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Sunday 27 June 2021
Joanna is Head of Piano at the Royal Academy of Music and runs two annual piano festivals for young musicians. She has been the Artistic Director of Dartington International Summer School and Festival, of Bath International Festival, and Deloitte Ignite at the Royal Opera House. She has released over forty solo recordings – many of them on her own award-winning record label SoundCircus – ranging from Chopin and Piazzolla to Bach, Schnittke and John Cage. Her collaborative projects encompass jazz, film, visual art, contemporary dance and electronica. Since 2015 she has chaired the Paul Hamlyn Composers Awards, and was a 2019 Booker Prize Judge. Joanna has just been appointed Principal Conductor and Music Director of Brighton Philharmonic, as it approaches its centenary.
Review of the Joanna MacGregor Concert 2021
For the final performance of the 2021 Shaldon Festival, we welcomed the internationally acclaimed concert pianist, Joanna MacGregor. As with the other Festival days, Joanna gave two recitals, at 5.00 pm and 8.00 pm. Your reviewer was at the later recital.
Joanna introduced each of the pieces and these introductions supplemented the programme notes and placed the pieces in context. Schumann’s “Kinderszenen” is a set of thirteen short pieces, each reflecting an aspect of childhood, viewed from an adult perspective, and were dedicated to his beloved Clara, herself a virtuoso pianist. Joanna played these charming pieces with great feeling and sensitivity. Particularly delightful was the well-known Träumerei.
To complement the Schumann, Joanna played next six of the twenty Children’s Songs by Chick Corea. These technically taxing, short pieces encompass an astonishing range of complex musical devices but are nevertheless very accessible when in the hands of such mastery as that displayed by Joanna.
The emotional climax of the evening came with the final work on the programme, Beethoven’s Appassionata sonata. This very intense, dramatic and moving work, written as the composer was coming to terms with his encroaching deafness, demands impeccable technique and a great depth of emotive sensitivity, both of which Joanna has in abundance. The deep, sonorous introduction was played quietly leading to startling changes in tone and dynamic. The music advances relentlessly and, after a long coda, in which Beethoven makes use of the whole compass of the piano, subsides into a deep, dark rumbling in the bass. Joanna’s playing of this movement left us breathless and we were relieved to be calmed down at the commencement of the slow movement, a gentle theme and variations. Joanna played this movement delicately and with great precision as the variations gradually increased in tempo. The final variation slows things down again but a gentle, quiet, deceptive arpeggio is then repeated loudly, leading straight into the finale.
The impassioned temperament of the first movement returns in the finale. The unrelenting theme comes around several times, interposed with striking written-out cadenzas. The great skill of our recitalist was the way in which she built up the tension throughout the movement culminating in the climactic presto section near the end leading to the final explosive coda, leaving us all emotionally drained. It is not for nothing that this work was entitled Appassionata (long after Beethoven’s death) nor that the name has stuck, for, in the hands of an artiste of the calibre of Joanna MacGregor, the name is completely appropriate. After such a performance (and her second of the evening) it was astonishing to notice that she was as composed as ever.
Our heartfelt applause was rewarded with an encore, Good Bait, Joanna MacGregor’s own arrangement of a song Nina Simone first recorded in 1960. This was a great, exhilarating piece and brought the evening to a joyful conclusion.
This terrific concert, given by this exuberant, multi-talented musician was a fitting conclusion to the 2021 Shaldon Festival.
Julian Bliss Septet
Saturday 26 June 2021
Celebrating Gershwin. Offering a host of Gershwin’s most beautiful melodies, telling the story of the life and times of the master songwriter and his contemporaries.
Julian Bliss Septet:
Julian Bliss, clarinet
Martin Shaw, trumpet
Lewis Wright, vibraphone
Neal Thornton, piano
Colin Oxley, guitar
Tom Farmer, bass
Ed Richardson, drums
Review of the Julian Bliss Septet Concert 2021
All the notes in the right place
‘Swing or not to swing’ that was the dilemma that haunted George Gershwin who aspired to become a classical composer. In rejecting him as a pupil, Ravel is credited as writing ‘Why become a second-rate Ravel when you are a first-rate Gershwin’. Fortunately, Shaldon Festival in booking the superb Julian Bliss Septet took Ravel’s advice and we were treated to an exemplary performance that focused on Gershwin’s legendary show tunes which they interpreted with a superlative display of contemporary jazz that took the original tunes to a new level of harmonic interplay and improvisation.
The band consisted of seven award winning instrumentalists each with their own huge plaudits from the jazz world. The backline of Ed Richardson (drums), Tom Farmer (Bass) and Colin Oxley (guitar) impeccably laid down ever changing grooves with plenty of opportunity to break into solos or trade bars with the other players.
At the front Julian Bliss led with his virtuoso clarinet and constantly encouraged his colleagues to demonstrate their awesome playing. Martin Shaw(trumpet), Kit Downes (piano) and an electrifying Lewis Wright on vibes. The set was a musical pyrotechnic with exciting displays, as each player developed solos, duets and sometimes whole band harmony which kept the audience applauding throughout.
