Tag Archives: Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

WHAT’S ON: FIVE-DAY FESTIVAL OF PERFORMANCE TO CELEBRATE 175 YEARS OF THE ROYAL CONSERVATOIRE OF SCOTLAND

One hundred and seventy-five years, five days, a feast of performance and a finale that’s guaranteed to raise the roof … the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is gearing up for a birthday celebration like no other!

The nation’s conservatoire marks its 175th anniversary next month and the occasion will be commemorated, most fittingly, with a fabulous festival of performance that will sprinkle some extra sparkle over December.

From December 5 to 9, expect drama, dance, music and film and an electrifying closing concert that promises to bring the festivities to an epic end. Symphonic strings, solo and choral singers, brass, wind and whistle players, pipers, pianists and percussionists … visionary violinist and conductor Greg Lawson and 80 artists from across RCS present RCS Does GRIT Orchestra, a rousing tribute to influential musical innovator – and RCS alumnus – Martyn Bennett, who died in 2005. 

In 2015, Lawson realised Bennett’s final album GRIT for orchestra for the opening night of Celtic Connections, where some of Scotland’s finest musicians across classical, jazz and folk delivered a stunning fusion of Celtic, Scandinavian and Islamic traditions with techno, breakbeat and hip-hop.

Following that unforgettable debut, the groundbreaking GRIT Orchestra went on to stage Lawson’s interpretation of Martyn’s second album Bothy Culture at Glasgow’s Hydro as part of Celtic Connections’ 25th anniversary in 2018, a spectacular celebration that featured global cycling sensation Danny MacAskill. Now, in a special reworking for RCS’s historic milestone, the orchestra’s values and spirit come to Scotland’s national conservatoire on Friday 9 December for RCS Does GRIT Orchestra, with Lawson’s interpretations of music from the GRIT and Bothy Culture albums.

Sharing the bill on the same evening will be RCS’s Braw Brass – a dynamic collaboration between the brass and traditional music departments, led by acclaimed conductor John Logan, RCS’s Head of Brass. Braw Brass has performed at high-profile events including the International Society for Music Education world conference in Brazil and the 20th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament.

The 175 programme includes an ethereal evening of ballet and song, where dancers from the BA Modern Ballet degree programme join forces with Vocal Performance students for a choreographed performance of composer Maurice Ravel’s Trois Poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé. There are opera and film screenings, a joyous choral performance with works by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Antonio Vivaldi, and drama in the shape of Hermia’ Dream, based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which throws the play’s themes into a new light.

 

Monday 5 December

Mondays at One – The Music of Learmont Drysdale, 1pm

Charlotte Bateman: mezzo

James McIntyre: tenor

Gina McCormack: violin

Rebekah Lesan: cello

Marianna Abrahamyan: piano

Learmont Drysdale (1866-1909) was a composer whose works were performed at Sir Henry Wood’s Promenade Concerts and Covent Garden. Celebrated in his lifetime, yet today the name of Learmont Drysdale will be known to very few. Glasgow University Library holds an extensive archive of Drysdale’s manuscripts, which has been researched by Marianna Abrahamyan on behalf of Music in Peebles. The result is this concert’s programme of chamber music, piano music and songs, some unpublished and possibly never performed before.

 

RCS Choral Performance, 6pm

A joyous choral performance directed by Andrew Nunn with a programme that includes Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols and Antiphon (from Five Mystical Songs), Ca’ The Yowes and Antonio Vivaldi’s Gloria.

 

Tuesday 6 December

An Evening of Ballet & Song, 7pm

Conductor: Cameron Burns

Performers: Hannah Bennett, Marie Cayeux, Aline Giaux and dancers from the BA Modern Ballet programme.

This joint venture between BA Modern Ballet and Vocal Performance students features a choreographed performance of French composer Maurice Ravel’s Trois Poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé. The evening will also include third-year ballet students dancing to Debussy’s Pagodes from Estampes and a performance of three new dance works created by second-year students using new compositions as inspiration.

 

Wednesday 7 December

Hermia’s Dream, 7pm

Based on the lovers’ scenes in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s DreamHermia’s Dream throws the play’s themes into a new light using movement, dance and Shakespeare’s words.

