The new classical music season at Sage Gateshead began with a night of brilliance and effervescence in the main hall, Sage One.
The headline attraction was Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 but first up came Dances of Galánta, composed in the 1930s by the Hungarian Zoltán Kodály.
A theme running through this 2016-17 season is ‘Song and Dance’ which promises many delights.
Kodály was inspired by the folk music of his country and a band of Gypsy players.
Bradley Creswick, leader of the RNS, is known for his turbo-charged Gypsy fiddling but managed to stay in his seat on this occasion.
The compelling rhythms, fast and slow, swirled around the orchestra with Timothy Orpen’s clarinet often leading the dance in sparkling fashion.
It was a piece to put smiles on faces but this was, in any case, an infectiously upbeat concert with cheerful welcomes from the stage by both Thorben Dittes, director of the orchestra and the classical programme, and Lars Vogt, RNS music director and conductor.
Stratford Herald, Peter Buckroyd
[..the Sacconi Quartet] were joined by Timothy Orpen for a lovely work premiered in 2014, Ian Venables’s Canzonetta for Clarinet and String Quartet Op 44. This beautifully shaped piece, characterised throughout by typically English falling phrases, featured Orpen’s gorgeous rich clarinet sound. Listening to this piece it was easy to understand why the Times described Orpen as a ‘blazing talent’.
His exquisite playing was also evident in the final piece in the programme, Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet in B major, Op 115. This was composed at the end of Brahms’s career when he had given up composition until he met Richard Muhlfeld, a violinist who had turned into a clarinet virtuoso, for whom he composed the work.
Orpen’s glorious playing of sweeping phrases was echoed at the beginning of the opening movement by the strings. All five instruments were beautifully balanced in this performance.
The quest for resolution of the opening movement’s musical clarinet themes came in a lovely passage of gentle stillness at the end.
In the third movement, Brahms shifts the nature of the quest so that strings and clarinet are on the same journey to resolution, and in the last the roles of the instruments in the first movement are reversed. Each finishes the other’s phrase in an interpretation which finely explored the nature of resolution itself .
Schubert’s Octet, Royal Northern Sinfonia, Sage Gateshead
The new year’s series of chamber concerts in the more intimate Sage Two got under way with some memorable works from 19th Century composers better known for larger-scale productions.
Rossini carried on where Mozart had left off by composing effortlessly before he had even reached his teens. His six string sonatas were all written when he was only 12 and youthful tendencies were very apparent in the third of them, which opened the concert.
Orchestra leader for the evening, violinist Tristan Gurney, ensured that his fellows in the quartet entered into the spirit with an animated and playful interpretation.
The piece was written at the behest of a double-bass player so, unusually, this instrument – to the delight of the audience and in the very capable hands of Nikita Naumov – had an equal share of the limelight.
Richard Wagner’s wife, Cosima, must have had a surprise when she awoke to the sound of music on her birthday on Christmas Day 1870, when she found her husband conducting 15 musicians on her staircase.
Siegfried’s Idyll was both her Christmas and birthday present and was dedicated to their young son, not the Siegfried of Wagner’s famous Ring cycle.
Completing the first half, this private poem of love, played tenderly and thoughtfully by the strings, now enhanced by woodwind and brass, was a fine contrast to the fun of the Rossini piece.
Franz Schubert had the misfortune to be Beethoven’s contemporary. And on the premise that if you can’t beat him, join him, he modelled his Octet in F on the principles laid down in Beethoven’s Septet, using the same instrumental line up but with the addition of one violin part.
Delicately composed, its six distinct movements give ample opportunity for contrast and enable each musician to put their stamp on the work.
Schubert also gave prominence to the clarinet which for this concert was in the hands of Timothy Orpen, the Sinfonia’s highly-regarded principal.
The themes and rhythms come and go during its symphony-length presentation before all is resolved in a mood of gaiety and good humour.
It was delightful music played in a perfect surrounding, and if this more personal approach is to your liking, Timothy Orpen headlines his own concert in Sage Two, with just piano and viola, on February 10.
photo: New member of the Northern Sinfonia, musician Timothy Orpen, clarinet – courtesy of RNS
“Much of the instrumental writing [Strauss Till Eulenspiegel—einmal anders, arr. Hasenöhrl] is just as tortuous as in the original version, yet held no fears for the Academy musicians who served up a bravura and characterful reading. Clarinetist Timothy Orpen delivered a sassy and raucous portrait of the German trickster, with equally colorful playing by hornist Stephen Stirling and violinist Keller.”
