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Michael White’s classical news: Houses Slide; Cunning Little Vixen; High Barnet Chamber Music Festival; Imogen Cooper

09 July, 2021 — By Michael White

Dame Imogen Cooper. Photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke

MUSIC-theatre powered by bicycle sounds hard work (for the person on the pedals anyway), but it’s an idea that should generate some interest as well as electricity in a new piece that premieres at the Festival Hall this Friday, July 9, at 7.30pm.

Houses Slide tells the story of one woman’s attitude to the climate crisis. Hence the bicycle. And if that strikes you as too worthy to be ear-catching, you need to know that the music is by Laura Bowler: a composer/eco-activist whose previous explorations of this sort of theme have come with sweeping, cinematic grandeur and an impact you could properly call seismic. So expect something remarkable here from the impressive line-up assembled to deliver the show – including the London Sinfonietta, director Katie Mitchell and conductor Sian Edwards. Which of them gets on the bike, I’m not sure. Details:

Another venture into eco-consciousness – though written in the 1920s long before such things acquired a name – is Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen: an opera about the cycle of life and the impact of humankind on nature. It’s a magical piece with a score of heart-stopping beauty. And a new production opens next July 13 at Opera Holland Park, whose rus in urbe setting is appropriately green. The run continues to the end of the month.

• I don’t need to remind you of how badly the past year has affected musicians, especially young ones struggling to establish careers in impossible circumstances. But at least the misery has spurred some new initiatives. And one is the first ever High Barnet Chamber Music Festival which runs July 17-24.

It’s been set up by Joshua Ballance, a 23-year-old conductor/composer doing a doctorate at Oxford but otherwise living in High Barnet where, he says: “I knew so many early-career musicians around my age who were in difficulty, it seemed a good idea to do something that would give them a platform – as well as giving north Londoners some high-level performance in their own locality’.

His programming is serious, with the odd challenge of Schoenberg and Szymanowski alongside more mainstream Schubert and Bach. Artists include his own intriguingly entitled group Mad Song (the name lifted from Peter Maxwell Davies’s abrasive Eight Songs for a Mad King which is, in every sense, their signature work). And everything takes place at St John the Baptist Church, High Barnet. Conveniently close to the tube. Details:

Someone who did well in last month’s Birthday Honours was the pianist Imogen Cooper, who is now Dame Imogen: a welcome recognition for an artist of integrity and class, uncompromised by any of the circus tricks that some of the world’s flashier keyboard virtuosi stoop to. For a chance to hear her at close quarters, she performs next week – July 13 and 14 – in the cabaret-like intimacy of the Fidelio Café, Clerkenwell Road where the deal is that you buy a meal-with-concert package. To have someone of this stature playing for you within touching distance (not that touching is allowed just yet) can only be a fabulous experience. And she’s playing Schubert, which has always been her speciality. Unmissable, if you can get in. Details:


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