Directors: Tucker St Ivany and Emma Gray

Mentor: Ali de Souza

Hermia: Molly Geddes

Helena: Chloe Ragrag

Lysander: Stuart Edgar

Demetrius: James Crutcher

Puck: Elizaveta Guryeva

 

Thursday 8 December

Lunchtime Concert – Accordions, 1pm

The programme includes J.S. Bach Preludium BWV 552, V.Zubitsky Karpathian Suite, A.Lyadov Music Box and M.Majkusiak Concerto Nevrotico.

 

Les Enfants Terribles opera screening, 6pm

Part of a trilogy of films written by Jean Cocteau, each of which has been translated into opera by Philip Glass, Les Enfants Terribles is written for four singers and four dancers and orchestrated for three grand pianos.

 

Friday 9 December

BA Filmmaking Shorts, 1pm

Ūhte: Filmed on the set of BBC drama series River City, this ten-minute opera film, composed by Henry McPherson, who has since graduated, and directed by Ray Tallan, RCS Head of BA Filmmaking, tells the story of three magicians and the silence where magic was once found. With an orchestral score performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Martyn Brabbins, the opera is a truly interdisciplinary collaboration, featuring students from the RCS opera school, with prosthetics, props and wardrobe created by RCS production students, and realised by film students.

Danila: A beautiful behind-the-scenes film that captures the artistry and intensity of ballet, centering on dancer Danila Marzilli, who graduated from RCS in 2019. It’s a perfect example of collaboration between art forms, fusing BA Filmmaking and BA Modern Ballet.

Musicville: BA Filmmaking’s first collaboration with the musical theatre department took advantage of the winter hiatus of the River City studios and backlot. Directed by Andrew Panton and produced by the students of the Digital Film and Television course (now BA Filmmaking), all music and lyrics were written and composed by RCS musical theatre students.

 

Braw Brass and RCS Does GRIT Orchestra, 7pm

Conductor Greg Lawson works with traditional, jazz and classical music students in an eighty-piece orchestra that celebrates Martyn Bennett’s vision for Scotland’s contemporary musical landscape, which he so brilliantly mapped and championed. The programme will include Lawson’s orchestral interpretations of music from Bennett’s GRIT and Bothy Culture albums.

Tickets for the 175 festival programme are available from the RCS Box Office and all proceeds will support the student experience.

REVIEW: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat – Sir Alexander Gibson Opera Studio, Glasgow

The Master of Music Opera students of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland present a bold and brave, rarely seen contemporary opera double bill at the Sir Alexander Gibson Opera Studio this autumn.

First is The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Michael Nyman’s opera based on one of the case studies in the 1985 book of the same name by neurologist Oliver Sacks.

Dr. P a renowned singer and music teacher, has visual agnosia. He sees line, colour, simple shapes, patterns and movement but cannot recognise or make sense of what he sees. In Nyman’s opera, Dr. P’s condition is revealed through a series of scenes of gradual diagnosis.

Oliver Sacks himself declared the idea of turning this subject matter into an opera as simply ‘mad’, and one can’t help but agree as it proves to be a somewhat challenging work. That each scene comprises almost identical content and indeed the music, largely comprising extracts of Schumann (most especially Ich grolle nicht from Dichterliebe) lacks contrast which in turn lends itself to tedium despite its short running time. That the opera is based on such a well-regarded text doesn’t do it any favours in comparison.

 

The production team are of the finest quality, director Caroline Clegg, conductor William Cole and designer Finlay McLay have enviable CVs and indeed, any failings are not at their hands.

As Dr. P’s wife Marie Cayeux is vocally sound but her diction leaves a lot to be desired. To have to read the surtitles of an opera that is sung entirely in English is distracting to say the least. In a cast of three the balance is thrown out and any shortcomings thrown very much to the fore. Ross Cummings’ (above, centre) Dr. P is fine sounding throughout, however his exaggerated facial expressions are somewhat distracting in such a small auditorium. Standout among the trio is William Searle as Dr. S who delivers a finely measured acting performance to compliment a beautiful singing one.

 

The bravery of programming challenging works is to be lauded. However, the subject matter is tediously repetitive and provides little to sustain interest. The piece ends with the eminent doctor declaring that his only prescription is more music, but maybe not this music.

Continues its run at the RCS next week.

