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Michael White’s classical news: Proms at St Jude’s; Bergen Festival; Turn of the Screw

10 June, 2021 — By Michael White

Jess Gillam. Photo: Robin Clewly

IT was touch and go whether north London’s much-loved music fixture, the Proms at St Jude’s, would run with audiences this year; but run it will – June 26 to July 4 – and reduced capacities mean you need to book now if you want to be sure of getting in.

All the evening concerts at St Jude’s, Hampstead Garden Suburb, will in fact play twice, at 5.30pm and 8pm. And despite the inevitable Covid problems, it’s a strong programme this year, opening June 26 with the geeky glitz of saxophonist Jess Gillam, who shot to fame after winning the BBC Young Musician competition and is now a poster-girl for all things classical.

Other highlights of the first few days are pianist Leon McCawley who was on incredible form when I heard him recently at Wigmore Hall and will bring mastery to his June 29 programme of Haydn and Schumann. Then there’s my tip for the very best thing in the festival, which is the class-act of baritone Roderick Williams bringing his trademark mix of elegance, intelligence and genial warmth to a must-hear collection of English Song on June 30. And the next day, July 1, two of the less familiar members of the sprawling, genius-laden Kanneh-Mason family – violinist Braimah and pianist Konya – play Beethoven and Grieg.

I’ll run through other events next week; but meanwhile visit promsatstjudes.org.uk for booking details.

Further afield than north London, though unarguably North, is the Bergen Festival in Norway: somewhere I’ve often visited and loved, because the town is charming (when the rain stops) and the festival is Scandinavia’s best. This year a lot of it was filmed for online access. And something I recommend is a re-imaging of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, danced to music by composer Arne Nordheim, and filmed in various Bergen locations (not least, underwater, to remind you that this is the gateway to the fjords). It’s fascinating, and accessible at fib.no/en/programme/the-tempest

Another festival for armchair viewing is the relatively new West Wicklow Chamber Music Festival, which offers fresh young talent filmed in the grandeur of an Irish stately home. Founded and presented by engaging Irish pianist Fiachra Garvey, this year’s concerts are all available for free on YouTube (search West Wicklow Chamber); and they look as handsome as they sound.

• But for anyone who wants a chilling-of-the-blood experience, go to the BBC iPlayer and find the new film of Britten’s ghostly opera Turn of the Screw. It’s a production I wrote about on this page 18 months ago when it was about to open at Wilton’s Music Hall – except it then got Covid-cancelled. Now the show been adapted for BBCTV, dripping with atmosphere. And it’s fascinating to compare it with a previous TV film of the piece, which screened way back in 1959. That old film is monochrome and scratchy but memorable for the heart-stopping performance of the soprano for whom the lead role was written, Jennifer Vyvyan. Clips from the 1959 film can be found at jennifervyvyan.org And they’re compelling viewing as a point of reference to the BBC’s new effort. Both are pretty wonderful.

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