Methodist chapel and hear the world-renowned Vivaldi Guitar Concerto and the most popular concerto from the late classical period by the great virtuoso Mauro Giuliani – a substantial work with beautiful melodies and dynamic, virtuosic scales and arpeggios -.
Accompanied by a small group of 13 elite orchestral players, this concert should appeal to guitar aficionados and music lovers alike.

Craig Ogden can be heard a second time on 24th February as part of Orchestra of the Swan’s Malvern Theatres ‘double concerto’ series during which he will perform Rodrigo’s highly popular and technically challenging Concierto de Aranjuez, and Vivaldi’s timeless Guitar Concerto in D with it’s beautiful, reflective slow movement and catchy, lively outer movements.

With five albums going straight to No 1 in the UK Classical Charts upon release, and the youngest instrumentalist to have received a Fellowship Award from the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, this UK resident is the country’s most prominent and recorded guitarist. There will be a free pre-concert talk with Craig Ogden and conductor David Curtis for those purchasing a ticket for the concert.

22 December 2015

Orchestra of the Swan gets ready to celebrate its 21st season (Sept 2016-Aug 2017)

As OOTS comes of age in September 2016, we are delighted to launch a three-year 21st Anniversary Campaign. Celebrate with us and join our orchestra family by giving an annual gift for three years.

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The internationally-renowned Orchestra of the Swan (OOTS) has its home in Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon, is Associate Orchestra at Town Hall Birmingham and has developed new residencies in Malvern Theatre, Huntingdon Hall Worcester and Number 8 Pershore for 2015-16.
During a 20-year career its recordings have been Gramophone Choice and CD of the Week on Classic Fm (UK) and Washington Public Radio; recordings of live concerts are frequently broadcast on USA Performance Today, in Canada and Australia. Orchestra of the Swan has commissioned and premiered more than 60 new works both on its own and in collaborative partnerships.

It has delighted audiences across the country from Exeter to Keswick since it formed in 1995.

As OOTS comes of age in September 2016, we are delighted to launch a three-year 21st Anniversary Campaign. Celebrate with us and join our orchestra family by giving an annual gift for three years.

Accessible to all, donations range from £100 to £5000 per year.

All donors will be listed on OOTS’ website and in the 21st birthday season programme; for those who commit £500 or more per year for 3 years, OOTS will not only perform an exclusive concert, but you will receive complementary tickets for a concert or concerts of your choice depending on the level of giving. If you donate £5,000 per year and become one of our ‘Great-Grandparents’ you will enjoy a private concert and dinner in a prestigious private home.

Most importantly, supporting OOTS’ coming of age means helping the Orchestra to develop three new strands of activity: Bring Light into the Dark World of Dementia with live music in every care home in Warwickshire and Worcestershire that cares for people with dementia, by December 2018; commission and record five new concertos for their virtuoso principals; fund four exclusive 21st Anniversary concerts featuring top soloists and conductors.

12 December 2015

Orchestra of the Swan, one of the most imaginative and successful chamber orchestras in the UK, is coming to Worcestershire

Orchestra of the Swan, a world-class professional chamber orchestra based in Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, is bringing excellence to Worcestershire with a series of nine orchestral concerts fronted by celebrity international soloists between February and May 2016. Why trek to Birmingham when such exquisite quality is coming to your doorstep!

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The inaugural Worcestershire Concert Series opens at Huntingdon Hall, Worcester  with Australian-born Classic FM celebrity guitarist Craig Ogden (3rd February 2016) performing the world-renowned Vivaldi Guitar Concerto accompanied by a small group of 13 elite orchestral players. A real chance to get up-close and intimate in this converted Methodist chapel, this is followed on 2nd March by pianist Martin Roscoe performing Mozart under the baton of rising star conductor Gad Kadosh, and by Emma Johnson on 6th April with her famous interpretation of Finzi Clarinet Concerto. One of the few clarinetists in the world to have established a busy global solo career, make sure you book your tickets early!

Craig Ogden can be heard a second time on 24th February  as part of our Malvern Theatres ‘double concerto’ series with a 40-strong orchestra performing Vivaldi and Rodrigo Guitar Concertos. Concert pianist Peter Donohoe (30th March) and violinist of “fearless intensity” Tamsin Waley-Cohen (25th May) continue this series with gripping renditions of Shostakovich, Mozart, Vaughan Williams and Mendelssohn concertos in the expansive Forum Theatre.

At Pershore Number 8 you will have the rare chance to hear virtuoso principals of the Orchestra of the Swan shine with Mozart Concertos for Violin, Cello, Flute, Oboe, Horn and Bassoon in this thriving Community Arts Centre.

This series begins on 12th February with Diane Clark and Francesca Moore-Bridger performing one of Mozart’s sparkling flute concertos and the original version of Mozart’s horn Concerto n.4.  On 11th  March Nick Stringfellow, Victoria Brawn and Phil Brookes share the spotlight.  Virtuoso leader of Orchestra of the Swan, David le Page will perform on both the 11th March and the 15th April with conductor Antony Negus, Music Director at Longborough Festival Opera.

This is a great opportunity to hear an orchestra renowned for excellence and spectacular virtuosity with some of the most exciting soloists of the UK.

20 October 2015

Orchestra of the Swan is proud to announce Quotidian Investments LLP as a new “Sonata Partner”.

We are delighted that Quotidian Investments has joined Handelsbanken, Turkish Airlines, DCS Europe, Pertemps, Ziran Land and others, who value a partnership with one of the most innovative and successful chamber orchestras in the UK music.

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Quotidian Investments, a fund and portfolio manager which has been successfully managing client’s wealth on a discretionary basis since 1998, believes in maintaining traditional values and ethics in the business of investment management so is a natural partner for Orchestra of the Swan which combines traditional values with innovative approaches to presentation and performance.

Announcing the new partnership, David Curtis, Artistic Director, says: “I am delighted that Quotidian Investments has joined the growing number of companies who support our concert and community programmes who’s enlightened approach creates benefits for both companies and the wider community”.
Peter Richards from Quotidian Investments added: “We very much look forward to working in harmony with the Orchestra of the Swan and their audience. Like us they are internationally recognised and associated with quality and excellence”.

19 October 2015

Orchestra of the Swan announces new recording

Orchestra of the Swan announces the recording of Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ with soloist David Le Page in aid of
Stratford Cancer and Eye Hospital Appeal

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A consortium of 15 local businesses many of whom are part of SupportingStratford.co.uk (a crowdfunding community initiative led by Denys C. Shortt OBE, Chief Executive of DCS Group & Enable Software) is sponsoring a live recording of Vivaldi’s masterpiece ‘The Four Seasons’ with virtuoso soloist David Le Page and Orchestra of the Swan, to raise money for the Stratford Cancer and Eye Hospital Appeal.

The 15 sponsoring businesses are: DCS, Enable, Alscot Estate, George Pragnall, Wheaton & Lamb NFU Mutual, Tappex, Perfect Personnel, Valpak, John Holman & Sons, Pertemps, Guy Salmon Land Rover, Murphy Salisbury, Barclays, Colgate, and Gillette.

The new £22m Stratford Hospital will provide vital cancer and eye care for people in the district and by providing care locally it means that patients will no longer have to travel long distances to Birmingham, Coventry or Warwick. The Appeal is aiming to raise £1m to make this facility a Centre of Excellence in the United Kingdom.

The recording will take place at Alscot Park, a wonderfully preserved grade I listed Rococo gothic style house set in 4,000 acres of Warwickshire countryside just outside Stratford upon Avon.

Denys C. Shortt OBE, Chairman of the Stratford Hospital Appeal comments “I had the idea for this CD after listening to David Le Page with the Orchestra of the Swan which was an amazing experience.”

He continues “I am so grateful to these local businesses who have made this CD recording possible. Their help means that 100% of the sale proceeds of the CD will be donated to the Stratford Hospital Appeal”

Emma Holman-West, Alscot Estate CEO, is delighted to host the performance and “to welcome OOTS – a chamber orchestra based in Stratford upon Avon renowned for excellence and their ability to entertain, educate and engage – into our family home for this very special recording.”

Orchestra of the Swan, one of the UK’s leading chamber orchestras, is an ambassador of innovation and accessibility under its charismatic conductor David Curtis, with concerts, tours, residencies, presentations, and recordings.

The spectacular virtuosity of this world-renowned orchestra is the perfect vehicle to display David Le Page’s extraordinary technical skill. Christopher Morley, Chief Music Critic of the Birmingham Post, wrote, “Le Page’s take on the piece was fresh, imaginative, spontaneous, daringly improvisatory. The empathy between soloist and his colleagues was heart-warming. This was the most refreshing account of the Four Seasons I have ever heard since the teenage time”

The CD will be released before Christmas. To purchase a copy of the recording, please visit our e-shop at www.orchestraoftheswan.org/shop or write to lisa-marie@orchestraoftheswan.org

15 September 2015

Orchestra of the Swan announces new concert series

Orchestra of the Swan has announced its new Town Hall Birmingham and Stratford Artshouse Concert Series, taking place between Sept 2015 and July 2016.

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The series consists of 16 performances, featuring international soloists Tamsin Waley-Cohen, Emma Johnson, Peter Donohoe and David Le Page.

Tamsin Waley-Cohen, a violinist of consummate skill combined with a stunning stage presence, opens the 2015-16 season with Mendelssohn’s much-loved Violin Concerto in E minor in Stratford ArtsHouse (6 October, 7:30pm) and Town Hall Birmingham (7 October, 2:30pm)

Nominated by Birmingham Town Hall/Symphony Hall for the prestigious European Concert Hall Organisation’s Rising Stars programme in the 2016/17 season, Tamsin appears a further 5 times with the orchestra between November 2015 and April 2016 with her flawless interpretation of Bach and Tchaikovsky Violin Concertos and Vaughan Williams’ ‘The Lark Ascending’.

The performances take place at Stratford ArtsHouse (10 November, 13 April, 21 April) and Birmingham Town Hall (11 November, 14 April).

Emma Johnson’s sublime Mozart Clarinet Concerto in both venues (16/17 February) sits beautifully alongside Haydn’s Concerto for 2 flutes, while jaw-dropping international concert pianist Peter Donohoe follows last season’s astonishing performance of Shostakovich Piano Concerto No 2 with a concerto double bill of Shostakovich Piano Concerto No 1 and Mozart Piano Concerto K414. The performances take place in Stratford ArtsHouse (8 March) and Birmingham Town Hall (9 March).

In addition, Orchestra of the Swan marks Shakespeare’s 400th Birthday year with multiple references to the immortal bard in every Stratford ArtsHouse performance, beginning with a Battle of Agincourt 600th anniversary performance on 20th October, an event made legendary by the St. Crispin’s day speech from Henry V, to include the music composed by William Walton for Laurence Olivier’s 1943 film of the same name.

A serenade with a Scandinavian flavour and a Shakespearian twist follows on the 1st December with David Le Page, Orchestra of the Swan’s virtuoso leader, performing the magical Sibelius Suite for Violin and String Orchestra.

A ‘Last Night of the Shakespeare Proms’ on 30th July includes Elgar Cello Concerto performed by BBC Young Musician of the Year Laura van der Heijden.

For full details of the wider concert programme please visit www.orchestraoftheswan.org. Tickets are in high demand so book now!


1 September 2015

Orchestra of the Swan team welcomes two new appointments

Orchestra of the Swan has made two key team appointments as it continues to go from strength to strength following its grant from  Arts Council England.

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The Stratford-upon-Avon chamber orchestra has made a key change, appointing Debbie Liggins as Business Development Director, responsible for overseeing all fundraising activity and for developing business strategy to encompass wider commercial activities.

Debbie has an extremely successful track-record in Arts fundraising and administration and moves to Orchestra of the Swan from the Three Choirs Festival.

The team also welcomes 33-year-old Italian Paolo Pezzangora, who brings expertise in organizing concerts, festivals and tours, and has joined Orchestra of the Swan as Marketing and Promotion Manager. Paolo will bring an international perspective to Orchestra of the Swan, sharing what he experienced in the Italian entertainiment business.

Artistic Director David Curtis said: “At a time of reductions in public funding, for Orchestra of the Swan to receive increased funding over a 3 year term is really quite exceptional and we are delighted that Arts Council England recognises the valuable contribution that Orchestra of the Swan makes to the sector. This grant is an opportunity for us to develop new business models and new relationships, strengthening our artistic programming and securing a long-term future for the orchestra. Welcome on board Debbie and Paolo!”


31 August 2015

Orchestra of the Swan and Pop-up Opera at Lower Loxley Hall, Ambridge

Orchestra of the Swan has made a special guest appearance in the 17,735th edition of the nation’s favourite BBC Radio 4 soap, The Archers.

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Alongside touring opera company Pop-up Opera, Orchestra of the Swan was invited to Lower Loxley, home of Elizabeth Pargetter, née Archer, to perform excerpts from Puccini’s La Boheme and Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte operas http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/profiles/5S0q4RG3NW9bzRZJM0bFY5Q/elizabeth-pargetter

The performance was held in the grounds of Lower Loxley Hall on Bank Holiday Monday, August 31st and thoroughly enjoyed by listeners and performers alike.

Even the interruption of a mobile phone didn’t deter singers and musicians from giving a superb performance in this beautiful setting.

David Curtis, Artistic Director – Orchestra of the Swan, said “Having been a life-long fan of the Archers I was delighted when Orchestra of the Swan was invited to join Pop-up Opera in presenting this performance at Lower Loxley.  Elizabeth was the most gracious host and it was a delight to meet her and so many other Ambridge residents!”

Clementine Lovell, Founder & Director – Pop-up Opera added “We were very excited to be asked by BBC The Archers to record as the fictional ‘Magic Opera Company’ on such a well loved programme. Bringing opera to the people and to rural communities is exactly what we do, so it made perfect sense to bring one of our performances to Ambridge!”

Catch up with Orchestra of the Swan and Pop-up Opera – aka The Magic Opera Company – at Lower Loxley Hall on BBC Iplayer http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b067wf2t

24 March 2015

Orchestra of the Swan celebrates grant aid

Orchestra of the Swan is delighted to announce that its recent application to Stratford Town Trust has been successful.

Trustees awarded grant aid of £25,000 to enable Orchestra of the Swan to work with local care homes, community groups, schools and Stratford ArtsHouse.

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Stratford Town Trust provided £15,000 towards a major project for people with dementia, £5,000 towards the appointment of a Learning & Participation Manager and a £5,000 contribution to the Orchestra’s ArtsHouse concert series.

Artistic Director David Curtis said: “This is a very substantial and generous grant from Stratford Trust. It will enable us to deliver a significant range of projects for a very wide range of beneficiaries, including important work in partnership with the award winning group Mindsong, who specialise in training and delivery of projects for people with dementia.

“Following our Pride of Stratford Award in February, this is further recognition of the value of Orchestra of the Swan’s contribution to the well-being of our town, whether in the ArtsHouse, care homes, community groups or schools.”

The Orchestra will announce its full Artistic and Learning & Participation programme in June and is delighted to confirm that Tamsin Waley-Cohen will be returning as OOTS Associate Artist for 2015-16.

Orchestra of the Swan was formed in 1995 and continues to produce outstanding performances with innovative programmes and world-class soloists.

18 March 2015

Spectacular sounds from Orchestra of the Swan ripple through America

It was music to the ears of Stratford-upon-Avon charity Orchestra of the Swan when one of its full-length concerts featured on more than 90 radio stations across America.

More than 227,000 listeners tuned in to the SymphonyCast programme for the two-hour performance.

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With concerts drawn from Europe’s leading orchestras, along with some of the finest American orchestras including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra, the broadcast on March 16th was a major achievement for Orchestra of the Swan.

Artistic Director David Curtis said: “The company we keep is a reflection of the quality of our performances and recordings and this sees Orchestra of the Swan alongside some of the finest orchestras in the world.

“We are the only British orchestra to have appeared in SymphonyCast’s winter schedule, a remarkable achievement and a credit to our outstanding musicians. One of the most effective advocacies is peer review and the feedback has been incredible.”

Orchestra of the Swan was formed in 1995 and continues to produce outstanding performances with innovative programmes and world-class soloists.

18 February 2015

Proud achievement for Orchestra of the Swan

Orchestra of the Swan (OOTS) has won this year’s Pride of Stratford Awards.

Organised by a popular local radio station the registered charity has been honoured with the Pride Award – a special award that recognises outstanding contribution to life in Stratford.

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This special award recognises the work of an individual who [or organisation which] makes an outstanding contribution to life in Stratford upon Avon. Judges were looking for an ambassador to the town whose contribution to the local area improves life for residents and visitors, and whose commitment is outstanding.