Images © Royal Conservatoire of Scotland/Robbie McFadzean

REVIEW: Street Scene – New Athenium Theatre, Glasgow

Street Scene, Kurt Weill’s 1946 “Broadway Opera” is rarely revived in Scotland, the last time, the 1989 Scottish Opera/ENO production.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name by Elmer Rice (who wrote the book for the opera), Weill considered the score his masterpiece. One of his exile works, it was written in the US after fleeing the rise of Nazism in Germany in the inter-war years. Street Scene also has the distinction of being the winner of the first Tony Award for Best Original Score.

It’s the stoop of a New York brownstone in the Lower East Side of Manhattan over two swelteringly hot summer days in 1946.

The gossip flows as the vast cast of characters float in and out of the action: Anna Maurrant is having an affair with the milkman, but in reality Anna is seeking some comfort away from her monstrous bully of a husband, Frank. Rose her daughter is torn between two men – one a safe choice, the other not so.

Street Scene inhabits an interesting place in the world of theatre. A transition between European Opera and what we now know as modern American musical theatre. It has been said it places perfectly between Weill’s own Threepenny Opera and Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story.

The music on its own is absolutely intriguing, mixing operatic arias such as Somehow I Never Could Believe, which is almost pure Puccini, Jazz and Blues in I Got a Marble and a Star and Lonely House, Broadway in Wrapped in a Ribbon and Tied in a Bow and the Jitterbugging, Moon Faced, Starry Eyed. There’s light and shade, drama and comedy and romance and tragedy all in one show. The mix of musical styles mirroring the multi-racial melting pot of the tenement’s ethnically diverse inhabitants.

While the book can suffer from too much going on, writer Rice had his finger firmly on the vibrant pulse of New York in the 40s. Where this Royal Conservatoire of Scotland production wins out is the stupendous cast and the stunning visual design. Any qualms about it’s 3 hour-plus running time are assuaged by the glorious sound and visuals. The music sounding at its most goose bump-inducing in the ensemble numbers.

Bravo and brava to all concerned. This is a production of infinite quality and a fitting showcase of the performers of the future, who, on the basis of this production, can and will go far.

Images: © Robbie McFadzean

REVIEW: Side Show – West Brewery, Glasgow

Based vaguely on the true story of British-born conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, vaudeville performers of the 1920s and 1930s, Side Show isn’t your average, jaunty musical. Instead it’s the story of two women with very different inner lives, forever joined, whose hopes and dreams are subsumed by the other, their individual potential never to be fulfilled.

Violet wants a home, a husband, a ‘normal’ life, Daisy desires fame, fortune and the bright lights of the Orpheum circuit. Those whose care they’re in, their only aim – to make as much money as possible exploiting them. Would-be impresarios  Terry and Buddy enter their lives, to, on the surface, help the twins escape their side show lives, only to in turn exploit them for their own ends.

The cast of self-proclaimed ‘freaks’ who populate the side show include a bearded lady, the Cannibal King, a human pincushion and a lizard man. Played here by a cast of actor/musicians in minimal costume/makeup.

Having the distinction of having failed twice on Broadway, this 1997 musical is rarely seen and it is easy to see why. The faults lie entirely with the writing and not the performers.

Act One plods and it takes until well in to act two for it to hit any kind of dramatic stride. It barely scratches below the surface of these complex women’s lives. There’s a lack in variation in tone, too many songs and a discomfort at the subject matter that doesn’t sit well with the modern psyche. The book is quite frankly, badly written and the lyrics tediously bombastic.

What is a winner is the cast. Despite fighting with an overly loud band (that sounded frequently out of tune) and questionable acoustics (although in a hugely atmospheric venue) that deadened the lyrics almost entirely, the cast gamely fight on. Their quality never in question. On the occasions they managed to break through the cacophony they are sublime. Their harmonies glorious. Grace Galloway is magnetic as twin Daisy, overshadowing the less effusive (as her character dictates) Violet from Emma Harding. Callum Marshall’s (Sir) vocals are unfortunately drowned out by the band and the lyrics are lost in the important first few songs that establish the plot. None of this is Marshall’s fault as he is visibly projecting. The ensemble are talented, but it sounds as if musicianship is not their forte and the playing space is sprawling (long and narrow) leading to the audience’s focus dancing all over the room uncomfortably.

