Thursday, 30 April 2020

THEATRE REVIEW: Cirque Du Soleil: Zed - Tokyo Disney Resort, Tokyo. Japan.

Like many companies during these strange and uncertain times, the world famous Cirque Du Soleil, are uploading some of their past glories onto their YouTube channel so that we can still gasp and be wowed by their artistry and skill in the comfort of our own homes, until such a time as things return to a comparative norm.

This particular show however, was a little special for anyone outside of Japan, since Zed has not toured elsewhere and was a resident show at their own Cirque's stage in the Tokyo Walt Diseny Resort just outside Tokyo.

As with all the shows that I have ever seen from this incredible company, there is a very loose thread or theme to the show, the very barest of a storyline connecting all the different acts together. In this instance there was also the inclusion of a couple of clowns who made more than one appearance, adding a little something more for the children (they were knock-about comedian type clowns), and bringing the company nearer to its roots of traditional circus. For the storyline however I quote from the brochure...

"Inside a living poem: in a complex astrolobe sculpted in copper and brass, buried in an imaginary cosmos inhabited by voices and shadows, a lone character named Zed sets out on a journey of initiation and discovery. As he wanders through this mysteriouis world suspended between earth and sky, he encounters astonishing vibrant characters, including Nouit The Great Goddess, A Shaman, The Sphinxes, and The Satyrs. But who is this inquisitive character dressed all in white resemebling a pierrot? He is you and me. Holding up a mirror to our own true selves, Zed represents all of humanity, in all its wisdom and folly, in all its strength and fragility."

As with all Cirque's shows, they produce a complete holistic experience of both aural and visual spectacle. No expense is spared and nothing overlooked. Original music played live as well as onstage singers; a set of unbelieveably technical proportion in order to accommodate all the different acts such as high-wire, aerial, acrobats, tumblers, martial artits, and goodness knows what else; a lighting design that is simply out of this world; superb costumes, and of course world class performers all of whom are at the absolute zenith of their individual disciplines. Everything arranged and designed for maximum thrill-factor. Where the Cirque excels above similar companies though I feel, is that they never lose the feeling of 'circus'. I remember when I was young being taken into a Big Top and watching what was, for the time, a normal circus. A pot-pourri of dare-devil antics, albeit that many of those involved live animals, there was a true mix of the bizarre, the comedic, and the dangerous. These three ingredients go into Cirque's shows in equal measure, and this, combined with using only the best talent in the business, is the key to their longevity.

With Zed, like all of the shows I have seen from Cirque Du Soleil, you are guaranteed beauty, artistry, thrills, and a show which is the true embodiment of the word 'spectacle'.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 29/4/20

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

NEWS: The Stoller Hall Birthday Concert goes viral! - online concert from Manchester's Stoller Hall.

NEW: Northern England’s leading classical musicians unite for specially-created virtual concert

The concert will mark the third birthday of The Stoller Hall, in Manchester
Live stream event will showcase some of the best classical music performed in the north of England in recent years
Manchester Collective, Manchester Camerata, Northern Chamber Orchestra and Chetham’s Symphony Orchestra star alongside global artists such as Soweto Gospel Choir
Online event brings multiple world-class orchestras together into one concert
Event will be hosted by BBC Radio 3 presenter – and The Stoller Hall’s artistic director – Tom Redmond
Specially created concert will be free to all, streaming for the first time at 7pm on Tuesday 5 May

 Manchester’s The Stoller Hall, like music venues nationwide, is empty during lockdown, but a new virtual concert, specially created for The Stoller Hall, will unveil a new collaboration between the north of England’s best classical orchestras.

Some of the north of England’s most high profile orchestras and classical musicians will star in a specially created virtual concert, streaming for the first time on Tuesday 5 May.

The online event will mark the third birthday of The Stoller Hall, in Manchester.

The Stoller Hall opened in April 2017, and has been hailed by critics as the UK’s best music venue, acoustically, for classical chamber music.

Currently closed as a result of the coronavirus lockdown, The Stoller Hall will mark its anniversary with the free online concert, hosted by BBC Radio 3 presenter and The Stoller Hall’s artistic director, Tom Redmond.

The concert will feature some of the best classical music created in the north in recent years, alongside performances from global artists such as Soweto Gospel Choir, who are due to appear at The Stoller Hall after the current lockdown.

Manchester Collective’s unique performance of Messiaen's Quartet for The End of Time at The Stoller Hall is among the highlights, alongside a section of Manchester Camerata’s stunning Mozart series.

Celebrating The Stoller Hall’s links to Chetham’s School of Music, the concert includes Chetham’s Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, conducted by Franz Krager in February 2019, the last major orchestral performance at the hall before lockdown.

The concert includes some of the best performances ever staged in The Stoller Hall, alongside new interview footage with musicians who have played there.

Specially recorded conversations with artists, such as Manchester Collective’s Adam Szabo, are aired for the first time, revealing an insight into the full live music experience at The Stoller Hall, while the acousticians who helped create the venue reflect on its design.

Tom Redmond, Artistic Director at The Stoller Hall, said:
“This new form of concert is something that just wouldn’t be possible in real life. Some of the very best classical performers – and performances – we have seen in the north of England in recent times, all brought together in one concert.
“The lockdown has changed our way of life like never before. We all miss our shared experiences. There is nothing quite like live music, up close.
“But we have seen incredible innovation from the musical community too. Musicians are coming together, collaborating remotely, and reaching out to audiences like never before.
“Music lives on in our hearts. Now it will ring out in our living rooms too.”

The concert will be streamed on The Stoller Hall’s YouTube channel and Facebook page, at 7pm on Tuesday 5 May. 

MUSIC REVIEW: Slow Readers' Club; The Joy Of The Return.

Slow Readers Club are a band hailing from Manchester and have been around for a little while now, having formed in 2011 – albeit they had a previous incarnation called Omerta which dates back to 2003. Slow Readers Club consists of Aaron Starkie on vocals / keyboard, Kurtis Starkie on vocals / guitar, James Ryan on bass and David Whitworth on drums.

