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Michael White’s music news: Curlew River; LSO at St Luke’s; St Mary’s Tower

24 July, 2020 — By Michael White

Curlew River, performed at St Giles Cripplegate in 2013. Photo: Mark Allan

THERE was bad news from the Barbican – as if we needed any more – when the Centre announced last week that its live concert season is now cancelled through to December. So the misery goes on. But on a brighter note, the place is “increasing its digital offer” as jargon has it. And among the new online content is something special: an old Barbican show of Benjamin Britten’s austerely beautiful Curlew River, starring that most confrontationally intense of English tenors Ian Bostridge, and staged at St Giles Cripplegate (the church marooned in the middle of the Barbican complex) in 2013. Curlew River was the first of three small-scale operas composed by Britten in the 1960s and specifically for performance in a church rather than a theatre. The idea is that it plays like liturgical drama, acted out by members of a monastic community with ritualised gestures that combine the traditions of Christian worship with those of Japanese Noh drama. And if you’ve ever seen a Noh drama, you’ll know that it’s a slow, elaborate, exquisite thing. But at the heart of Curlew River is an emotionally searing story, adapted from the Japanese, of a woman driven mad by the loss of her child but comforted, spectacularly, by the child’s spirit when she crosses the river and finds his grave. Like all the opera’s roles, the woman is sung by a man – in this case Bostridge. And if the result doesn’t leave you weeping over your remote control, feel free to write and complain (though preferably to the Barbican, not me). It’s freely accessible on the website, barbican.org.uk/read-watch-listen where you’ll also find a podcast of the director Netia Jones talking about her show and the issues it raises.

WITH the Barbican closed, the London Symphony Orchestra is largely out of action, but its members are playing chamber music every Friday lunchtime in the empty, audience-less space of LSO St Luke’s. And you can join them online this Friday, July 24, at 1pm, for works by obscure but no doubt worthwhile composers like Joan Baptista Pla and Ignatio Sanchez. It’s the standard deal, free but donations invited. Details on the website lso.co.uk. And while you’re there, you’ll find various archived concerts from the past, as well as some engaging educational material for children. Worth exploring.

LAST week I flagged the new, open-air concerts just started up by soprano Mary Bevan at St Mary’s Tower, Hornsey – REAL concerts, LIVE, with AUDIENCE if you remember such things. And having just attended one, I can tell you it was fabulous: great music, great atmosphere, a magical setting (for somewhere just off Hornsey High Street), and a semblance of return to normality. So I encourage you to send yourself to the Tower (it will be no punishment) this Saturday, July 25, at 6pm, when virtuosic string ensemble The 12 will play Tchaikovsky in the round. It’s free, but with donations to the Help Musicians charity. Full details on the Music at the Tower facebook page: www.facebook.com/Musicatthetower/

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