City AM: Music While You Work

If you live in London, hopefully you have picked up a copy of City AM this morning. If you have, and read the Office Politics section, you’ll have seen my piece about the benefits of listening to classical music while you work.

I really wanted to share those with you here, so please find below links to a playlist on Spotify that will hopefully float your boat!

If you want some specific advice on music to listen to, or want to share an opinion, please get in touch! Send me an e-mail or get in touch over Twitter

The 6Music Prom – Nils Frahm and A Winged Victory For The Sullen

Prom 27: Late Night With … BBC 6 Music: Nils Frahm and A Winged Victory For The Sullen

A Winged Victory For The Sullen at the 6Music Prom Picture (c) Chris Christodoulou

Watch here:

The story behind the second BBC 6 Music Prom was a gratifying one, built on a desire for classical music to make itself more available. Mary Anne Hobbs was the catalyst, playing music by Nils Frahm to enthusiastic listeners worldwide. Their response encouraged her to introduce them to his Erased Tapes label mates, A Winged Victory For The Sullen, a duo comprising Dustin O’Halloran and Adam Wiltzie.

Both acts were part of an extended mix for this late night event, aided by atmospheric lighting and smoke to turn the Royal Albert Hall into an after-hours club. Into this already heady environment came A Winged Victory, playing much of their second album ATOMOS. They were joined by an unnamed string trio and London Brass, their task to provide sonorous colour and slow but far-reaching melodies. O’Halloran and Wiltzie were on keyboard duties, drawing out chord patterns and soundscapes to give the listener an airborne sensation. This was further enhanced by members of the Random Dance Company, whose chief Wayne McGregor provided the stimulus for ATOMOS. Their relaxed interpretations of the music belied the effort required to contort their limbs!

The music was expansive, like a slowly changing cloud formation, and crucially had beauty of timbre to match. From the simplest of melodic cells came music of primitive meaning, evoking memories of pop music’s ambient craze twenty years ago but without any vocal samples. Here music was stripped back to its basics, and was all the more moving for the lack of incident and chatter. The crowd was thoroughly absorbed, most stock still but some perceiving the latent energy running through the music.

In truth London Brass could have been used more, their potential to add brightness only sparingly glimpsed. The string trio were more gainfully employed, the cello particularly beautiful when raised above the textures. As their set came to an end so Nils Frahm joined the stage, the two acts uniting in an improvised piece that brought more rhythmic definition – a sign of what was to come from the German pianist.

Nils Frahm at the 6Music Prom. Picture (c) Chris Christodoulou

Frahm used a team of keyboard instruments, including two ‘prepared’ pianos – that is, with keyboards, hammers and strings all modified to secure the all-important timbres required. Frahm’s music is more obviously derived from classical music, with Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Chopin and Debussy all discernible influences. It has more obvious kinetic energy, moving quickly during Hammers to imply a strong beat, even before the introduction of an incredibly warm bass note to rattle the ribcage.

Frahm was a hyperactive presence, rushing urgently between his pianos and synthesizer, occasionally looping small clumps of chords in the manner of Steve Reich or even Dave Brubeck, but always intent on carrying his music forward. It was largely successful, though the introduction of two toilet brushes for the closing number felt like a gimmick.

What really carried, though, was the intense desire for discovery on the part of the audience. 6 Music had been playing classical music in the lead-up to this Prom, sensitively chosen with the pop music lover in mind, hoping to arouse curiosity – and that is exactly what this sort of Prom should be doing, bringing in people who find classical music and its terminology a daunting proposition.

It was a handsome success, Hobbs having found a way of communicating its appeal while showing how electronic and classical styles are on a fruitful collision course. We should not just be limited to Erased Tapes, though, as Warp, Glacial Movements, Bella Union and One Little Indian are just four more labels excelling in this area.

It is to be hoped that at the very least we will have a sequel. Tom Service presents a program along these lines on 6 Music this Sunday, showing how the two stations do on occasion overlap. Both have open musical policies, and in their current state show the BBC at its best, providing musical stimulation for a clearly hungry crowd.

BBC Proms 2015 – 10 to try


BBC Proms 2015 – 10 to try

It’s nearly time for the BBC Proms. The world’s biggest classical music festival – which seems to get bigger every year – starts this coming Friday at the Royal Albert Hall.

With so much to choose from Arcana has taken on the task of choosing ten Proms to attend, watch or listen to – which you can read about and preview below. The idea is to mix up a few obvious recommendations and a wildcard or two.

