Roger Quintana as the golfing virgin Fidel Castro in rehearsal

Sunday, 20 March 2011


The Sapporo Symphony Orchestra announced this week that their concert at the Royal Festival Hall on Monday 23 May will now be a charity fund-raising event for the victims of the Sendai earthquake. Three weeks go, they invited me to their home in the snow on Hokkaido, the north island of Japan, proudly showed me round their spectacular concert hall in Nakajima Park, gave me time with their conductor Tadaaki Otaka, formerly principal of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and sat me in the stalls at a concert in which they played part of the tour programme, Takemitsu’s How Slow the Wind, and two works by Shostakovich, the Cello Concerto No2 with soloist Miklos Perenyi and Symphony No5 or A Soviet Artist’s Reply to Just Criticism.

I have proposed to take the thirteen GCSE music students from Hurstmere School to the show. Classical orchestral music tends to bore them but they’ll probably endure it for the sake of a trip to town and you can’t go wrong with the jack-boot marches in the symphony. At the moment they’re still only fired up by their own music, indie pop and rap, and haven’t learnt yet to be curious about anything more grown up. When I showed them a Philip Glass film, they lost interest and started throwing the furniture around before the end. I often have to shout at George not to come in late eating his breakfast, Joe to put his guitar down and Lee and Zack to stop poking each other like Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

I first taught at the school in 2009 when I had large Victorian sideburns like my friend Kevin’s in last week’s post. I had grown them to impersonate Mendelssohn on his journey as a twenty-year-old across Scotland and came to be known as Wolverine in South East London schools, including Hurstmere, where I operated as a supply teacher. The name stuck even after I’d shaved them off and they still use the nickname though none can remember how I first came by it.

The choir has dwindled to three Year Seven boys so I made a recruitment announcement in senior assembly this week. I said the government had produced a report which said that music teaching in schools was generally very good but that the students themselves did not do enough singing. The following day about fifty students crowded into the music classroom, but not in any decorous way. They sat on the desks not at them, or fiddled with the electric keyboards and yelled ‘It’s Wolverine!’ when I hoved into view’. The music teacher Ms Roe was quite upset by the uproar, though fortunately everyone except the trio of Year Seven choristers left when they realised that joining the choir would actually involve singing. Back to the drawing board.

CD Reviews
Pergolesi Stabat Mater
Anna Netrebko, Marianna Pizzolato
Orchestra of Santa Cecilia / Antonio Pappano
A late celebration of the 300th anniversary of the composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736) lands heavily on the mat. Its de luxe packaging, copious sleeve notes and bonus DVD suggest bribery. Pergolesi usually gets the baroque early music treatment, but his Stabat Mater and other works are performed here by opera house divas soprano Anna Netrebko and contralto Marianna Pizzolato with Covent Garden maestro Antonio Pappano conducting the Orchestra of Santa Cecilia in Rome. Their sobbing portamenti and weighty ornaments are more maternal than the light toned barockists produce and their beefy melismas, articulated with aspirates in the Amen, hammer home the grief. The dramatic pause at et flagellis in the Quis est homo movement is a tense moment before the lash descends. The Quando corpus emotes like Verdi. It’s a throwback performance, refreshingly old-fashioned and a great relief from the squawking counter-tenors and male sopranos who have more recently interpreted it. Fashions always come full circle in the end.

Included on the disc is a performance of the overture or sinfonia to Pergolesi’s first music drama La Conversione e morte di San Guglielmo duca d’Aquitania which is being revived in full for the first time in 280 years at the Cuenca Festival of Religious Music in Spain during Holy Week. That, by contrast, will be given by the early music specialists Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques and I intend to be there. On the present disc, the sinfonia is warmly played by the Santa Cecilia musicians under Pappano’s springy baton, the dancing outer allegros enclosing a slow andante of ominous dramatic appeal.

Rick Jones