Michael White’s classical & jazz news: The Sixteen; New York Met; Wagnerism

Friday, 18th December 2020

The Sixteen new

The Sixteen

YET again the Johnson government has screwed the world of music with its latest, sudden, scribbled-on-an-envelope changes of policy – which mean that all the Christmas plans of Wigmore Hall, Cadogan Hall, Smith Square and every other London venue are in chaos.

Needless chaos too, given the fact that every venue I’m aware of has enforced the Covid rules with such scrupulous care that the likelihood of anyone catching the virus on the premises must be close to zero.

To say it was heart-breaking would be an understatement as musicians, driven to despair and penury and (no exaggeration) suicide by this relentless governmental muddle find themselves in an impossible position. For the umpteenth time, hung out to dry. It’s a complete disgrace.

But meanwhile, for the rest of us, it’s back to the internet. And if, like me, you’re aching for some high-class Christmas choral music, one thing I’d suggest is a new five-part series of streamed programmes by The Sixteen that bear the title A Choral Odyssey.

The Sixteen were meant to be live at Cadogan Hall this week. But as from Wednesday, December 23 you can watch them sing online from that same venue – a consolation of sorts – as well as from historic locations like Hatfield House that have been chosen to reflect the repertoire on offer.

It all comes with commentaries by Simon Russell Beale, whose relationship with The Sixteen is now so close he might as well sing along with them (something he could actually do, having trained as a boy chorister). And since you can buy the concerts individually or as a package, they make a useful Christmas present. Details: https://thesixteen.com/a-choral-odyssey/

While you’re stuck at home in what’s effectively another lockdown, don’t forget the free opera webcasts from the New York Met, which may just raise your spirits with cheerful shows like Mozart’s Magic Flute on Monday, December 21 and Massenet’s Cendrillon (aka Cinderella) on Tuesday, December 22. Less cheerfully, though only too appropriate, there’s also Wagner’s epic foretelling of the end of the world, Gotterdammerung, on Sunday, December 20. www.metopera.org

• Thinking of Wagner, if you want some Christmas reading there aren’t many good new music books around this year. But one that should be on every list is Alex Ross’s Wagnerism (4th Estate, £30) – an exploration of the composer’s inescapable significance to the wider world of European culture that came after him, written in the brilliantly clear, perfectly accessible terms that made Ross’s previous The Rest is Noise a best-seller. At 700+ pages there’s a lot of it, but you’ll wish it ran to twice the length.

And if Wagner sounds too daunting for Christmas, try Graham Johnson’s Poulenc: the Life in the Songs (Liveright £39) which presents the 20th century’s most loveable composer in terms that manage to be serious but entertaining – as you’d expect from someone with Johnson’s unique authority as a performer, raconteur and scholar. Joyfully enlightening.

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