Orchestra of the Swan (OOTS) has won this year’s Pride of Stratford Awards

Cat Williams, a member of Friends of Orchestra of the Swan and OOTS Chairman John Liggins receive the 2015 Pride of Stratford Award on behalf of OOTS

Orchestra of the Swan, Resident Orchestra at Stratford ArtsHouse, was formed in 1995 and continues to produce outstanding performances with innovative programmes and world-class soloists that are enjoyed by thousands of local people every year.

It also works with schools in Stratford-upon-Avon, providing musical workshops that enable children to reach their full creative potential, as well as running a comprehensive Learning & Participation programme for all ages in the town. OOTS has a particularly close relationship with Welcombe Hills SEN School and its pupils, many of whom have complex learning, emotional, behavioural and communication difficulties, as well as physical and sensory disabilities.

In addition, OOTS regularly visits care homes and sheltered housing schemes to lead musical workshops for elderly residents, who frequently attend open rehearsals at the ArtsHouse.

Local resident Cat Williams, a member of Friends of Orchestra of the Swan, was determined that the charity should be recognised for its contribution to the town and wider work with local schools and community groups.

David Curtis, Artistic Director at OOTS, comments: “We are delighted to have received this award. Orchestra of the Swan is a Registered Charity and this award recognises the many contributions we make to the well-being of our community and the cultural life of our town. It recognises the value of our work with children in mainstream and SEN schools, as well as the life-changing projects we undertake in care homes for those with dementia and their families.

“The award acknowledges our Stratford ArtsHouse programme where our performances with internationally acclaimed soloists for local audiences are sold out. With our increasing international profile it is good to see recognition for the wider role Orchestra of the Swan plays as a ‘Cultural Ambassador’ for Stratford’s cultural and business communities in the UK and countries such as China, Brazil and the USA.

“We are very honoured and deeply grateful to the thousands of Friends, supporters and audience members who make our programme in Stratford possible.  Music changes lives and we will work even harder to bring the benefits great music to all those in our town.”

13 January 2015

Sponsorship deal is music to the ears of Orchestra of the Swan

Orchestra of the Swan (OOTS) has received a bumper cash injection that will help fund a world-class series of six celebrated concerts at Birmingham’s Town Hall.

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The charity, that produces outstanding performances and features famed musicians of international calibre, has been sponsored by recruitment experts Pertemps.

And a generous donation of £15,000 to mark the partnership was music to the ears of the orchestra, which was formed in 1995.

It will allow OOTS, also resident at Stratford ArtsHouse, to successfully produce new performances and support a learning participation programme with local schools.

David Curtis, Artistic Director of Orchestra of the Swan, said: “On behalf of everyone at OOTS, I would like to say a warm and heartfelt thank you to Pertemps for its generous donation.

“The funding will enable us to bring world-class performances to Birmingham’s Town Hall and other venues, and also allow us to work with even more children through our established and hugely popular Learning and Participation programme.”

Over the years, OOTS has been delighted to work with hundreds of youngsters throughout the region, many of whom have complex learning, emotional, physical and communication difficulties.

A recent project included the unique adaptation of the popular Shakespearean play, Anthony and Cleopatra – The Musical,  that was created and delivered in partnership with pupils and local theatre company Talking Birds.

Members of the Pertemps team were delighted to receive tickets to review a special performance of the family-friendly adaptation.

Tim Watts, Lifetime President of Pertemps, added: “We are passionate about helping local communities and are very proud to back the extremely popular Orchestra of the Swan.”

Birmingham’s Town Hall series, which runs until May, will feature international soloists including Peter Donohoe and Raphael Wallfish.

8 January 2015

Proud achievement for Orchestra of the Swan

Organised by popular radio station, 102 Touch FM, the registered charity has been shortlisted for the prestigious Pride Award – a special award that recognises outstanding contribution to life in Stratford.

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Orchestra of the Swan, Resident Orchestra at Stratford ArtsHouse, was formed in 1995 and continues to produce outstanding performances with innovative programmes and world-class soloists that are enjoyed by thousands of local people every year.

It also works with schools in Stratford-upon-Avon, providing musical workshops that enable children to reach their full creative potential, as well as running a comprehensive Learning & Participation programme for all ages in the town. OOTS has a particularly close relationship with Welcombe Hills SEN School and its pupils, many of whom have complex learning, emotional, behavioural and communication difficulties, as well as physical and sensory disabilities.

In addition, OOTS regularly visits care homes and sheltered housing schemes to lead musical workshops for elderly residents, who frequently attend open rehearsals at the ArtsHouse.

Local resident Cat Williams, a member of Friends of Orchestra of the Swan, was determined that the charity should be recognised for its contribution to the town and wider work with local schools and community groups.

“Orchestra of the Swan really deserves to be honoured not just for the top-notch musical contribution it makes to the community but for its wider work too, in particular its commitment to making quality live performances easily accessible to everyone, regardless of their age, location or ability,” she said.

David Curtis, Artistic Director at OOTS, added: “It is terrific to be shortlisted for this award. We bring world-class soloists and performances to our Stratford ArtsHouse concerts but to be recognised for our wider work in the community is a great honour.

“We are very proud that local people recognise and appreciate our work and its benefit to the whole community.”

The 102 Touch FM Pride of Stratford Awards will take place on Friday 13th February.

4 December 2014

Orchestra of the Swan appoints Dobrinka Tabakova as Resident Composer 2014-16

Orchestra of the Swan (OOTS) is delighted to announce the appointment of the Grammy nominated Dobrinka Tabakova as its Resident Composer 2014-16.

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Following Huw Watkins tenure as Composer-in-the-House, courtesy of the Royal Philharmonic Society and PRS Foundation, the Sorel Organization New York has awarded a substantial grant to Orchestra of the Swan to fund the appointment.

Dobrinka Tabakova is an award-winning British/Bulgarian composer whose music has received international acclaim. In her early career, the composer John Adams praised her work as ‘extremely original and rare.’

Recognition for Dobrinka’s work includes the Jean-Frédéric Perrenoud prize and medal at the 4th Vienna International Music Competition, an anthem for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, Lutosławski Prize of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, King’s College London’s Adam Prize and the Sorel Medallion in New York.

Her first profile album ‘String Paths’ was released in 2013 on ECM Records and was nominated Best Classical Compendium at the 56th Grammy Awards.

OOTS has a long standing relationship with Dobrinka and has commissioned and performed several works over the last ten years.

Artistic Director David Curtis said: “We are absolutely delighted that the Sorel Organization has agreed to fund this position. This very generous grant will enable us to build on an already highly successful partnership with one of the UK’s most outstanding composers.”

He added: “It’s also further international recognition of the quality of our performances and recordings and of course, our commitment to new work and nurturing emerging talent, which remains at the core of our artistic vision.”

During her tenure, Dobrinka, who is based in London, will compose new work for OOTS including a piece inspired by The High Line in New York. She will also work closely with violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen, and prepare a major new work for the Shakespeare 400 Anniversary in 2016.

Dobrinka is also leading a pioneering two-year Learning and Participation Project with young composers from schools in Stratford, Birmingham Conservatoire and Coventry University.

“I’m thrilled to be appointed Resident Composer with the wonderful and innovative Orchestra of the Swan and grateful to the Sorel Organization for their continued support of my work,” said Dobrinka

“I plan to use this time to build a cross-Atlantic creative bridge as well as integrate with the orchestra and audience locally.”

Orchestra of the Swan, a registered charity, was formed in 1995 and continues to produce outstanding performances with innovative programmes and world-class soloists.

The world premiere of The High Line-inspired work will be in Stratford ArtsHouse on Friday 29 May 2015. Tickets for the performance, which begins at 7.30pm, are available from the Stratford ArtsHouse Box.

6 November 2014

Peter Donohoe plays Mozart

World-acclaimed pianist Peter Donohoe has chosen one of Mozart’s greatest pieces for his opening performance as Associate Artist with Orchestra of the Swan.

He will take to the stage of Birmingham’s Town Hall to play the profound C Minor Concerto on Tuesday November 18th.

The famed musician, who now lives in Solihull, has built an extraordinary world-wide career during the past 40 years. Hailed as one of the foremost pianists of all time, Peter was awarded a C.B.E. for his services to music in the 2010 New Year’s Honours List.

… read more

David Curtis, Orchestra of the Swan’s Artistic Director, said: “We are honoured that Peter has joined the orchestra as one of our Associate Artists.

“He is an extremely talented musician and since his unprecedented success at the 1982 International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, he has developed a distinguished career in Europe, The USA, the Far East and Australasia.”

He added: “We are delighted to welcome Peter home and look forward to an outstanding afternoon of musical talent later this month.”

Orchestra of the Swan, a registered charity, was formed in 1995 and continues to produce outstanding performances with innovative programmes and world-class soloists.

Tickets for Peter Donohoe’s performance, which begins at 2.30pm, are available from the Town Hall Box Office: www.thsh.co.uk / 0121 345 0603 and are priced from £6.50.

ENDS

Notes to Editor

Orchestra of the Swan is resident at the Civic Hall in Stratford-upon-Avon, Associate Ensemble at Town Hall, Birmingham.  OOTS Associate Artists have been Tasmin Little, Julian Lloyd Webber, Benjamin Grosvenor and currently Peter Donohoe.

OOTS performs at major concert venues and festivals throughout England and Wales, including Symphony Hall, Birmingham, The Sage Gateshead, Bridgewater Hall and the Royal Albert Hall. In the UK, OOTS has reaches over five million listeners via Classic FM and Radio 3 and has been CD of the week on Classic FM, Washington Public Radio and The Gramophone Choice. OOTS’ community programme is extensive and imaginative and includes a range of projects in Stratford-upon-Avon, rural Warwickshire and inner-city Birmingham in partnership with Town Hall Symphony Hall. http://www.orchestraoftheswan.org 

4 December 2014

Orchestra of the Swan appoints Dobrinka Tabakova as Resident Composer 2014-16

Orchestra of the Swan (OOTS) is delighted to announce the appointment of the Grammy nominated Dobrinka Tabakova as its Resident Composer 2014-16.

Open Me

Following Huw Watkins tenure as Composer-in-the-House, courtesy of the Royal Philharmonic Society and PRS Foundation, the Sorel Organization New York has awarded a substantial grant to Orchestra of the Swan to fund the appointment.

Dobrinka Tabakova is an award-winning British/Bulgarian composer whose music has received international acclaim. In her early career, the composer John Adams praised her work as ‘extremely original and rare.’

Recognition for Dobrinka’s work includes the Jean-Frédéric Perrenoud prize and medal at the 4th Vienna International Music Competition, an anthem for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, Lutosławski Prize of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, King’s College London’s Adam Prize and the Sorel Medallion in New York.

Her first profile album ‘String Paths’ was released in 2013 on ECM Records and was nominated Best Classical Compendium at the 56th Grammy Awards.

OOTS has a long standing relationship with Dobrinka and has commissioned and performed several works over the last ten years.

Artistic Director David Curtis said: “We are absolutely delighted that the Sorel Organization has agreed to fund this position. This very generous grant will enable us to build on an already highly successful partnership with one of the UK’s most outstanding composers.”

He added: “It’s also further international recognition of the quality of our performances and recordings and of course, our commitment to new work and nurturing emerging talent, which remains at the core of our artistic vision.”

During her tenure, Dobrinka, who is based in London, will compose new work for OOTS including a piece inspired by The High Line in New York. She will also work closely with violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen, and prepare a major new work for the Shakespeare 400 Anniversary in 2016.

Dobrinka is also leading a pioneering two-year Learning and Participation Project with young composers from schools in Stratford, Birmingham Conservatoire and Coventry University.

“I’m thrilled to be appointed Resident Composer with the wonderful and innovative Orchestra of the Swan and grateful to the Sorel Organization for their continued support of my work,” said Dobrinka

“I plan to use this time to build a cross-Atlantic creative bridge as well as integrate with the orchestra and audience locally.”

Orchestra of the Swan, a registered charity, was formed in 1995 and continues to produce outstanding performances with innovative programmes and world-class soloists.

The world premiere of The High Line-inspired work will be in Stratford ArtsHouse on Friday 29 May 2015. Tickets for the performance, which begins at 7.30pm, are available from the Stratford ArtsHouse Box.

18 November 2014

Anna Shelest plays Beethoven in Stratford

International pianist Anna Shelest will be performing Beethoven’s Choral Fantasia for one night only with Orchestra of the Swan.

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The award-winning musician will take to the stage of Stratford ArtsHouse on Tuesday December 9th to captivate audiences.

As an international recitalist, she has already performed in Canada, France, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Russia, Ukraine, South Africa and the United States. This will be Anna’s first appearance in the UK.

David Curtis, Orchestra of the Swan’s Artistic Director, said: “We are delighted that Anna has chosen Orchestra of the Swan to make her UK debut. She is an extremely talented pianist and I am sure she will impress audiences with her outstanding musical abilities.”

Orchestra of the Swan, a registered charity, was formed in 1995 and continues to produce outstanding performances with innovative programmes and world-class soloists.

Tickets for Anna Shelest’s performance, which begins at 7.30pm, are available from the Stratford ArtsHouse Box Office: www.stratfordartshouse.co.uk and are priced from £9.50.

23 October 2014

Spectacular opening for Orchestra of the Swan’s new season

Acclaimed English violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen mesmerised the audience as she opened Orchestra of the Swan’s 2014/15 season at Stratford ArtsHouse.

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Performing The Lark Ascending, she drew people in, captivating with her talent and stunning with her sell-out performance.

“When I play with Orchestra of the Swan it is like coming home,” said Tamsin.

Applause soared as the talented musician played Britain’s favourite piece of classical music, written in its earliest form more than a century ago. Composed by Vaughan Williams, The Lark Ascending was inspired by a poem of the same name.

David Curtis, Orchestra of the Swan’s Artistic Director, said: “As an exceptionally talented musician, we are delighted that Tamsin opened our season, impressing the audience with her performance and amazing musical ability.

“The opening performance also coincides with the latest release on Signum of the works of Vaughan Williams and Elgar, which was most fitting.”

Orchestra of the Swan, a registered charity, was formed in 1995 and continues to produce outstanding performances with innovative programmes and world-class soloists.

27 August 2014

Local boy turned international star joins Orchestra of the Swan’s new season

Solihull born pianist Peter Donohoe is the latest international soloist to team up with Stratford ArtsHouse-based Orchestra of the Swan.

He joins the orchestra as their Associate Artist for the 2014- 15 season which will see him perform three of his favourite works for piano and orchestra in the newly re-furbished Stratford ArtsHouse.

… read more

In the years since his unprecedented success as Silver Medal winner of the 1982 7th International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, Peter Donohoe has built an extraordinary world-wide  career, encompassing a huge repertoire and over forty years’ experience as a pianist. He is acclaimed as one of the foremost pianists of our time, for his musicianship, stylistic versatility and commanding technique.

His opening programme, on 11 November 2014 at 7.30pm will include Mozart’s Piano Concerto no24 and later in the season, he will play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no3 and Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto no2.

Donohoe is the latest in an impressive line of Orchestra of the Swan Associate Artists who have included violinist Tasmin Little, pianist Benjamin Grosvenor and cellist Julian Lloyd Webber. Artistic director, David Curtis, comments: “Donohoe is one of the UK’s most celebrated pianists performing on the international stage. I’m sure that our audiences in the new Stratford ArtsHouse will give him a very warm welcome and that he will feel very much part of the OOTS ‘family’.”

Other musicians joining Orchestra of the Swan for the 2014-15 season include soprano April Fredrick and the ever-popular Tamsin Waley-Cohen.

Tickets for the Orchestra of the Swan’s new season, priced from £23.50 to £9.50, are available from Stratford ArtsHouse Box Office on 01789 207100. The Stratford ArtsHouse Box Office is currently open Monday – Friday, 10am – 4pm.

 
For further information please contact the Orchestra office by e-mail or by phone on 01789 267567.

12 October 2016

Birmingham Post

Orchestra of the Swan at Birmingham Town Hall

Orchestra of the Swan introduced us to their partners next season, Lucia Caruso, and her husband, Pedro Henriques da Silva.

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Orchestra of the Swan introduced us last Wednesday to their partners next season, Argentinean Lucia Caruso, and her husband, Portuguese-born Pedro Henriques da Silva, and what a happy occasion this was.

Despite a piano setup which lacked a degree of clarity, Caruso delivered a wonderfully witty and loving account of Mozart’s comparatively rarely-performed Piano Concerto in C, K415. This has long been an OOTS favourite, with a CD recording by Mark Bebbington, and here it came up fresh and new, Caruso’s hands well-balanced and articulate, and delivering some delightful spontaneous interjections.

Conductor David Curtis used Mozart’s optional wind instruments in this performance, pragmatically so, as they were anyway onstage for Salieri’s uneven Sinfonia in D “Il Giorno Onomastico” and Haydn’s totally brilliant Symphony no.92, the “Oxford”.

