11 January 2016
May has been a busy month for George Vass; he made his first record for the SOMM label in Belfast with the Ulster Orchestra accompanying pianist Mark Bebbington in the premiere recordings of three stunning works - William Mathias's Piano Concertos 1 and 2 and a very early 'Fantasia for piano and orchestra' by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Orchestra and pianist were on excellent form and both Yvonne and Rhiannon Mathias (William's widow and daughter respictively) attended the sessions
May 2011 - Recordings in Belfast and Glasgow
Later last month Vass returned to the Royal Scottish National Orchestra to record with outstanding Australian saxophonist Amy Dickson. The repertoire was Joseph Holbrooke's wonderful Saxophone Concerto, Richard Rodney Bennett's delightful 'Seven Country Dances' (originally for oboe and cor anglais, but later transcribed for soprano saxophone and strings) and Joseph Holbrooke's glittering ballet score 'Aucussin et Nicolette' - all three works receiving their first recordings. This CD was for the Dutton label and will be available in the autumn.
2010 has been an extremely busy year for George Vass; he has conducted three of the UK's leading symphony orchestras for the first time - Bournemouth Symphony, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Royal Scottish National (in recordings for the Dutton Epoch label) and returned to Belfast for a concert with the Ulster Orchestra in June.
2010 - A busy year in studio and concert hall
CDs have included a recording of music by Joseph Holbrooke - the Fourth Symphony, Cello Concerto and the symphonic poem The Pit and the Pendulum with the RLPO and RSNO; a disc including David Matthews' Violin Concertos 1 and 2 (soloist Philippe Graffin) and his Oboe Concerto (soloist Nicholas Daniel) with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Orchestra Nova; a recording of Paul Patterson's concertos for violin, viola and cello (soloists Tamas Andras, Sarah-Jane Bradley and Alice Neary) with Orchestra Nova; Elgar's Concert Allegro in an arrangement for piano and symphony orchestra with Iain Farrington (as both arranger and soloist) and the Bournemouth SO.
Further recordings to be released in the New Year include a CD of Michael Hurd's chamber opera The Widow of Ephesus and a disc of oboe concertos by John Joubert, Kenneth Leighton and John McCabe played by Jinny Shaw with Orchestra Nova (for release on the Guild label).
The 2010 Presteigne Festival was a great success with a bigger audience than ever before, and saw Vass premiering four new works: Hugh Wood's delightful cycle of three early songs (for mezzo-soprano and string orchestra) with Clare McCaldin as soloist; Alexander L'Estrange's And the Stones Sing - commissioned to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Presteigne Tapestry; Steven McNeff's monologue A Voice of One Delight - again with Clare McCaldin and an ensemble of old frields including Kathryn Thomas, Sarah-Jane Bradley and Suzy Willison-Kawalec and David Matthews' wonderful string orchestra version of the Elgar String Quartet with the Festival Orchestra
Vass also conducted at the English Music Festival for the first time - a double-bill of the complete incidental music for Hassan by Frederick Delius and Holst's chamber opera Savitri in a highly stylised semi-stagesd production in Dorchester Abbey where the cast included David Wilson-Johnson, Janice Watson and Mark Chaundy. The production was masterminded by Alison Porter who, until recently, was Festival Producer at the Presteigne Festival.
St Jude's Church in Hampstead Garden Suburb was the recording venue for a CD of choral works by Cecilia McDowall in February this year. The forces were the City of Canterbury Chamber Choir and Orchestra Nova, joined by soloists Rachel Nicholls and Katherine Allen. The programme included Laudate for mezzo soprano, chorus and orchestra (premiered by Vass with the St Albans Choral Society last April), Radnor Songs in a specially orchestrated version (this song-cycle was originally commissioned by the Presteigne Festival) and Five Seasons - a cantata for choir and small orchestra. Other, shorter works on the CD number McDowall's A Canterbury Mass (commissioned by the City of Canterbury Chamber Choir), the beautiful motet I have done what was mine to do and the carol Now may we singen - these were recorded in February 2008 at St Clement's Church, Sandwich. The CD is to be released in June on the Dutton label.
Fourth McDowall CD for Dutton
2009 Hampstead and Highgate Festival – an artistic triumph
George Vass's last Hampstead and Highgate Festival as artistic director was an artistic triumph with ticket sales better than ever before. George Vass conducted two sold-out performances of a new production of Benjamin Britten's church opera Curlew River, given by Springfest Opera at St Stephen's, Haverstock Hill in Hampstead. The cast included Robert Murray, Andrew Slater, Lynton Black and Christopher Foster and the production was directed by Sebastian Harcombe and produced by Alison Porter. He also gave the world premiere of Paul Patterson's Viola Concerto accompanying Sarah-Jane Bradley with the Springfest Orchestra.
2008 Presteigne Festival – Great result
A larger audience than ever visited the picturesque border town of Presteigne over the August Bank Holiday weekend for this year's Presteigne Festival of Music and the Arts. Festival ticket sales hit a staggering 84% overall, with 9 events sold out and a further 10 events with audiences over 80%. George Vass, the Presteigne Festival's artistic director commented: 'This has been the most successful festival ever, and one of the happiest I can remember; composers, musicians, audience and our wonderful management team all joined together to make a unique Festival community which was simply brilliant - and with so much richly rewarding new music on offer too.'