I think it is fair to say that Slow Readers Club have not reached their rather large potential at this time, nor the success that was predicted for them by a number of critics and music journalists. They describe themselves as “indie electro doom pop” which I have to confess is not a phrase I am familiar with and maybe therein lies something of the issue that they are original and sometimes this type of band takes several albums to find their sound and success should naturally comes on the back of that. “The Joy Of The Return” is their fourth album and this may be their time to shine.

The album was written whilst on the road touring, something they seem to have been doing constantly for the last 12 months or more. They had great success on support slots some years ago with James and Catfish And The Bottlemen but I think it was their festival appearances that caught people’s imagination having worked with the likes of Kendall Calling, Tramlines and Head For The Hills.

The opening track on the album is “All I Hear” and it's a tune that immediately catches your attention – it’s perky, bouncy, catchy and I can imagine hearing this played live with a crowd jumping along to it. The track really kicks the album off in the right style – there is something of an Editors sound about this song and it makes me love this opening all the more for it.

Next on the album is “Something Missing” and for me this is probably the weakest track on the album. I’m almost tempted to use the pun and tell you that there is “something missing” from this song but the truth is that this is definitely the case. It comes very close to being a real indie tune but there are sections of the track that just miss the mark – the stop/ start element is perhaps my biggest bugbear with it but also I feel at 2 minutes 58 seconds there is no time to appreciate the delivery of the song. Tracks under 3 minutes are definitely a theme on this album but “Something Missing” is where it is most noticeable.

“Problem Child” is another that has tones of Editors and just like the opening track I find myself dancing along in my chair as I write this review, music playing in the background. The middle section of the song contains a stunning vocal from Starkie, almost a capella, and in my opinion this is without doubt another live anthem in the making – it has 'big venue' written all over it which is definitely somewhere Slow Readers Club belong in the future.

“Jericho” and “Killing Me” have more of a dark feel to them, with both tracks simmering along and threatening to explode into more upbeat numbers but never quite doing so. I like the way these tracks have been interspersed between the other album tracks. I realise that the order of an album these days is not as important as it used to be with most people listening digitally but with “The Joy Of The Return” it feels like they have put a lot of thought into this.

“No Surprise” is for me the stand out track on the album, no doubt. It has a truly outstanding melody and accompanied by Starkie’s stunning vocal this really is impressive. It has a melancholy feel but with an uplifting backdrop which gives the song such depth and soul. I firmly believe that this might just be the track that gives Slow Readers Club their defining moment – no word on whether this will be a single release but I strongly recommend that it is.

“Paris” and “All The Idols” keep the album running with significance – there are no filler tracks on this album. “Every Word” and “Zero Hour” are equally important as the album takes you through a level of consistent quality that is rarely seen.

The final track is “The Wait” and it was most definitely worth the wait. Whilst “No Surprise” was a real peak in the album, “The Wait” provides a momentous climax. There are layers to this track provided by the presence of the synth and drum combination – the song is intoxicating and gives the album a real ending. The pace is changed up significantly and I can easily imagine this ending their live set and providing the same climax as it does to the album.

The album was recorded under the same producer (Phil Bulleyment) as their previous material and this shows. This feels like a journey that Slow Readers Club are on and this album is definitely a significant step forward from “Build A Tower” – despite the 2018 album having some great quality tracks on it. I genuinely believe that this could be the time for the band to break it big – they are the most significant band coming out of Manchester right now and a headlining tour to accompany the album once we are all able to enjoy such events will push them into real mainstream acclaim. It is hard to imagine a future that doesn’t include much more of Slow Readers Club.

Reviewer - John Fish
on - 28/4/20

DANCE REVIEW: Körper - The Schaubühne, Berlin. Germany.

The world premiere performance of Sasha Waltz's 'Körper' ('Body') was at Berlin's renowned Schaubühne in January 2000. This performance was filmed by German TV company ZDF and broadcast on the 3SAT channel. The work marks the start of Waltz's blossoming career as an avant-garde choreographer dealing in biomechanics.

Performed on a bare stage with a semi-circular high concrete wall around gave the whole a feeling of imprisonment, confinement, and the starkness of the design combined with metallic and non-musical sounds which punctuated the piece made the work quite dystopian and frightening. This feeling was further developed by a central black plinth - the kind that reminded me of those in '2001 A Space Odyssey'; standing ominous but proud, jarring with the rest. The moment it came crashing down was clever and well-judged. Another layer to this deliberately uncomfortable feeling was by filming some sections of the piece in a very grainy black and white, reminiscent of the standard of film from home-made films in the 1960s, or perhaps a throwback to the era of silent films. Throw into this costuming of dark black suits, white or skin coloured underwear and naked bodies, and the whole was a mix between the kind of experimental dance theatre productions which were happening in both German and the UK around the early part of the 20th century. In Germany it was very much a style promoted as health and fitness, a movement in body awareness and how to stay healthy. The term given to it was FKK (Frei Körper Kultur), which was the beginnings of the UK's Naturist Movement. However, that was not all this piece represented, for the piece was far more sinister and far more intrusive, but it did seem to take this as its starting point.

The piece was almost one hour long and performed through without interval. There was no music to the piece as such, and indeed there were long periods of the piece where the only sounds made were those by the dancers' feet or bodies hitting the surfaces of the stage or each other. Sounds were introduced at certain points, but not musical sounds, mostly industrial sounds. Towards the end of the piece an accordeon played single long notes increasing in intensity, accompanied by a rhythmic drum beat. Again, the idea behind all of this was seemingly a kind of Orwellian torture for not only the dancers but for the onlooker to experience too. This was not an 'easy' watch. There were points in the piece where I really wanted to look away or turn it off. Such as the moments quite early on when folds of flesh were grabbed and performers were moved, lifted, passed from one to another by just holding on to the folds of flesh. There was a point to all of this though.. don't think it was all gratuitous or sadistic. The work was called 'Body' for a reason. Waltz examines every part of the body in detail, and asks questions about it. What is our body worth? What is beauty? and what price can one put on beauty? It is almost as if Waltz has made her own conclusion to these and tells us "The body unifies us. We all have a body, that's the one thing we all share in common. Both the body is also unique. Each of us has a different body and there are no two bodies that are the same. This is what defines us."

