Glowing review for Firebird

In the latest edition of highly respected magazine Musical Opinion, amongst reviews for the likes of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is a glowing review of London Firebird Orchestra…

Musical Opinion magazine
Musical Opinion magazine

First published in 1877 with a critical review of Brahms’ new Second Symphony, Musical Opinion is Britain’s oldest classical music magazine. 130 years on, Musical Opinion has subscribers in over 38 countries.

The January – March 2019 edition carried a full page review of Firebird’s Egmont in October concert conducted by George Jackson.

Of the opening Beethoven Overture the review said:

conductor George Jackson painting picturesque orchestral colours that captured the darkness and suspense of its introduction…. with a splendidly rousing and energetic final section, complete with a vivid sense of Beethovenian victory.’

George Jackson
George Jackson

Bruch’s seductively popular G minor Violin Concerto was equally popular, with soloist Leonard Schreiber:

‘offering a full-blown virtuosic account. Schreiber’s intense passion for the music was enchanting, while each note finely executed from his Mezzadri violin rang like a bell through the clear acoustic: there was singing lyricism and dashing liveliness.’

Praise too for the young English soprano Verity Wingate who stunned the audience with a captivating performance of ‘Song to the Moon’ from Rusalka. In the concert’s main event, Dvorák’s Symphony No. 8, conductor George Jackson ‘revealed a real understanding of the symphony’s structure and form, offering an altogether mature account full of authentic Bohemian dialect’ . 

Leonard Schreiber, George Jackson and Verity Wingate
Leonard Schreiber, George Jackson and Verity Wingate

The review also noted ‘some particularly fine solo work in the wind…’, and ‘a rich and authentically Bohemian string sound, with chocolatey dark colours from the lower strings…’

And summing up…

‘The Orchestra can look forward to a long and distinguished future… London is in for a Treat!’

So Firebird is well and truly on the musical map. And not just in London, because the next Firebird concert is in Oxford with Firebird in February…

Firebird in February
Firebird in February

Firebird in February

Sunday 10 February 6pm
St John-the-Evangelist Oxford

Mozart Overture to Die Zauberflöte K. 620
Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 in Bb minor, Op. 23
Beethoven
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

George Jackson conductor
Marc Corbett-Weaver piano

Generously Sponsored by the Morris-Venables Charitable Foundation

A dazzling programme for 2019

A very Happy New Year from the London Firebird Orchestra as we look forward to the continuation of our dazzling programme of concerts throughout 2019 featuring some of the brightest rising stars in the world of music today…

Firebird in February

Firebird in February

Sunday 10 February 2019 6pm
St John-the-Evangelist Oxford

Generously Sponsored by the Morris-Venables Charitable Foundation, a Firebird night to remember. with a welcome return to this fantastic venue in Oxford. This concert features some of the finest classical music in the repertoire culminating in Beethoven’s 5th Symphony – described as ‘one of the most important works of the time”.

Mendelssohn in March

Mendelssohn in March

Thursday 14 March 2019 7.30pm
St George’s Hanover Square, London


Mendelssohn’s mysterious overture forms the magical opening to a concert of music from the heart of 19th century European classical music which also includes Schumann’s heart-rending Cello Concerto before Brahm’s Beethoven inspired First Symphony.

Firebird for Schools

Firebird for Schools

Wednesday 22 May 2019 2pm
St George’s Hanover Square, London

This new tailor-made concert for schoolchildren will introducing young people to the magical world of the orchestra. As part of the Charity’s outreach work this event is a partnership between Firebird, London Music Masters and state schools from a range of London boroughs.

Sibelius in Summer

Sibelius in Summer

Tuesday 11 June 2019 7.30pm
St George’s Hanover Square, London

A magical concert featuring a new work by the winner of the Firebird Composer of the Year competition alongside favourites which include Paganini’s ravishing Second Violin Concerto and Sibelius’s enchanting 5th Symphony.

George Jackson

View from the Rostrum

‘George Jackson raised the stature of the music to a rarely-encountered level, absolutely enthralling from first bar to last.’

Robert Matthew-Walker, Classical Source

This month we hear from one of Firebird’s conductors, George Jackson, conductor of our next concert, Firebird in February on 10 Feb …

George Jackson in action
George Jackson in action (pictured by Brian Hatton)

We look forward to the next concert ‘Firebird in February’ featuring music by Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. What unites these works?

