For our October recital we were delighted to welcome Madeline Kirby who is a freelance harpist based in Worcestershire. She plays in concerts as a soloist and with orchestras and other ensembles. She is also a teacher and offers lessons on the harp, piano and classical singing. Madeline also enjoys playing for special occasions including weddings and corporate events. Born in the South West she started studying music at school, achieving three ABRSM Grade 8 distinctions for Harp, Piano and Singing. She then went to Birmingham University to study Music and Modern Languages and played the harp in both orchestras. She was awarded a Dip.ABRSM Diploma and graduated with a 2:1. Since graduating she has remained in the Midlands and works throughout Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire, Leicestershire and further afield.

Madeline began her recital with “Watching the Wheat” a traditional Welsh folk song followed by a set of three traditional Welsh Airs arr. by Samuel Milligan. Immediately one was captivated by Madeline’s ability to produce a performance with the melody always played with great attention to the phrasing etc. whilst adding with such ease, the accompaniment of scale passages, arpeggios and chords, which are such a feature of harp music.

Then followed two pieces by Ailie Robertson, a multi- award winning composer and harpist from Scotland. Firstly, “The Boatman” a traditional Gaelic melody arranged by Ailie and then “Haar”, one of her own compositions. This piece had a haunting theme and a recurring rhythmic pattern rather like the tolling of a bell. It was very atmospheric.

“Three Magical Pieces” from “Suite for Celtic Harp” by Fabio Rizza came next. 1) ”The River’s Dance” with a lilting rhythmic melody above strummed chords was a delight, as was 2)“The Enchanted Mill” a dreamlike contrast.  3) “The Faun” began gently but, with each variation (or verse?) becoming more powerful, it built to a strong climax.

The recital ended with three pieces by Alfredo Rolando Ortiz, an internationally acclaimed soloist of the Paraguayan harp and a composer, author, educator and recording artist. He was born in 1946. “Once on the Mountain” was very rhythmic with a strong South American influence, “Waiting” in contrast, was more subdued but “Milonga for Loving” was again a reminder of the influence of the composer’s nationality.

After much enthusiastic applause Madeline spent a few minutes explaining a little about her magnificent instrument and the basics of playing it and was rewarded with yet more applause. It was an evening of rarely performed music brought to us by a most talented exponent of the genre.

The 2023/2024 season of the Shipston Music Society began on September 15th with a celebration of younger performers who all live, or attend school in the area. The evening began with Julian Halota. He chose three pieces: “Rondo a la Turca” by Mozart, “Opening Night Jazz” by Martha Meir” and “Rumba Toccata” by Paul Harvey. Julian is a confident pianist who can happily switch from the classical era of Mozart to the jazz idioms of the late 19th and early 20th century. His playing showed a developing maturity and understanding of the necessary elements required for performance.

Molly Sharma was next on the piano stool with two pieces. “Ivan is very busy” from “The Adventures of Ivan” by Khachaturian, a Russian/Armenian composer (1903 – 1978) and “Prayer of the Matador” by N. Dello Joio, another American composer. The first, as the name suggests is a piece of perpetual motion which Molly was able to execute with ease, but then in contrast we heard a haunting melody (the matador’s thoughts?)  captured by Molly’s lovely legato playing.

Next, a change of instrument as Aaron Notley Jones came forward with his classical guitar. For his first piece he chose “Old Mountain Thyme” (a traditional Scottish folksong) which highlighted the use of the Scottish “snap”.  In contrast he chose “Mazurka Choro” by Villa Lobos. This was exactly what one would expect of a piece based on South American folk music. It was apparent that Aaron enjoyed playing it and the audience liked it too.

Philip Mitroi was due to play several duets with his sister but unfortunately she was unable to be with us. However Philip offered to play “Juin” from “The Seasons” by Tchaikovsky. This lovely piece is in the style of a barcarole with a serene melody played over gentle chords providing the harmony. This was a performance that demonstrated his ability to make the melody “sing”.

Freddie Charles was also prevented from performing for us this evening so Julian had offered to play two extra pieces. Unfortunately I mislaid the programme on which I had noted the titles. My apologies. However the enthusiastic applause also prompted the offer of another piece each from Aaron and Molly so our thanks to them.