Stark visuals, and strange, contorted bodies, mostly semi-naked, gyrate and present. It's almost like a freak show, except the freaks are ordinary and normal humans. Even the sections which are erotic or even sexually charged are difficult to watch. The whole is brutal; a laid bare exposé and exploration of 'body'.

Reviewer - Chris Benchley
on - 28/4/20


MUSIC REVIEW: Laura Marling: Song For Our Daughter

I’m listening to this on my daughter’s 28th birthday. I am 53. Laura Marling is 30 and this concept album is written for a hypothetical child, offering advice on how to negotiate life’s heartaches from a mother who has learned some difficult lessons through hard experience.

These ten, short ballads (Marling doesn’t beat about the bush – there are no long intros & it’s straight into lyrics, with some songs barely lasting three minutes) have vocal echoes of Carole King, Karen Carpenter, Suzanne Vega, Joni, Judi Tzuke, Beth Orton. Starting with her Cohen-inspired Alexandria, musing on what makes a muse (‘What kind of woman gets to love you?’) moving through Only the Strong, with it’s early ‘70s feminist vibe (‘Love is a sickness cured by time’), I feel like I’ve been here before.

Polished production values render this Marling’s most musically accessible album – and do stay for the beautiful arrangements with plaintive, reflective piano, strings, beautiful choir harmonies (though I personally missed the meat of percussion) and for those painful, melancholy-tinged lyrics – of getting your fingers burned, of trusting, then being let down. It’s also Marling’s most fleshed out and rounded album, but the songs are still light on their feet - elegantly & gracefully executed; for me though, often the narratives are left open-ended and meandering.

The reviews I’ve read so far from the national media are understandably adoring. I’m going to be the pernickety voice of dissent somewhat & say that I find the album to be a little too perfect, too hermetically sealed. I’d love to see Marling return to the topic of mothers and children in the future – particularly with any gritty insight gained as a parent – and for her to re-visit the lines on the title track, “Lately I’ve been thinking about our daughter growing old/All of the (**) that she might be told”.

This album is an exercise in projecting and imagination and maybe I’m an old maternal husk but I find the album too fey & other-worldly to be satisfying as any reflection on parenthood. Still any criticisms will bounce off Marling’s work like Teflon and it will no doubt inspire and provide succour for a different, younger female fan demographic. Daughters not mothers. It’s also another chapter in Marling’s fascinating evolution as a singer-songwriter.

Reviewer - Tracy Ryan
on - 28/4/20

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

NEWS: Ivo Van Hove's Recreating Europe to be streamed live this Friday by MIF.


NEWS: Hale Barns Carnival returns with another online event!



Following the huge success of their PARTY AT HOME event earlier this month, organisers of the annual HALE BARNS CARNIVAL have announced another live streaming festival taking place weekend from Friday 1st – Sunday 3rd May. 

Over 30,000 people tuned in to watch to watch Hot Chocolate front man Kennie Simon, Nathan Moore’s Brothers BeyondScarlett Quigley, Wayne Devlin and Darren Proctor. Hale Barnes Carnival were one of the first event organisers to announce free online concerts, which has now, in a matter of weeks become part of the new normal.  Their next event has an equally impressive line-up of star names and local acts performing a live concert from their homes each night. The event will be streamed for free to followers of the Hale Barns Carnival Facebook page.

The party weekend begins on Friday at 8pm with Europe’s leading tribute to George Michael, ANDREW BROWNING, a winning finalist in television's 'Stars In Their Eyes' Andrew's performance contains hit songs from his early days in Wham through to his hugely popular solo career.

Saturday night is another party night with Greatest Hits Radio presenter, DARREN PROCTOR streaming a live DJ set from 8pm, playing all your favourite tunes from the 70s, 80s and 90s to boogie at home, Darren was a big hit with viewers last time so he’ll be sure to have everyone dancing around their living rooms yet again.

Last but not least, for the finale Sunday treat is an evening of cabaret with DILLIE KEANE, a songwriter, singer, actress and cabaret artiste – best known as one third and founder member of the satirical cabaret trio Fascinating Aida, which commenced a sell-out UK tour this year, only to be stopped by the Coronavirus Pandemic.  Dillie will bring us her unique style of comedy and songs from 8pm.

The live streaming event on the Hale Barns Carnival Facebook page is completely free to followers, there will also be an option for viewers to donate to help local community groups during this tough time with support for local food banks, Hospice care and local help the elderly projects.

Event organiser, Max Eden spoke if his excitement ahead of the event: “We were overwhelmed by the response of our inaugural Party At Home event, not only did we have our dedicated locals tuning in, but we had supporters from across the UK and beyond, a massive 30,000 people.  It was such a success that we want to continue our virtual festival for another weekend.

“We are still holding out for our main festival to take place in the summer as planned and will continue to follow closely the government advice and I’m so grateful for the support from artists, sponsors, partners and the community for their support. I hope we can have an even bigger success this time around and raise vital funds for vital community projects in the process.”

The live streaming event is supported by sponsors, B&M Bargains & Benchmark Security and partners, Hale & Bowdon Magazine and WA15 Studios.

To watch the live streaming broadcast each night simply visit the Hale Barns Carnival Facebook page, like/follow the page in advance to be notified when each artiste will go live.

Twitter:​           @HaleBarnsEvents #HBCarnival

NEWS: Manchester's 808 State announce hometown concert in December

- FRIDAY 18 DECEMBER 2020: 9PM - 2AM -


808 STATE will return for a LIVE hometown show at Manchester’s O2 Ritz this Winter, which is sure to be the best pre-Christmas party of the year.
Following their phenomenal appearance at Manchester Academy in December 2018 and a mesmeric live set at Bluedot Festival and at the Warehouse Project last year, the Acid House originals - turned pioneering electronic icons are planning another late night pre-Christmas affair to see out 2020 with a resonant bang.
Taking place on Friday 18th December 2020, Messrs Graham Massey and Andrew Barker, accompanied by live drummer Carl Sharrocks, will play a full headline 808 State set, with support performances from Manchester-based Ghanaian/Russian/German DJ & producer maverick Afrodeutsche plus DJ sets from Jackson Massey + Porchcrawler. 