The Arcana coverage of the Proms is going to be a little bit different from your average review site. For a start any Prom reviewed in person will be experienced from the Arena rather than from a seat. This is for two reasons – the Arena has arguably the best acoustic in the notoriously tricky hall, and it’s also the place where the biggest cross section of musical public brush shoulders.

This year in its Proms coverage Arcana will also be focusing on new music, offering an appraisal of each premiere at the festival. This is a surprisingly demanding task, because there are 32 new pieces from the likes of Eric Whitacre, Hugh Wood and even a newly discovered work by Olivier Messiaen. An early interview on Arcana will feature percussionist Colin Currie talking about the new concerto into the open…, written for him by HK Gruber. So here we are then – ten Proms and tasters for you, however you intend to experience them. Happy Promming!

18 July: Ten Pieces Prom (Prom 2 – repeated on 19/7 at 11:00am) (TV)

Ten Pieces is the BBC’s initiative to get classical music into schools – but of course the learning need not stop there! This prom, presented by Dick and Dom, Molly Rainford and Dan Starkey, is comprised of all ten pieces, from John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine through to the end of Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird. Here’s a link to a preview of all ten pieces:

20 July: Thomas Tallis’ Spem in alium (Proms Chamber Music 1)

Once again Proms Chamber Music will visit the Cadogan Hall every Monday lunchtime – but to begin with The Cardinall’s Musick will perform sacred music by Cheryl Frances-Hoad – a world premiere – and the jawdropping Spem in alium of Thomas Tallis, a 40-part choral piece that simply has to be heard. Here is the Tallis Scholars’ conductor Peter Phillips discussing the work:


28 July: Prokofiev – Piano concertos 1-5 (Daniil Trifonov, Sergei Babayan and Alexei Volodin, London Symphony Orchestra / Valery Gergiev (Prom 14)

Not one for the faint hearted, this! Prokofiev wrote for the piano both as a percussion instrument and a lyrical one, so some of his works feature stabbing but often jaunty tunes. The Piano Concerto no.2 is particularly epic:


3 August: MacMillan – Symphony no.4; Mahler – Symphony no.5 (Prom 24)

The world premiere of Sir James MacMillan’s Symphony no.4. Donald Runnicles will also conduct the underrated BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in Mahler’s Symphony no.5, which promises to bring new life to the old warhorse:


4 August: Monteverdi – Orfeo (Prom 25)

Described as ‘the first great opera’, Orfeo will be sung in Italian and conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner, who will, to quote the BBC Proms website, ‘transform the Royal Albert Hall into the 17th-century Mantuan court of the Gonzagas with some of Monteverdi’s loveliest melodies and most colourful instrumental writing’. Here’s what we have to look forward to:


5 August: Late Night with 6Music (Prom 27)

Following the successful 6Music night two years back, the station returns – this time with Mary Anne Hobbs at the helm to explore new music from two composers on the Erased Tapes label who write with classical music in mind. These are Nils Frahm

…and the duo A Winged Victory for the Sullen:


17 August: Osmö Vänska conducts Sibelius – Symphonies 5, 6 & 7 (Prom 43)

An obvious recommendation perhaps, but if you wanted to see a Sibelius concert and had a choice of conductor, Osmö Vänska would surely be it. His interpretations of the composer are both incredibly detailed and deeply passionate, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra will no doubt fall under his spell for three of the composer’s symphonic masterpieces:


19 August: Elisabeth Leonskaja plays Mozart (Prom 45)

Elisabeth Leonskaja is quite simply one of the best pianists in the world today – and in Mozart’s Piano Concerto no.22 her performance should be sublime. Charles Dutoit and the RPO will no doubt prove sensitive accompanists – but in Debussy (the Petite Suite) and Shostakovich (Symphony no.15) they should also be rather special. Here is Leonskaja in solo Mozart:


9 September: Nielsen and Ives (Prom 72)

This intriguing night of music takes two wildly different forces from twentieth century music – anniversary composer Carl Nielsen, born 150 years ago, and the maverick Charles Ives, gradually revealed as one of the most influential composers of modern times. The former is represented by the impressive Violin Concerto, which will be played by the extravert violinist Henning Kraggerud. The latter by Symphony no.4, which really is best experienced in person. It contains a number of hymns, performed by a choir beforehand. Andrew Litton will be the guiding hand.


11 September: Elgar – Dream of Gerontius with Sir Simon Rattle (Prom 75)

Sir Simon Rattle returns for a second night at this year’s festival, leading the Vienna Philharmonic and a starry trio of soloists in Elgar’s magnificent choral work, with Toby Spence, Roderick Williams and wife Magdalena Kožená. Here’s an excerpt from the Berlin Philharmonic: