Archive for November, 2009

Nov 22 2009

Another Swanhunter review, mentions me by name this time!

Published by Murray under Performances

Well another review today, this time in the Independent. Seems to like me but I have to say I disagree with the rest of the review! Still here it is.

Scored for six singers and as many instrumentalists, Jonathan Dove’s latest opera is also pitched to a family audience. Where his previous Opera North commission Pinocchio sprawled across three hours without so much as a memorable tune, Swanhunter is succinct and catchy, with a cantering motif for accordion (Murray Grainger) and a witty libretto adapted from The Kalevala by Alasdair Middleton.

With Andrew Rees as Lemminkäinen and Yvonne Howard as his mother, Elizabeth Cragg, Frances Bourne, Nicholas Sharrat and Graeme Broadbent relate (and comment on) the impulsive hero’s quest for a bride in sweetly-blended two-, three- and four-part harmony. Dove’s musical language is unfussy and efficient: the splintered ice of the extreme North is conveyed in sparkling tuned percussion, a horn neighs violently at the appearance of The Devil’s Horse, and the Swan glides to Cragg’s stratospheric vocalise. Excellent ensemble-work aside, the vocal honours go to Howard, whose anxious refrain is expanded into a grand lament as she journeys to the north to reclaim her “cold, torn” son’s corpse.

Designed by Dody Nash, Clare Whistler’s athletic touring production has some ingenious touches. The hooves and antlers of Death’s Elk are garden spades and shears, Lemminkäinen’s home a fairytale turret, the ice-floes smoothly-curved abstract shapes, the costumes cosy padded parkas. At times, the jovial, credit-crunch atmosphere feels like a community theatre workshop in a garden centre, and I wonder if children might not feel a little patronised. Swanhunter and Rumpelstiltskin are both intriguing introductions to music theatre but were Sawer’s cautionary tale and Dove’s Finnish adventure to clash, I know which I’d choose.

‘Swanhunter’: Howard Assembly Room, Leeds (0844 848 2727) 3pm/6.30pm today, then touring

Swanhunter with Opera North

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Nov 18 2009

Review of Swanhunter

Published by Murray under Performances

Swanhunter with Opera North

Here is the review of Swanhunter from the Guardian. I even get a mention!

Alfred Hickling, Guardian Monday 16 November 2009 21.30 GMT


Writing opera – or indeed any form of entertainment – for children is often considered a marginal activity. The best a child-friendly composer might hope for would be an opera company to commission a small scale, developmental work that, if successful, might lead to an invitation to the main stage. Curiously, Jonathan Dove and librettist Alasdair Middleton appear to be heading the opposite way. In 2007, Opera North had an enormous success with The Adventures of Pinocchio; a three-hour spectacular with full orchestra, a working Ferris wheel and a 20-foot giant. How to follow that? The answer is with a 50-minute chamber piece performed in Opera North’s studio space.

Dove and Middleton have taken a tale from the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, dramatising the journey of a young hero, Lemminkäinen, to the northland to claim a bride “who makes the sun sigh and the moon ache”. But first he must complete a series of dangerous tasks and is unfortunately dismembered, before his grieving mother magically sings him back to life. It’s a perfect tale to be told in music – so perfect in fact that Sibelius has already done it in the symphonic Lemminkäinen suite.

Dove’s music is much leaner than Sibelius’s, which is inevitable with only six instruments in the ensemble. But it gains much of its character from the inspired use of an accordion, a wheezing orchestra in itself, which binds the score together like tightly packed snow.

After the extravagance of Pinocchio, the budget for Clare Whistler’s production has been whittled down to little more than a few polystyrene cut-outs to suggest ice-floes. Andrew Rees sings the taxing tenor role of Lemminkäinen with heroic stamina, despite having succumbed, not entirely inappropriately, to a cold. As his mother, Yvonne Howard’s life-affirming lament may be the most ravishing piece of sustained lyric writing Dove has produced.

Yet the fidget factor is a critical consideration, and for all its subtleties you can’t help wondering if a young audience is more naturally inclined towards the story of a puppet with behavioural issues than a mythic quest for a bride who can make the sun sigh and the moon ache. Swanhunter’s minor success is a result of its modest ambitions. But in an industry usually noted for grandiloquent folly, this feels like a rare instance of an opera company biting off less than it can chew.

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Nov 16 2009

New instrument!

Published by Murray under Performances

Well I have done it again!! I have been hankering after a bandoneon for a while now have found a beautiful vintage Alfred Arnold ‘Perugi’ system model for sale.

The Perugi layout is very similar to a C system freebass accordion so I am able to play it relatively easily so I am very excited to explore all the possibilities this gives me.

It is coming from France so I will keep you all updated on how it goes!!


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Nov 16 2009

On tour with Opera North again

Published by Murray under Performances

Well I am on the road again with Opera North. This year it is another new opera from Jonathan Dove called Swanhunter.

Jonathan Dove and Alasdair Middleton
World Premiere

Commissioned and created specifically for families and children, Opera North broadens the reach and appeal of opera with mythical creatures, a talking swan and a menacing hat.

Talented duo, composer Jonathan Dove and librettist Alasdair Middleton, who brought the hugely popular The Adventures of Pinocchio to Opera North in 2007, now bring this short, small-scale opera, Swanhunter, an energetically enticing tale based on Finnish mythology.

Against his mother’s wishes, the determined hero Lemminkäinen travels North to find a bride. Along the way he is met by challenges and quests that will delight and enthral audiences and show that a mother’s love conquers all, even death.

Opera North Swanhunter

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