“So many plans unravelled during the past few weeks, and for good reason. But looking ahead, today we are pleased to announce this Hometown Xmas bash, which will be a family affair with our very special guest Afrodeutsche. Hoping we can gather safely in the winter and emerge with a fresh perspective into 2021” – 808 State

The show follows a surge in activity for 808 State since their last Manchester appearance; a period that most notably witnessed the release of their seventh album: ‘Transmission Suite’ in late 2019.
Recorded in the former nerve centre of the Granada broadcasting empire, ‘Transmission Suite’ became the band’s first new material since 2002’s ‘Outpost Transmission’ and arrived as a long overdue and enthusiastically welcomed addition to their catalogue. More stripped-back and conscious of space than the music that first made their name in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the new record draws a line between their home city and the original Detroit scene that birthed techno, and reflects on the pivotal roles they played in defining electronic music as we know it. Evoking the past, present and future, the album pays homage to the musical heritage of the genre 808 State continue to push the boundaries of, while confirming their own vital place within it. 
Speaking about ‘Transmission Suite’ and the role Manchester especially has played in shaping the record, Graham Massey of 808 State says:
“We’re trying to make a future for other people to immerse themselves in, that’s always been a big part of 808 State: these kind of landscapes of futurism…. We’re at this moment now, when Manchester is starting to feel like Singapore or something… There are so many cranes. People come back and it’s like, ‘Wow - it’s all doubled’. Everything’s going vertical, and certain parts of history are being buried. It’s an interesting moment.”
Cementing their reputation as an essential act, both as scene forefathers and as torchbearers for boundless avant-garde electronica, the album was released to critical acclaim, with The Wire Magazine praising: 808 State’s music has lost none of its foreboding, finesse and power.”
Their upcoming gig at the Manchester O2 Ritz, promises to be an unmissable opportunity to hear the new material configured for the live stage and in the city of its creation for the very first time, alongside seminal cuts from their rich history.

Ghostwriter & Academy Events by arrangement with CAA presents…
Doors: 9pm - 2am

Tickets On Sale:
O2 Pre Sale – Wednesday April 29th at 10am

General Sale – Friday May 1st at 10am:

Also available from:

FILM REVIEW: Winged Bull In The Elephant Case - The National Gallery, London.

A short, 30 minute dance-film using multi-media as part of a series under the title, "Performance Live" recorded for the BBC and currently available to view on BBC iPlayer. This production was filmed in both The National Gallery in London and in the Llechwedd Slate Caverns in Blaenau Festiniog in North Wales, and utilised not only dancers from The Wayne McGregor company, but other guest dancers too, as well as a performance poet, Isaiah Hull; a cellist, playing his original music, Tunde Jegede; and a pianist (playing Beethoven), Johanna MacGregor.

The film was in two parts, "Awaken" and "Return" although, unless these titles had been shown to us, we would have been none the wiser. The film is advertised as a journey through the gallery rooms and a mystery cavern in a story about exodus and redemption. An evacuee painting struggles on returning to it's home, and the work aims to both help to protect and bring about an awareness of our cultural heritage in order to keep it safe in times of world violence and conflict. 

Watching it, these themes were not apparent, only subliminal after having read the intro. However, the dancing was innovative and creative, with some parts intricate modern pas-de-deuxs with attention given to every single slight muscle movement, whilst others were more hip-hop / street dance in nature. Totrured solos pitted against energetic ensemble work gave inner-meaning to the piece, but the meaning could be interpreted a million different ways.

The dancers not from Wayne McGregor's Dance Company were from Company Bonetics, Company Far From The Norm, and dancer Botis Seva. The whole was written and directed by Robin Friend and choreographed by Wayne McGregor.

Reviewer - Chris Benchley
on - 27/4/20

THEATRE REVIEW: Romeo And Juliet - Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, London.

I have to say this performance was more than what I expected!

I love me some Shakespeare, and reviewing Romeo and Juliet I thought would be easy to do as I have seen so many versions of the piece. I have actually been to Verona and seen the balcony and was lucky enough to see actors rehearse scenes for a festival that was to be performed at a festival.

I was so wrong, it was different to any other performance I have ever seen, with great direction and casting comes a great performance. That is what you got!

For never was a story of more woe. Than this of Juliet and her Romeo. It's the greatest tragedy and romance in the world, innocent and childish and so full of death and destruction, no wonder it is the most memorable. This performance was just that, there is a real connection between all characters with such chemistry that it was hard to write and watch at the same time.

Members of the company who played the narration as a chorus and even beautifully sang verse in unison which gave the piece tragedy only the Greeks could dream of. Anyone who was a servant or a character who was not the key players became a chorus, especially those who played servants. A special mention has to go to Fergal McElherron [Balthazar/Chorus/Gregory/Peter ] in a multi role that was just amazing! He is a brilliant physical comedian and his delivery was just awesome!

You can see the artistry the wardrobe has created with Capulets donning red and Montagues blues with only the key characters [Romeo and Juliet] wearing a cross of the colours, with such a consistency. It's all aesthetically pleasing, with a great balance and characters' status, personality, motivation showing in all aspects of character is expressed in costume as well as in performance/

Ellie Kendrick's Juliet is a beautiful picture of girlish infatuation, being spoiled and impatient in her child-like manor was a pleasure to watch. In the same turn, the change that came with the quiet resolution to 'kill' herself knowing what she must do to avoid a second marriage showed this beautiful change from this girlish dream of love, to its harsh realities. Same with Adetomiwa Edun as Romeo, I couldn't help but smile whenever he walked on to the stage, he was just this ray of sunshine of a young man with everything ahead of him, not a care in the world and then changed into a man with too much to bear.

The language of the play was delivered beautifully, especially by Penny Layden who played the Nurse, was very fitting in her northern accent. There's something musical with Shakespeare in a northern accent that does not resonate with any other. As a northerner I am perhaps biased, and that is a personal opinion, but the northern accent fits so well with the words it can't be avoided.

It is a brilliant performance, and I recommend it 100%, a truly beautiful performance. This piece reminds you that these characters were just children, and it's not the story of love that you were told in school. It is a tragedy of epic proportions that warns of the dangers that lie in true love and how hatred and violence destroy everything good. A message that should be heeded in our current times.