Our final performer was Cameron Spruce who began with “La Cathedrale Engloutie” by Claude Debussy. This piece conjures up a submerged cathedral as in the old Breton legend of the town of Ys, once engulfed but now revealing, at low tide, the foundations… Cameron had no difficulty in creating the dark and forbidding atmosphere of the scene with the tolling of the cathedral bell. It was very atmospheric. In complete contrast “The Golliwog’s Cakewalk” transported the audience to a comic scene of golliwogs having fun. After the applause Cameron immediately put on his jazz hat with a rollicking performance of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer”. The perfect finale for a super concert by our young, local talent. My congratulations to Julian, Molly, Aaron, Philip and Cameron for a most enjoyable evening. THANK YOU.

For the final concert of the 2022/2023 season the Shipston Music Society had great pleasure in inviting the internationally renowned pianist Alexander Ardakov to make a return visit, this time with a change from our usual venue of the Methodist Church to St. Edmund’s Church as part of the “Shipston Proms”. To our delight he accepted the invitation.

For this recital Ardakov chose two composers noted for their piano compositions, Frederick Chopin (1810 – 1849) and Sergei Rachmaninov (1873 – 1943).

The programme began with Chopin’s music. A selection of Nocturnes, Mazurkas and Waltzes displayed Chopin’s ability to produce energetic, lively sections which then “melt” into soft, gentle melodic phrases. Then came the Ballade No. 1 in G minor (op. 23). This is a real “show piece” which requires a complete command of the keyboard and very quick, delicate  fingerwork.  We were not disappointed. Finally the Scherzo No. 2 in Bflat minor (op. 31), a very powerful work so not for the faint-hearted!  We were treated to a very strong performance, giving us plenty to discuss during the interval.

Rachmaninov studied at the Moscow Conservatoire (1885 – 92) and graduated with distinction in both piano and composition. He wrote extensively for the piano although he is perhaps more widely remembered for his orchestral works especially the three symphonies and four piano concertos. As he was composing nearly forty years after Chopin’s death it is interesting to see his ability to create a lyrical melody from small motifs and the influence of the Russian Romanticism inherited from Tchaikovsky and his teachers. Ardakov chose to begin this part of the recital with Melodie (op. 3 no. 3) and Elegie (op.3 no.1) which were followed by “Polchinelle” (op.3 no.4). This was, from the outset a very playful, exuberant piece until in the middle section a beautiful melody gradually emerged. This too then receded as a lively section brought the work to its conclusion. Ten Preludes completed the programme of which no. 5 in G minor (alla marcia) was an excellent example of Ardakov’s technical skill.

This programme and it’s performance by Alexander Ardakov  was a real “Tour de Force” and all members of the audience, musicians and non-musicians, responded with rapturous applause. An encore of three short pieces by Glinka, Scriabin and Tchaikovsky was received with more well-deserved applause before we allowed our performer “to bow out”!

What a wonderful conclusion to our 2022/2023 season.

It was in 2021 that trumpeter Paul (Harry) Dowler managed to bring together a small group of semi-professional jazz musicians and convince them that the year 1959 was not only the pinnacle of mainstream jazz, but it was also the year of his birth so they should form an “Old-Fashioned Jazz Combo” and call it “Jazz 59 Quintet”. Later it became a sextet consisting of trumpet, saxophone, guitar, bass, drums and keyboard. In 2021 Paul and his wife Heather decided to organise a Charity Jazz Concert which was a such a success that they realized not only were they enjoying themselves but that they had inadvertently created a unique fundraising vehicle – so they convinced the performers that if they claimed just travel expenses they would be raising funds for a very good cause. A wonderful idea – and it worked!

Jazz is a fusion of African and European music and was developed in the USA in the early part of the 20th century and was well established by the year 1959! The rhythmic and chordal features used then are still evident in our modern era. The programme began with a powerful, cadenza-like solo from Paul demonstrating the full range of the instrument, before being joined by the rest of the group. As is the tradition, each member of the group had the opportunity to perform his own variation of the main theme thus making us aware of what a talented group they are. It was a varied programme from the slow, lazy feel of “Blue in Green” then “Yesterday” and “Beautiful Love” to the lively “Moments’ Notice” and it was obvious that they really enjoyed performing together. There was extra applause after “When I Fall in Love” in which Paul had used two trumpets, one in each hand, (one muted to produce the tonal variation for the alternate lines of the lyrics). It was a most enjoyable performance. In contrast “One for Daddy O” brought the concert to a close with lots of toe-tapping and smiles all round. There was much well-deserved applause - and admiration of their snazzy waistcoats!