There were 7 world premieres at the Festival including 'Nightswimming' by this year's composer-in-residence, Manchester-based Joe Duddell. Other new works were supplied by James Francis Brown, David Bruce, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Thomas Randle, Matthew Taylor and Presteigne Festival founder, Adrian Williams. Over the six-day Festival period, 42 works by living composers were performed, together with a wide and varied repertoire from the twentieth century and the past. There were also anniversary features for Ralph Vaughan Williams, Olivier Messiaen and Festival president, Michael Berkeley.
The artist roster was world class with such fabulous performers as the Anglo-Swedish Kungsbacka Trio, the fabulous Dante Quartet, virtuoso Scottish percussionist Colin Currie, Canadian soprano Gillian Keith and young flute and harp duo Adam Walker and Sally Pryce. The Festival also boasted three concerts from its own resident chamber orchestra and a further two from the Sine Nomine International Touring Choir.
There were also several non-musical events including literary talks, poetry readings, storytelling, a kite workshop, walks and a special exhibition of Sidney Nolan's African pictures at The Rodd, administered by the Sidney Nolan Trust.
Composer-in-residence Joe Duddell commented that he thought the Presteigne Festival was 'the best in the country', and after a similar success last year, a spokesperson for the Arts Council of Wales commented that 'it is one of the most successful festivals in Wales'.
Busy time at 10th Hampstead and Highgate Festival
As part of the tenth anniversary Hampstead and Highgate Festival, George Vass gave the premieres of works by Adam Gorb (Serenade for Spring for orchestra) at the opening concert and Thomas Hyde That Man Stephen Ward - a chamber opera in one act, fantasticaly performed by baritone Andrew Slater and directed by Yvonne Fontane. Both works went down very well with audiences and critics alike. The festival was a great success with good ticket sales and wonderful performances from artists including Jennifer Bate, the Carducci Quartet, Danny Driver, Michael Dussek, Thomas Gould, Stephen Kovacevich, Gemma Rosefield, Catriona Scott, Kathryn Thomas, Sara Trickey and David Wilson-Johnson. As in previous years, Piers Plowright organised some excellent literary events and there was a Competition for Young Composers - the third to be organised by the Festival.
25th Presteigne Festival breaks all records
The twenty-fifth Presteigne Festival of Music and the Arts, the fifteenth with George Vass as artistic director, broke all box office records with 82% of all tickets sold. The 2007 Festival, which took place in August, hosted Australian Peter Sculthorpe as composer-in-residence and premiered a total of no fewer than fifteen new works, one for each year of George Vass's tenure. There were pieces by Michael Berkeley, Joe Duddell, Peter Fribbins, John Hymas, Gabriel Jackson, David Knotts, Geraint Lewis, Christopher Lyndon-Gee, David Matthews, John McCabe, Cecilia McDowall, Joseph Phibbs, Lynne Plowman, Hilary Tann and Huw Watkins, together with the second performance of Hugh Wood's Diverimento for string orchestra first heard at the Hampstead and Highgate Festival in May.
Four of the concerts were broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and featured the superb Psophos Quartet from France, violinist Sara Trickey, violist Sarah-Jane Bradley, cellist Alice Neary, pianist Gretel Dowdeswell, flautist Kathryn Thomas, clarinettist Catriona Scott and the amazing Benjamin Griffiths on the double bass.
Reviews of this joyous and celebratory festival, together with a glimpse of next year's programme, can be found by following this link Presteigne Festival.
Continued success at Hampstead and Highgate Festival
The Ninth Hampstead and Highgate Festival, held in May 2007, was another fantastic success for all concerned. Paul Driver of The Sunday Times wrote 'The festival is bureoning, audiences thronging'. George Vass directed the premiere of a delightful new Divertimento for string orchestra by Hugh Wood and there were fantastic performances by Imogen Cooper, John Lill and the Wihan Quartet among others.