Friar Laurwence played by Rawiri Paratene, Mercutio by Philip Cumbus and Tybalt by Ukweli Roach must be mentioned for their outstanding performances!

Reviewer - Keziah Lockwood
on - 27/4/20

MUSIC REVIEW: Dora Pejacevic - Symphony in F# minor.

Hello! I see that your site is writing comments about classical music performances. These are good deeds, it was a great pleasure for me to read these. But I want to write also to talk about a composer from my home country who you won't know.

Here in Croatia, Dora Pejačević (1885 - 1923) is one of our most famous and well-known composers, and yes, she is a woman. It is important in Croatian classical music culture, and this symphony in particular, because it is the first symphony written by a Croat.

Born in Hungary, Dora Pejačević is from a noble and aristocratic Croatian family and was the daughter of a Croatian governor. She began composing at the age of 12, and has left more than 100 compositions from solo piano pieces, songs, to complete and long orchestral pieces like this one. She is a wonderful composer, and her music is rich and romantic. It is a shame that beyond what used to be called "Yugoslavia" she is more or less unknown.

This symphony is a very important piece and was composed in 1918 in her later years and so is more mature in its writing here. Full of orchestral colours. F# minor is a notoriously difficult key to compose in, and not many composers have been able to be successful. The themes and orchestrations are imaginative and somewhat avant-garde for their time; and even though people say the work was influenced by Brahms, Wagner, Delius and Rachmaninov, that may be true .. but to be honest, I feel she has carved her own path, and her tunes and style are all her own. It is completely original and completely satisfying.

There is a recording on YouTube played by The Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie of the Rheinland-Pfalz directed by Ari Rasilainen. Here you can hear the burning and very romantic first movement in sonata form; following this a slow and beautiful melody that ebbs and flows like a gentle tide, before the third movement - a scherzo, which is fun and joyful, before the deep passion and rich orchestration of the final movement bringing it to a triumphant end.

I am happy to introduce not only the famous Croatian but also a famous female composer.

Guest Reviewer - Ljubica Knežević
on - 28/4/20

Monday, 27 April 2020

MUSIC REVIEW: Ignacy Feliks Dobrzynski: Piano Concerto in Ab Major.

Once again I turned to YouTube to offer me some classical music that was unknown to me, and this time it was the turn of Polish composer Ignacy Feliks Dobrzynski. Born in 1807, Dobrzynski was a class-mate of Chopin at the music school in Warsaw, and indeed in later life helped Chopin with his orchestrations. Here however, he proves to be something of a prodigy himself, both as a pianist and composer, since this 40 minute concerto was written when he was just 17 years old.

In this recording the music is played by The Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Lukasz Borowicz. The pianist is Emilian Madey, who has some extremely difficult passages to negotiate, but his skill and talent are superb, and the piano sounds delightful in this recording.

This piano concerto is a masterpiece (and I hardly ever use that word!). The work has obviously taken much inspiration from Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, and it can be easily forgiven for this; as well as sounding very much like Chopin in many places too, and this is completely understandable since they had the same tutors, lived at the same time, and were life-long friends. However where this concerto scores above all of this is twofold. First, in the quality of the orchestration. It is more mature and more innovative than Chopin's. Second, the concerto was written in 1824, 8 years befoe the official start of classical music's 'Romantic' period; and yet, despite being written in the Classical style, the work is forward-looking and feels much more Romantic than other contemporary works. I could also add a third reason too perhaps, and that being that the relationship between solo instrument and orchestra is considered here to be much more a single unit than the traditional idea of soloist and accompaniment.

The first movement is  bravura in concept and execution. Dramatic, poetic, lyrical and has a programmatic feel to it, speaking of architecture and Polish landscapes through the seasons. It's passionate, elegaic and dynamic. There is only one word apt enough to desxcribe the beautiful second movement, and that is 'sublime'. Whilst the third movement is a long, unending, lively dance. Even the central section to this movement, a piano solo of clever, lyrical and playful storytelling, is a delight. The whole concerto is bright, jolly, full of joy, and mostly full of fun. Fantastic!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 27/4/20

ONLINE CONCERT REVIEW: Take Me To The World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration - online streaming.

Stephen Sondheim, perhaps American Music Theatre's greatest living composer, and certainly one of the world's most celebrated and loved, is 90 years old! In order to celebrate not just his birthday but also his life and career to date, well-known US national and international stars gave their time and talent freely to record either a birthday message or a song (or indeed both) from their homes in isolation to make a 2-hour long concert which was streamed live last night.

This was one mammoth undertaking, and happily it all worked excellently (one or two minor technical hitches notwithstanding - but this was easily overlooked under the circumstances). We are all in lockdown at the moment, and so we are having to cope and utilise only what we have in our own homes. The evening was directed by Paul Wontorek, and musically directed by Mary-Mitchell Campbell, and the concert was given in aid of the charity ASTEP. (Artists Striving To End Poverty).

In this two-hour extravaganza, many famous faces cropped up singing or passing birthday greetings and messages of support, and there were also many faces in there which I did not recognise or know anything about. This is one of the things which amazes me: which artistes get to be famous on both sides of the pond, and which don't. We have many many talented theapians and performers who'd be unknown stateside, and in this concert, the opposite was true. However, there were also many I did recognise and was delighted to see people such as Patti Lupone, Meryl Streep, Judy Kuhn, Mandy Patinkin, Maria Friedman, Lin Manuel-Miranda, Lea Salonga and Bernadette Peters all perform for this special one-off concert.

It also has to be said that not all of Sondheim's extensive ouevre was accounted for this evening. Most people chose to sing songs from the well-worn standards such as 'Into The Woods', 'Sunday In The Park With George', 'Follies', or 'A Little Night Music'. However, there were a few hidden gems in this concert too, and I mean real gems. Judy Kuhn singing "What Can You Lose?" from the film, Dick Tracey (sung by Madonna in the film) was one such gem. Other especial favourites of mine were, Raul Esparza singing "Take Me To The World" and Laura Benati singing "I Remember", both from 'Evening Primrose' (a show that I had until this evening never even heard of!); Linda Larvin singing the wonderfully comedic song "The Boy From..." from 'The Mad Show'; Brian Stokes Mitchell's rendition of "The Flag Song" a song which was cut from 'Assassins'; and Elizabeth Stanley singing "The Miller's Son" from 'A Little Night Music'. My absolute favourite of the evening though has to go to the brilliantly funny Alexander Gemignanit for his delightfully playful "Buddy's Blues" from 'Follies'.