The ballads were especially impressive played with great sensitivity and in particular the combination of vibes and clarinet gave a celestial feel to numbers like ‘Embraceable You’, while a bowed bass added pathos to ‘I love you Porgy’ as did muted trumpet on ‘Soon’.
The performance at times seemed a little formal (perhaps because of covid 19 restricting face to face rehearsal). Improvisations, although excellent, were possibly more rehearsed than spontaneous. On more than one occasion Colin and Lewis were obviously ready to extend their impros. But maybe a tight set list of one hour and 11 numbers gave no such opportunity to develop the spontaneity commonly experienced in jazz club setting.
However, there were several numbers when the band was let off the leash and the energy and smiles burst forth. ‘Fascinating Rhythm’ brought the audience back to earth after ‘Embraceable You’ and shoulders began to sway. Four numbers later and ‘Airmail Special’ took the roof of the church as the band exploded into to action and everyone in the audience could have been mistaken that they were listening to a Big Band such was the power and arrangement. Well after all it is a classic Benny Goodman number! The only non-Gershwin tune.
This was a great well-paced evening that deservedly took a standing ovation. Shaldon Festival are to be congratulated for bringing another musical genre to what has been mainly a classical festival.
Chair: – Teign Jazz and Blues (Teignmouth Jazz Festival)
Friday 25th June 2021
Ben Hancox, violin
Hannah Dawson, violin
Robin Ashwell, viola
Cara Berridge, cello
Review of the Sacconi Quartet Concert
To begin at the beginning. Shaldon Festival is a very special and pretty unique event. It manages to attract to the village internationally renowned musicians who have a recognised reputation in many parts of the world. The setting of St Peter’s Church is itself very special because it has an acoustic which embraces and enhances overall quality of sound as well as quality of the individual instruments.
The Sacconi Quartet is a well established UK classical string quartet with wide spread fame, performing in concert halls and music festival in all Europe’s major venues. So what joy it was to welcome them to Shaldon during this Covid restrictive time, allowing for a no interval session performing two major classical works
The programme began with Haydn’s well known String Quartet in C major which is one of the Quartet’s often chosen performance items. It has a wonderful variety of pace and recapitulated themes allowing all instruments to express their virtuosity. The finale is very captivating with a presto opening followed by the more moving and calmer adagio conclusion. The sound wrapped itself around the whole building with full listening attention of audience members.
The second piece could not have been more appropriate for these times. It is Franz Schubert’s String Quartet in A minor which was composed a few years before his untimely death at the age of just thirty one. It is indeed a haunting, somewhat melancholic work, but it does have great upbeat feeling in the final section, with the mood changing from the minor to major sequences. It provides an overall feeling of look forward to more cheerful times. The whole piece is riveting and in the intimate setting of St Peter’s at this time grabs and up lifts the listening audience
The Sacconi Quartet definitely lived up to its renowned international reputation, performing with total commitment and style. The occasion provided for all those present a compelling and moving experience. May the Quartet one day, at more relaxed times, make another welcome visit to enhance Shaldon Festival.
Thursday 24 June 2021
Zara Benyounes, violin
Stephen Upshaw, viola
Ashok Klouda, cello
Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE, double bass
Stewart Goodyear, piano
Review of Chineke! Chamber Ensemble Concert for Shaldon Festival
The first thing to say is that it was wonderful to be hearing live classical music in this village again. Congratulations to Marion and the committee for rethinking the Festival and for bringing these amazing musicians to their furthest South and West venue so far!
This concert was an absolute delight from start to finish. These are highly accomplished musicians with impeccable techniques and ensemble skills which are taken for granted so that the total focus is on the music they are playing.
Part of the mission of Chineke! is to promote music by black and ethnic minority composers, and the opening pieces, 2 movements from ‘Five Folksongs in Counterpoint’ were by the mixed heritage composer Florence B. Price. I’m afraid I hadn’t heard of her, so thank you Chineke! for this introduction. We should all have heard of her. Lovely arrangements of 2 well known spirituals’ Drink to me Only’ and ‘Shortnin Bread’, with touches of Debussy (whole tone scales and pizzicato sections) as well as the simplicity of the original songs.
The performance of Schubert’s Trout Quintet left me feeling I was hearing it with new ears. There were so many subtle and understated moments as well as full blooded sections of joy and energy. The communication between the players and their obvious enjoyment of the music were very evident and such a pleasure to watch. From the complexity and changing colours of the first movement, through the beautifully lyrical slow movement, we were transported to the fizzing scherzo with bounding energy.
The famous Trout variations afforded every player some prominence in turn, all equally beautifully played and accompanied by the others. The quintets intense communication and enjoyment of the music was nowhere more evident than in this movement. The finale seemed to gather the beauty and the energy of the previous movements and sweep us with tremendous gusto to the final chords.
As for the encore, an amazing tribute to the Trout quintet by Dutch composer and bass player Marijn Van Prooijn showed us even more what versatile and all rounded musicians these players are, with a great sense of fun. They were as at home with the singing/humming/whistling, cello slapping and boogie vamping required by this piece as they were with the Schubert! And there’s the thing – their familiarity and competence with a wide range of music seems to inform their classical playing and it makes it so fresh and utterly captivating.
We are so lucky to have hosted them in Shaldon. Sublime music – supreme performances.