A brave attempt but it doesn’t feel fully thought through by the production team. What seems like a match made in heaven – unusual, atmospheric venue and a musical set in the 20s/30s about side-show freaks – doesn’t work in reality. There are practicalities that need to be thought out when you present to an audience. Their viewing experience is paramount. If the sound is distorted by the venue and the staging renders watching it a physical feat, you are doing a disservice to your viewers and also your actors, whose undeniable talent is masked through no fault of their own. All of this added to the fact that Side Show just isn’t a very good show, makes this a rare misstep from RCS.

Performances at West Brewery until 23rd May 2018.

REVIEW: The Fiery Angel (Scottish Opera Sunday Series) – City Halls, Glasgow

Masochistic obsession, black magic, demons, mass possession, exorcism, skeletons, nuns, appearances from Faust and Mephistopheles, it’s no wonder Sergei Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel, often called lurid and sensationalist, is seldom staged. This latest production in The Sunday Series from Scottish Opera sees the work given a stripped back concert style treatment and it’s all the better for it.

Rehearsal for The Fiery Angel
Photos by Julie Howden

While lacking a set, it lacks for nothing else. The principal cast is largely made up of native Russian speakers and some fellow Eastern Europeans and is supplemented by current students of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland opera school. The expertise with the language is partly the reason for the quality of this production, that and the considerable singing and acting skills of its principal players. Russian soprano Svetlana Sozdateleva is fine-voiced and gives a convincing, emotive performance throughout as the mentally unsound Renata, as is Azerbaijani baritone Evez Abdulla as Ruprecht and Russian tenor Dmitry Golovnin as Agrippa von Nettesheim, though it must be said that at times they, and their fellow singers find it hard to be heard over the outstanding orchestra (itself swelled in number by students from the Conservatoire), who, under the commanding baton of Mikhail Agrest, have rarely sounded more powerful.

Rehearsal for The Fiery Angel
Photos by Julie Howden

For all its, quite frankly insane subject matter, the score is an absolute winner: powerful, hypnotic, dissonant, majestic, bold and gripping.

Every aspect of this largely concert hall venue is utilised well: singers enter through the auditorium, sing from the balconies, orchestra stalls and act out the considerable drama in an arrangement of simply staged, but hugely effective scenes.

An absolute triumph for both Scottish Opera and The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and a fantastic opportunity to hear Prokofiev’s masterpiece sounding at its best.

 

 

REVIEW: London Road- Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Chandler Studio Theatre, Glasgow

That anyone thought that a musical about the serial murders of five sex workers in sleepy Ipswich in 2006 would be suitable source material for a musical, might rightfully have been called utterly misguided – thoroughly insensitive, in fact, but that’s the premise for Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork’s London Road.

Delivered verbatim style, the lyrics are culled from interviews that creator Alecky Blythe conducted with the real inhabitants of London Road. The musical a reflection of how the residents, sex workers and media dealt with the terrifying and sensational events unfolding around them.

This work defies every preconception you might have about it. It is thoughtful, intelligent and utterly compelling and there’s not a whiff of exploitation or sensationalism throughout (neither the killer, Steve Wright (dubbed the Suffolk Strangler) nor his victims appear (save for a ‘blanket over the head’ moment when Wright is rushed to the courthouse). Each group involved are given their voice, no matter how unpalatable or un-PC it might be. The honesty and raw truth of it all is what sets it above its contemporaries. The plaudits the work received on its debut at the National Theatre, utterly deserved.

The work is in the safe hands of the 3rd year BA Musical Theatre students at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, under the direction of Philip Howard, and their quality and commitment to the work, make it unmissable. The large ensemble cast is faultless. The set design from Meghan Grieve, suitably dark and atmospheric, with an abundance of beautifully realised tiny details, the choreography by EJ Boyle is innovative and eye-catching. The only gripe would be the ear-splittingly loud band which overpowers the vocals and drowns out the lyrics at times.

This is a work of the utmost quality and a refreshing change to the lightweight musical theatre fluff that abounds – tickets are like gold dust, but if you can secure one – you won’t regret it.

Runs until 1 December 2017

100 WORD REVIEWS: Urinetown – Assembly Hall, Edinburgh

There’s a world water shortage and you can only pee if you pay, that is the premise of Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman’s Urinetown.

Presented by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, this is a high quality production with a talented cast of a, quite frankly, meh! musical. In trying to be clever (it parodies the musical theatre form and many hit shows) it just isn’t as clever as it likes to think it is.

Too many pee-related puns which get thin quickly and an instantly forgettable soundtrack save the glorious “Run, Freedom Run” render it a pleasant way to kill a few hours but little more.