The evening started with Stephen Schwartz (himself a renowned Broadway composer) playing the overture to 'Follies' on the piano, and finished with doyenne of the American Musical theatre, Bernadette Peters singing an unaccompanied rendition of "No-one Is Alone" from 'Into The Woods'.

Fortunately the recording of this concert is still available to watch on YouTube and the link is here:

Also, for those who would like to make a donation to the charity ASTEP, then details of how you can do this are to be found here:


Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 27/4/20

ONLINE CONCERT REVIEW: Some Enchanted Evening - Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

We are all feeling 'The Lockdown Blues' right now, and many theatres and production companies are helping us through these times by uploading videos of their past shows for our enjoyment - and also in the hope that we will dig into our pockets and donate a small amount in order to try and keep those cogs turning. Hope Mill Theatre however, went one step further, and instead of showing a video of one of their past glories, decided to present a completely new and original concert. Around this time, owners Joe Houston and William Whelton were hoping to have been presenting the Northern premiere of Rogers and Hammerstein's 'Cinderella'. However, sadly that, along with all the other shows shecduled for all the theatres up and down our isle had to either be cancelled or postponed. Hope Mill Theatre had cast the show and were well into the rehearsal process, and so came upon the idea of an online show celebrating the music of Rogers And Hammerstein and also featuring the 'Cinderella' cast too.  Some Enchanting Evening was the result.

All the artists performing in this concert videoed and recorded themselves in their own homes and all this was cleverly linked together by Houston and Whelton's compereing (with a little help from a couple of others every now and again!). They actually made a wonderful job of this, giving some lovely snippets of background and general knowledge about each show they introduced, illustrating this with archive footage too. The information was pertinent, interesting and just the right length, and delivered in a down-to-earth and pleasing manner, which made it very easy on the ear.

Each artist gave their time and talent freely. Obviously it is hoped that those watching would donate a small amount of money to the theatre in order to help Hope Mill through these most trying of times, as we all hope that one of Manchester's most iconic and innovative theatres will bounce back and continue to make West End quality Musicals and ground-breaking Fringe plays happen again.

The 'Cinderella' cast wowed us with three songs "In My Own Little Corner" (Georgie Buckland), "How Soon Will My Love Come To Me" (Matthew Blaker) and "The Music In You" (Julie Yammanee); whilst other alumni of Hope Mill Theatre sang songs from many of the other more popular Rogers And Hammerstein shows. Persoanl favourites included Sophie-Louise Dann's "The Gentleman Is A Dope" from 'Allegro', Simbi Akande singing "Love Look Away" from 'Flower Drum Song', and Louise Dearman's interpretation of "Edelweiss' from 'The Sound Of Music'.

The concert finished with a montage of images showing our current coronavirus situation and the NHS whilst three of the artistes sang "You'll Never Walk Alone" which proved to be quite emotional. And a final surprise came when some cast and some of the band from the ill-fated 'Cinderella' all came together through the miracle of technology to leave us with one 'Lovely, Lovely Night'.

Thanks to Joe Houston and William Whelton and all the talented creatives who came together to not only entertain us in these dark times, but to support a theatre which has done so much to put Manchester on the theatrical map, and long may it continue to do so.

Details of how to donate to Hope Mill Theatre can be found on their website:

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 26/4/20

MUSIC REVIEW: I Miss - Eyal Hai.

Never has there been a more poignant time for me to listen to a song about missing our loved ones than right now. Well that is exactly what Éyal Hai’s new track “I Miss” is all about. First a bit of background about the song. Being isolated at home, disconnected from his family and friends it resurfaced old feelings, reminding Hai of a song he wrote during his first days in NYC, far away from everybody he loved. The outcome is “I​ miss​”, a personal bitter-sweet lullaby with a nostalgic yet contemporary vibe, that is likely to strike a chord with isolated hearts around the world.

When you first listen to “I Miss” you are instantly transported to a soft, whimsical, almost dream-like world. It has a sleepy charm to it and which may give its feel to the fact that it was initially recorded as a voice memo on Hai’s iPhone at 3am in a small Brooklyn apartment 5 years ago. Hai says “I was trying not to wake my neighbours up while I was writing a song about my deepest feelings. I had just moved to NYC after graduating from Berklee, hoping to fit into the local music scene. I was far away from my family and friends in Tel-Aviv, and even further away from my girlfriend in Australia. The song was an expression of how foreign and lonely I felt. I never recorded the song, or thought about it too much, until now”.

So fast forward to today, ​with more than 3 million Spotify listeners, regular performances around the US with his Funky saxophone quartet “The Side Project”, we now have Hai who ironically enough, just after relocating back to Tel-Aviv a few months ago with his fiance (the same one from the song), the COVID-19 crisis separated Hai from his loved ones once again. It was now he decided to dust off “I miss” and release it into the world.

“I​ miss”​ is a very personal song and it still gives off that hint of being originally recorded as a voice memo, you can feel his longing, his desire to be with those most important in his life and you can’t help but be moved by the lyrics. It also has a remarkable feel-good factor to it, the melody, the folk style whistling and unique harmonies. The use of orchestration is excellent, including saxophones and soft guitar, Hai creates a perfect old-school vibe, you can imagine it could have been recorded decades ago such is it's charm. Hai recorded the song alone in his Jaffa home, then adding the bass/ percussion tracks which were recorded by his colleagues drummer Dani Danor and bass player Daniel Sapir in their NY apartments.​ Symbolically enough, the mastering of the track took place in New York where the song was born, and where thousands of people are sitting alone in their homes these days.

So “I Miss” is definitely a keeper for me and personally a song for my chill-out playlist. It definitely makes you reflect during these difficult and for some very lonesome times. I also think it grows on you - in my opinion what a song should do. You get to know it better over time and you get to resonate with it more. I am definitely looking forward to hearing this a few times where I’m sure it will have even more impact with each listen.