“What interests me is the common material that includes either the number three, or the use of three notes in a motivic sense.  With Mozart’s overture to ‘the Magic Flute’, we find three flats in the key signature, as well as the three ‘holy’ chords that begin the overture.  In the Beethoven Symphony No 5, which has the same three flats in the key signature, the symphony begins and then develops the famous motif that runs through the whole symphony: yes, it is technically four notes, but it’s those three upbeats that are the most important.  And finally, we all know the opening three-upbeat theme from Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto. I love finding abstract connections between pieces and placing them together. It’s perhaps the closest conductors get to creating a three-course meal (there’s a reason the French call us the ‘chef d’orchestre’!)”

What makes Firebird the perfect vehicle for a performance of music like this?

“One of the unique qualities of London players is their ability to switch styles in a heartbeat.  Firebird musicians are no different.  I am always amazed at the orchestra’s ability to ‘time travel’ within a concert.  Although the style differences in this programme are not too extreme, there is still a subtle change required.  The challenge in this type of programme is approaching each piece looking forwards chronologically, rather than backwards and with hindsight. This makes the interpretation of the Beethoven Fifth more challenging, because I am convinced we still tend to approach this symphony backwards, through the glasses of mid-, or even late-, nineteenth century.  So many composers receive this kind of ‘backwards with hindsight’ treatment, and I think it’s important to try and block it out.  The beauty of playing Mozart in the same evening is that it provides the backdrop that our approach to Beethoven can develop from.”

How can you bring something fresh and exciting to such well-known and often performed works like these?

“There’s a youthful, fiery energy in this orchestra, living up to its name, and with much potential to make these performances fresh and exciting.  Although these are well known and often performed works, we are a young orchestra with young players.  For many of us, this is the first time performing these pieces, even though they are all so central to the repertoire.  One of the regrets I think we musicians always have is that we can never ‘un-hear’ the opening to Beethoven’s Fifth, so the shock value is lost on modern audiences.  I remember one conducting mentor once trying to convince me that the opening notes of the symphony (G-E flat, followed by F-D) are really in E flat major, rather than C minor, making the harmony after the fermatas the real shock!  I don’t think it’s possible to prove this theory, but the point still stands: we have to try and re-present well-known pieces for the first time, and that process is more accessible to a younger group.  I hope Firebird can go some way to recreating the feeling that the ink is still wet – which is what can make this performance so exciting?”

George Jackson
George Jackson

What do you expect to be the main areas you will need to focus on during the rehearsal of these works?

“Reading the dots!  It’s a short rehearsal time, more like a microwave meal for one, rather than slow-cooked lamb for the Waltons.  But the trick is to try and add in as much detail as possible at the right moment, and that is about timing.  The Firebird Orchestra is a small-sized chamber orchestra, reflected by the number of string forces.  I want to focus on finding a big string sound for the Tchaikovsky, despite the small numbers, which is possible – it just involves a shift in priorities.  And then, once we find that sound, forgetting it just as quickly so we can bring a different quality to ‘The Magic Flute’ and the Beethoven Fifth.  Although all this has to happen in minimal rehearsal time, it creates a working environment that is short and intense, and I think that can sometimes lead to the best results.”

And what else is in the pipeline for you in 2019?

“The current season is a 50/50 split between concerts and opera, which is something I always try to proportion equally.  In the pit, I am making my company debut with Opera North, conducting The Magic Flute in March, Teatro Carlo Felice Genova with the Italian premiere of Sunset Boulevard in April, and Grange Park Opera with a new production of Hänsel und Gretel in June/July.  

“On the concert platform, I am conducting four concerts with the LSO in the autumn, making a recording with Orchestre de Paris, conducting the Opéra Orchestre National in Montpellier for the first time, and conducting a programme of contemporary British music with the Ensemble Intercontemporain.  I also continue this season as Daniel Harding’s assistant at Orchestre de Paris, which includes two Asian tours and a trip ‘home’ to the BBC Proms in the summer.”

Tchaikovsky’s Bravura Concerto

When Tchaikovsky completed the first draft of his piano concerto in 1875 he showed it three days later to the great Russian pianist, Nicolai Rubinstein, along with another musical friend, Nikolai Hubert. Tchaikovsky was rather hoping that Rubenstein would premiere the work at Moscow’s Russian Musical Society in Moscow.