There were well-shaded dynamics in the Salieri. most commendably from trumpets and timpani, and crisp, exhilarating phrasing. A gorgeously Gluckian melody passed from Diane Clark’s flute across the orchestra, but there were also soporific passages, and a dreary, quirky finale. One pleasant surprise was the decidedly English nobilmente-sounding Trio of the Scherzo, bassoon-led, despite the programme-note telling us this was for strings alone.

The Haydn was both lithe and graceful, though contrapuntal entries could have been defined with more attack. Strings in the Adagio cantabile were ravishing, an indication of how closely the OOTS players have grown in empathy over years of collaboration.

But the greatest joy was the little encore from Caruso and da Silva, a set of variations on the ancient La Folia bass-line, jointly composed by the couple and featuring Caruso’s piano and da Silva’s fascinating Portuguese guitar (even its tuning is evocative). Within a handful of minutes we moved through half a millennium of musical history, and a good time was genuinely had by all on both sides of the stage. OOTS, you must record this.

3 October 2016

The Westmorland Gazette

Keswick Music Society’s 69th season gets off to stupendous start

Keswick Music Society’s 69th season got off to a stupendous start with a packed Theatre by the Lake enjoying a concert by the Orchestra of the Swan under their director David Curtis, writes JOHN COOPER GREEN.

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This was some of the finest orchestral playing I have heard in this theatre and the well-balanced orchestra gave us a programme that thrilled the audience. With its dry acoustic the theatre is not the most sympathetic venue for musicians to perform but the orchestra rose brilliantly to the challenge and produced playing of rhythmic precision and energy giving us ensemble playing at its very best.

The programme began with Rossini’s well-known overture to his opera The Italian girls in Algiers. This sparkled with fun and we heard some superb woodwind playing from first of all a buoyant oboe and then a wonderfully fluid flute. Throughout the evening the woodwind gave us some exemplary solos and some very fine ensemble work. David Curtis, brilliantly controlled the famous Rossini Signor crescendo as we heard a musical crescendo building up excitement until it reached a climax. Curtis’ control of the orchestra during the whole evening demonstrated a high degree of not only understanding of the music but also the forces at his disposal.

The clear sight lines in the theatre bring the performers very close. This was especially evident in Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in which one felt that the soloist Raphael Wallfisch was performing to each member of the audience individually. The English cellist Wallfisch has an international reputation and it was a privilege to hear this great player perform one of the greatest cello concertos ever written. The Orchestra of the Swan took us immediately from the translucent and ephemeral Rossini Overture of the early 19th century to the emotive and sonorous concerto written in the last decade of that century. This concerto is not only one which demands a highly accomplished soloist but one who understands the heart and soul of this music as Dvorak put so much of his own personality into it. Both orchestra and soloist are to be congratulated on a truly memorable performance of such depth. Some may have listened to this concerto in a large concert hall performed by a much larger orchestra but few of us will have ever been so involved with a performance as we were last Sunday evening.

Beethoven’s Symphony no 8 was the final work. Though it may be called the ‘Little symphony in F,’ coming between two giant symphonies nevertheless this is a great work and shows a different side to Beethoven’s personality. Contrasting dynamics, rhythmic precision, carefully judged crescendi and diminuendi, superb exposed solo work and controlled tempi changes were hallmarks of this performance. The lively finale brought the whole concert to a glorious end and the rapturous applause from the audience was evidence of a concert much enjoyed by all.

Keswick Music Society and, in this case, the support of Orchestras Live, is to be congratulated for yet again bringing for bringing musicians of the highest calibre to this remote area of northern England. The next concert will take place on Sunday, October 16, and will be given by the Dante String Quartet. It is still possible to become a member of the society even at this late stage and if this concert is anything to go by I would encourage music lovers to sign up as soon as possible.

John Cooper Green

 

3 October 2016

Birmingham Post

Orchestra of the Swan’s performance at Birmingham Town Hall was absolutely delightful

How time flies. It seems only a few years ago when we first became aware of Orchestra of the Swan – and now we’re celebrating its 21st anniversary.

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As David Curtis told us in the pre-concert talk, what began as a scratch band assembled in Stratford for a friend soon developed into a proper orchestra, and in the process changed Curtis from viola player (with the Coull Quartet) into a full-time conductor.
And it’s this chamber music experience that has made OOTS so distinctive. Over the years Curtis has moulded his players into a unified ensemble of individual musicians untrammelled by the histrionics of an egocentric conductor.
Some harsh string tone at the start of Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 did, perhaps, display too much personal freedom from the violins, and it took a while for the work’s essential lyricism to emerge. Haydn’s Symphony No. 43 (‘Mercury’) on the whole fared much better, with nicely shaded dynamics and a cracking finale that never sacrificed accuracy for speed.
One of Curtis’s greatest strengths has always been his empathy with soloists. On this occasion the lucky recipient was Laura van der Heijden who, in Haydn’s D major Cello Concerto, displayed a maturity and technical assurance far beyond her nineteen years.
In this remarkable performance (beautifully supported by Curtis and OOTS) the work’s technical difficulties were subsumed by the warmth, elegance and sheer poetry of van der Heijden’s playing. Even the obvious virtuosity of her own first-movement cadenza took the underlying poignancy of Haydn’s original material to new levels of expressive power, while the Rondo’s lilting charm and grace were delivered with the lightest of touches. Absolutely delightful.

By David Hart

3 August 2016

Stratford Herald

Last Night of the Shakespeare Proms

Orchestra of the Swan were in top form for their last concert in their 2015-1016 Shakespeare season.

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Conductor David Curtis brought unusual colour and some subtlety to Otto Nicolai’s rather workaday Overture to the Merry Wives of Windsor, particularly in the opening and in the transition into the Falstaff section.
The Shakespeare/Falstaff theme was continued later with Falstaff music from both Elgar and Walton, all four pieces delicately delivered by Curtis’s impeccable timing, tempo control and customary restraint.
The festivity closed in appropriate Proms style with Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance Nos 4 and 1and Sir Henry Wood’s delightful Fantasia on British Sea Songs.
But the highlight was a stunning performance of Elgar’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra played by the brilliant young cellist Laura van der Heijden. Her Concerto was a long way from the melancholy and somewhat lugubrious performances often heard. The programme notes pointed out that ‘Many listeners have heard nothing but sorrow in this work: nostalgia for a war-shattered world long gone, perhaps a premonition of Alice’s death, a regret for forgotten dreams’. This was miles away from what we were presented with on Saturday.
What we heard was a fine work which explored the search for identity with the protagonist (the cello) on a quest for understanding of and in the world (represented by the orchestra), outlining the struggles, accommodations and adjustments which have to be made in order to triumph on the journey. It was beautifully shaped and modulated. A majestic solidity was presented in the opening movement, the context for the cello’s quest for identity. Van der Heijden’s brilliance is that what she does sound quite simple, the hallmark of a fine artist. It was in the second movement when the cello began to anticipate rather than follow the orchestra’s ideas and in the final one where the cello was confident and separate from the world.
Van der Heijden’s playing sounded simple. It was always reflective rather than self-indulgent. There was never passion for passion’s sake. In the end the piece was not sad but triumphant and forward-looking. Magnificent.

Reviewed by Peter Buckroyd

16 July 2016

Classic Source

Orchestra of the Swan/David Curtis at Kings Place

An intriguing programme with 20th- and 21st-ccentury British music lined up against J. S. Bach, the apparently disparate elements joined by Steve Martland’s transcription for strings of Bach’s D-minor Toccata and Fugue and a young American pianist-composer as soloist in two Concertos.

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An intriguing programme with 20th- and 21st-ccentury British music lined up against J. S. Bach, the apparently disparate elements joined by Steve Martland’s transcription for strings of Bach’s D-minor Toccata and Fugue and a young American pianist-composer as soloist in two Concertos.
To ease us into this melange we began with the two pieces for strings from William Walton’s music for Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film of Henry V. Familiar they may be, rather more so in this Shakespeare year, but the tempo Curtis adopted for the ‘Passacaglia’ was the slowest I have ever heard – and it worked perfectly, transforming it into a deeply serious meditation – recalling the moving scene with George Robey as Falstaff on his death-bed. Comparably, ‘Touch her Soft Lips…’ was somewhat short in playing-time, making one wish that Michael Berkeley’s suggestion of a repeat, two-thirds of the way through, to balance the pieces, had been adopted.
But whatever the tempos, the Pieces were quite beautifully played, and followed by Steve Martland’s version of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue. Some scholars have claimed that the Toccata (there is no manuscript of the organ version in Bach’s hand) was written for violin, Martland’s arrangement works well, one’s only query being the layout of the final bars, which are fussier than need be. Nonetheless, this proved an admirable introduction to the teenaged New Yorker Thomas Nickell. From the opening pages, it was clear that he is a very talented pianist and a fine Bach player – this was an admirable reading, the soloist easily recovering from a slight slip in the first movement. The very slow tempo for the central Adagio – as so often – was such as to make a continuous melodic line almost impossible to delineate. That said, the natural musicianship displayed by both soloist and orchestra were compelling, and the fleet Finale was truly excellent.
After the interval, the strings came into their own, with a simply magnificent account of Britten’s Frank Bridge Variations: Curtis’s tempos and structural command were enormously impressive, such as to oblige your correspondent to admit that he has probably never heard a finer performance of this masterwork than this – so good, in fact, that one could well imagine the astonishment with which the Salzburg audience heard the work’s first public performance in 1937. On this showing, under Curtis’s most excellent conducting and admirable sense of interpretative styles, the Swan Orchestra’s players were revealed to be of international standard.
To end, David Matthews’s recent Piano Concerto, incorrectly billed as the London premiere – this took place in Catford last month, played by Helen Reid, for whom the work was written. Nickell was a splendid soloist, Curtis and the Swan members following him like a cat. This fluently attractive 25-minute, four-movement work plumbs no great depths – nor, surely, does it set out to. It is a splendidly effective work of complete accomplishment, the movements admirably contrasted, and forming a coherent whole with many delightful touches, especially in the final bars, guaranteed to catch any audience out.
Nickell’s deserved encore was one of his own compositions – a short Sonata – which demonstrated clearly the 17-year-old’s approach to the craft of musical composition.

Reviewed by Robert Matthew-Walker

16 July 2016

Birmingham Post

Orchestra of the Swan in Stratford-upon-Avon

Over-the- top complimentary thick glossy programmes were at hand showing gorgeous photos of the American boy wonder, pianist Thomas Nickell

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When one is presented with massive hype for a particular soloist, I for one, am suspicious. Over-the- top complimentary thick glossy programmes were at hand showing gorgeous photos of the American boy wonder, pianist Thomas Nickell. His history and musical achievements (from birth?) were guaranteed to set my warning bells a-ringing.

Yes, the seventeen year old certainly has formidable pianistic technique, lots of firm finger work, much use of the sustaining pedal, but somewhat lacking in sensitivity for my hero J.S.Bach, however some exquisite piano accompaniments saved the day. Fortunately the ‘strings only’ orchestra for this fascinating programme did a fine job, encouraged throughout any idiosyncrasies by super-efficient conductor David Curtiss.

Britten’s Frank Bridge Variations teased the mind in a feast of imagination, including splendid unison violins with highlights of cello, viola and leader solos. A delicious lop-sided curious ‘waltz’, a jolly pizzicato tune – everything from gutsy fortissimos to breath-taking whispers. Beautifully performed.

David Matthews’ Piano Concerto 111 was the evening’s highlight. ‘Mozartian in conception’ this is music full of imagination – listen to the leader tossing solo fragments to principal cello, totally mind-teasing. Our young soloist had learnt much of the concerto from memory, so performed with vigour – but please take care not to blur all with too much enthusiastic pedalling especially when offsetting emphatic pizzicatos. Not a minuet, but a smiling tango of infectious rhythms lead to true blues with a faux Scottish drone turning to sweeping romanticism in the finale.

An accolade greeted the composer – smiles all round.

5 July 2016

What’s on live

Charlie Chaplin Silent Films with Mark Kermode & Orchestra of the Swan

With the First World War centenary serving as the theme for this year’s Lichfield Festival, critic and broadcaster Mark Kermode takes a look at the popular culture of the era with an introduction to two Charlie Chaplin films.

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Between 1916 and 1917, Chaplin wrote, produced, directed and starred in 12 movies for the Mutual Film Corporation, cementing his reputation as a global icon. Screened in Lichfield Cathedral with live music from Orchestra of the Swan, The Rink and The Immigrant chart his early development from physical comedian to important and influential artist.

Taking place half in a rollerskating rink and half in a restaurant, The Rink seems to prefigure the later success of works ranging from Fawlty Towers to Shall We Dance. As Kermode explains, in the early 20th century, rollerskating became a popular pasttime for young people since, like dancing before, it provided an acceptable excuse to socialise and even come into physical contact with the opposite sex, at a time when relatively rigid rules still governed such interactions. The set-up allows Chaplin to show off his incredible versatility, performing his own impressive skating sequences alongside his trademark slapstick routines. The film is basically lighthearted, yet the technical skill and confidence it demonstrates is phenomenal, all the more astonishing considering he was aged just 27 at the time.

Though still essentially a comedy featuring some of Chaplin’s funniest scenes, The Immigrantmarked something of a departure for him in taking on a more serious subject matter. The film begins with a boatload of refugees arriving in New York, tired and penniless, with shots not far removed from those you might expect to see on a news report today. Featuring, among other things, the title character cheekily kicking a rather overbearing immigration officer, it was this film that in large part earned Chaplin the admiration of the progressive and artistic fringes of society, as well as the suspicion of the conservative American establishment. In very different ways, then, the two films provide a window onto the First World War period, as well as prompting reflections on our own time.

To a large extent, however, it’s the live soundtrack that makes this such a unique experience. Conducted by David Curtis, the deservedly acclaimed Orchestra of the Swan perform scores specially composed for the films by Carl Davis. Though just some of many written years after the films were made, the scores created by Davis are, Kermode argues, those truest to the spirit of Chaplin’s work and those the man himself would likely have appreciated most, gliding as effortlessly as he does between comedy and drama. In The Rink, there’s a perfect bit of percussive and vaguely exotic sounding music to accompany Chaplin’s attempts to make and shake a cocktail in his job as a waiter, managing to capture the humour of the scene without resorting to slapstick clichés. The Immigrant gets a powerful, rolling opening that reflects the swaying of the boat on stormy seas. Upon the immigrants’ arrival in the US, Davis employs a burst of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in a kind of bittersweet satire of the American Dream, shown up for its hollowness when Chaplin’s immigrant finds himself down-and-out and destitute, left to hungrily wander the city streets. The Orchestra perform brilliantly, keeping perfect time with the action without the use of any aids, despite the fact that for some of them (Curtis included), it’s their first experience of playing along live to a film. It’s testament to their talent that one can almost forget their presence while looking at the screen, so seamlessly does the music blend with the visuals. A delight from start to finish.

22 April 2016

Birmingham Post

Orchestra of the Swan at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon

There was a special atmosphere about this world premiere, given by David Curtis and the Orchestra of the Swan as part of the Shakespeare 400 commemorations.

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Dobrinka Tabakova’s new cantata Immortal Shakespeare takes the notion of Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man and creates a forty-minute arc of choral music to words from Hamlet, The Tempest and King John, culminating in a hushed setting of the obituary carved on Shakespeare’s monument in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon. So there was a special atmosphere about this world premiere, given by David Curtis and the Orchestra of the Swan as part of the Shakespeare 400 commemorations just metres from Will’s mortal remains in Holy Trinity itself.

It’s an attractive piece. Setting Shakespeare is never a straightforward undertaking for a composer, but the OOTS Chamber Choir sang with clarity and conviction, with Curtis and his orchestra bringing out Tabakova’s lush textures and instrumental flights of fantasy – a splash of vibraphone here, a harp ostinato there, and in the latter stages just a hint of the icy epilogue to Vaughan Williams’s Sixth Symphony. It was enthusiastically received. Nice too to see the evening’s soloist Tamsin Waley-Cohen joining the orchestra for the various brief violin solos.

Earlier, Waley-Cohen had given a performance of Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending that, between blissfully still and expressive opening and closing paragraphs, positively danced – the OOTS responding to her endless subtleties of tone with considerable finesse. The OOTS seems to thrive on the Holy Trinity acoustic; their Tallis Fantasia after the interval was equally nuanced in terms of tone-colour, if not dynamic range.

There were doubtless practical reasons why the different orchestras couldn’t be separated more widely in the church; and having had to prepare the Tabakova, it’s perhaps understandable if orchestra and choir sounded under-rehearsed and overblown in Vaughan Williams’s Towards the Unknown Region. But judge for yourself: the concert was recorded for future broadcast by BBC Radio Three.

