WHEN it comes to classical music, Henley and the surrounding area has long been regarded as punching above
WHEN it comes to classical music, Henley and the surrounding area has long been regarded as punching above its weight — and there is much to look forward to in the first half of this year, writes Trevor Howell.
Add in events further afield and there is a great deal to savour within 20 to 30 minutes’ drive — reducing the need to head into London in search of quality performances.
Whether your preference is for choral music, orchestral concerts, chamber music or even opera, there is something to savour coming up in 2016.
For choral lovers there are a number of interesting events, starting with the glorious prospect of Henley Choral Society’s performance of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius Op 38 at Reading’s Concert Hall on Saturday, March 5.
It will be a spectacular sign-off for musical director Benjamin Goodson after his short-lived but major impact on the choir’s development.
For tickets, call (01491) 572795 or go to www.readingarts.com
The following week, on Saturday, March 12, in the Falkland Islands Memorial Chapel at Pangbourne College, Pangbourne Choral Society will perform Bach’s B Minor Mass with the Canzona Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Roy Raby.
Tickets are available from members, Garlands Organic and www.wegottickets/com/event/348720
And on Saturday, March 19, at Reading’s Concert Hall, the Age UK Classical Concert introduces a concert performance of The Voyage — a new choral work for three choirs, to be conducted by Bob Chilcott and involving Berkshire Youth, Reading Phoenix and Thames Valley Community choirs.
Tickets are available from the website www.thevoyageproject.co.uk/Â book-tickets
The following day, on Sunday, March 20 in the University of Reading’s Great Hall, is a performance of Brahms’s Requiem by the South Chiltern Choral Society, another long-established group of singers within striking distance of Henley.
Back to Henley itself on Saturday, May 14, when the Christ Church Centre plays host to local chamber choir Aliquando, directed by Anne Evans, in a stroll through time “In Celebration of British Composers”. For tickets, call the box office on (01491) 477733.
Those with leanings towards the symphonic and concerto repertoire are spoilt for choice at Reading’s concert venues.
At the Hexagon on Sunday, March 13, Henley Symphony Orchestra under musical director Ian Brown, performs Verdi’s The Force of Destiny overture, Rachmaninov’s glorious Piano Concerto No 2 (with soloist Martin Roscoe), and Brahms’s Symphony No 4 in E Minor.
For tickets call 01235 859210 or 0118 960 6060 or go to www.readingarts.com
Henley Symphony Orchestra’s season closes on Sunday, June 26, with its ever-popular summer concert in a marquee in the grounds of Shiplake College. Guest conductor Jacques Cohen and eminent local saxophonist Huw Wiggin will take us through an eclectic programme of Elgar’s Cockaigne Overture, Mussorgsky’s Night on the Bare Mountain, Nyman’s Where the Bee Dances, Copland’s Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes, Arnold’s Scottish Dances, Debussy’s Rhapsody for Alto Saxophone, Bizet’s Carmen Suite and Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave. Ticketing information will be provided nearer the time.
The Hexagon has secured visits from other eminent performers. First, a concert on Wednesday, March 2, by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields directed by Joshua Bell, performing Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, Mozart’s Violin Concerto No 4 in D Major and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 4 in A Major “Italian”.
This is followed on Sunday, May 1, by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Sibelius’s Finlandia, Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 4 with Khatia Buniatishvili (piano) and conductor Thomas Dausgaard.
Other orchestras well worth hearing are West Forest Sinfonia, Reading University Orchestra and Reading Symphony Orchestra. A “by invitation” ensemble of professional quality, West Forest Sinfonia gives the first of two concerts on Saturday, April 23, at All Saints Church, High Wycombe, presenting Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 2 and choral works by Mendelssohn, Elgar and Weber with High Wycombe Choral Society. The second, featuring York Bowen’s Viola Concerto and Saint Saens’ Symphony No 3 “Organ”, takes place in the Great Hall, Reading University, on Sunday, June 26. For more information, visit www.westforestsinfonia.org
Reading University Orchestra’s spring concert on Saturday, March 5, in the Great Hall marks the official opening of the university’s Malaysia campus with the Xian Xinghal-inspired Yellow River Piano Concerto, performed by Malaysian-born Reading student Tze Jia Hiew, Holst’s Beni Mora, Vaughan Williams’s Toward the Unknown Region and choral music by Holst and Finzi. The conductor is Paul Cox. Tickets are available online via www.reading.ac.uk/internal/music
Reading Symphony Orchestra has two upcoming concerts. The first, on Saturday, April 16, at St Paul’s Church, Wokingham, comprises Mussorgsky’s Night on the Bare Mountain, Artie Shaw’s Clarinet Concerto (with soloist Nicholas Shipman), Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite and Marquez’s Danzon No 2.
The second is on Saturday, June 18, in the Great Hall, including Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 10 for Two Pianos (with soloists You-Chiung Lin and Stefan Hofkes) and Mahler’s Symphony No 1. Call the orchestra’s box office on 0118 986 0707 or go to firstname.lastname@example.org
Chamber music is no less alive and kicking in the local area, as a concert tonight (Friday) at the Concert Hall, Reading, demonstrates.
The Pavel Haas String Quartet with Denis Kozhukhin will be performing Beethoven’s String Quartet No 11 Op 95 and a quartet and piano quintet by Shostakovich.
They are followed on Wednesday, March 30, by the Nash Ensemble, one of Britain’s finest and most adventurous chamber groups, playing piano trios by Mozart, Ravel and Schubert. The pianist is Henley Symphony Orchestra’s conductor Ian Brown, with violinist Benjamin Nabarro and cellist Adrian Brendel.
On Friday, May 13, Trevor Pinnock, harpsichordist, conductor and pioneer of old instruments, offers a programme of Purcell, Corelli and Handel, with baroque violinists Sophie Gent and Matthew Truscott, and Jonathan Manson (viola da gamba).
And finally, classical guitarist Milos Karadalglic makes his Concert Hall debut on Wednesday, June 22, with Dowland, Britten and Sergio Assad.
For details of all these chamber concerts, see www.readingarts.com
Elsewhere, the versatile West Forest Sinfonia also offers a series of chamber concerts, beginning with sextets by Strauss and Brahms at South Hill Park on Sunday, February 28, English music at Reading’s Abbey School on Sunday, March 20, and chamber works for wind and brass by Stravinsky and JanÃ¡cek on Sunday, April 10, again at South Hill Park.
For more information, visit www.westforestsinfonia.org
A preview of local musical events would not be complete without opera, which is far from being the preserve of London and major cities. Live streaming in local cinemas or stage performances are options on Henley’s doorstep for keen opera-goers.
Tomorrow night (Saturday) Puccini’s opera Tosca, an amalgam of love, torture and treachery, will be brought to the Hexagon, Reading, by Opera and Ballet International. It is an Ellen Kent production with international soloists, chorus and full orchestra (see interview on page 22).
Local Henley opera lovers will also be delighted to welcome back The Merry Opera Company to the Kenton Theatre on Saturday, February 27, for a performance of Puccini’s La BohÃ¨me.
The icing on the cake, however, is Garsington Opera’s 2016 season, which will run from Friday, June 3, to Sunday, July 17, at the spectacular opera pavilion at Wormsley Park in the Chilterns, just 30 minutes from Henley.
Four masterpieces will be staged: Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, brought to life for the first time at Garsington; Mozart’s Idomeneo and Rossini’s sparkling L’italiana in Algeri.
In addition, Garsington Opera and Rambert are collaborating on a joint project to illuminate Haydn’s The Creation through music and dance.
Garsington Opera’s box office opens on Tuesday, March 22. Call 01865 361636.