Nicolai Rubenstein

Nicolai Rubenstein

However, they apparently viewed his work as ‘worthless and unplayable, with passages so fragmented, so clumsy, so badly written that they were beyond rescue.’ Rubenstein (pictured) decreed that the work itself was bad, vulgar; in places Tchaikovsky was accused of having stolen from other composers. Only two or three pages were declared worth of preserving, the rest should be thrown away or completely rewritten.

As one might expect, Tchaikovsky was astounded, outraged and upset by the incident. And when Rubenstein came to console him afterwards Tchaikovsky declared ‘I shall not alter a single note, I shall publish the work exactly as it is!’

And he did…!

Hans von Bülow

The premiere of the concerto actually took place later that year half a world away in Chicago, USA with Hans von Bülow (pictured) as the pianist describing it as ‘so original and noble’, and to whom Tchaikovsky was to subsequently dedicate the piece.

The audiences loved it too. However, the critics were not so impressed, one writing that the concerto was ‘hardly destined …to become classical’.

The unmistakable opening bars of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 makes it immediately recognisable as one of the best loved piano concertos of all time. However, it wasn’t always like that…

Concerto cover

Concerto cover

But when the Moscow premiere finally took place, the conductor was none other than Nikolai Rubinstein. He had come to see the merits of the work and was to go on to play the solo part many times throughout Europe.

A year later Tchaikovsky did make some small amendments to the score. The most obvious was the alteration of the opening piano chords which were originally arpeggiated to the solid chords we are more familiar with today.

Click to listen to the original opening of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No1: https://vimeo.com/300252834

Tchaikovsky’s magnificent and much loved Concerto No.1 for Piano and Orchestra will be a highlight of Firebird in February when Firebird’s Artistic Director Marc Corbett-Weaver will be the piano soloist, pitted against the full weight of the symphony orchestra under the baton of George Jackson.

Firebird in February

Sunday 10 February 2019

St John-the-Evangelist, Oxford @ 6pm

Generously sponsored by the Morris-Venables Charitable Foundation

Mozart Overture to Die Zauberflöte K. 620

Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 in Bb minor, Op. 23

Beethoven Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

George Jackson conductor

Marc Corbett-Weaver piano

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What to expect from Firebird in February

Firebird makes a welcome return to St John the Evangelist in Oxford with the generous support of the Morris-Venables Charitable Foundation following the orchestra’s hugely successful 2017 sell-out début. Let’s find out more…

Firebird’s programme promises some of the finest classical music in the repertoire. Opening with Mozart’s spellbindingly energetic overture to his comic opera, The Magic Flute, we will be immediately transported to a fairy-tale land of magical instruments, serpents and sorcerers in Mozart’s timeless classic.

From the Sydney opera House 2012 production of The Magic Flute

Next we dive headlong into Tchaikovsky’s magnificent and much loved Concerto No.1 for Piano and Orchestra. Firebird’s Artistic Director Marc Corbett-Weaver will be the piano soloist, pitted against the full weight of the symphony orchestra under the baton of George Jackson.

Marc Corbett-Weaver
Marc Corbett-Weaver

The work in the second half of the concert must be one of the best-known compositions in classical music. With its opening notes among the most recognisable in history, Beethoven’s mighty 5th Symphony has been described by ETA Hoffman as ‘one of the most important works of the time’.

The Beethoven Monument on the Münterplatz in Bonn

We may never be sure what Beethoven was trying to express with this piece – was it his belief in the belief in the French Revolution? Or was he railing against fate and his increasing deafness? Whatever this music is trying to say this is certainly turbulent music from a turbulent man living in a turbulent age, and will ensure that this will certainly be a Firebird night to remember.

Firebird in February

Sunday 10 February 2019
St John-the-Evangelist, Oxford @ 6pm

Generously sponsored by the Morris-Venables Charitable Foundation

Mozart Overture to Die Zauberflöte K. 620
Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1in Bb minor, Op. 23
Beethoven Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

George Jackson conductor
Marc Corbett-Weaver piano

It’s October, it’s time for Egmont!

Beethoven’s majestic Egmont Overture opens Firebird’s 2018/19 Season in truly monumental form on 9 October at St George’s Hanover Square.

Mount Egmont

Our cover image is of Mount Egmont – also known as Mount Taranaki – in New Zealand and it sums up the epic spirit behind this opening concert to the season.

We start the programme with Beethoven’s great overture to Egmont, premiered in 1810 as the opening of a sequence of ten incidental pieces to Goethe’s play celebrating the life and heroism of 16th-century Count of Egmont.

Beethoven
Beethoven

Next is Bruch’s exquisite Violin Concerto No.1. Said to be the most beautiful of all violin concertos, it showcases the instrument with dazzling, virtuosic passages, passionate melodies and capturing the essence of pure romance.

Bruch

And then two amazing pieces by a composer who achieved worldwide recognition for his music. Dvořák’s evocative Song to the Moon will be followed by his magnificent 8th Symphony. Inspired by the Bohemian folk music he so loved, the score was dedicated to no less than Emperor Franz Joseph.

Dvorak
Dvorak

And in addition to our magnificent symphony orchestra we present two formidable soloists with Belgian violinist Leonard Schreiber and soprano Verity Wingate, conducted by our very own George Jackson whose fame across Europe grows almost daily.

Leonard Schreiber, George Jackson and Verity Wingate
Leonard Schreiber, George Jackson and Verity Wingate

EGMONT IN OCTOBER

Beethoven Egmont Op. 84
Bruch Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor op.26
Dvorak Song to the Moon from Rusalka Op.114
Dvorak Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op.88, B.163

George Jackson conductor
Leonard Schreiber violin
Verity Wingate soprano

Firebird 2018/19 season launch in pictures

Our 2018/19 season got off to a brilliant start with our launch event at the Gladwell and Patterson gallery in Knightsbridge. Here are some pictures from the night.

Beethoven’s mighty Egmont

How did a story about a 16th century nobleman become the music which inspired a 20th century Revolution? Find out more…

Goethe declared that it was the work of ‘a remarkable genius’,E.T.A. Hoffmann prised the music for its poetry, and as the soundtrack for a Hungarian film Overture it won the 1965 Cannes Film Festival’s Short Film Palme d’Or.

Lamoral d'Egmont
Lamoral d’Egmont

We are talking about Beethoven’s epic Egmont Op.84. Premiered on 15 June 1810, this sequence of ten incidental pieces was composed for full symphony orchestra, soprano soloists and male narrator.

The story begins with an account of thelife and heroism of 16th-century nobleman Lamoral, Count of Egmont and Prince of Gavere

In 1787 it became a play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe which exalted the heroic sacrifice of a man condemned to death for having taken a valiant stand against oppression.

Egmont was a general and statesman in the Spanish Netherlands just before the start of the Eighty Years’ War. His execution helped spark the national uprising that eventually led to the independence of the Netherlands. 

At the time of the composition the Napoleonic Wars were in full flow as the First French Empire had extended its domination over vast swathes of Europe. Although formerly an admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte, Beethoven was outraged over his decision to crown himself Emperor in 1804, furiously scratching out his name in the dedication of the Eroica Symphony

In the music for Egmont, Beethoven expressed his own political concerns through the exaltation of the heroic sacrifice of a man condemned to death for having taken a valiant stand against oppression. 

Turn the clock forward to 1956 and the Hungarian Uprising, and it is Beethoven’s stirring music to Egmont which inspired a nationwide revolt against the Marxist-Leninist government of the Hungarian People’s Republic and its Soviet-imposed policies. 

A decade later and János Vadász film Overture won the 1965 Cannes Film Festival’s Short Film Palme d’Or, uses the complete Egmont Overture as the soundtrack for what is often considered one of the most influential short films in film history and described as ‘among the most ingenious pairings of music and image in the history of the festival.’

The Overture is one of Beethoven’s most powerful and expressive works and the culmination of his middle period as a composer, and it is this very Overture which will open Firebird’s 2018-2019 season on 9 October.

Egmont in October

Tuesday 9 October 2018
St George’s Hanover Square

Beethoven: Egmont Op.34
Bruch: Violin Concerto No.1 Op.26
Dvorak: Song to the Moon
Dvorak: Symphony No.8 in G major, Op.88, B.163

George Jackson conductor
Leonard Schreiber violin
Verity Wingate soprano

Dvořák the Bohemian

What does the word ‘Bohemia’ conjure up for you? Associations of wildly romantic eastern European castles? Or impoverished artists living in 19th century Paris? Or maybe ‘Bohemia’ the Raja King of Punjabi Rap?…

Triptych

The next concert from London Firebird on Tuesday 9 October features two musical masterpieces by a true Bohemian composer – Anton Dvořák. The ancient Kingdom of Bohemia became a state within the Habsburg Monarchy from 1526. But when Dvořák was born there in 1841 it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the predecessor of the modern Czech Republic. 

Dvořák
Dvořák

Dvořák achieved worldwide recognition for his music. He was well known for including rhythms and note patterns derived from the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia. But his reputation was to spread far wider across the world firstly with an honorary degree from the University of Cambridge, followed by a position as professor of composition at the Prague Conservatory and then to the USA as Director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City.

Dvorak’s Song to the Moon comes from the very beginning of his opera Rusalka in which the lead character – as a nymph – sings to the moon…

O moon high up in the deep, deep sky,

Your light sees far away regions,

You travel round the wide,

Wide world peering into human dwellings

This magical work will be sung by rising star Verity Wingate

Verity Wingate
Verity Wingate

Dvořák’s 8th Symphony draws its inspiration from the Bohemian folk music that Dvořák so loved. The score was composed on the occasion of his admission to Prague Academy and he dedicated the work to ‘the Bohemian Academy of Emperor Franz Joseph for the Encouragement of Arts and Literature, in thanks for my election.’

Manuscript of 8th symphony
Manuscript of 8th symphony

Dvořák composed his 8th Symphony at his beautiful country residence in central Bohemia at Vysoká u Příbramě. He wanted to make his 8th Symphony stand out from the stormy romantic 7th Symphony. saying it would be ‘different from the other symphonies, with individual thoughts worked out in a new way.’

Vysoká u Příbramě
Dvořák’s signature

Its turbulent fanfare is worth waiting for opening with a glorious fanfare of trumpets. Conductor Rafael Kubelik once said in a rehearsal: ‘Gentlemen, in Bohemia the trumpets never call to battle – they always call to the dance,’ This will be the concluding work in this magnificent programme conducted by George Jackson.

George Jackson
George Jackson

Egmont in October

Tuesday 9 October 2018
St George’s Hanover Square

Beethoven Egmont Op.34
Bruch Violin Concerto No.1 Op.26
Dvorak Song to the Moon
Dvorak: Symphony No.8 in G major, Op.88, B.163

George Jackson conductor
Leonard Schreiber violin
Verity Wingate soprano

The Most Beautiful of all Violin Concertos

It may be one of the most popular – and most beautiful – of all violin concertos but the composition of Bruch’s First Violin Concerto was no easy matter…

Bruch had already had some musical successes when the 26-year-old composer began work on the concerto in the summer of 1864.

But after 18 months a letter to his former teacher revealed that ‘My violin concerto is progressing slowly – I do not feel sure of my feet on this terrain. Do you think that it is very audacious to write a violin concerto?’

Joseph Joachim

And after its first performance in 1866 the dissatisfied composer withdrew it and he sent the manuscript to the great virtuoso violinist Joseph Joachim for his comments. Joachim replied with a detailed list of proposals for the work’s improvement but Bruch responded with another list of diffident queries and suggestions. 

Still insecure about his work, Bruch sent the score to the violinist Ferdinand David who had previously advised Mendelssohn on his Violin Concerto and his conductor friend Hermann Levi. 

After rewriting the concerto ‘at least half a dozen times’ it was eventually completed to his satisfaction and given its premiere in January 1868 in Bremen with Karl Reinthaler as conductor and Joachim as soloist.

The score’s manuscript was dedicated to Joseph Joachim in ‘respect’ although this was crossed out by Joachim and substituted with ‘friendship’.

So at last the concerto was completed and it was quickly taken up by all the great violinists of the day and played so often that it overshadowed everything else Bruch wrote. As a result he was often pigeon-holed as something of a one-hit wonder – even though he was to go on to write two more violin concertos.

Rathausturm Koeln – Nicolaus August Otto – Max Bruch

In the end, he could not even bear to hear it. What is worse, he had unwisely accepted a one-off payment for the work from his publishers and so missed out on a fortune in royalties.

Nevertheless, this concerto has become one of the most popular in the repertoire acting as a profound showcase for the instrument and orchestra with its dazzling, virtuosic passages, impassioned melodies and so effectively capturing the essence of pure romance.

Bruch’s famous Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor Op.26 is part of an action-packed opening concert to Firebird’s 2018/19 Season. With violinist Leonard Schreiber and conductor George Jackson, 9 October at St George’s Hanover Square should be a definite date in your diary.

Leonard Schreiber
  • Beethoven: Egmont Op. 34
  • Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1
  • Dvorak: Song to the Moon
  • Dvorak: Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88, B. 163
  • George Jackson conductor
  • Leonard Schreiber violin
  • Verity Wingate soprano

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