3 ***

REVIEW: Under The Ground – Assembly Checkpoint, Edinburgh

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s new musical Under The Ground wears its influences well and truly on its sleeve. This tale of loneliness, life, love and loss on the Glasgow Subway, whilst entertaining, offers little in the way of originality.

Presented as a series of vignettes, all forms of life are here: a young widow mourning the loss of her husband, a love rat, a man forced by a slip of the hand to propose to a girl he can barely stand, to name a few.

It is, as it always was with RCS productions, meticulously put together: slick staging, an on-form band and professional delivery and there are sufficient changes of pace, tone, texture and emotion to keep interest levels high, but the derivative songs are quite frankly, instantly forgettable the moment you cross the exit. The are issues with the setting too, which could have been more clearly stated and the idiosyncrasies of Glasgow’s infamous Clockwork Orange, that anyone who has ever travelled on could instantly recognise, are not utilised to add much-needed atmosphere.

There are though some nicely nuanced performances and some fine voices however, there are a few whose energy levels tipped their characterisations into over the top territory and quite a few had projection issues rendering their voices inaudible beyond the first rows.

An admirable attempt at a new musical but more work needs to be done on the music and setting before it’s the finished article.

Runs until 31 August 2015 (alternative days)

This review was originally published at:

http://www.thepublicreviews.com/under-the-ground-assembly-checkpoint-edinburgh/

100 WORD REVIEWS: Willy’s Bitches – Assembly Checkpoint, Edinburgh

The second of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s musical offerings, allows Shakespeare’s women to vent some steam at their treatment at the hands of The Bard.

As their other work this year, Under The Ground, this musical is presented as a series of vignettes, but the lack of a ‘book’ means one can’t help feeling that this could have been so much more.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have some emotional impact. There are a few notable performances and a few not so. There’s also an over-reliance on over-acting to convey emotion and much potential impact is lost in the histrionics.

A little more work and this could be a cracker.

REVIEW: The Tempest – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

This review was originaly written for and published by The Public Reviews at:

http://www.thepublicreviews.com/the-tempest-tron-theatre-glasgow/

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Andy Arnold

Design: Hazel Blue

Lighting Design: Sergey Jakovsky

Sound Design: Barry McCall

Tron Artistic Director Andy Arnold directs a predominantly female cast from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s MA Classical and Contemporary Text programme, in this his Mayfesto production of The Tempest: Shakespeare’s tale of magic, morality, love and betrayal.

While the programme notes state ‘the text has been slightly edited’, it manages to stick largely to Shakespeare’s original whilst giving greater focus to the themes of colonisation which exist in the text: indeed in this production the play’s first and last words are given over to Martinican poet, politician and denouncer of colonial racism, Aimé Césaire. These judicious cuts result in a lively and engaging production which whips along at a cracking pace.

The production scores highly on atmosphere: Hazel Blue’s inventive staging, an earthy hued island with a skeleton of a high-masted sailing ship, provides enough interest for the eye without detracting from the action and is complemented well by Sergey Jakovsky’s effective lighting design. However it must be said that Barry McCall’s sound design whilst evocative, often drowns out whole patches of dialogue, whether this is down to poor enunciation on the part of the actors or a heavy-hand on the volume button one cannot tell.

Arnold’s nimble direction showcases the skill of his actors and keeps the interest levels high throughout; indeed he manages to elicit some beautifully measured performances and a United Nations of accents from this youthful cast. Standout among them Rebecca Murphy as Prospero, who delivers a perfectly controlled central performance, though her extremely strident Australian accent sometimes consigns some of Prospero’s most notable lines to the winds. Kenny Boyle’s Ariel is a less sulky characterisation than the usual and his mastery of the ethereal other-worldliness of the sprightly spirit is captivating. The two are ably supported by the rest of the company, most noteworthy among them Flora Sowerby’s Cockney wide-boy Stephano and Amy Drummond’s Welsh Valley Trinculo, who provide the high comedy of the piece. There is also a more thoughtful and dignified portrayal  of the native, enslaved Caliban from Renee Williams.

This is a refreshing departure from the more traditional stagings of the play and the perfect showcase for these young actors at the start of their careers. A vibrant re-telling of the tale, visually pleasing, bristling with life and with some new food for thought thrown in. Well worth catching if you can.

Runs until 16th May 2014

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