More McDowall for Dutton
St Giles Church, Cripplegate in the Baribican was the venue in March for a third CD of works by popular English composer Cecilia McDowall for the Dutton Epoch label. The CD includes performances of McDowall's beautiful Stabat Mater setting for baritone soloist, children's chorus, mixed chorus and small orchestra; Lonely Hearts - three settings for upper voices and ensemble; On Angel's Wing - a cantata for soprano and baritone soloists, children's choir, mixed choir, piano and percussion and unaccompanied pieces including Three Latin Motets, Deus qui claro lumine and Annunciation. The forces included soprano Charlotte Mobbs, baritone Eamonn Dougan, City of Canterbury Chamber Choir, Joyful Company of Singers, school choirs from South Hampstead Girls School and Haberdasher's Aske's Girls School, Orchestra Nova and Orchestra Nova Ensemble. Conducting duties were shared between George Vass and Peter Broadbent. Available now on Dutton CDLX7197 - buy online from the composer Cecilia McDowall
David Matthews CD for Dutton
George Vass and Orchestra Nova have just completed the sessions for a new disc of vocal and orchestral music by English composer David Matthews. The project, engineered by Michael Dutton and produced by Michael Ponder, was recorded in the wonderful acoustic of London's Henry Wood Hall in February 2007. Soprano Rachel Nicholls was soloist in the song-cycle A Movement of Autumn, first performed at the 2005 Presteigne Festival; Anglo-Czech mezzo Lucie Spickova and oboist Ruth Bolister joined forces in A Congress of Passions while another soprano, the Canadian Gillian Keith, sang with Orchestra Nova Ensemble in The Sleeping Lord. The orchestral works recorded were Aubade, written for the 40th anniversary of the English Chamber Orchestra, the overture From Sea to Sky and two pieces for string orchestra: Total Tango and Goodnight Song. Available now on Dutton CDLX7189 - buy online from Dutton Epoch
Great success for Baltic feature at 2006 Presteigne Festival
The 2006 Prestegne Festival was a great success with the amazing Latvian Peteris Vasks as composer-in-residence. George Vass conducted three of his major works including the Violin Concerto Distant Light accompanying the outstanding British artist, Anthony Marwood. He also gave the world premiere performance of James Francis Brown's Trio Concertante with Pauline Lowbury, Sarah-Jane Bradley and Gemma Rosefield, and the first performance of Adrian Williams's Migrations in a specially revised version to celebrate the composer's fiftieth birthday year.
Viola Concertos disc for Dutton with Sarah-Jane Bradley
Watford Town Hall was the venue for two days of Dutton sessions with the outstanding British viola soloist Sarah-Jane Bradley and the sensitive young players of Orchestra Nova on 31st July and 1st August. The CD is of five short British works for viola and chamber orchestra - David Matthews Winter Remembered (jointly commissioned by the Deal and Presteigne festivals in 2002, and premiered by Bradley and Vass - first recording); John McCabe Concerto Funebre (composed in 1962 and specially revised for this first recording); Elizabeth Maconchy Romanza (first recording); Gustav Holst Lyric Movement; William Alwyn Pastoral Fantasia. Once again, Michael Ponder produced and Mike Dutton engineered superb sound in a wonderful acoustic. Available now on Dutton Epoch CDXL7186.After the runaway success of Vass's Malmo Opera Orchestra recording of the Tovey Symphony in D for Toccata Classics, the same company arranged sessions at the end of May 2006 in Belfast's acoustically superb Ulster Hall to record another disc of Tovey's music. Alice Neary was the virtuoso soloist in Tovey's mighty Cello Concerto in C, Op 40 (dedicated to and played at the first performance by Pablo Casals) accompanied by the Ulster Orchestra on superb form; also receiving its first recording was a short Air for string orchestra in an arrangement by Peter Shore. The disc's producer was Michael Ponder and Peter Shore made the whole project possible with his boundless enthusiasm for Tovey's music. Available now on Toccata Classics TOCC0038 - buy now online from Toccata Classics
Tovey Cello Concerto in Belfast
November 2005 brought more recording sessions - this time in the beautiful acoustic of the Reduta Hall, Olomouc with the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra - the work was Susie Self's Second Symphony Memories, Dreams, Reflections. A most impressive work written for large orchestra on a particularly grand scale, the symphony also requires a mezzo-soprano soloist (sung on the sessions by the golden-voiced Susie Self herself). The sessions, superbly organised by Vienna-based impressario Annegret Lange, were particularly happy ones and the Moravian Philharmonic was a delightful ensemble with which to work. The CD is available now on Seawolf Records - buy online from Selfmade Music
Susie Self Symphony No 2 in the Czech Republic
After two very successful concerts at the end of May as part of the Hampstead and Highgate Festival, George Vass travelled to Sweden for a week of intensive recording sessions with the Malmo Opera Orchestra. The disc is of music by Sir Donald Tovey (1875-1940) - his Symphony in D, 0p 32, written in 1913 and revised in 1924 and the prelude to the opera The Bride of Dionysus - all made possible with huge efforts from Tovey's relative, the musician and producer Peter Shore. Available now on Toccata Classics TOCC0033 - buy online from Toccata Classics
Tovey in Sweden
After the great success of his first CD for the Dutton Epoch label, George Vass recorded a further disc of music by Cecilia McDowall at the end of March this year; the recording venue was the Church of St Glies Cripplegate in the City of London and Orchestra Nova were joined by a superb team of soloists - Paul Archibald (trumpet), Nicola Eimer (piano), Amy Dickson (saxophone), Freya Ritts-Kirby (violin) and Ben Griffiths (doublebass). Works recorded included Not just a Place in the version for violin, doublebass and string orchestra; Seraphim - a three movement concerto for trumpet, percussion and string orchestra; Dancing Fish in the version for soprano saxophone and string orchestra; Dance the Dark Streets - a concerto grosso for string orchestra with solo piano obligato and Dream City - a four-movement work inspired by the life and works of the painter Paul Klee for flute, clarinet, harp and string quartet commissioned by the Presteigne Festival in 2002. Available now - Dutton Epoch CDLX7159 - buy online from the composer Cecilia McDowall
New McDowall for Dutton