“The rustic vigor of the third movement [of Schubert Octet] was fully idiomatic and clarinetist Orpen launched the variations of the Andante in evocative fashion.”
“The Academy of St. Martin the Fields lived up to every definition of its name here Tuesday.
Like any good group or institution of higher learning, the ensemble drawn from the legendary London-based orchestra showed a Plymouth Church full of Cleveland Chamber Music Society patrons exactly how it’s done.
Major works by Dvorak and Schubert received stellar, wholly exemplary readings any listener or chamber music student would have been wise to note. For a kickoff to its 66th year, the series truly could not have chosen better.”
“Schubert’s F-Major Octet proved an even richer treat. Rounded out by clarinet, bassoon and horn, the St. Martin Ensemble delivered a performance as remarkable as the work itself is rarely heard. As in the Dvorak, the strings were a many-splendored delight in the Schubert. Here, though, they also executed a feat of endurance, sustaining technical sharpness and interpretive acuity in a work spanning a full hour. But the winds pushed things into the realm of the sublime. Clarinetist Timothy Orpen, bassoonist Lawrence O’Donnell and horn player Stephen Stirling matched their string colleagues flawlessly, supplying virtuosity and melodic expression in spades and an entire book’s worth of spells. Together, the group displayed masterful levels of freedom and sophistication.”Schubert may have been famous for improvising, but the joy Tuesday was witnessing the result of long, deeply considered collaboration. All who were present surely would like to thank the Academy.”
Of all the individual instruments of the orchestra, it’s probably the clarinet which exhibits the widest range of musical expression – played fortissimo, it can pierce through any surrounding textures, played pianissimo, it can vanish into the faintest whisper: at the top of it’s range, it can be bright, sunny, almost hysterical, yet in the lowest register, the sound can be haunting, threatening, or ineffably sad. So a concert of clarinet and piano music can cover not only the whole sound spectrum but also the widest range of emotional intensity.
Sunday afternoon’s concert at The Clarendon Muse brought two of the brightest young stars of the country’s musical scene in Tim Orpen and John Reid. Tim is currently principal clarinet of the Royal Northern Sinfonia centred at The Sage in Gateshead, and also holds the same position in the Aurora Orchestra, one of London’s cutting edge groups. John Reid is also a member of the Aurora and is one of the most in-demand and versatile of pianists. Their programme for OMS was therefore a superb showcase for two much praised musicians and also an opportunity to hear works from the core of the clarinet repertoire.
Gerald Finzi’s Five Bagatelles were written during the dark days of the Second World War when Finzi was living at Ashmansworth near Newbury, As well as undertaking war service he was the creator of the Newbury String Orchestra with which he gave concerts in the local area and which provided respite from the rigours of war. A deeply sensitive and driven man, in the Bagatelles he pours out sunny and attractive music; they are not of great difficulty and often appear as young clarinettists’ testpieces – there were a number of clarinettists, young and old, in our audience who must have felt both envious and encouraged by Tim’s easy mastery. The beginning of the Prelude came at us as a blast of sheer exuberance, whilst the Romance which followed was poignant and appealing. These were an indication of the extraordinarily varied contrasts which Tim could summon. Tim spoke later of the ‘autumnal’ mood in the Brahms sonata which he later played – by contrast, the Finzi exuded a spring-like freshness and clarity which matched the afternoon outside.
Tim then played Three Pieces for solo clarinet by Stravinsky. These bore evidence of Stravinsky’s interest in the latest developments in popular music and jazz. For Tim, they provided more opportunity to respond to a wide variety of tonal and dynamic, as well as technical, demands. Written as a gift to a patron and amateur clarinettist, they were ingeniously crafted miniatures, a far cry from the frenzy of The Rite of Spring.
John Reid returned, and together they played Schumann’s Three Fantasiestucke. If there was a theme running through their programme, it was centred on the German Romantic tradition with its love of fantasy and nature as seen by the literary world. This was High Romantic music to which Tim and John responded with warmth.
