2nd July, 7.30pm
The New London Orchestra with Annemarie Federle & Brenton Spiteri
St John the Baptist Church

Ailsa Dixon, arr. Joshua Ballance, Nocturnal Scherzo

Benjamin Britten, Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, Op. 31

Arnold Schoenberg, Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4


Joshua Ballance, conducting the concert, introduces the programme...

Tell us a bit about the programme you’ll be conducting. Why have you chosen to perform these works?

I’m always keen in our programming that we have pieces that complement each other, and for this concert we’ve gone for a night-time theme that underpins the whole programme. We open with Ailsa Dixon’s Nocturnal Scherzo (title says it all, really!), then we’ve got Britten’s Serenade which sets six poems all about night, and then finally Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (‘Transfigured Night’), which is an instrumental setting depicting a poem by Richard Dehmel.

Having talked about how coherent the programme is, I should also admit that it’s a slightly self-indulgent programme of some of my favourite pieces! I’ve adored Britten’s music since I was about 13, and the Serenade is surely up there amongst his best work. It’s so varied, with its hauntingly beautiful passages between the tenor and the horn.

Those of you that came to the Mad Song concert last year might remember that we performed Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1. Verklärte Nacht was written seven years earlier, and is probably Schoenberg’s most famous, and most beloved piece. It’s Schoenberg in full-blooded late-Romantic mode, even before the modernist tendencies of the Chamber Symphony, and it’s absolutely gorgeous.

Ailsa Dixon’s music I didn’t know until a few months ago, and I’m so glad that now I do! The piece we’re performing, the Nocturnal Scherzo, actually began life as a movement for string quartet, so with the blessing of the Dixon estate we’ve put together a new arrangement of the work for string orchestra. It’s wonderfully characterful, so it makes the perfect opener for the festival.

If our audience wanted to listen to some other music related to your programme, what would you recommend?

Great question!

The Four Sea Interludes from Britten’s Peter Grimes would be an obvious choice to get into that world, and the Prelude to Wagner’s Tristan would probably be a good forerunner to Verklärte Nacht (one critic supposedly wrote that Schoenberg’s piece “sounds as if someone had smeared the score of Tristan when it was wet”, so you may as well listen to the original!).

Someone else who had a profound impact on both these composers was Gustav Mahler. You can listen back to his Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen from HBCMF last year on our website, or if you fancy something else I’d suggest the Rückert-Lieder. Just make sure you listen to a recording that puts Ich bin der Welt last, like Janet Baker & John Barbirolli, or for a more modern take, Magdalena Kožená & Simon Rattle.

As a more light-hearted way to get to know you, if you were a sandwich, what flavour would it be and why?

Ha! Perhaps a BLTA: a new spin on the classics?