“Sax a Trois” was the group of musicians who entertained us at our April meeting and what a talented group they were. Anna Young, Paynor Tsate and Samantha Matthews from the Birmingham Conservatoire have all won prizes for their solo performances and as members of trios and quartets. The accompanist was Charles Matthews, a tutor in piano and organ at the Conservatoire. He is in great demand for his legendary accompanying skills not just at the Conservatoire but also in the wider circle of professional music making.

The programme consisted of a trio to both begin and end the entertainment with each student playing a solo piece in each half of the programme.

“Dance for three Saxophones” (originally for three violins) arranged by Charles Matthews set the scene with a very robust and rhythmic performance with excellent attention to detail. Anna then played “Fuzzy Bird Sonata” by Tokashi Yoshimatsu in which after several attempts Fuzzy Bird finally manages to take flight. After the interval Anna played Vocalise by Messiaen which demonstrated her beautiful legato tone quality. Paynor chose “Majorca” by Albeniz which, as expected, displayed a real Spanish atmosphere particularly as Paynor was very keen to highlight the rhythmic content. For his second piece he chose “Escapades” (from the film “Catch me if you can”) by John Williams. After  the opening section the mood became mysterious with a rather free rhythmic content before ending with “Joy Ride” which brought the piece to a very lively conclusion. Samantha played “Concerto” in three short movements by Lee Actor and in the second half she played the soprano saxophone and played “Fujiko” by Andy Scott. This demonstrated her control of the instrument and her beautiful smooth legato playing as the piece ended very softly and mysteriously. The final piece is best known when played by three violins but Pachelbel’s “Canon” nevertheless was an interesting choice and in the hands of such talented performers one could always hear the melody as it is passed from one player to the next.

Charles, as usual, was superb in the way he coped with some unbelievably difficult accompaniments  and, after an evening of excellent music-making,  the performers were rewarded with long, enthusiastic and well-deserved applause.

The March meeting of the Music Society was held, not in the usual venue of the Methodist Church, but in the Music Room at Famington Farm, Willington thanks to the very kind invitation of David Hodges. This is a perfect venue for Chamber music and the Arcus Piano Trio certainly enjoyed playing there.

The programme consisted of two Piano trios, the first by Schubert (1797 – 1828) and the second by Brahms (1833 – 1897). Schubert completed the Trio No. 1 in B-flat major in 1828 just before he died. Written in the classical style of that era, it nevertheless brings to the fore his wonderful ability to compose beautiful melodies particularly in the first two movements. In the third movement (Scherzo) the instruments imitate each other before leading us into the final movement which ended with an exciting section, played as marked, at presto speed!

After the interval, in which members of the audience enjoyed a glass of wine, it was the Piano Trio No. 1 in B major by Brahms. Although theoretically it is still in the classical age it certainly shows leanings towards the romantic era that was to follow with a stronger sense of emotion and less adherence to the classical forms. The opening of this Trio is an example; the cello and piano introduce a bold melody which builds up to the entry of the violin. Then follows a lively section in which various themes are developed. In the Scherzo the delicate finger work from all players was beautifully executed.

It was clear from the start that these three performers really enjoy playing together; the synchronisation was superb, seemingly by instinct on occasions and their musicianship is of the highest level. Formed in 2015 they have already received many accolades in this country but each one of them also pursues a successful career as a soloist. They are based in the Midlands and hopefully, we may be able to persuade them to play for us again in the future.

“Since Music is so good a thing, I wish all men would learn to sing”.

 Thus said the composer William Byrd in 1588.  Had Mr Byrd been at the Methodist Church in Shipston last Friday he would have witnessed an event that would have gladdened his heart! The first of our monthly meetings for 2023 featured the Blockley Blokes – a choir of 28 members – all men who like to sing. Their varied program began with “Send Down a Song for Me” by Terry Rigler, a member of Bournemouth Male Voice Choir and, from the opening phrase, the choir sang confidently with clear diction. After a duet from “The Magic Flute”  by Mozart, we heard “Calon Lan” arr. by Edmund Walters. Closing one’s eyes one was transported to the Llangollen Eisteddfod by the classic sound of the male voice choir. A lovely performance. After items from “Carousel” and “South Pacific”, the first half ended with “When the Saints go Marching In” arranged by Dennis Hood – a tribute as he died last year aged 70.