By Richard Bratby

14 April 2016

Bach Track

Dramatic Shostakovich and tender Tchaikovsky from Orchestra of the Swan

Being the resident band in Stratford-upon-Avon, the Orchestra of the Swan is having a busy time of it right now. Just ten days away from the celebrations marking Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary, when OOTS is the orchestra of choice for the Shakespeare Live cinema-streamed extravaganza from the RSC, they programmed a bit of the Bard into today’s performance. Their demanding schedule includes the BBC’s service from Holy Trinity Church the morning after the night at the theatre, then – somewhat further from home – taking Shakespeare to Turkey!

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The Orchestra of the Swan has a loyal following for their Birmingham series and this afternoon’s Town Hall audience was sizeable and appreciative. Our helping of Shakespeare wasn’t served up through the concert’s title composer, Tchaikovsky, though. With imaginative programming, Shostakovich’s Hamlet Suite was included as a thrilling illustration of the fact that he wasn’t just a symphonic composer but also wrote incidental music for over 50 plays and films, putting himself under suspicion with the Soviet authorities in the process. Today’s piece was a synthesis of a staged version in 1932 and a film in 1963, and if anyone expected gloom, angst and tragedy, what we got instead was half an hour of irresistible bombast and swagger, together with a touching interlude of the most delicate of lullabies.

Divided into 13 scenes, the Hamlet Suite gave the different instruments plenty of chances to shine and it was clear from the opening attack that assured percussion was going to be kept busy. Menacing bassoon and clarinet heightened the funeral march, contrasted with brass, flute and triangle lightening the mood with some dance music. Just as you would expect from incidental music, the rapidly unfolding changes of focus truly did conjure images, from serried ranks of troops with the whole orchestra at full throttle, to a rocking cradle from a soulful string quartet. The overall feel was loud and fast, with the carefully-placed nuances of hush and stillness adding to the dramatic effect. It was the sort of invigorating piece that’s best heard live, and it got a great reception, the crowd dispersing in the interval in high spirits.

The concert had opened with Mozart’s early work Symphony no. 25 in G minor. Written at only 17, its turbulence and driving drama shows an emotional maturity, and it was a pleasure to listen to. As usual, OOTS conveyed a joyful sense of teamwork, the togetherness and democracy underlined by David Curtis conducting not from a podium but the same ‘level playing field’. His calm yet charismatic style drew out a lovely sound, the close rapport with his players meaning that a raised eyebrow was just as effective as any sweep of the baton. The liveliness of violin syncopations had us hooked from the off, with lovely oboe contributions and confident horns adding to the energetic mix. The movements effortlessly shifted from lilting and gentle, stately and controlled, through poised staccato sections creating interesting textures, always with a sense of forward momentum.

The second half welcomed OOTS’s popular Associate Artist Tamsin Waley-Cohen to the stage for what was originally dubbed the unplayable Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D major, with early critics alluding to it smelling of rotten cabbages. In a relaxed pre-concert talk Waley-Cohen stated that she didn’t view it as a confrontational concerto and that although it’s extremely technically demanding, her focus is always on its lyricism, beauty and stillness. The discussion also emphasised the importance (in any performance) of evoking the story behind the music rather than merely the notes, with the insight that the participatory nature of live music is also vital; there’s a strong sense of drawing energy from an engaged audience.

During the orchestral introduction, the soloist visibly entered into the soundworld, and this was echoed in the later orchestra-only sections, when her body language showed she was living the music with them. In every sense of the word, there was harmony between all players, a great feeling of supporting each other. The whole concerto was a triumph, but special mention goes to her pin-drop cadenza in the first movement, with eloquent silences and an exciting sense of anticipation.

Affectionate applause was followed by Waley-Cohen’s exquisite encore in the shape of J.S. Bach’s Sarabande, during which David Curtis sat on one of the steps at the back of the stage – at a guess revelling in a moment of quiet beauty before the next phase of the Shakespeare marathon.

By Katherine Dixson

11 March 2016

Rookie Review

Orchestra of the Swan 2015/16 Peter Donohoe plays Shostakovich

Rookie Review, Sadia Parveen spent the evening at Town Hall watching the Orchestra of the Swan with Peter Donohoe play Mozart, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky. Check out her review.

Open Me

Upon entering the Town Hall with a friend of mine, I felt a little out of place as we seemed to be the only students at Orchestra of the Swan event. However, as soon as we entered the hall, that soon seemed irrelevant as we were awestruck by not only the size of the venue but also the stage where the Orchestra of the Swan and Peter Donohoe would perform. The elegance and sophistication of the afternoon was entirely breath-taking and I was pleased to have been able to witness such great performances.

The conductor, David Curtis gave a brief introduction to the pieces that the Orchestra of the Swan would perform and also a little information about the stage the composers were at when they had written the pieces. I found it extremely interesting to learn that Mozart wrote Symphony no. 29 when he was only two weeks away from becoming eighteen years old. This seems to be a great achievement and also showed that classical music is for people of all ages.

As a fan of Mozart’s Symphony no. 29, I was eager to hear the Orchestra of the Swan perform this piece and I was delighted with their recital. Peter made his entrance for Shostakovich’sPiano Concerto no. 1 and was greeted to a huge round of applause. I was quite eager to see him perform as I had previously read into his life, so I held great expectations. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. This was by far my most favourite pieces of the afternoon and I can see why it was the headline of the show.

Each piece lasted for roughly half an hour with an exception for Tchaikovsky’sAndante Cantabile which was performed after the interval and lasted around 10-15 minutes. There was a brief interval after two pieces allowing me to confer with my friend about the show thus far. Both of us felt that the show was extremely relaxing but engaging at the same time, and was a welcome respite in the middle of the week from hours spent on studying and work.
The concert concluded with another piece by Mozart, this time it was his Piano Concerto K414. This performance was truly outstanding and Peter’s sublime performance captured the entire audience’s attention. His ability to perform note perfect whilst still maintaining his composure is to be admired thoroughly. What truly fascinated me was the violinists who not only performed with sheer brilliance, but also held such fine composure that their actions were a performance in themselves. Their delicate but swift movements seemed angelic at times and along with Peter, they truly stood out.

If I had the chance, I would definitely attend an event similar to this again. Being able to sit back and enjoy the live performance of such classical music by the exceptionally talented Orchestra of the Swan alongside Peter Donohoe is a moment I will not forget. I would recommend this show to anyone who appreciates great music and wishes for a peaceful break in between their busy lives.

By Sadia Parveen

18 February 2016

Rookie Review

Orchestra of the Swan 2015/16 Emma Johnson & Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto

Looking at the programme, everybody could expect a concert full of elegance and pureness that, in combination Birmingham’s majestic Town Hall, could make the audience feel part of a European XIX court.

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Those expectations were more than satisfied when the strings fused in one warm wave of sound at Fauré’s little diamond that is the Nocturne from “Shylock”, which incidentally was the music for 1889 Edmond Haraucourt’s version of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”.

This was a homage from OOTS to the anniversary of the Bard of Avon, and, even if the Bélle Époque piece was a century ahead of the rest of the programme, it was a very subtle way to start this concert.

The conductor David Curtis, always really engaging with the audience, introduced Haydn’s Concerto in C Major for 2 Lire Organizzate, a – now ill frequently played piece that the king of Naples liked to hear performed, and that nowadays is normally, and this concert was not an exception, played with two flutes.

The first half finished with the performance of Mozart’s 33rd Symphony, where the Orchestra of the Swan demonstrated all its virtues: clearness of sound, homogeneity of the strings, synchronization, a very delicate wind section, an excellent balance… They truly proved themselves to be all of those things with a mesmerizing interpretation of the Menuetto and the last Allegro Assai, which perfectly closed the first part of the concert.

The music came back to stage with the extremely beautiful Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits, a balletic part from the 2nd Act of his opera Orfeo ed Euridice, in which the principal flautist exhibited again her great talent and expressiveness, which was always well supported by the string section.

To conclude the concert, the brilliant clarinetist Emma Johnson performed Mozart’s famous Clarinet Concerto. Her performance was outstanding, showing her control of all the registers of the clarinet –especially the low register, chalumeau_- and the dynamics, being the _pianos and pianissimos an extremely powerful tool of expression that made the Adagio a pleasure to everybody.

Special mention should be made of the ending of this Adagio, when Emma Johnson sustained the last note over the orchestra and created an instance of pure magic. Fantastic!

12 November 2015

Birmingham Post

Orchestra of the Swan at Birmingham Town Hall

Tamsin Waley-Cohen began with the Concerto for Two Violins, joined by David Le Page in a partnership which could have stemmed from years of collaboration.

Open Me

OK, so he will have prepared the rehearsals for the entire programme, but David Curtis had an easy time of it conducting his Orchestra of the Swan on Wednesday afternoon.

He was only on the podium for a couple of numbers: Handel’s overture to his opera Julius Caesar, sprightly and clearly-articulated, and Stravinsky’s neo-everything (baroque, classical, Viennese kitsch, you name it) Concerto in D, fluent and well-weighted, despite being one hospitalised viola short.

The rest of the programme, three Bach concertos, no less, was directed by soloist Tamsin Waley-Cohen, currently in her second spell as OOTS Associate Artist, and a charming violinist whose platform presence is totally devoted to the unfolding of the music in performance.

She began with the Concerto for Two Violins, joined by David Le Page in a partnership which could have stemmed from years of collaboration. Each nurturing their own violin section, they intertwined and dovetailed lines with buoyant dynamics, allowing each other to sing as emphasis swung back and forth. Their biting multiple-stopping in the headlong finale (which got faster as it went along, but no matter) was a consummate example of the character of their duetting.

And then, in a fine example of OOTS’ co-operative ethos as heartwarming as chamber choir Ex Cathedra’s, Le Page resumed his leader’s chair while orchestral oboist Victoria Brawn stepped forward to join Waley-Cohen in Bach’s remarkable Concerto for Violin and Oboe.

This proved another sympathetic partnership, violinist graciously melting into her tutti colleagues for the many prominent oboe passages, Brawn sweet-toned and shapely of phrasing, and always reminding us of her instrument’s pastoral resonances. There were also some discreet but telling arabesques from uncredited harpsichordist David Ponsford.

Finally Tamsin Waley-Cohen took centre stage for the imposing E major Violin Concerto, the outer movements given with brightness, delicacy and exuberance, and the adagio’s sad song delivered with such a stillness at its heart.

By Chritopher Morley

8 October 2015

Birmingham Post

Orchestra of the Swan, Tamsin Waley-Cohen, at the Town Hall

When Tamsin Waley-Cohen came on to play Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, David Curtis and the Orchestra of the Swan were at the top of their game.

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“He commands light and shade” wrote Ferruccio Busoni of Mozart, “but his brightness never dazzles, and his darkness always shows clear outlines”. It wouldn’t have made a bad motto for the joyous performance of Mozart’s “Linz” Symphony with which David Curtis and the Orchestra of the Swan found their form in this, the first matinee concert of their new season at Town Hall.

Curtis set brisk speeds. There was plenty of contrast: perhaps a little too much. But you could sense the orchestra enjoying itself, and somewhere around the beginning of the Trio section – as Curtis eased off the throttle and let oboist Victoria Brawn linger deliciously over the start of her solo – everything seemed to click into place. The finale simply fizzed.

It was an encouraging sign after the opener: four rather flat-footed extracts from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. When Tamsin Waley-Cohen came on to play Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, Curtis and the OOTS were at the top of their game: ardent, poetic, and keenly responsive to Waley-Cohen’s fantastical, gorgeously-coloured solo performance. Waley-Cohen doesn’t just produce a radiant, singing tone when letting the melody stream out – though she certainly did that, shaping Mendelssohn’s opening solo like a song without words, and inflecting it with little portamenti and tiny, natural touches of rubato.

But she makes a gloriously warm and eloquent sound at the quietest dynamics, too. As the slow movement ended she seemed to weave golden tracery against the woodwind’s twilit chords. And throughout, she played as if she had something intimate and wholly sincere to communicate. It’s unreservedly good news that, as the OOTS’s Associate Artist, we’ll be hearing a lot more of Tamsin Waley-Cohen this season.

By Richard Bratby

5 June 2015

Birmingham Post

Orchestra of the Swan at Stratford Arts House

Like all arrangements, Matthew Forbes’s new orchestration of John Ireland’s Cello Sonata for the Orchestra of the Swan effects a transformation – just not, perhaps, the one that you might expect.

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With a string orchestra replacing the piano, Ireland’s clear sonic distinction between the two partners vanishes. Instead the cello finds itself matched by the strings, occasionally soaring above but elsewhere merging with Forbes’s beautifully-rendered washes of sound, or joining in expressive dialogue on equal terms.

So even with the glowing richness of Raphael Wallfisch’s tone as soloist, this felt more like a supersized chamber piece than a concerto manqué. A surprisingly angry one, too, with shades of Berg in the first movement and neo-classical Stravinsky in the finale. It was a fascinating new perspective on a neglected work, and under David Curtis’s direction orchestra and soloist made a passionate case. Earlier, Curtis had conducted Ireland’s Downland Suite in bold, sinewy strokes: Ireland’s musical landscape presented as a woodcut rather than the usual watercolour.

But Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs – sung with ecstatic fervour by the small but powerful Orchestra of the Swan Chamber Choir and baritone Edward Grint – raised the evening onto another level. The quiet inwardness with which Grint responded to the third song, Love Bade Me Welcome was something to cherish.

By Richard Bratby

26 May 2015

Planet Hugill – A World of Classical Music

RVW’s neglected violin concerto springs back to life, alongside more familiar classics

****

This disc on the Signum Classics label, couples one of RVW’s best known works, The Lark Ascending with one of his least known, theConcerto for Violin and String Orchestra, with violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen and the Orchestra of the Swan (OOTS), conductor David Curtis. The orchestra pairs the RVW with Elgar’s Serenade for Strings and Introduction and Allegro.

Open Me

RVW’s Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra was written in 1924/25 and dedicated to the Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Aranyi and it was she who gave the work’s premiere. Originally titledConcerto Academico, RVW withdrew the title in the 1950’s but the work has remained a little unloved, perhaps because the work’s spirit is far less English pastoralism and rather more neo-baroque with rather more emotional detachment than we might expect in RVW.

This performance from Tamsin Waley-Cohen, David Curtis and OOTS benefits from the fact that they have performed the work together (in fact the two RVW works on this disc were the first pieces which Tamsin Waley-Cohen played with David Curtis and OOTS). This shows in the sense of familiarity they show and in the delight they find in the music.

The concerto is in three movements lasting a total of over 12 minutes. The opening Allegro pesante is rugged neo-baroque in style, with the musicians making a very up front sound and the solo violin is not over spotlit. Despite the neo-baroque, this is clearly RVW and there are some contrasts between lyrical moments and the perkier rhythmic ones. The Adagio – Tranquillo is quietly lyrical and rhapsodic, with a sense of RVW the mystic. All perform with beautiful, flexible singing tone. The work finishes with a perky, rhythmic dance performed with wit and delicacy. There is quite a folk-ish feel to the material here. It doesn’t end with a bang, instead the solo violin just evaporates!

Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro follows. This was written in 1905 , and premiered that year with the composer conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. It is a highly sophisticated work, as Elgar uses a solo string quartet in addition to the main body of strings to explore the varieties of texture achievable with these two groups and it is a work which gives the performers scope for considerable magic.

OOTS makes quite a big sound at the opening, in Elgar’s introductory gesture and then this evaporates in a delicate interplay between solo quartet and ensemble. Initially David Curtis’s speeds are quite steady, with a thoughtful, considered air to them, but within this framework the musicians create a finely fluid feel so the result is anything but turgid. It is an interpretation which does not rush headlong, but allows it to unfold. Curtis talks in the CD booklet about living with the work for nearly 50 years, first learning it as a young viola player, and this sense of knowing the details from the inside comes over as he gives the players space without letting things drag. At first gently moving, rather than impulsive, when things do get going David Curtis and his players really carry you along. There is a lovely broad sweep to the big tune, and a perky delicacy to the fugue, with a crispness to the underlying rhythms.

Elgar’s Serenade for Strings is a far earlier work, dating from 1892, and is rather more conventional being a three movement suite for string orchestra. But Elgar’s distinctive way with writing for strings is obvious even here and the work has rightly been a staple of the repertoire. The opening Allegro piacevole is graceful, delicate and impulsive, with a lovely sense of flow. The Larghetto is finely considered, with a lovely, almost aetherial tone. This poignant movement is gently thoughtful and not over indulgent. Finally we have a gracefully flowing Allegretto with a nicely delicacy of phrasing. You sense that David Curtis and OOTS have played this work a lot together, but there is no sense of routine, nor trying to make something new of it, instead we are asked to come and explore an old friend.