The one extended piece of the afternoon was Brahms Second Sonata. Written in the last decade of his life,and after he appeared to have put down his pen in favour of retirement, Brahms became inspired to write once more by the playing of a German orchestral clarinettist, Richard Muhlfeld. Brahms wrote these two sonatas as well as other chamber music works under the renewed inspiration Muhlfeld gave him. All three movements are suffused with a lyricism and sense of longing – there doesn’t seem to be any word more appropriate than Tim’s ‘autumnal’. In this work, above all, the music calls for a sensitivity and rapport which showed Tim and John to be ideal partners and musicians. John Reid, as OMS audiences will remember from a wonderful collaboration with violinist Thomas Gould some years ago, is a pianist who can match Tim for variety of colour. Their duetting in the third, variation, movement was of such unanimity that you could scarcely tell which instrument was playing as they tossed phrases from one to the other; it made for an extraordinarily moving performance. The piano part throughout calls for considerable virtuosity as well as attention to balance which John, ever sensitive, was always able to provide.
To allow Tim to recover from Brahms’ demands, and to prepare for his assault on The Carnival of Venice, John then played three more Schumann miniatures, from Forest Scenes, a return to the woods, atmospheric and brooding.
Alamiro Giampieri is one of those composers who is known, if at all, for just one piece – in this case, his variations on a trivial popular tune. It’s one of those high wire showpieces which make exorbitant demands on the player but reward him with little musical substance. Yet, in Tim’s hands, it was impossible not to marvel at the cascade of notes which he produced. Double stopping? the ear could almost believe it. Chords? Surely! High fun for all – oh! except poor John who accompanied dutifully, Sancho Panza to Don Quixote.
Although the musical content of the concert did not stray far from the standard repertoire, Tim and John gave the audience a highly satisfying afternoon of varied delights. They each introduced the works they were playing and talked with insight and easy humour. Both are musicians of much achievement and even greater promise: a large and appreciative audience will certainly remember their names.
“The winds were given chance to shine in Andre Caplet’s Piano Quintet, with flautist Juliette Bausor, oboist Steven Hudson, clarinettist Timothy Orpen and bassoonist Stephen Reay each given their say. The winds entwined sinuously in the slow movement, while generating sumptuous colours in the passionate chorale. The ensemble negotiated the finale at a blistering pace.”
“Florent Schmitt’s Sonatine en trio for flute, clarinet and piano features four short contrasting movements. Bausor, Orpen and Reid revelled in dazzling exchanges, providing perfect palate cleanser before Faure’s meaty Piano Quartet.”
“Lars Vogt, Royal Northern Sinfonia’s incoming music director, talked, played and conducted his way into the hearts of his new North East audience in a concert designed to showcase both his world-class skill as a pianist and the more recent expansion of his talents into conducting.
In an evening of European music, the German showed contrasting sides to his piano playing, opening with Leos Janacek’s lighthearted Concertino, in which the 71-year-old composer returned to his childhood with vivid scenes from the natural world he saw.
Peter Francomb’s horn was the hedgehog, Vogt’s piano the squirrel and Timothy Orpen’s clarinet led the chorus of night birds. In the final movement, all the creatures come together with bassoon and strings for a musical argument. It was both light and delightful.”
The Arts Desk, Geoff Brown
“Luckily, Orpen’s next appearance gave him room to show off skills other than simple agility. In Bartók’s Contrasts for clarinet, violin, and piano, he was the hottest dude on the block, hips wiggling, colours constantly morphing in a part originally written for jazz master Benny Goodman.”
Westmorland Gazette, Brian Paynes
“The temperature was considerably raised by a performance of Copland’s Clarinet Concerto. Timothy Orpen, in full command of the soloist’s widely-ranging technical and emotional demands, was partnered in exhilarating fashion by a conductor-less sinfonia, dispatching the jazz-inspired textures with great aplomb.”
Royal Northern Sinfonia’s latest concert at Sage Gateshead was directed by violinist Kyra Humphreys, who opened proceedings with a magnificently moulded rendition of Barber’s Adagio for Strings …….
When not playing his clarinet, Timothy Orpen enjoys mountain climbing, having scaled peaks of 6000m in the Himalayas and Bolivian Andes. His latest onstage challenge saw him taking on one of the pinnacles for his instrument in the shape of Copland’s Clarinet Concerto.
