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Michael White’s classical & jazz news: Pushkin House Festival; Oxford Lieder Festival; Festival of New

25 February, 2021 — By Michael White

Alexander Karpeyev. Photo: @garethdanks

WALKING around Bloomsbury on a cold, grey winter’s day, you could almost imagine yourself in the backstreets of St Petersburg. And there’s one place in particular that encourages the comparison. It’s called Pushkin House. It functions as an unofficial Russian cultural centre (nothing to do with the Embassy or poisoned underpants). And next week, starting Mar 2, it hosts a music festival that runs on until Mar 14.

Needless to say, the whole thing is online; and for a “boutique” event, there’s a lot happening – organised by the Russian-born but London-based pianist Alexander Karpeyev, who is himself a specialist in Medtner, the Russian composer who ended up (improbably) in Golders Green.

Alongside music by Prokofiev, Glinka and Rimsky-Korsakov, the festival programme has a special focus on composer Nikolay Kapustin who died last year at the age of 82. And if you don’t know Kapustin’s work, it’s an exhilarating synthesis of jazz with classical – largely for keyboard, and astonishing to hear because it plays out with such brilliant intricacy, energy and joy.

Along with the performances, there are lectures by interesting people like Philip Ross Bullock, Professor of Russian Literature and Music at Oxford. Tickets start at £5 – from pushkinhouse.org/festival

Philip Bullock is a busy man right now because he also features as a lecturer in the Oxford Lieder Festival event that runs this weekend, entirely online, Feb 27 & 28. It’s a sort of taster/satellite to the festival proper, which is a sprawling fixture, spread over several weeks in the autumn and run by pianist Sholto Kynoch. But the weekend has its own theme: Winter into Spring. And the music follows suit, with things like Schubert’s great if gloomy song cycle Winterreise sung by Dietrich Henschel with Kynoch to accompany, and Britten’s haunting cycle Winter Words sung by Joshua Ellicott with pianist Anna Tilbrook. Tickets from £5: oxfordlieder.co.uk

• Talking of Britten, I’ve just been staring wistfully at pictures of the magical concert hall he created on the Suffolk coast, Snape Maltings, frosted in snow and ice. The images are on the website: snapemaltings.co.uk

And it’s worth perusing because this Saturday, Snape is hosting a one-day, online, Festival of New – so new it’s hard to know what to expect, but everything sounds interesting.

Snape is best known as the home of the Aldeburgh Festival, and something we’re all hoping/praying will be able to function this summer as it didn’t in 2020. But beyond the festival, it has a year-round programme with a mission to encourage young artists with fresh ideas. And this short festival is an example. Crossing genres, it takes in folk, jazz, music-theatre, dance – all filmed within the precincts of the Maltings, a Victorian industrial complex still in the process of conversion. Some parts have for decades been repurposed into a chic centre for the arts, surrounded by huge skies and open marshland.

Others, though, are atmospherically (and chicly) derelict. So it’s a fascinating backdrop for performance. And the programme running all day Saturday is free to access – though they ask you to book in beforehand, on the website. Bring an open mind. You never know…

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