The second half of the evening began with a very confident rendition of “Do you Hear the People Sing?” followed by a heartfelt performance of “Bring Him Home”, both from “Les Miserables”. The ability of the choir to switch immediately from the strong, powerful theme of the first to the yearning sadness of the second was impressive. “Some Blokes Do” by Stephen Foster was sung with gusto and a chorus from “The Yeomen of the Guard” (Gilbert and Sullivan) brought us to the final item.  “Gwahoddiad”, a Welsh hymn of American origin providing a perfect finale to an evening of contrasting songs, from the gentle soothing ones to the energetic, toe-tapping ones. It was a most enjoyable evening performed by “Men Who Sing”! We hope that they will return in the future.

Friday we met for a pianistic treat by not one, but two, superb exponents of the piano. Lynn Arnold and Charles Matthews have both performed for us on previous occasions but not together so we were all expecting a really exciting evening of music from “Two Hands”. They certainly did not disappoint.

Lynn studied at Cambridge University where she held a celebrated Instrumental Award, followed by further study at the Royal Academy of Music where she won various competitions including the prestigious Sir Henry Richardson Award from the Musicians Benevolent Fund. Lynn is on the staff of the Royal Academy of Music Junior Department and is a member of the ABRSM grade examining panel.

Charles studied at the Royal College of Music in London and was an organ scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge. He has won numerous awards including the first prize in the Franz Liszt Interpretation Competition in Budapest. Charles is organist of St. Catharine’s Church, Chipping Campden and also enjoys working with young people at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire as piano accompanist and organ tutor. He recently became Musical Director of the Chipping Campden Festival Chorus and is the Patron of Shipston Music Society.

The first half of the programme celebrated the 150 years since the birth of Ralph Vaughan Williams and began with the Minuet from his “Suite for Four Hands on one piano” followed by an arrangement by Archibald Jacob of the “London Symphony”. This work, portraying the sights and sounds as the morning mists rise and the city gradually comes to life, is a challenge but Lynn and Charles had no problem conveying the serenity of the scene.

After the interval we heard a very lively performance of Schubert’s Rondo in A major followed by the Allegro, Barcarolle, and Moto Perpetuo from Suite No.2 Op 71 by York Bowen. He was a well-known pianist and composer, born in London in 1884, with a prolific output of orchestral and instrumental music. After the First World War however, his popularity began to fade and he died in November 1961.

To bring the evening to a close Lynn and Charles chose music by Dvorak – a Czech composer of Romantic music. The idioms of the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia can be heard in Slavonic Dance Op 46 “Tempo di Minuetto, “Silent Woods” Op68 No5 and Slavonic Dance Op46 “Presto”. As with every piece performed earlier, the playing of Lynn and Charles was superb; their phrasing and interpretation brought the music alive, the clarity of the very fast sections was breath-taking and their synchronisation was “out of this world”. What a wonderful evening.

In December there is the Christmas Lunch after which we meet again on 17th February 2023 at 7.30pm to meet the Blockley Blokes. We do hope to see you there (with lots of friends!) for what promises to be a very entertaining evening.

It was a real pleasure once again for the Music Society to be taking part in the Shipston Proms this year.  The last two years has passed us by but here were again in St Edmunds Church on Thursday 23rd June gathering together to listen to an evening of classical guitar music.

Julian Vickers and Daniel Bovey had come to Shipston some years ago to play for the Society – in fact they reminded us it was 9 years ago.  At the time they were completing their studies at the Birmingham Conservatoire, after which they graduated with Distinction in a joint Masters from the Royal Academy of Music in London.  Since then, they have won many awards and have appeared both nationally and internationally.  So we were delighted when they accepted our invitation to return to Shipston.

The recital began with Mauro Giuliani’s Grande Variazione Concertanti an early 19th century Italian piece where the guitars alternately appeared to talk to each other and then come together.  We then went to France for Rameau’s suite Pieces de Clavecin.  These expressive pieces included La Poule, Le Rappel des Oiseaux, with their restless tone, the peacefulness of Musette en Rondeau, and ending with ‘busy’ Les Cyclopes. 

These were followed by Spanish/Cuban composer Nin-Culmell’s Tonadas originally written for the piano and which reflected a true Spanish style.   The first half concluded with the fabulous early 20th century piece Alborada les Gracioso by Ravel which was at once both mysterious and exciting.

The second part of the programme consisted of Janacek’s haunting In the Mists, again originally written for the piano, and the Tango Suite by Astor Piazzola, which truly encapsulates the joy of the tango and brought to an end a recital that had been absolutely gripping.    The playing of Julian Vickers and Daniel Bovey was truly outstanding throughout and reflected their total harmony and mastery of their instrument.   It was a fine end to our 2021 2022 season of concerts, and we look forward to the new season of concerts starting in September.

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