The final work on the disc is another which can get a bit over done. RVW’s much recorded The Lark Ascending, is a work which it is easy to dismiss because of its sheer familiarity. Tamsin Waley-Cohen says in the CD booklet that she tends to take a very free approach to performance, with no two being the same, so that this disc is no more than a snap-shot of a particular performance.

What the snapshot reveals is fine grained delicacy and sweet tone; she spins the opening from a thread of sound. Again the performance is at first very considered, with strong support from the orchestra especially in the moments when solo players from OOT surround her. The whole performance has an elegance and delicacy, along with a meditative intimacy. But there is also a lovely big bold sweep to the big moments. And the solo violin evaporates beautifully at the end.

This is a lovely disc, and it should certainly win friends for RVW’s violin concerto, but the whole programme has a delicacy, intimacy and freshness about it which makes the more familiar repertoire well worth exploring too.

By Robert Hugill

24 April 2015

Birmingham Post

April Sings for Spring and Summer Orchestra of the Swan , Town Hall Birmingham

****

Due to a problem obtaining parts, which robbed us of hearing John Adams’ Shaker Loops, this concert of American music shifted almost entirely to the works of Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland, and with the inclusion of Copland’s Nonet acquired an additional focus.

Open Me

David Curtis’s carefully moulded reading of this rarely heard piece had no hint of a last-minute substitution, and encapsulated much of its edgy neo-classical romanticism, although his employment of nine violins against three violas and cellos tended to convey an uneasy mix of chamber sparseness and fuller sonorities.

Orchestra of the Swan performing at Stratford ArtsHouseIn Barber’s Adagio (such an obvious audience-pleaser, but never mind) the complement of 17 string players was just right, clear enough to suggest the individual voicing of its quartet original, while at the same time producing a perfectly balanced, contoured sound.

The titular star of the occasion was American soprano April Fredrick, who gave a finely nuanced performance of Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, her top notes and vocal colouring beautifully formulated (though some words failed to reach the Town Hall circle) and gestures subtly expressive.

She also showed a welcome ability to inject poetry into James Agee’s text, a well-nigh impossible feat, given the work’s awkward combination of orchestral tone poem (which Curtis sometimes allowed to dominate) and stream-of-consciousness sung prose.

Copland’s Appalachian Spring was the second highlight of the afternoon. The 21-strong OOTS displayed tremendous verve and sparkle (excellent woodwind, especially Diane Clark’s flute) and Curtis’s direction was a model of elegantly spun phrases and tight rhythms.

By David Hart 

30 March 2015

Birmingham Post

The Relaxed Concert by Orchestra of the Swan
****

“Sit still, don’t talk, no fidgeting, no  we can’t go yet . . . “ and so on.

This can continue as most children are rarely expected to sit through classical music. But tables turn if the presentation is lively, none scary and fun.

Open Me

This Sunday afternoon concert organised by Autism West Midlands with support and cheery help from The Orchestra of The Swan introduced families of all ages to familiar snippets of classical music from stage, cinema, TV, light classical etc.

A family enjoying the Relaxed Concert at Town Hall Birmingham

A family enjoying the Relaxed Concert at Town Hall Birmingham

It was the very first UK time for this orchestral adventure. Lights not fully bright, doors all open, a quiet area backstage . . .all thoughtfully provided for a mostly intrigued audience. All ages from new born to curious teens and delighted adults.

It is special to note that splendid ventriloquist James Rowney is autistic, secretly confessing to 50% nerves and 50% excitement for this was his very first appearance as a star. He was helped by fun puppet friend Jim, who makes delightful connections with young and old.  Much laughter, but also quiet concentration throughout for the most part.

Conductor David Curtis headed his smiling troops who showed their various instruments to listeners after an informal question time following the main programme, with many instrumentalists coming to meet the audience. Let us hope that this will be the first of many such lovely, short, specially targeted concerts.

By Maggie Cotton 

March 2015

Birmingham Post

Orchestra of the Swan at Birmingham Town Hall review:
Dynamic performance packed with energy

*****

Peter Donohoe and David Curtis helped make this a fine performance in Birmingham Town Hall.
I’ve never known the reliably excellent Orchestra of the Swan play to the standards it’s achieving at the moment.

Open Me

Perhaps performing with a soloist of the calibre of Peter Donohoe brings added value, but whatever the reason, this afternoon concert in a packed, whoopingly (for once I didn’t mind) appreciative Town Hall found the orchestra playing out of its socks.

We began with one of Haydn’s lesser-known symphonies, no.8, Le Soir, urbane and witty under David Curtis’ direction, and glowing with wonderful wind (take a bow, bassoon) and solo string contributions.

Enter Donohoe for Shostakovich’s irresistible Second Piano Concerto (a work Donohoe has performed twice under the baton of the composer’s son Maxim, for whom it was written).

The helterskelter outer movements found his pianism crisp and idiomatic, while in the gorgeous nocturne of the andante Donohoe hinted at the sweetness of Borodin as well as the poetic perfume of Chopin.

Balance between the hands here was expertly weighted, and all the while we were heartwarmingly aware of this generous collaboration between soloist, conductor, and a galvanised orchestra.

Donohoe gave us two encores (and again, for once I didn’t mind), both pointing towards the second half. Mendelssohn’s early E minor Scherzo, typically elfin, and with a surprise ending to the ending, was followed by Shostakovich’s Prelude and Fugue no.7, luminously pedalled, its A major key preparing the way for Mendelssohn’s Symphony no.4 in A major – lovingly-known as the “Italian”.

The orchestra was on fire here, Curtis’ tempi swift and flowing, dynamically shaped and bursting with controlled energy. And a special mention must go to the clarinets, caressingly warm as befits the seductive Mediterranean.

By Christopher Morley 

March 2015

The Herald, Scotland

Hans Gal: The Four Symphonies, Orchestra of the Swan/Kenneth Woods (Avie)

Following the two BBC SSO Discovering Music concerts at Glasgow’s City Halls, here is a very welcome double disc set gathering together recordings of the music of Viennese Edinburgh resident Hans Gal made by the Stratford-based Orchestra of the Swan at the start of December each year from 2010 to 2013.

Open Me

Woods, a cellist who has also recorded Gal’s chamber music for Avie, achieves a remarkable consistency of ensemble sound over that period, so it is the development of the work over a career of compulsive composing that we hear, from 1927 to 1975.

In some ways that was a journey into conservatism, so Gal’s distance from the fashions of the 20th century in the UK probably did not help secure performances for his music, but we live now in an era of broader tastes, and there is no denying the quality of his writing.

Some elements are consistent throughout, like his love for wind instruments, with clarinet, flute and – particularly – oboe often given the best of his tunes, but there is a world of difference between the variety of styles in Symphony No.1 and the perfect arc of three-movement Third, which was, probably significantly, the first to be recorded.

Keith Bruce 

February 2015

Gramophone

McCabe; Pritchard; Saxton Trumpet Concertos

  • Skyspace
  • Psalm: A Song of Ascents
  • La Primavera
  • Shakespeare Scenes

Four vibrant, attractive concertos – three written within the past three years – by three of Britain’s brightest and best, and performed with dazzling virtuosity and musicianship by Simon Desbruslais and Orchestra of the Swan.

Open Me

Desbruslais’s tone is extraordinarily rich, as can be heard by the verve with which he plays his instruments – the piccolo trumpet in the seven-movement concertino Skyspace (2012) by one of the composers-of-the-moment, Deborah Pritchard (b1977), the flugelhorn in the Andante of McCabe’s La primavera (2012) – and the various mutes and tonguings each composer requires. Pritchard, whose violin concerto Wall of Water was premiered in London last October, has ‘a synesthetic approach to composition’, vividly illustrated in Skyspace’s movement titles as they flit by, such as ‘Aurum Resonance’, ‘Light Iridescent’, ‘Opaque’ and the concluding ‘Cerulean’.

psalm-cdRobert Saxton’s Psalm: A Song of Ascents (1992) is effectively his first trumpet concerto, a single-span ‘musical voyage’ with resonances of his Jewish heritage. His second is the splendid Shakespeare Scenes (2013), which switches back through some of the most memorable of the Bard’s inventions: Puck’s putting a girdle round the world – evoked also in Henze’s Eighth Symphony – as well as Falstaff, Lear’s heath and Prospero’s magic island. Best of all, though, is McCabe’s La primavera, a paean to spring’s ‘exuberance and vitality of burgeoning new growth’ which takes in a homage to Miles Davis and, in the finale, ‘Quick’, a veiled tableau vivant of the London Olympics. The concluding held note for the trumpet unaccompanied is just one sign of his consummate mastery.

A hugely enjoyable disc, strongly recommended.

Guy 

February 2015

Theartsdesk.com

Psalm: Contemporary Trumpet Concertos by John McCabe, Deborah Pritchard and Robert Saxton Simon Desbruslais (trumpet), Orchestra of the Swan/Kenneth Woods and David Curtis (Signum)
John McCabe died earlier this month. He was a polymath –  teacher, pianist and composer, and one of those rare musicians about whom it’s hard to find a cross word. He’s represented on this compilation of modern trumpet concertos by La Primevera, a concise three-movement work written in 2012.

Open Me

Simon Desbruslais, trumpetSpring’s “exuberance and vitality” are reflected in music of infectious energy and spikiness, and the outer movements’ bright, transparent scoring allow the solo line to soar. It was composed for the brilliant Simon Desbruslais, who switches to a flugelhorn for the central Andante. McCabe, like Hindemith, knew how to write idiomatically for every instrument, and the trumpet writing, however fiendish, is always highly idiomatic. Even trickier to perform are two concertante works by Robert Saxton. Psalm: A Song of Ascent takes its inspiration from Biblical references to the trumpet. Desbruslais is, in Saxton’s words, “a Priest-like Master of Ceremonies”, leading an orchestral congregation through a sermon taking in lament, rejoicing and all points in between. More immediately engaging is Saxton’s 2013 Shakespeare Scenes; five brief, intense movements. We hear Falstaff waking from deep sleep, and a terrifically vivid portrayal of Lear and his Fool. Saxton’s less abrasive style glances backwards without descending into pastiche.

Deborah Pritchard’s Skyspace is scored for piccolo trumpet and small orchestra. The work is described as a musical response to the sky’s changing colours, though it’s never prosaic or ploddingly literal. The pleasures come in listening to Pritchard’s cannily shaded, continually shifting orchestral textures, providing luminous backing to the stratospheric solo writing. A fascinating, enjoyable CD. Kenneth Woods and David Curtis share conducting duties, and the Orchestra of the Swan provide confident, lively backing. 

December 2014

Classics Online

Tamsin Waley-Cohen and the Lark Ascending
*****

“Topping and tailing the disc are the two works for solo violin and string orchestra by Vaughan Williams. His music’s evocative, pastoral antiquity can make it susceptible to syrupiness, but not here; rustic punchiness and a sprightly light tread are the hallmark of his barely-known Concerto for Violin, while Waley-Cohen’s playing is memorable for the confident, earthy grit balancing its sweetness.

Open Me

Then, this interpretation of The Lark Ascending has a steely British stoicism that gets under your skin. Waley-Cohen’s high-register lines are satisfyingly sure and rounded, and she’s gorgeously supported by the orchestra with some lovely woodwind and brass solo turns.

The contrast provided by disc’s less obviously folky, central Elgar section means that the atmosphere of freshness doesn’t flicker for a second. This Serenade is ear-prickingly youthful and vibrant, its sparky grace a perfect foil to the strength and vigour of the Introduction and Allegro.”

By Charlotte Gardner © 2014 Sinfini Music

15 September 2014

Birmingham Post

Birmingham Bach Choir, Orchestra of the Swan, Symphony Hall
‘Unfinished Remembering’

“Birmingham Bach Choir delivered one of the most important concerts in its near 100-year history on Saturday when it performed the premiere of their conductor Paul Spicer’s Unfinished Remembering. This near hour-long, four-movement choral symphony was commissioned by the choir with the help of funding from the Feeney Trust and was composed to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

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Its problem is that Euan Tait’s libretto does not rest there but also brings in examples of intolerance (homophobia, racial violence) in order to question whether the soldiers’ sacrifice has been worthwhile. Tippett’s libretto for his similarly pacifist A Child of Our Time at least concentrated upon only one event and made it universal. Tait spreads his concerns too thinly and Spicer’s excellent, deeply-felt score is hide-bound as a result.

Spicer’s writing is indeed remarkable, strong, virile, its courageous orchestration well-delivered by a top-form Orchestra of the Swan (special mention to the thrusting brass), its logical, natural word-setting passionately projected by a Birmingham Bach Choir on top form – assiduously rehearsed before the summer break and then returning to consolidate just a couple of weeks ago.

It’s a pity that his Bach chorale interpolations didn’t make more of an impact, as on paper they certainly add an element of universality to Tait’s vision. But Spicer’s solo writing was well conveyed by soprano Johane Ansell and baritone William Dazeley, both always clear and impassioned. As they had been in a deeply moving performance of Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem, with the choir full, rich and sonorous.

I was not much convinced of the necessity of including Spicer and Tait’s A Shared Singing, a so-called ‘National Song’ which span out of the Unfinished Remembering project. Though it was good to hear the singing of the Midlands Military Community Choir which has taken it up, and, through personal participation, to realise how well the melody sits on the voice, it smacked too much of the simultaneous Last Night of the Proms, not quite appropriate to introduce the sobriety of Unfinished Remembering”.
Christopher Morley

8 September 2014

MusicWeb International

Hans Gál (1890-1987)
 Symphony no1 in D Op30

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Symphony no1 in B flat Op38 ‘Spring’

AVIE AV2233

“Both symphonies sparkle with joie de vivre and I found that I enjoyed the Schumann more than I’ve ever done before… The sound is crisp and clear. There’s nothing more to say except that if you’d like a really good recording of the Schumann and you don’t know the Gàl then it’s a win-win situation.”

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 “In common with the Schumann First, Gàl’s first symphony came a long time after his first attempts at writing one. This was despite winning the Austrian State Prize with a symphony which he decided to withdraw before its first performance replacing it with another which he also later abandoned. It was only in 1927, 16 years after those attempts, that he wrote this first symphony – one he was happy to consider his first. It did well, receiving second place in a competition held to mark the bicentenary of Schubert’s death. It was performed frequently for the next five years yet, since 1933, it has only been played three times in public, something which is quite unfathomable once you’ve heard it. It is always a complete mystery as to why some composer’s works sink, often without trace, while others from the same period establish a firm place in the repertoire.

However, with the advent of a more avant-garde approach to composition by the likes of Schoenberg, Webern and Berg there came a period during which ‘tunes’ were regarded as ‘old hat’, an attitude that later put paid to many a composer’s works during the years following the second world war. Now that writing works that are full of melody is no longer regarded as old-fashioned, music such as his is once again in vogue. What these releases of Gàl’s music on CD will lead to, I hope, is that works such as his symphonies will also be programmed in the concert hall once again.

As a great admirer of Gàl I was thrilled on his behalf that in the UK the BBC in May this year devoted five one hour programmes in their Composer of the Week series to him and the expert called upon to help illuminate his life was the conductor on this disc, Kenneth Woods. The programmes are available (in the UK only I believe) to download as a podcast and I urge people to do so for they will learn a great deal about what made him tick musically and will help in their enjoyment of his music. Those not in the UK can still ‘listen again’ to the programmes and at the time of writing they are said to be available indefinitely. If any executives of the BBC ever get to read this review may I put in a plea that Gàl’s music is considered for inclusion in next year’s BBC Proms because on the strength of this symphony it would prove extremely popular?

Though substantial, the first is the shortest of Gál’s four symphonies. As soon as the first movement begins the overriding and most impressive feature is his innate ability to deal with an orchestra. Everything is perfectly handled and there’s a hugely impressive sense of unity and perfect balance. What is evident right from the outset is that Gàl had a real facility to come up with highly colourful tunes which explains the symphony’s initial success. Its subsequent disappearance from the concert hall remains unfathomable.

The second movement marked Burleske has a lovely childlike sense of pleasure with rustic overtones while the ensuing Elegie is deeply satisfying, gently phrased and full of gorgeous melodies including a lovely solo from his oft favoured instrument the oboe. The final Rondo, a real orchestral showstopper, bursts into being with exuberance and brio, fairly tripping along only becoming more serious briefly towards the end before finishing with a flourish. The first symphony is an indication of how well formed a composer he was when he wrote it. His other three symphonies – all available on build upon that.