Reviewer - Mary Fogg
on - 25/4/20

Sunday, 26 April 2020

FILM REVIEW: Three short films: Random Acts - Sadler's Wells, London and Channel 4.

Three short dance films (averaging around 3:15 minutes each), in a co-production between Channel 4 and Sadler's Wells, and collectively titled, 'Random Acts'. They are available to wacth on YouTube.

The first of the three, INA ("Light") shows two black dancers dancing quasi-traditional moves but with a definite contemporary twist. It is dimly lit, almost too dim. It is an empty space. As the dance progresses we see a further two people looking at them, almost accusingly. Gradually the space becomes lighter and lighter and the sun streams in through an open window. We see the space is painted white and is airy. The two onlookers have turned their backs on the dancers. The dancers' movements are freer. The silence and stillness.

Reading the notes to the dance I understand that this represented the black people's fear of oppression and the chaos that ensued. It also seemed, for me at least, to represent a much wider and perhaps more contraversial theme... the more Westernised and 'white' the black person becomes the more accepted and at ease the whites are with them, and the more they shun their tribal roots, the less 'honoured' they are with and by their own heritage. (??)

Directed by Aneil Karia, choreographed by Alesandra Seutin, and danced by Nandi Bhebhe and Kennedy Muntanga, with muisc by Randolph Matthews.

The second film, 'Other', showed two female dancers, contort with each other. There is pain and understanding. There is a love / hate relationship in play here. The kind that one cannot live without the other and yet together they are constantly pulling each other different ways. The dance chronicles the constantly shifting ideas of identy and the nature of relationships. The music mirrors this well with long, haunting sounds, as well as the setting for this film being a derelict, ruined industrial building. (a place that once hummed with the hive of industry and human interaction which is now left empty and to rot).

Directed by Cordelia Beresford, choreographed by Julie Cunningham, and danced by Cunningham and  Eleanor Perry, with music by Neil Catchpole.

The final film in this mini-series is 'Reach'. Written, directed and edited by Billy Boyd Cape, he has collaborated with choerographer Botis Seva (who dances the piece himself), and 'Far From The Norm' who play the other roles in this short. We see a black man hugging and holding his tiny toddler. He dresses and leaves the house. He walks down the street, never to return. His inner-monologue is choroegraphed as he goes through a whole gambit of emotional conflict. It's the most cinematic of the three and also the most easily understandable as there is a recognisable narrative to this film. Focusing on themes such as love, abandonment and fatherhood, the dance is a fusion of post-modern, contemporary African and hip-hop.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 25/4/20

THEATRE REVIEW: Lenin - Schaubühne, Berlin. Germany.

As theatres all over are temporarily closed, many are offering past productions online as a way of both maintaining interest in the theatre, and also in the hope that those who do watch might donate a small amount of money in order to try and keep the cogs running until such a time as theatres may once again open. The Schaubühne in Berlin is no exception, and their website offers a varied array of their productions, discussions and lectures.

This evening it was the turn of their 2017 world premiere production of  'Lenin'. The play was devised and written by Milo Rau, who also diected it.

In a nutshell, the play focused on the last years of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, (Lenin), and the changing shift in political emphasis as we see a critical shift in ideologies between him, Trotsky, and Stalin, and as all three ideologies are played out and discussed, we are left wondering which of the three will emerge as the victor and take the Soviet Union forward. Of course, if you already know your history, you will know the outcome.

The year is 1923, Lenin is very ill, he has suffered strokes and goodness knows what else, but on his deathbed, in his dacha outside of Moscow, he recalls fragments of conversations, has discussions with those who are at the dacha fawning over him (or wishing him dead), and the play gives a very real insight into the political manouevres of the time.

The play started excellently. A theatrical dressing-room mirror and a make-up artist arranging one of the cast's hair, whilst in front of this, Trotsky, in period costume addresses the audience, taking us back from the present to the exact period in time he wants us to. He reminds us of certain elements we might need to understand the play, and there is humour in the speech too. I especially enjoyed his calling the Viennese society 'The Schnitzel Socialists' instead of  'Champagne Socialists'. We are taken by Trotsky to the dacha and the people who are present there as well as others who are in the play.. he introduces us to them one by one, meticulously, so that we know who they are and their relationship with Lenin.

The play proper then starts. The set is on a revolve and has rooms within rooms, an outside porch, a bedroom, a bathroom, a dining room etc, all as if it were a real house, meaning that the audience only see what happens on the outside facing them. Above this there is a large screen, and whilst the action on stage takes place a steadycam operator roams the stage filming the action that the audience will have difficulty in seeing so that it appears on the screen above. The idea is that the dacha appears more like a prison and those who are there have little space to negotiate, making the play even more claustrophobic because of it.

The play however, never really gets out of first gear the whole two hours. Ocassionally one of them raises their voice, or walks quicker than a stroll, offering some light relief. The humour has also gone too. Only once or twice are there very brief moments which one could smile at. The idea again to emphasise the ennui that had set in; taking the play almost at real time, it lacks the dramatic, it lacks the theatrical, it's just like a fly-on-the-wall documentary...the world's first Big Brother House with all the boring bits kept in. And to think that the play takes place only over the course of about 12 hours, split into three sections [Morning, Afternoon and Evening]. Historically and politically accurate, interesting, and I indeed did learn quite a lot from watching this play. I loved the authentic-looking costumes and set design (Anton Lukas and Silvie Naunheim), and the lighting was deliberately ominous, brooding, dark, giving the stage an almost sepia quality, which worked well, but for two hours without change, did again, tend to induce boredom on the part of the viewer (me).