Indeed, so tricky are some parts that Copland famously scribbled “too difficult for Benny Goodman” on the manuscript page of his first version of the coda, after the celebrated jazz musician for whom he was writing it asked for revisions. Even then it took Goodman two years to pluck up the courage to play it.
Orpen’s approach was both fearless and direct. The melancholic opening section was conveyed with heartfelt conviction, with sensitive backing from the orchestra.
Orpen displayed dazzling dexterity in the Cadenza, making light work of the jazzy inflexions.
The second movement, marked Rather fast, was given added percussive drive by harpist Rhian Evans, double bass Sian Hicks and pianist John Alley. Orpen, the orchestra and audience alike enjoyed every moment.
The evening was rounded off with a polished rendition of Mozart’s Symphony 29, which featured a lovely interplay between the strings in the slow movement and energetic dash throughout the finale.
Fans of American composers Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland must be in clover, with their music featuring in two concerts here within five days.
This time it was the turn of Barber’s famous Adagio for Strings and Copland’s less well-known Clarinet Concerto, together with two works by Mozart to complete a fine evening’s entertainment.
Copland wrote his Clarinet Concerto in the late 1940s on a commission from the King of Swing, Benny Goodman.
Timothy Orpen, the orchestra’s principal clarinet, was the soloist and played with vigour and obvious enjoyment, moving with ease from the slow and reflective first movement to the boisterous second with its fast, jazzy pace.
ROYAL Northern Sinfonia’s latest chamber concert at Sage Gateshead placed the spotlight on music by composers from the British isles written in the early 20th century.
Gustav Holst’ s Wind Quintet got short shrift from his former tutor Charles William Stanford, who as an adjudicator at the Royal College of Music in 1903, remarked it was “uneven in quality and often ugly” .
It was criticism RNS flautist Juliette Bausor felt unjust and she invited the audience to judge for themselves.
The players proceeded to make an eloquent case for the melodious miniature that combines elements of late-Romantic and bucolic musical landscapes.
Stanford’s Serenade in F Major “Nonet” was delivered with a spirited spontaneity under the direction of violinist Bradley Creswick.
The Allegro molte featured brilliant flourishes which sizzled from player to player, while the singing lines of the slow movement were wonderfully shaped by clarinettist Timothy Orpen, violist Michael Gerrard, cellist Louisa Tuck and Creswick.
The programme concluded with Edward Elgar’s Piano Quintet in A Minor.
Elgar is said to have been inspired by a clump of distorted trees near his country retreat, that legend has it are the remains of a band of itinerant Spanish Monks struck by lightning for unspecified “impious acts”.
The haunting passages of the opening movement were wonderfully conveyed by pianist John Reid and the strings, while the slow movement was invested with an aching tenderness.The whole was brought to an energetic climax that was greeted with thunderous applause.
The concert was recorded for later broadcast by Classic FM.
“In Appalachian Spring the [Aurora] orchestra dawned beautifully, before launching into lively reels, impassioned addresses and rich lush chorales. Timothy Orpen’s opening of the variations on Simple Gifts was beautifully judged, and the orchestra followed him in invoking pastoral scenes before closing the concert with a beautiful sunset.”
“the sheer beauty of Timothy Orpen’s cornerstone clarinet solos” (Aurora orchestra)
“MELODIC Magic, the BSO’s title for this first concert under its new collaboration with Classic FM, is spot on.
Jamie Crick, replete with electronic notepad-bringing a touch of 21st century modernity to what was a lovely, old-fashioned concert- provided the informative introductions.
Mozart, among the greatest masters of melody, clearly understood the sound-world of the basset clarinet, used here to gorgeous effect by soloist Timothy Orpen.
The Clarinet Concerto is among the best-loved and Orpen’s performance was the epitome of suave, lucidity; producing a rich lower register and distinctive tonal values.
Where the first movement was cheerfully flowing, the contrasting Adagio brought a liquid beauty to its romantic core.
His articulate finale engaged the operatic character and witty infusions with a real sense of joy.”
“Timothy Orpen proved himself a musician with a big future as soloist in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. The adagio ‘sang’ like an operatic aria and the outer movements brimmed with a blend of technical virtuosity and varied expressiveness.”