While there doesn’t seem to be any immediately apparent reason to couple his first symphony with that of Schumann it has been the record company Avie’s policy, or perhaps Kenneth Woods’ idea, to couple all of Gàl’s symphonies with those of Schumann, both having written four. Gàl was a great admirer of Schumann and wrote a well-respected book Schumann’s Orchestral Music (London: BBC, 1979) though he also was co-editor of ten volumes of Brahms’ complete works. What is interesting, however, is that despite the 86 years that separate the two symphonies the musical language is much closer. Gàl wrote that Schumann’s first symphony was ‘the most fortunate of Schumann’s symphonies in the first impression it makes … the most successful use of orchestral colour that Schumann ever succeeded in obtaining’; the same thing can easily and justifiably be said about his own so perhaps the coupling begins to make sense after all.

There isn’t much that can be said about Schumann’s Spring symphony that hasn’t been said before many times. It was composed during one of Schumann’s happiest periods. That certainly shows in this perfect example of symphonic writing: richly melodic and abounding in the most memorable tunes.

It has been said that I rarely write a negative review but apart from the observation that I doubt that it was Kenneth Woods’ idea to have four photos of him in the brochure plus one on the back of the jewel case, as I’ve said before in a paraphrase of comedian Frank Carson’s famous catchphrase, ‘It’s the way I pick ’em’. Knowing Kenneth Woods’ work both as soloist and conductor it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that he’d do a brilliant job and so he has. He uses an orchestra of equal size for each symphony and which in Schumann’s case is just about identical to the size it was in Schumann’s day.

Both symphonies sparkle with joie de vivre and I found that I enjoyed the Schumann more than I’ve ever done before for which I thank Mr Woods and the OOTS. The sound is crisp and clear. There’s nothing more to say except that if you’d like a really good recording of the Schumann and you don’t know the Gàl then it’s a win-win situation.
Steve Arloff

12 August 2014

Classicalsource.com

Music by Philip Sawyers
Cello ConcertoSymphony No2Concertante for Violin, Piano and Strings

Orchestra of the Swan/Kenneth Woods
Maja Bogdanovic cello
Steinberg Duo: Louisa Stonehill
violin,  Nicholas Burns piano
Recorded 14-15 May 2013,

Civic Hall, Stratford-upon-Avon, England
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI 6281 60 minutes

“Power, strength and expressive range are here a-plenty, and the continuous flow of the music is gripping, travelling this way and that, but at all times utterly well-paced. From the first bars, the listener’s attention is gripped as one follows the argument, growing from the beautiful initial theme; the second movement is further proof of this composer’s quality. The performances are totally committed and the recording quality is really fine. This is the kind of music that gives one hope for the future of our art.”

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“A previous Nimbus release of Philip Sawyers’s music (NI 6129), including his First Symphony and Symphonic Music for Strings and Brass, impressed, and I very much hope that both records will ensure the acceptance of Sawyers as one of the most gifted of composers. Sawyers was born in London in 1951 and for 24 years was a member of the Royal Opera House Orchestra. He thus has that inestimable advantage for a composer of being a professional executant (literally to his fingertips), a background which sets him apart from many of his contemporaries.

He knows, in his orchestral music, what ‘works’ from the inside, and how best – having played under some great conductors as a violinist – his music should be realised. This places him on the same level, in terms of practical experience, of – say – Carl Nielsen, Bohuslav Martinů and Paul Hindemith, and if you like their music you’ll like that of Sawyers (although it’s quite different). Sawyers studied composition with, among others, Buxton Orr and Edmund Rubbra.

Much of Sawyers’s work is relatively recent, but, without the backing of a world-wide publishing house (as is also the case with a number of his talented British contemporaries), Sawyers has been quietly building a growing reputation. His music is modern, but of a modernity remarkably free from what, in George Bernard Shaw’s words, may be described as “professional pedantry, deliberate imitation, claptrap, padding and vulgarity”, or – to bring it slightly more up to date, for the problem is eternal – as Richard Rodney Bennett stated in an interview with Richard Stoker in Composer magazine in 1971: “I think young composers in America are in a state of shock almost … they just write a kind of grey, atonal music which I dislike intensely … I found it rather depressing that … quite a lot of young people should have opted for one thing to the exclusion of everything else.”

If you feel the same way, prepare to shed those feelings with regard to Sawyers’s compositions: they speak naturally, seriously, but by no means doggedly; his music is emotionally direct and always involving the intelligent listener. This is the kind of music for which many people have been secretly hoping for years. The First Symphony (commissioned by the Grand Rapids Symphony for its 75th-anniversary) is a superb work, in four movements, wonderfully orchestrated, sensitive, powerful and memorable. We’ll come to the Second Symphony in a moment, but on this current disc I began with the Concertante (2006), the shortest work here at eleven minutes and calling for the fewest number of players. It is a magnificent composition, in the line of a single-movement three-sectioned combination of emotional power and relaxation, drama and contemplation, superbly expressed within an underlying and unifying pulse. The music is immediately intriguing and concerned entirely with development. The preparation for the central slower section is wonderfully achieved, growing quietly (and wholly organically) from the previous concluding bars, it builds to a genuine and powerful climax before morphing into the faster third section – a true ‘coming together’ of the material.

Not the least important aspect of this release is the excellent booklet note by Kenneth Woods, who writes apropos of this work: “[it is]a wonderful example of a work written somewhat ‘to order’ which still manages to encapsulate all that is so compelling and rewarding about his music … I love the way in which a work that could have ended up ‘modest’ in all the wrong ways packs such a powerful emotional punch.” Having been deeply impressed with Sawyers’s First Symphony, I ought not to have been surprised by the sheer fearlessness and directness of expression of the Second (2008), the work of a musician who is communicative, intelligent and unfailingly musical at all times within a very wide expressive range. There are no miscalculations in this work: it is a genuine Symphony, such as Sibelius, Nielsen, Schoenberg and Shostakovich would instantly have recognised, and in no sense is it ‘old-fashioned’ – the concept of ‘fashion’ in music is as unacceptable to Sawyers as it was to those earlier masters. Power, strength and expressive range are here a-plenty, and the continuous flow of the music is gripping, travelling this way and that, but at all times utterly well-paced. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect is that it is written for exactly the same-sized orchestra that Beethoven calls for in his Seventh Symphony, eminently playable, lying under the fingers and totally rewarding.

Sawyers’s Cello Concerto (2010) was written for Maja Bogdanovic, and is also eminently serious and immensely impressive. From the first bars, the listener’s attention is gripped as one follows the argument, growing from the beautiful initial theme; the second movement is further proof of this composer’s quality – it is contemplative, but possessing a genuine sense of inner momentum: this is not one idea following another, but revealing a flow such as one finds in the slow movements of Brahms’s larger structures. It leads to a central faster section full of “anger and tension” (as Woods well says) but handled with complete assurance as the music returns to the mood of the opening, subsumed and at peace.

The somewhat unpredictable finale sheds fresh light on this composer’s outlook: “I’ve come to absolutely love it”, says Woods – and one hopes that many more will share the experience. The performances are totally committed and the recording quality is really fine. This is the kind of music that gives one hope for the future of our art.”
Robert Matthew-Walker

4 August 2014

Classical Notes

Brahms Serenade no1 in D major
Schönberg Verklärte Nacht

Orchestra of the Swan, Kenneth Woods, Ensemble Epomeo and friends.
Somm SOMMCD 0139.

“Another enjoyable live performance, combining sensitivity and warmth in the Adagio, spirit and fun in the second Scherzo, with a rousing gypsy-infused Finale. The wind players in particular stand out for me in this lively recording.”

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“Next, live performances from the Ensemble Epomeo, and members of Orchestra of the Swan. First, the Ensemble Epomeo (with which Kenneth Woods plays the cello) and friends perform Verklärte Nacht (‘Transfigured Night’) by Arnold Schönberg (1874-1951) in its original string sextet version. Schönberg later orchestrated the work, and it became one of his most performed works.

Unlike his later music, it is tonal, although highly chromatic, with a late Romantic stamp, and a strong Wagnerian flavour. The orchestral version is extremely lush, but the sextet version, whilst obviously pared down in texture, actually has a greater intensity. The poem by Dehmel which inspired the work is about a woman who walks with her lover in a moonlit forest, and confesses she is pregnant by another man. Her lover ultimately forgives her and the intensity of their love and the beauty of the moonlight brings them together.

In this live recording, there are some occasional background noises, and in fact noises from the players themselves at time, with some rather heavy breathing in places. However, they capture the build of intensity in the music, and one can sense that this must have been a captivating performance to experience live. Despite the relative containment of the sextet version, the climaxes could take more passion, but otherwise this is an exciting performance.

The disc continues with another chamber version of a work better known as an orchestral piece. Brahms (1833-1897) originally scored his Serenade Op. 11 for wind and string octet, then expanded it to a nonet, before fully orchestrating it in the version known today. Brahms destroyed the original chamber version, but Alan Boustead reconstructed it, and here it is performed by members of the Orchestra of the Swan. Another enjoyable live performance, combining sensitivity and warmth in the Adagio, spirit and fun in the second Scherzo, with a rousing gypsy-infused Finale. The wind players in particular stand out for me in this lively recording.”

2 July 2014

Hereford Times

Arts collaboration leads to haunting echoes

“Two of the most celebrated festivals on the local arts scene have been working with Orchestra of the Swan this summer to devise a series of creative poetry and music sessions for primary schools in Herefordshire and Worcestershire. The final outcome will be linked directly to this year’s themes for the Worcester Three Choirs Festival.”

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“ECHOES in Song is the name of a collaboration between classical musicians, Ledbury Poetry Festival and the Three Choirs Festival. On Friday, at a free event in Ledbury, an audience will be able to hear those haunting echoes, and the centenary echoes of World War One.

Two of the most celebrated festivals on the local arts scene have been working with Orchestra of the Swan this summer to devise a series of creative poetry and music sessions for primary schools in Herefordshire and Worcestershire. The final outcome will be linked directly to this year’s themes for the Worcester Three Choirs Festival.

Clare Stevens, marketing and media manager for the Three Choirs Festival, said: “This process was inspired by two of the key works in the festival: Britten’s War Requiem and Torsten Rasch’s A Foreign Field, both of which use settings of poetry from World War One.

“Poets Mandy Ross and Julie Boden visited schools in Eastnor, Malvern, Redditch and Ledbury and worked with children to write their own texts which were about, or reminiscent of, World War 1.”

She added: “Themes explored in the initial sessions included responses to Lord Kitchener’s call to join up at the beginning of the war; the role of women in the war; and the experiences of children whose older brothers were serving at the front. The children sang and marched in step to ‘Pack Up Your Troubles’ and went on to imagine the individual doubts and worries packed into ‘your old kit bag’ that might lie unspoken behind the decision to join the army.”

Children from Somers Park School in Malvern, which opened in 1909, imagined the lives of former pupils who gave their lives in the war, and made a link with the school’s small war memorial, which quotes Laurence Binyon’s famous poem ‘For the Fallen’, one of the texts used in Sir Edward Elgar’s Spirit of England, – to be performed at the Three Choirs Festival. The children also wrote about the poppy meadows being planted this year in memory of those who gave their lives in the war.

In the next sessions, composer Freya Waley-Cohen and two musicians from the Orchestra of the Swan helped the children to create musical settings for their poems. Vocal coach Robbie Jacobs then helped them learn how to perform their work. The first presentation of work by Ledbury Primary School and Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Redditch, took place on June 26.

Ledbury Poetry Festival has invited all the schools to come and share their work on Friday, July 4, at 10.30am. This will be a free event at the Community Hall in Lawnside Road.

Schools attending will include Eastnor C. E. Primary, Ledbury Primary and Somers Park Primary, Malvern.”

19 June 2014

Gazette & Herald

Devizes Festival, the Corn Exchange
Orchestra of the Swan
David Curtis
conductor
Tamsin Waley-Cohen violin

“a beautifully balanced programme of some of the best of British music from the first part of the 20th century. The highlight of the first half was a stunningly beautiful performance by Tamsin Waley-Cohen of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. The concert ended with a sparkling performance of Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony, the large and appreciative audience left the Corn Exchange with this wonderful music ringing in their ears.”

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“It has been 11 years since Devizes Festival last had the pleasure of an orchestral concert and Tuesday’s concert in the Corn Exchange by The Orchestra of the Swan made up for that omission magnificently. The orchestra, which is based in Stratford-upon-Avon, has steadily built up a big reputation for its high standard of performances throughout the UK and also in the USA and China.

Under the leadership of conductor David Curtis, they presented “a beautifully balanced programme of some of the best of British music from the first part of the 20th century. The high-spirited nature of Holst’s St Paul’s Suite for Strings was followed by the gentler and more lyrical strains of Elgar’s ever popular Serenade for Strings.

The highlight of the first half was a stunningly beautiful performance by Tamsin Waley-Cohen of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. Her playing of this piece was technically assured with the most delicate playing, especially in the higher registers. From the opening notes she transported the audience into this marvellous evocation of the rural English landscape as it must have been at the turn of the 20th century.

The second half began with two short pieces for strings by William Walton taken from his film score for Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film of Henry V. The concert ended with a sparkling performance of Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony, especially in the Playful Pizzicato movement.

On a beautiful summer’s evening, the large and appreciative audience left the Corn Exchange with this wonderful music ringing in their ears. Let us hope that Devizes doesn’t have to wait 11 more years before we can have the pleasure of another orchestral concert such as this.”

David Lucas

18 June 2014

Classical Ear 5*****

Hans Gál (1890-1987)
Symphony no1 in D Op30
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Symphony no1 in B flat Op38 ‘Spring’
Avie AV2233 

“This stylish and consistently invigorating coupling represents both an exemplary rescue act and genuine tonic to boot. Investigate without delay!”

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“The First of Hans Gál’s four symphonies was completed in November 1927 and premiered in Düsseldorf 13 months later. It is a compact, skilfully wrought and immensely personable creation, scored with a marvellously deft touch, full of first-rate ideas and boasting a highly affecting slow movement (‘Elegie’) – small wonder it was performed frequently in Germany prior to Hitler’s rise to power (after which Gál, a Viennese-born Jew, was summarily dismissed from his post at the Mainz Conservatory and his music banned).

Hats off to the indefatigable Kenneth Woods and the Orchestra of the Swan for rounding off their revelatory Gál symphony cycle for Avie in such commensurate, urgently communicative fashion and bringing to Schumann’s comparably sparkling and life-enhancing ‘Spring’ Symphony such boundless vitality, scrupulous fidelity to the printed score, delicious wit and (above all) entrancing freshness of new discovery.

This stylish and consistently invigorating coupling represents both an exemplary rescue act and genuine tonic to boot. Investigate without delay!”
Andrew Achenbach

6 June 2014

MusicWeb International

Hans Gál (1890-1987)
Symphony no1 in D Op30
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Symphony no1 in B flat Op38 ‘Spring’

AVIE AV2233 

“This is the concluding volume of two symphonic cycles at once that have proved very rewarding. It is unthinkable that Gál collectors will be disappointed by this sharp, ultimately refreshing account of one of his most cherished predecessors.”

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“This is the concluding volume of two symphonic cycles at once that have proved very rewarding. US-conductor Kenneth Woods and Stratford-upon-Avon-based Orchestra of the Swan’s four-disc series has already delivered three pairings of Hans Gál’s symphonies with those of Schumann, a composer Gál greatly admired. Volume one gave their Thirds (AV2230, review); volume two, Schumann’s Second and Gál’s Fourth (AV2231,review); volume three reversed these numbers for Schumann’s Fourth and Gál’s Second (AV2232, review).

The Northern Sinfonia under Thomas Zehetmair have also recorded Gál’s First and Second symphonies (AV2224, AV2225). Initially predating the Woods/Swans series slightly, these also came out on Avie, producing the curious state of affairs of a label ‘competing’ against itself. Zehetmair’s cycle, if it was ever meant to be one, appears to have fizzled out, and Woods and the Swans thus have the honour of offering the first-ever recording of all four of Gál’s memorable symphonies.

The Swans could avail themselves of no better conductor for Gál than Woods. So tireless a campaigner is he for a composer who until recently went almost entirely ignored, that he has now been appointed Honorary Patron of the Hans Gál Society. Moreover, his expertise on Gál’s music – as a cellist he has even recorded his String Trios with his Ensemble Epomeo colleagues, also on Avie (review) – is underscored by an appearance in May on BBC Radio 3’s ‘Composer of the Week’, to discuss the composer with presenter Donald Macleod.

Like most of Radio 3’s programmes under controller Roger Wright, ‘Composer of the Week’ as a serious institution has been devalued in recent years by week-long features on the likes of Bill Evans, Michael Nyman, the ‘Golden Age of Hollywood’, Irving Berlin and more, but this recognition at last of Gál’s genius gives some cause for optimism – particularly with the imminent change of management.

Arguably, Woods and the Swans might have started their cycle most profitably with this final pairing of Firsts. Woods himself describes Gál’s work in these listener-friendly terms: “the shortest of [his] four symphonies, the most extrovert in character and the most colourfully orchestrated.” Like his later ones, Gál’s First recalls at times Mahler and Strauss, although by this time (1927) Mahler was of course long dead and Strauss had all but given up writing orchestral music. In fact it is Franz Schmidt, arguably Austria’s leading symphonist of the period, whose soundworld Gál most often approaches. Schmidt’s best-known Fourth was just around the corner; Gál’s First is not as long or sad, but it does share a good deal of its evocations of nostalgia and twilight, tinged with allusions to decadence, not to mention its compelling, kaleidoscopic lyricism. The delightful third-movement Elegy in particular, with its warming oboe solo, is utterly persuasive and winning.

Almost a century earlier, Schumann wrote his ‘Spring’ Symphony, much loved by audiences, if not universally by critics. What the rather small-bodied Orchestra of the Swan loses in power – the famous opening here lacks the punch of a true f fanfare to ff tutti – it makes up for in textural clarity, with no end of detail made available to the listener. On the other hand, the more intimate orchestra size does reflect the realities of Schumann’s resources, and in that sense this recording is more authentic than most. Woods was probably influenced by Thomas Dausgaard’s interpretations of the symphonies with his similar-scaled Swedish Chamber Orchestra for BIS in 2008, as was, doubtless, Michael Schønwandt’s very recent, and even better, cycle with the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic on Challenge Classics (CC72553).

Neither Dausgaard’s nor Schønwandt’s Firsts differ much from Woods’, the former-most’s approach arguably most classical, but both the BIS and Challenge recordings have the undeniable benefit of ‘SuperAudio’ quality. Avie’s sound is pretty good, it should be said, although it does suffer a little through direct comparison. Even so, in engineering terms the Avie cycle still tops many of the supposedly great Schumann recordings – their concentration in the hands of the big multinationals labels condemning them to their characteristically lossy sound.

The Challenge double-disc offers all four canonic symphonies, plus the unfinished ‘Zwickauer’, for less than price of two Avie singles. That makes the Woods/Swans series more than twice as expensive per recorded minute, but this is easily offset by the immense value of the Gál cycle. Then again, although it would be going too far to suggest that this is an indispensable account of Schumann’s ‘Spring’, it is unthinkable that Gál collectors will be disappointed by this sharp, ultimately refreshing account of one of his most cherished predecessors.

The accompanying booklet and back inlay track-list both inexplicably give the final movement of the Schumann as ‘Andante animato e grazioso’ instead of ‘Allegro animato e grazioso’. Apart from that, all is well with the documentation provided: Woods gives another well written, informative article on both composers and their symphonies in English, German and French.”

26 May 2014

Artistxite.com 5*****

Hans Gál (1890-1987)
Symphony no1 in D Op30
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Symphony no1 in B flat Op38 ‘Spring’
AVIE AV2233 

“the most compelling reawakening of Schumann in the last decades – and simultaneously a long-overdue vindication of Hans Gál.”

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“Woods’ Schumann is a revelation: transparent, graceful, melancholy, romantic. At the beginning of this month we were blessed to hear an almost vexingly mellow Schumann by Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Now, the exemplary finale of another fascinating Schumann recording follows that up. The recording is by the British Orchestra of the Swan and is conducted by the thoroughly unconventional Kenneth Woods.

His Schumann is a revelation: transparent, graceful, melancholy, exquisitely romantic. He’s complemented by the symphonic opus of the Viennese expressionist Hans Gál. Back in his day, Gál was a best-selling author of music textbooks, which experts cite even today due to the knowledge within.

The Nazis stigmatized the books as “degenerate” and starting in the late 1930’s they were banned in the music scene in Vienna. This album marks the finale of a four-album complete recording of Schumann’s und Gál’s symphonies. The final result may be the most compelling reawakening of Schumann in the last decades – and simultaneously a long-overdue vindication of Hans Gál.”

26 May 2014

Birmingham Post 5*****

Town Hall Birmingham
Orchestra of the Swan

“The Birmingham performance was astonishing. I know and love this symphony so well, but wasn’t prepared for the brightness, clarity and well-balanced tone Curtis and his players delivered. This chamber-sized orchestra clicked with detail, accents were spot-on and no-nonsense, and structures were well-built.”

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“David Curtis and his Orchestra of the Swan are either gluttons for punishment or greedy so-and-so’s. How on earth do you take it upon yourself to perform the world’s greatest symphony, Beethoven’s third, the Eroica, twice within a few hours?

But that is what they did last Wednesday, in the afternoon at Birmingham Town Hall and in the evening in Bedworth Civic Hall, once a favoured venue of the CBSO.

The Birmingham performance was astonishing. I know and love this symphony so well, but wasn’t prepared for the brightness, clarity and well-balanced tone Curtis and his players delivered. This chamber-sized orchestra clicked with detail, accents were spot-on and no-nonsense, and structures were well-built.

And Beethoven’s famous trio of horns were splendid here, whether roaring triumphantly or tentatively nudging. Diane Clarke’s flute flutterings in the finale were worthy of Mozart’s Queen of the Night, but best of all was the awesome catafalque of sound Curtis drew in the adagio’s funeral march.

The programme had begun with the overture to the 12-year-old Mozart’s Bastien und Bastienne, something and nothing, though its triadic opening anticipates that of the Eroica

But then followed Mozartean grandeur, Martin Roscoe the soloist in the Piano Concerto no25 K503. This was such a musicianly performance from Roscoe, no ego, just a devotion to the score, clear and unfussy, and the crystalline, rippling account from the soloist was matched by Curtis’ poised, patterning orchestra in an atmosphere of joyous creativity.”
Christopher Morley

11 May 2014

Classical CD Reviews 5*****

Hans Gál (1890-1987)
Symphony no1 in D Op30
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Symphony no1 in B flat Op38 ‘Spring’ Avie AV2233 

“The performance is excellent, the strings of Orchestra of the Swan outplay their Northern Sinfonia counterparts, their tuning is better and their tone more even and polished. Recommended for the Gál of course, but recommended for the Schumann too, which gets a competitive reading here in the face of considerable competition.”

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“Kenneth Woods here completes his traversal of the Hans Gál symphonies with a recording of the First. It’s not an early work; Gál was already in his late 30s and at the height of his powers when he completed it. The mastery of the form, evident in his later works, is already clear here. And, although lessons have clearly been learned from august predecessors, particularly Schumann and Brahms, the unique configuration of all those traditions ensures Gál a distinctive voice. In fact, there is an impressive continuity of style from this work of the 1920s right up to the Fourth Symphony, written almost half a decade later. This First Symphony is not as consciously polyphonic as the Third or Fourth, but its textures are just as finely wrought. Like those later works, there is a certain terseness to Gál’s symphonic writing here – it’s full of invention and all those ideas are packed in tight. But the more homophonic textures mean that the results feel less congested. The early date of this work means that the anachronism of its style is less of a concern, for the listener at least – it apparently it was never so for the composer himself.

The performance is excellent, and fully up to the standards that Woods and his orchestra have set in their previous releases in the cycle. As in the later symphonies, the woodwind principals predominate in much of the music, and all give fine performances. So too does the solo violinist and first horn, also regular soloists.

For reasons that remain unclear, the Avie label began recording Gál’s symphonies with Thomas Zehetmair and the Northern Sinfonia and then switched to Kenneth Woods and the Orchestra of the Swan. With this First Symphony, Woods has now covered all the works that Zehetmair previously recorded. This new version is a clear improvement on the first in a number of respects. The sound quality is far superior, with much greater detail and clarity. The Zehetmair version is more bass-heavy and lacks detail in the mid-range. Interpretation wise, the tempos are almost exactly the same (I’m guessing the score contains detailed tempo indications) although Woods takes almost a minute longer in the Elegie. Most significantly, the strings of the Orchestra of the Swan outplay their Northern Sinfonia counterparts, their tuning is better and their tone more even and polished.

As a coupling, we are offered Schumann’s “Spring” Symphony. Woods gives a sprightly but detailed reading, the sound warm and rich, but never to the point of weighing down the music. The strings again excel, especially considering the demands this work places on them. On a spectrum stretching from the opulent recordings of yesteryear to the drier period performance versions of today, this recording sits somewhere in the middle but leans significantly toward the former. That said, the clarity of the textures here is never compromised by the warmth of tone, which is especially evident in the strings. The performance is excellent, and fully up to the standards that Woods and his orchestra have set in their previous releases in the cycle. As in the later symphonies, the woodwind principals predominate in much of the music, and all give fine performances. So too does the solo violinist and first horn, also regular soloists.

Another fine recording, then, from Kenneth Woods and the Orchestra of the Swan. Documentation is excellent, with Woods, as is his custom, providing detailed notes on both works. Recommended for the Gál of course, but recommended for the Schumann too, which gets a competitive reading here in the face of considerable competition.”

9 April 2014

Birmingham Post 5*****

Town Hall Birmingham
Orchestra of the Swan
Raphael Wallfisch cello 

“Curtis coaxed and commanded so many nuances from his musicians in this commanding account which will not be forgotten in a hurry.”

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“David Curtis and the gifted players of his Orchestra of the Swan will on this occasion not be dismayed to read that the sounds they produced in two of last Wednesday afternoon’s trio of offerings at Birmingham Town Hall were by no means beautiful.

What they were seeking for instead was grittiness and intellectual rigour, and they achieved those qualities magnificently in two works arranged for string orchestra. Mozart’s C minor (one of his most formidable keys) Adagio and Fugue – the Fugue originally for two pianos– was delivered grindingly, bitingly, the balance of its busy textures perfectly judged to this acoustic the performers know so well.

And the concert ended with something remarkable, an arrangement for string orchestra by Sir Colin Davis of Beethoven’s cosmically otherworldly late String Quartet in C-sharp minor.

Several great conductors of the past have made orchestral arrangements of major quartet works, but it remains a mystery as to why Davis felt the need to do this. But I’m glad he did. In softening the sense of struggle shared by valiant solo players he brought out more the amazing musical content of the work as guided under the baton of a conductor. Curtis, who played in many quartet performances of the searching piece, coaxed and commanded so many nuances from his musicians in this commanding account which will not be forgotten in a hurry.

Beauty was sandwiched between these two pieces in Raphael Wallfisch’s persuasive reading of Schumann’s Cello Concerto (this itself an arrangement, reduced from a full orchestra to strings by Wallfisch’s conductor son Benjamin).

The soloist’s mellow, thoughtful tones and ruminative lines brought many gorgeous, heart-stopping moments, delicate interactions with Curtis’ alert orchestra wafting us into the realms of chamber-music – which the outer offerings had deliberately set out to eschew!
Christopher Morley

25 March 2014

Words and Music
Two Springs, Disc of the Day

Hans Gál (1890-1987)
Symphony no1 in D Op30
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Symphony no1 in B flat Op38 ‘Spring’ Avie AV2233

“The performance is tighter, rhythmically crisper, richer in contrasts, more characterful and always closer to the composer’s wishes.”

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“One hears the first cuckoo… Not one but two Schumann Spring Symphonies hove into earshot. Kenneth Woods and Orchestra of the Swan versus Yannick Nezet-Seguin and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Woods wins it.

One needs express no surprise when the committed outfit with its own conductor beats the prestige youngsters under the rising star jet-setter.

The Woods performance is tighter, rhythmically crisper, richer in contrasts, more characterful and always closer to the composer’s wishes. Nezet-Seguin twice decelerates where no tempo change is marked – the first movement’s second subject (where Woods marks the contrast not by speed but stark, clear-blue-water contrast between the wind legato and the string agitato) and, more deliberately, the bowed unisons after the skittish pizzicato in the finale. It ruins the momentum.

Woods carries on through precipitously, which is clearly what Schumann intends. Woods is slower in the slow movement but anticipates the chords with unified crescendi. He is half a minute quicker in the Scherzo and quite Beethovenian in the string scales where the European conglomerate sounds plodding and lacks the bass throb in the same scales.

The solos – the paused horn call, the flute cadenza – show the European mettle but one expects that as these are the cream of instrumentalists skimmed off, but the sense of ensembles within the ensemble in the Stratford upon Avon orchestra, with Woods’ woodwind even achieving comic tone together, is more important ultimately than fine solos.

Golden the daffodils in Shakespeare’s birthplace.”
Rick Jones

9 April 2014

Birmingham Post 5*****

Town Hall Birmingham
Orchestra of the Swan
Tamsin Waley-Cohen  violin 

“Curtis and his players proved affectionate and alert, balancing textures wonderfully.”

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“Compared with the biggies in the repertoire, Mozart’s violin concertos are virtual Cinderellas, but they have virtues and felicities which sympathetic soloists can dig out and find.

And Tamsin Waley-Cohen certainly did that at this delightful matinee finding in the A major Concerto K 219 a vein of fantasy which suffused the music with a character all its own. From its dreamy opening to the cartoonish barbarism of the finale’s Turkish episode, this was a reading which paid the work the compliment of being the most important offering from Mozart’s pen.

Waley-Cohen brought a bright freshness of tone and light agility of bowing, gently sprung and sweetly, suavely phrased. Both here and in the B-flat Rondo (written by Mozart to replace the original finale of his K207 Concerto) she and David Curtis’ orchestra collaborated with empathy and understanding, all devoted to the welfare of this fragile music.

Two quirky symphonies topped and tailed proceedings. Boccherini’s Symphony no.11 in C major was full of surprises in tonality and in transitional passages, as well as in scoring (two melancholy cellos leaving a single contrabassist to provide the bass line), and Curtis and his players proved affectionate and alert, balancing textures wonderfully.

And finally Haydn’s Symphony no.22, the Philosopher, expertly delivered by an OOTS which now included two ruminative cors anglais, and two spectacularly extrovert horns.”
Christopher Morley

26 February 2014

Birmingham Post 5*****

Town Hall Birmingham
Orchestra of the Swan
Diane Clark flute
Helen Sharp harp

“a truly life-enhancing account of Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp Concerto… sunshine streaming through the Birmingham Town Hall windows to complement what was really a wonderful programme”

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“It’s not very often that you find a musician stepping out of the orchestra after playing in a symphony, emerging then as a soloist, and then subsequently returning to the ranks for another symphony.

But this is what flautist Diane Clark did on Wednesday afternoon in an Orchestra of the Swan concert blessed by sunshine streaming through the Birmingham Town Hall windows to complement what was really a wonderful programme.

She was joined by Helen Sharp in a truly life-enhancing account of Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp Concerto, written under duress for two of his least favourite instruments as a money-grabbing exercise, but gloriously celebrating their capabilities.

This was a heart-warming collaboration between Clark and Sharp, phrasing as one, Clark’s articulation so beautifully shaped, Sharp’s harp tone ripplingly velvety, capturing stillness in the well-filled auditorium. Cadenzas were well-chosen from a variety of sources, and David Curtis’ orchestra collaborated enthusiastically before welcoming Clark back into the fold. And Diane Clark had much to do in the concluding offering, Schubert’s Fifth Symphony, where the flute adds so much radiance to the work’s gorgeous outpouring of melody.

David Curtis allowed all this youthful music’s grace to flow, setting natural tempi (a blissfully flowing andante), lilting with rubato in the Menuetto’s Trio, and bubbling Rossini-like in the finale.

But we must not forget the Haydn Symphony no.83 “La Poule” which opened proceedings, lithe, strong, witty and well-focussed.”
Christopher Morley

22 November 2013

Birmingham Post

Symphony Hall
Birmingham City of Birmingham Choir
Orchestra of the Swan
Mozart Requiem

“the performances displayed considerable freshness. Adrian Lucas allowed the overture to rattle along without hindrance, and for the concerto drew from the responsive Orchestra of the Swan a degree of sensitivity that revealed several woodwind subtleties” 

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“From Karl Jenkins to Mozart in two weeks – it’s a busy and varied life in the City of Birmingham Choir; and Saturday’s all-Mozart concert promised much greater variety than the samey offerings delivered previously by the other chap.

So it did, up to a point, even if the programme of this Raymond Gubbay promotion had a drearily familiar ring: the Requiem (of course) and, for non-choral types, the ‘Figaro’ Overture and Piano Concerto No. 21.

But the performances displayed considerable freshness. Adrian Lucas allowed the overture to rattle along without hindrance, and for the concerto drew from the responsive Orchestra of the Swan a degree of sensitivity that revealed several woodwind subtleties.

Soloist Anthony Hewitt may not have fully explored Mozart’s lyricism, or sustained the pathos of the Andante (the programme note thankfully refrained from mentioning that soppy 1960s film where it was used), but the nuts and bolts of the work were well served by his crystalline textures and clean, unfussy approach.

For its part the CBC gave a commendably serviceable account of the Requiem, with just the right mixture of gravitas and alacrity. Fugues had punch and definition (though some hard consonants were not forcefully projected enough), runs were clearly articulated, and Lucas paid close attention to mood and textural balance.

The soloists made a fairly amorphous quartet although individual contributions, especially those of the tenor Samuel Boden, were more distinctively voiced – and soprano Rhian Lois toned down her searchlight delivery very nicely for Lux aeterna.” David Hart

22 November 2013

Birmingham Post

Symphony Hall Birmingham
Orchestra of the Swan
Raphael Wallfisch cello

“David Curtis delivered a finale bristling with energy, sparky wind playing and animated interplay between first and second violins” 

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“Mozart was delighted by the quality of his Paris Symphony’s first performance and celebrated with what was then a luxury – an ice-cream. Would he have done the same here?

David Curtis delivered a finale bristling with energy, sparky wind playing and animated interplay between first and second violins, although dividing them left and right would have had greater impact.

Piquant wind playing was the highlight of Le Tombeau de Couperin where Ravel’s modern harmonies appear in baroque fancy dress. This was a performance full of charm, the Prelude gently wafted in and the three succeeding dance movements vividly characterized.

Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No 1 can’t match those works for inspiration but, like all his music, it’s well-crafted, tuneful and doesn’t outstay its welcome and Raphael Wallfisch’s warm, generous playing made the most of its virtues.

There was plenty of fire in the finale and a delicate touch for the china shepherdess slow movement with its muted string accompaniment.

The Swan is a cellist’s delight, a sugary confection perhaps but no matter if you have a musical sweet tooth, and Wallfisch played it beautifully. A rousing performance of the composer’s Allegro appassionato was a suitable encore.”
Norman Stinchcombe


16 October 2013

Birmingham Post 4****

Symphony Hall Birmingham
Orchestra of the Swan
Raphael Wallfisch cello

“a sparkling performance with an inflected slow movement and merry trio with chortling bassoons.”

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“When conductor David Curtis said that Haydn’s symphonies were under-performed in the concert hall I uttered an inward “Hear, hear!” followed by an equally silent cheer when he added that the orchestra will play several during the forthcoming season. The omens were good. As the introduction to Haydn’s Symphony No.85 La Reine rang out – with just the right touch of Handelian pomp and grandeur. It was a sparkling performance with an inflected slow movement and merry trio with chortling bassoons.

Raphael Wallfisch’s playing was suave and elegant in Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations for cello and orchestra where the composer wittily captures the musical spirit of earlier times without resorting to pastiche. He was nimble in the quick variations but had ample warmth and richness of tone for the romantic seventh variation where Tchaikovsky enters the world of his beloved ballet.

Wallfisch’s encore, Tchaikovsky’s Nocturne, was a tasty musical morsel.

Mozart’s Symphony No.40 began at a cracking pace, Curtis providing the molto allegro tempo the composer asked for but which conductors are often reluctant to supply. The playing throughout was strong yet supple.”
Norman Stinchcombe

29 September 2013

The Observer

Mendelssohn Concerto for violin and piano
Concerto for violin and string orchestra in D minor
Tamsin Waley-Cohen violin
Huw Watkins piano
David Curtis conductor
Signum Classics

“Full of spirit and stunningly played here by the young British violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen, the playing from the soloists is virtuosic and Orchestra of the Swan give light-footed support.” read more…

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“These two works were written when Mendelssohn was 13. The Violin Concerto in D minor – not to be confused with the famous E minor Concerto No 2 – was rediscovered by Yehudi Menuhin in the last century.

Full of spirit and stunningly played here by the young British violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen, it nevertheless struggles to get beyond the eloquent and cheerful. Waley-Cohen makes the utmost of its innocent, songful lyricism.

The Concerto for Violin and Piano, written slightly later, has more depth and originality, with lovely cadenzas for the solo instruments and the kind of frisky energy Mendelssohn would soon display in the Octet. The playing from the soloists is virtuosic and the Orchestra of the Swan give light-footed support.”
Fiona Maddocks

September 2013

Get Ready to Rock Magazine  4****½

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel CD
Orchestra of the Swan and Chamber Choir
Symphony Hall, Birmingham
David Curtis
conductor

“The second album in particularly is given fresh vigour and substance here by the accompanying Orchestra of the Swan and Chamber Choir… Both these albums have been re-released in re-mastered format before, but the ebullient orchestral arrangements reinvigorate both with a fresh sense of purpose, and because of that this is a recommended release.” read more…

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“The commercial potential of pop or rock music is largely determined by a time, a place and a context. This was never more so than with the ego posturing of Steve Harley (and Cockney Rebel), who in spite of penning some of the best songs of the era, was erroneously labelled Glam Rock.

In the mid 70’s Steve was hailed as the second coming and by the 80’s he had all but been forgotten about. His songs though have not lost their poise or resonance. Harleys unique phrasing, cryptic word plays and sweeping melodies always marked him out as special, even if it the music was tied to a particular era.

The best moments on this orchestrated double album set, remain exactly as they were nearly 4 decades ago – ‘Sebastian’, ‘Mirror Freak’ and ‘Death Trip’ from ‘The Human Menagerie’ and ‘Sweet Dreams’, ‘Mr. Soft’ ‘Sling It’, ‘Tumbling Down’ and the title track from ‘The Psychomodo’.

Steve Harley’s lyrics were clever, dark and eclectic by turns. His lyrics and music were far more eclectic and arty than his Glam image would suggest, though you suspect that image suited his career trajectory at the time.

With an electric violin as lead instrument, the emphasis is on the instrumentation supporting his word plays and phrasing. He may have been billed as Cockney Rebel, but much like Ian Anderson in Jethro Tull his lyrics and music made him the personification of the band. In retrospect ‘The Human Menagerie’ sounds like a work in progress, but with enough highlights to establish Harley as a new significant player on the scene. And by the time he popped up with ‘The Psychomodo’ he had honed his craft with outrageous phrasing to match his catchy word plays. The second album in particularly is given fresh vigour and substance here by the accompanying Orchestra of the Swan and Chamber Choir and the superb arrangements of Andrew Powell. If ‘The Human Menagerie’ was an album by a star on the rise, ‘The Psychomodo’ delivered the beef.

‘The Human Menagerie’ opens with the beguiling and delicate touch of ‘Hideaway’, which could easily fit into Mark Knofler’s current set, albeit without the guitar. Both the character based songs ‘What Ruthy Said ’ and ‘Loretta’s Tale’ evoke the early 70’s Kinks, while the rockier violin led ‘Crazy Raver’ is very much of its time, with Steve’s phrasing sounding like Mott’s Ian Hunter, or perhaps it was the other way round at the time?

The gothic ‘Sebastian’ still sparkles as a piece of orchestrated art-pop. Harley’s sublime phrasing has mercifully lost its faux Bowie cockney affectation, as the hook sweeps you along on a melody line that evokes The Moody Blues, but with better lyrics. The angelic choir is exquisite and the orchestra and horns perfectly capture Harley’s sense of grandeur. ‘Sebastian’ has a presence that has been rarely equalled since its release and the final crescendo sends shivers down your spine, as Harley jocularly comments: ‘That should put the wheels back on the bike’. Indeed it does!

‘Mirror Freak’ still sounds fresh, original and different and is a vehicle for his exaggerated phrasing, with echoes of Bowie, Ferry et al, but perhaps only Harley could make his impenetrable lyrics sound so weighty. Barry Wickens’ violin perfectly offsets Steve’s slurred vocals, with keyboard player James Lascelles emphasising the melody that underpins Harley’s trademarks lyrics: ‘But sweet Loretta she knows all the tricks (elaborately phrased), So you perform like it’s your very best show, You turn her on but she’s never gonna know, Then you can shuffle your hips, or M-M-Mae West your lips’.

Steve also nails the underlying importance of a time and place when he tells his audience: ‘I was 22 when I wrote these things and I’ve got a son now of 30, it’s all relative’. ’My Only Vice’ is full of feverish violin, pumping strings and some Dylan style phrasing of his surreal lyrics: ‘My Only Vice (is the Fantastic Prices I Charge for Being Eaten Alive)’. The stuttering rhythm of ‘Judy Teen’ is still quirky, catchy and essential, with the crowd filling in the end part of the hook. ‘Death Trip’ remains an epic finale with the band at its best on a majestic melody line given the full treatment by choir and orchestra.

‘The Psychomodo’ feels like a step forward and opens with a creepy, cacophonous orchestrated intro on the otherwise sublime ‘Sweet Dreams’. Steve adds stuttered phrasing over a beautiful descending piano line and violin. It segues into the title track a rock & roll masterpiece that was surely influenced by Ian Hunter or vice versa? Either way it deservedly gets a monumental reception and makes you wonder why he never cracked The States. Perhaps the following ‘Mr Soft’ answers that question, as it sounds like a weird Ray Davies piece that the yanks might find too eccentric? ‘

‘Singular Band’ is a funky almost fusion piece on which keyboard player James Lascelles excels. Harley’s vitriol filled lyrics are slurred to the point that he sounds like he’s scat singing, but as ever it all works splendidly.

‘Ritz’ is an eerie sounding word play neatly captured in the couplet: ‘Careless, caress, curt up beside me, Visit, sleep and smile and drown me’.

The dirgy ‘Cavaliers’ doesn’t quite the have the substance to match it bluster, and his ropey vocal is saved by a combination of bv’s and superb orchestration and Steve Norman’s sax solo, while the poppy ‘Bed In The Corner’ could again be The Kinks.

On the bombastic ‘Sling It’ he sounds like his mentor Dylan, and the combination of a rich narrative and orchestra on ‘Black or White’ suggests a confident songwriter who had outgrow his glam trappings.

Ultimately there an irony to the choral finish and community style sing-along of ‘Tumbling Down’ because for all his intricate word plays he obviously connected with his audience on a much more mundane level.

Both these albums have been re-released in re-mastered format before, but the ebullient orchestral arrangements reinvigorate both with a fresh sense of purpose, and because of that this is a recommended release.
Pete Feenstra

10 September 2013

Classical Ear

Hans Gál (1890-1987)
Symphony no2 in F Op53
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Symphony no4 in D minor flat Op120
AVIE AV2232

“Gál develops his memorable material with the natural resourcefulness and sureness of purpose that are the hallmarks of a true symphonist. Orchestra of the Swan lend this radiant score the most eloquent and affecting advocacy, and an accomplished and invigorating account of Schumann’s masterly Fourth Symphony – a strikingly fresh-faced, spontaneous-sounding display, full of illuminating touches, personable warmth and genuine freshness of new discovery. Do investigate this bold, enormously rewarding coupling.” 

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“Now here’s quite a find. Austrian-born Hans Gál (1890-1987) took flight from Nazi Germany in 1938, eventually settling in Edinburgh (where he became a much-loved figure in that city’s musical life). The Second of his four symphonies dates from 1943 after a period of great personal tragedy, yet there’s no hint of mawkish self-pity in the ravishingly beautiful, profoundly consolatory Adagio slow movement (the work’s emotional core), while the preceding scherzo positively winks with gleeful mischief. Above all, Gál develops his memorable material with the natural resourcefulness and sureness of purpose that are the hallmarks of a true symphonist.

Kenneth Woods and the Orchestra of the Swan (which is based in Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon) lend this radiant and substantial score the most eloquent and affecting advocacy, and go on to give a comparably accomplished and invigorating account of Schumann’s masterly Fourth Symphony – a strikingly fresh- faced, spontaneous-sounding display, full of illuminating touches, personable warmth and genuine freshness of new discovery. Do investigate this bold, enormously rewarding coupling.”
Andrew Achenbach

July/August 2012

International Record Review

Hans Gál (1890-1987)
Symphony no2 in F Op53
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Symphony no4 in D minor flat Op120

“Orchestra of the Swan plays with magnetic conviction and unwavering technical assurance… an ardour and resolve which leaves the listener in no doubt that these musicians and their conductor believe in the worth of every bar of this music…Orchestra of the Swan plays with more involvement, commitment and individuality than some of its better known rivals… this adventurous release can be unreservedly recommended.” read more…

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“If the Third Symphony represents Schumann’s closest approach to symphonic monumentality,” observed Gál (how many of us gained wider appreciation of Schumann’s orchestral music through the medium of Gál’s excellent little book in the sadly long-forgotten BBC Music Guides series? I still have it on my bookshelves, along with Gál’s The Golden Age of Vienna and Franz Schubert and the Essence of Melody), “the Fourth Symphony is his most ingenious experiment in form.” Certainly in the capable hands of Woods and his Stratford team, Schumann’s D minor Symphony makes a stimulating foil to the Gál work.

While this account, freshly minted and invigorating as it is, doesn’t displace the likes of Karajan’s version from his famous 1972 cycle (DG) or Szell’s classic Cleveland Orchestra recording (Sony), there is still plenty to admire and enjoy here.

With a warm and natural recording (Avie’s engineering in Gateshead tended towards upper-register shrillness) from Stratford-upon-Avon’s Civic Hall, and informative and persuasive notes by Woods himself, this adventurous release can be unreservedly recommended.”

“It is, I dare to assert, the most important Adagio since Bruckner:”: such was the verdict of musicologist and biographer Wilhelm Waldstein on the slow movement of Hans Gál’s Symphony no. 2 in F, Op. 52, forged during one of the darkest periods of the Second World Ward, and of its composer’s troubled life. Upon hearing the complete work today, one appreciates that its remaining three movements are of similar quality and interest, and this deeply personal and touching symphony can now be evaluated in the second new account to be released within the space of three years on the Avie label.

The world premiere recording of the work (paired with Schubert’s “Great” C major Symphony) by the Northern Sinfonia under Thomas Zehetmair was made at the orchestra’s home base, Hall One, at the Age, Gateshead in September 2010. It is now joined by this newcomer from the Stratford-upon-Avon-based Orchestra of the Swan conducted by Kenneth Woods, where the coupling is Schumann’s Symphony no. 4. Though Zehetmair and the Northern Sinfonia play the work skilfully enough, there is about Woods’s traversal a ringing personal conviction about the merits of this score which lends a defining urgency and authority to his performance. Densely scored, yet pervaded by a conservatism strongly rooted in the pre- Second Viennese sound-worlds of Brahms and Bruckner (and shot through at times with an English pastoral quality suggestive of Vaughan Williams), this music is never difficult to enjoy.

As the composer’s own programme note states, the emotional axis of the symphony its Adagio, placed third and lasting over 15 minutes. “It acts,” wrote Gál, “as a “drama of the world” (Weltspiel) between the two parts of a mediation which is turned completely inwards. The actual conflict and its working out is left to the last movement, which, starting out from a passacaglia-like episode, develops into an extended sonata form and, in an ever more calming coda, spins itself again in to the withdrawn mood of the introduction, turned away from the world..” The other-worldliness of the music, however, is anything but Mahlerian in character, eschewing self-regarding angst, and it is the final two movements of the work which produce an undeniably eloquent effect.

Under Woods, the Orchestra of the Swan plays with magnetic conviction and unwavering technical assurance. There’s an ardour and resolve here which leaves the listener in no doubt that these musicians and their conductor believe in the worth of every bar of this music and it would be hard not to remain gripped throughout this traversal. Plangent string textures and solo wind contributions of character and distinction show just how far the Orchestra of the Swan has progressed during the relatively short period of its existence and it plays with more involvement, commitment and individuality than some of its better known rivals. That includes the Northern Sinfonia under Zehetmair, whose more dutiful approach suggests that neither conductor nor players have much faith in the music.

Beside the sharp-edged and ever-insightful conducting of Woods, who brings Gál’s music fully to life with unfailing vividness and lucidity, Avie’s premiere recording doesn’t quite live up to expectations.

“If the Third Symphony represents Schumann’s closest approach to symphonic monumentality,” observed Gál (how many of us gained wider appreciation of Schumann’s orchestral music through the medium of Gál’s excellent little book in the sadly long-forgotten BBC Music Guides series? I still have it on my bookshelves, along with Gál’s The Golden Age of Vienna and Franz Schubert and the Essence of Melody), “the Fourth Symphony is his most ingenious experiment in form.” Certainly in the capable hands of Woods and his Stratford team, Schumann’s D minor Symphony makes a stimulating foil to the Gál work.

While this account, freshly minted and invigorating as it is, doesn’t displace the likes of Karajan’s version from his famous 1972 cycle (DG) or Szell’s classic Cleveland Orchestra recording (Sony), there is still plenty to admire and enjoy here.

With a warm and natural recording (Avie’s engineering in Gateshead tended towards upper-register shrillness) from Stratford-upon-Avon’s Civic Hall, and informative and persuasive notes by Woods himself, this adventurous release can be unreservedly recommended.”
Michael Jameson

   
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