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Welcome to our More Music Concert Series, in support of the More Music: Reimagining the Royal College of Music Campaign. Each concert in this exciting series celebrates some of the Royal College of Music’s (RCM) most exceptional talent and offers you, the audience, a little bit more.
Our More Music Campaign will deliver much-needed new performance spaces, additional scholarships and improved accessibility. If you would like to support the next chapter of RCM history with a donation to the More Music Campaign, you can complete a donation form, available from our Front-of-House staff, make a gift at www.rcm.ac.uk/donate or use the contactless donation points in our new entrance. Every gift of every size resonates. All donations will help pave the way for more music.
Thank you for your continued support of the Royal College of Music.
We hope you enjoy this evening’s performance and look forward to welcoming you to another event soon.
Martyn Brabbins is Music Director of the English National Opera, and has conducted at La Scala, Bayerische Staatsoper and in Lyon, Frankfurt and Antwerp. He is a regular guest of top international orchestras such as the Philharmonia, BBC Symphony, Royal Concertgebouw, Tokyo Metropolitan and Deutsche Sinfonieorchester Berlin. He studied with Ilya Musin in St Petersburg, won the Leeds Conducting Competition in 1988, and became Associate Principal Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra 1994–2005. He was Principal Guest of Antwerp Symphony 2009–2015 and Chief Conductor of the Nagoya Philharmonic 2012–2016. He has conducted hundreds of world premieres and has recorded over 120 CDs. Martyn is Visiting Professor of Conducting at the Royal College of Music.
Annabel Kennedy is a Violet Lucas Scholar supported by the Monika Saunders Award and the Josephine Baker Trust, studying for a Masters in Performance at the Royal College of Music, under the tutelage of Amanda Roocroft and Caroline Dowdle. Since beginning her studies, she has had many performance opportunities, including premiering solo pieces of Karl Rankl’s music at the Austrian Cultural Forum. She has also sung in the chorus of Stravinsky’s Les Noces at the Royal Festival Hall with the LPO under Vasily Petrenko, and in the chorus for Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder at the Royal Festival Hall and Paris’s St Denis Basilica with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Esa-Pekka Salonen. She has performed in the chorus of the RCM Opera Studio’s production of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, directed by Sir Thomas Allen and a semi-staged performance of Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn directed by Roger Vignoles. Annabel has been the alto soloist for a performance of Bach Cantatas at The Charterhouse for the London Handel Festival, and Mozart’s Coronation Mass with the Croydon Philharmonic Chorus. She has also had the pleasure of performing in masterclasses with Kathryn Harries, Dennis O’Neill CBE and Dame Ann Murray. Recently she performed as a Nevill Holt Opera Young Artist in the chorus of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, directed by Adele Thomas. Annabel also made her solo debut at Cadogan Hall performing a Suite of Liedercomposed by Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha with the London Chamber Orchestra, under Christopher Warren-Green. Her recent awards include first prize in the RCM Concerto Competition, second prize in the 2019 Maureen Lehane Vocal Awards, first prize for the AESS Courtney Kenny Award and the Undergraduate Prize for the Brooks van der Pump English Song Competition. Future engagements include solos in Bach’s Mass in B minor with the Waverley Singers, Mozart’s Requiem for the Yorke Trust and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with Collegium Laureatum, Cambridge, and also performing the role of Euterpe in Handel’s Parnasso in festa at Wigmore Hall as part of the London Handel Festival.
The RCM Philharmonic plays a central part in the orchestral training at the College. It performs a rich diversity of repertoire from classics of the repertoire to world premieres of works by RCM student composers. The orchestra, constituted anew for each project, comprises students from all years of study and will enhance and develop their performance and technical skills in preparation for the professional world. During the past few years the RCM Philharmonic has been led by conductors including Martin André, Mike Seal, Martyn Brabbins and RCM conducting professors Peter Stark and Howard Williams. Preparations for concerts include intensive sectional and tutti rehearsals, usually led by principal players from the London orchestras. The orchestra also regularly performs concerts for schools as part of the RCM Sparks programme.
Founded in 1882, the RCM moved to its present site on Prince Consort Road in 1894. Illustrious alumni include Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, Dame Joan Sutherland, Sir Thomas Allen, Sir Colin Davis, John Wilson, Alina Ibragimova, Gerald Finley and Dame Sarah Connolly. In addition to its 800 full time students, the College engages dynamically with a wider and more diverse community of children and adults through a dedicated range of creative activities delivered by RCM Sparks’ education and participation projects, RCM Junior Department programme and the Creative Careers Centre. A further development is the growing schedule of live-streamed concerts and masterclasses which can be viewed on www.rcm.ac.uk.
