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Seen and Heard Concert Review


Bath International Music Festival: 19.05–04.06 2006 (BK)

Joanna Macgregor in Sydney 2005-Picture by Pete Williams

Bath International Music Festival enters a vibrant and exciting new phase this year as incoming Artistic Director Joanna MacGregor takes over from Tim Joss and reveals her first programme - an invigorating celebration of excellent music in many and diverse forms.

Joanna MacGregor's work will be well known to Seen and Heard readers. As an internationally acclaimed pianist, widely regarded as one of the most innovative musicians working today, she divides her time between playing classical, jazz and contemporary music. Her eclectic tastes and collaborative style run through the 2006 festival programme, with musicians of every background connecting with one another, and with old and new music sharing territories and reaching across countries and continents.

Joanna will be collaborating with Brian Eno for a Bath Abbey concert reworking music by Dowland, Tallis and Pärt with Bath Camerata. She will play Bach’s Goldberg Variations in another programme which also contains a piece inspired by her own trek across the USA’s Southern States as well as tangos by the Argentinean master Astor Piazzolla.

The series of evening concerts at the Assembly Rooms includes two concerts from the mighty Borodin Quartet – now celebrating its 60th anniversary. They will play Mozart KV428, the Schubert Quartetsatz D 703 and Shostakovitch's No 12 on June 1st - and on the following evening, Shostakovitch 4 and 8 together with Beethoven's Quartet No 9 Op. 59/3. The Vanbrugh Quartet also appears this year with a concert in the main festival on May 21st and feature in the new Festival on Tour enterprise (see below.)

Global culture permeates every aspect of the programme, from medieval music from the Mediterranean to the dance-inducing Worldbeat Ball. From the Southern hemisphere Bath welcomes the superb Australian Chamber Orchestra led by Richard Tognetti, and they will come together with American soprano Dawn Upshaw in a concert that provides Pärt, Britten, Takemitsu, Schubert and Bach on May 27th.

Hour-long lunchtime concerts will offer tempting treats from across the musical repertoire – Natalie Clein and Friends will open the series with Messiaen’s heart-wrenching Quartet for the End of Time; saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, known to Bath audiences as part of the F-IRE Collective, will showcase her Quintet; BBC 2 Folk Award winning Spiers & Boden will bring wit and energy to traditional songs; baritone Håkan Vramsmo will sing Schubert’s Schwanengesang; and Norwegian DJ Maja Ratke will kick off the electronica weekend with a solo vocal performance quite different in syle an content from other a capella singers.

World music is now woven through the whole programme rather than focused on a weekend, as is contemporary music. This integration will illustrate seamlessly the influence of folk and world on classical music. Violinist Daniel Hope will present his new project, East Meets West, with Indian musicians, and singer and psaltery player Begoña Olavide will take audiences to a lost world of early music from the South Mediterranean. From Asia there will be Samba Sunda – a 17 piece gamelan group from Jakarta – and also Indian Classical music.

A new progamming strand entitled Tradition Bearers takes place at The Rondo and focuses on new development in contemporary folk through an intimate series of solo performances, featuring artists including Norwegian Hardanger fiddle player Nils Økland and Scottish folk singer Sheila Stewart. This series explores a new generation of artists who are bringing a contemporary twist to the music of their ancestors.

Joanna is also introducing two distinct strands of electronic music to Bath, that of established composers like Stockhausen plus artists from an improvisational background. British keyboard player Matthew Bourne has been commissioned by the Festival to write a new work featuring his Distortion Trio together with Christophe de Bezenac on sax and Christian Sebille who will remix the concert live. I Am The Mighty Jungulator will bring their own highly innovative audio visual reinterpretation to the party and Jamie Liddell, one of the most exciting artists working in this field, brings with him the visual artist Pablo Fiasco.

Audio-visual collaborations take place beyond the electronic arena too, in an all-Mozart concert given by Bath Philharmonia with visuals provided by Kathy Hinde.

Bath has had a long love affair with jazz and the Bath Jazz Weekend celebrates its 20th anniversary with opening performances by Mercury nominated Brit band Polar Bear and The Bad Plus. Saxophonist John Surman will perform with his Norwegian wife, Karin Krog; Keith Tippett will give a special solo concert and Norma Winstone will bring her new European group along. Other jazz highlights include Tomasz Stanko Quartet, the fabulously extrovert Swiss singer Erika Stucky. The Dutch band Sâlt, whose roots are in European street theatre, will give a special concert for a younger audience.

Two other child-friendly concerts – conveniently programmed for Saturday lunchtimes across the three weekends of the festival – are Red Priest, who will present baroque music in a wholly new way, and ensemblebash, completely joyful percussion virtuosi.

'Festival on Tour' is the new initiative designed to bring some of the best artists from the 2006 programme to audiences in towns and villages across North East Somerset: during the 17 festival days musicians will give performances in favourite local venues from community centres to churches. Local music-makers will also have their own platform in the centre of the City throughout the festival, showcasing the best of local talent from across Bath & North East Somerset's school and community groups who will give further free performances in public spaces during the festival.

The Festival will open in a completely new way, too. Music will come to the heart of Bath with live stages in and around Milsom Street, Stall Street, and Kingston Parade, with every kind of music from street bands to choirs and special performances within the Abbey. Pete Wareham’s explosive punk-jazz outfit Acoustic Ladyland will set some pulses racing without a doubt and Brazilian  dance band Totonho E Os will get everyone on their toes. At 10pm Bath Abbey will be illuminated by lights and projections while trumpeters herald the opening of the Festival from its roof.

One of Britain’s oldest and most established music festivals brings itself bang up to date with a programme which unites pivotal composers of the classical tradition with experimental jazz, folk and electronic music. Combine all this with a brand-new Opening Night format, and a closing Ceilidh in which legendary fiddler Aly Bain, accordionist Phil Cunningham and traditional Scottish band Blazin’ Fiddles will perform and you have 2006 – a ground-breaking, a fun-filled 17 day celebration of fine music for all tastes and ages.



Glyn Pursglove and I will be reporting some events from the festival over the next three weeks.


Bill Kenny


For further information about Joanna MacGregor visit her website: www.soundcircus.com


Brochures giving full details of all Bath International Music Festival events are available from Bath Festivals Box Office on 01225 463362 or from the festival website.




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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)