There were a few things however, with this production, that I simply did not understand (nothing to do with language - artistic choices). First, I did not understand the casting of Lenin as a woman. (Ursina Lardi). If one is wanting to portray this historical event as accurately as possible, and wanting the audience to emote and sympathise with the unfolding political intrigue, and yet, playing a real historical figure - hailed as The Father Of Communism, is an actress, no matter how well she is able to play the role doesn't fit with the realities in every other aspect of this production... and quite clearly she is female for we see her completely naked being bathed at the beginning of the play... and yet, later on in the play right up to the end, she wears mens clothes, has a moustache and beard and balding hair. Maybe I am missing something and this was a clever metaphor - but I simply just couldn't get passed seeing a naked lady as Lenin! The second query was why some of the cast were speaking Russian and some German. Surely if we are in a dacha just outside of Moscow, and all the characters in the play are either Russian or able to speak Russian in order to converse (in the time the play is set), then the speaking of German should have been sufficient for the audience of Germans in Germany to understand that the play is set in Russia and they would have normally have been speaking Russian. Again, I simply didn't understand the need or reasoning behind this.

My over-riding thoughts on this production are that despite wanting to convey the decaying nature of Lenin through inertia, the pace was too slow for too long, and I did find my mind wandering several times throughout. There was a meditative, refelctive and repetative pace set from the start and it rarely if ever lifted from that. The research that had gone in to the play, in order to try, as accutely as possible, recreate conversations and meetings was highly commendable, and it was also very interesting to learn of the fates of all those involved in the play as a kind of roll-call was read as the play ended.

Sincerely acted throughout by the cast, and it is thanks to their commitment to the production and their roles that I kept coming back to it; otherwise, after my first mind-wandering, I wouldn't have bothered.

Lenin: Wo sind die kinder?
Krupskaya: Wir haben keine.
Lenin: Was ist passiert?
Krupskaya: Ich weiss nicht.

Reviewer - Alastair Zyggu
on - 25/4/20

THEATRE REVIEW: Origami by Philip Ridley - online live streaming

The latest in a series of online world premiere monologues by Philip Ridley, performed by the cast of the ill-fated 'The Beast Of Blue Yonder' which was due to open at The Southwark Playhouse just as the Covid Lockdown was announced. Each week a different member of that cast, directed by Wiebke Green, performs one of Ridley's brand new writings and are available to watch on the website.

This week it was the turn of Nat Johnson, and a short (4 minute) piece titled 'Origami'. No strange beasties or dark mysteries in this piece, and it was even set in the London of the present. In fact, after listening to the first three, this one was actually very normal and somehow mundane. That isn't to say it wasn't excellently performed by Johnson, as it was. She brought a realism to this piece with a hint of sadness and a hint of anger, both seemingly bubbling but never enough to fully emerge. Excellently measured.

The story concerned her, and her father. She was taken to the cinema, whilst her dad had an appointment with his latest mistesss (who coincindentally happened to look like the one before, who happened to look like the one before who happened to look like his wife). She didn't want to see the film, so instead whiled away the time by making origami shapes from the flyers. When they both got home she went to see her mum, who was ill, in bed. She had had some morphine to dull the pain, and makes comment on her daughter's origami.

It's gentle, no real punchline as such, just sad and poignant. Sympathetically read by Johnson.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 25/4/20

Saturday, 25 April 2020

NEWS: Sis release new single, 'Fingerpaint'

Today, Sis has shared a brand new single titled "Fingerpaint." Gas Station Roses, Sis’s second full-length album, was released in September of 2019 and is the Berkeley-based band’s devotional document of six months spent in the dream zone of the studio. Lovingly made, with earthen percussive elements, chance technique, inside a glimmering forest full of synths and guitars, the album reunited Sis for their most assertive musical statement yet. Stereogum called the LP “gentle, gauzily pretty.”

It all started with a visit to Lark in the Morning, a legendary store full of percussion instruments in Berkeley. The band left with a gopichand, a one-stringed lute from Bangladesh, a huge African drum, and pan flutes. Meanwhile, singer  and multi-instrumentalist Jenny Gillespie Mason, also the founder of Native Cat Recordings (Meernaa, John Vanderslice, Luke Temple, Brijean)  was writing at home on an OP-1 synth and tenor guitar, and readying her sketches to bring to co-collaborators and husband and wife team Carly Bond (electric guitar, flutes, vocals) and Rob Shelton (synths, programming), both of the band Meernaa.

Originally envisioning a quieter acoustic album to complement the darkly swooning r ‘n b of their debut album Euphorbia (Native Cat Recordings 2018), once in the studio, the band started playing each other songs by other artists before getting to work on anything, such as “Shadows from Nowhere” by the obscure dream-pop 80s band Blue Gas, the feminist and funky album Raw Like Sushi by Neneh Cherry, and the anthemic weirdness of Toto. It seemed, rather than head towards quietude, the band was keen on recreating the dramatic, layered beauty, the dance-ready and big moments of 80s-era recordings. Unabashedly drawing from the well of that musical era’s emotional yet funky potency, you can hear Blue Nile, Grace Jones, Talking Heads and Peter Gabriel in the elegantly shifting soundscapes of the album.
A longtime solo artist, Mason did not intend to form a band. When she stepped into the studio with Bond and Shelton in 2017, who, by chance assignment, were her engineers for a solo project at Tiny Telephone in San Francisco, she had no idea where the session would take her. Being a mother to a toddler and a baby at that point, Mason was unsure if she could fit music into her life again. But with Bond and Shelton, the recording process was so fun and unpredictable, and the undeniable lure of creating music together so strong, that any fear of balancing art with the raising of children was stamped out. The trio emerged from the studio a few months later as bandmates and co-producers, having completed their debut album, Euphorbia (Native Cat Recordings 2018).
Gas Station Roses’ songs travel through varying emotional states just like one going through one’s own life, but each song is marked by hopeful tenderness. There’s the grungy lust-driven rock of “Weathered Romeo,” the plaintive Japanese pop-influenced ballad to a suffering partner, “Moon at the Peak,”  the Afropop-tinged “Automatic Woman” with its message of defiance against misogyny, and the robust compassion of the final song, “Human Poses,” in which Mason sings “they’re roughin’ heaven up…turn it all off, I”m gonna turn it all off.” Going into the studio during a turbulent time on the Earth, turning it all off, gave Mason a therapeutic way to understand and cope with all that was happening politically, while trying to offer something beautiful back to the world. In her words, Gas Station Roses is about “desiring life so badly still as a grown-up, getting the joy and beauty in big gulps, but also recognizing its limitations, corruptions, and sadness, more than I ever would as a child. And in the face of that, choosing to smile and stay awake to the beauty around us.”