Sofia Gomez Alberto
Elisabeth Plaza Serrano
Juan Marco Requena
Clelia Le Bret
Zeng Ying Yeo
Isabelle Ashton (pic)
Maria Filippova (pic)
Maja Persson (pic)
Veronica Stubberud (d’amore)
Sadie Kerslake (cor)
Layla Baratto (cor)
Peggy Lai (bass)
Diogo Bandola (E flat)
Will Gough (contra)
Thomas Williams (bass)
Cheng Wei Lim
Personnel correct at the time of publication.
Italics denote section principals.
The RCM would like to thank the following orchestral coaches:
Gaby Lester (strings)
Michael Harris (woodwind)
Nigel Black (brass)
David Hockings (percussion)
Stephen Fitzpatrick (harp)
It’s hard to believe that the two main works in tonight’s programme were composed only around seven years apart. Unlike Kindertotenlieder, his later set of songs to texts by Friedrich Rückert – Mahler’s five Rückert-Lieder (1901–2) do not form a cycle. Most of this set, apart from ‘Um Mitternacht’ (‘At midnight’), are conceived on an intimate scale: rare gems in Mahler’s output of restrained, delicate orchestration. Mahler had of course pushed harmony beyond the realms of his Austro-German predecessors, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. But by contrast, Schoenberg was experimenting with extreme chromaticism, to the extent that a harmonic root, or a ‘home key’ is mostly indistinguishable. In 1908 Schoenberg discovered that his wife Mathilde was having an affair with the painter Richard Gerstl and she left him. On the one hand his Five Orchestral Pieces (1909) enters a new world of musical abstractionism, yet on the other it is positively Expressionist in the emotional turmoil it conveys. That Schoenberg’s intentions were in a conventional sense anti-musical is confirmed in a letter to Richard Strauss, in which he described the Five Orchestral Pieces as ‘absolutely not symphonic – precisely the opposite … merely a bright, uninterrupted interchange of colours, rhythms and moods’. The work’s first performance – on 3 September 1912, conducted by Henry Wood at his Promenade concerts – was not surprisingly met with bemusement. According to the critic Ernest Newman, one third of the audience laughed, another third hissed and the final third ‘seemed too puzzled either to laugh or hiss’.
Gustav Mahler (1860–1911)
In the most delicate, intimate song of the set, the poet savours the fragrance of a lime leaf, and likens it to the fragrance of love.
Mahler appears to suspend the sensory experience, creating an atmosphere of delicious reverie.
The first three verses suggest alternative objects for our affection, if our love happens to be drawn to beauty, youth or riches. ‘But if you love for love,’ the fourth and final verse says, ‘then, yes, love me! Love me always, I’ll love you evermore!’
There’s a coy side to this song, the shortest of the five, in which the poet asks us not to look at their unfinished songs.
By example, we’re told that bees let no-one watch while they work, and the industrious activity of these creatures is brought to life in the busy circular activity of Mahler’s accompaniment.
‘It is my very self’, Mahler wrote of this sublime song.
Mahler’s job as director or the Vienna Court Opera allowed him precious little time to compose. He would have identified with the poem’s theme of withdrawing from the daily grind in order to devote oneself to ‘my heaven … my loving …my song’.
The hushed last verse takes on an almost spiritual dimension, as if the withdrawal is heavenwards, a permanent leave-taking. Indeed, the last phrase for first violins is marked ‘verklärt’ (‘transfigured’).
This descending cello/double bass line might sound familiar. Coming after the words ‘in meinem Lieben’ (‘in my loving’), it is also heard in the heartrending slow movement (Adagietto) of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. He was working on the Adagietto – a musical love-letter to his wife Alma – around the same time as this song.
To reflect the darker colouring of this song, Mahler dispenses with the strings. The trumpets, trombones, tuba and timpani appear only in this song.
Here the poet entertains anxious thoughts of death in the middle of the night.
In the final stanza, the poet has overcome their inner conflict by resigning themselves to the will of God. The resolution comes with a climax – the only overtly ‘orchestral’ passage in the Rückert-Lieder – at the words ‘Herr! Über Tod und Leben du hältst die Wacht’ (‘Lord, over Death and Life, thou keepest watch’).
Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951)
A tiny motif (cellos); a running figure ending in a repeated horn note. That’s the first section.
Double basses are now straight in with a variant of the motif – which now expands.
The section ends with another repeated note (trumpet) and a descent.
The running figure picks up, joined by the first motif in oboes and clarinets.
This time, alarming short interjections are added, and the running figure multiplies, leading to a violent climax.
Timpani crash in. The three notes are lifted out of the first motif, and the rhythm is the running figure slowed down. A sense of chaos builds.
Trombone, then strings, play the first motif more unanimously, before the section dies down (again with a repeated note followed by a descent).
An unsettling ticking figure rises up … before low reed instruments and rasping trombones bring the movement to a brutal close.
While the first movement, ‘Premonitions’, looked forwards (with some horror), the second (‘Yesteryears’) looks back.
The doleful, expressive lines sound a little closer to the Romantic period, and even as they overlap there’s a unity among them. Schoenberg highlights individual instrumental colours without any dominant theme or motif.
This section begins with a nostalgic-sounding muted solo-viola tune. It has a pliable rhythm, which then begins to permeate the orchestra, creating an otherworldly, almost vaporous texture.
Tinkling celesta begins a chromatic ostinato (repeated pattern), joined by a pair of calm but disconcerting flutes.
A gently pulsing bassoon and other instruments enter. The effect of the repetition is hypnotic and unsettling.
Violas (now with oboes) return with the nostalgic tune. The melody aspires in a Mahlerian way, but the complex layering continues.
The oboe plays the cello’s short motif from the movement’s start, but immediately the celesta and flute ostinato return.
The cello motif echoes in other instruments, as does (first on cellos/cor anglais) a headless fragment from the earlier nostalgic tune.
The end gradually reaches a sense of resolution but the final chord, though luminous, remains unstable.
‘Colours’ is the still centre of the Five Orchestral Pieces and a turning point in music history. Here, rhythm and melody are largely rejected for the first time, with the focus being on the timbres, or ‘sound-colours’, of the instruments. It is effectively a composition without music.
It begins with a single five-note chord, which is transferred between two different instrumental combinations.
Soon the chords begin to change, one note at a time.
The intention was for instruments to enter almost imperceptibly, ‘so that only the difference in colour becomes noticeable’. This focus on timbre for its own sake led to the work of ‘spectralist’ composers such as Gérard Grisey, whose influences have extended to today’s composers such as Kaija Saariaho and Julian Anderson.
The subtitle, ‘Summer Morning by a Lake’, could reflect a darker tone than it might at first seem. In the summer of 1908, by Lake Traun, Schoenberg discovered his wife Mathilde was having an affair with the painter Richard Gerstl.
In this context, the dearth of musical material points to an emotional void and numbness.
Theodor Adorno called this movement ‘a demonic scherzo’. It shares its impulsive nature with No. 1 (‘Premonitions’) but it develops in a more fragmented way.
A horn choir signals a more reflective passage, introducing a lyrical solo clarinet.
And then we’re off again with the impulsive music.
The calming horns return, now a little extended. Again, lyrical solo instruments follow.
The fast music returns but goes nowhere: the end is brutally abrupt.
The final movement is richly contrapuntal, i.e. dense with multiple simultaneous lines.
They unfold in an almost stream-of-consciousness manner (perhaps why some have taken to translate ‘Obbligato’ as ‘Endless’ here).
Similar to the way in which Schoenberg expunged melody and rhythm in No. 3 (‘Colours’), here it is form that has no function.
Schoenberg later described other work of his in a similar style as ‘musical prose’.
That said, there are two climaxes along the way.
The ‘conversational’ nature of the movement is not to say that it’s not capable of elevated intent. Schoenberg after all claimed: ‘One says the ineffable in free form’.
Ethel Smyth (1858–44)
The overture opens with a heroic theme, suitably nautical in flavour, but also carrying a touch of Wagnerian drama.
Sinister low instruments sound an alarm in the form of a tritone – the ugly, unstable interval known as ‘the devil in music’.
A pair of clarinets begin a gently rocking folk-like tune, echoed by other instruments. But this dies away, as if a memory …
… soon followed by another ephemeral idea: a pair of Debussy-like undulating flutes.
The memories return and alternate again.
Two violins seem to recall a delicate folk dance. (Or could it be light shimmering on the waves?)
Another contrast, with a rich, broad anthem in the strings.
The swagger of the opening returns but with a light touch that recalls the fizzing scherzos of Mendelsohn.
Wagnerian horns descend.
Suddenly a broad ceremonial melody erupts – cut from the same cloth as those of Elgar.
… a bold, unanimous hymn-like chorale, rooted by the organ.
But before long we break into …
… another unexpected dance. As it skips along, it cleverly incorporates the heroic theme from the opening, in the trumpet.
The final section thrusts forwards to a splashy, exhilarating end.
Interactive programme notes
© Edward Bhesania