Opera + Classical Music Features

Venus Unwrapped @ Kings Place, 2019

Kings Place

Kings Place (Photo: Viktor Erik Emanuel)

Kings Place has devoted a year-long season – Venus Unwrapped – to concerts featuring the works of female composers, largely performed by female artists. We can all think of the obvious musically creative women – Clara Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn from past centuries, and British contemporary luminaries such as Judith Weir, Elizabeth Maconchy and Evelyn Glennie – but the concert season spans many centuries and many nations to feature the work of 140 composers, whose contributions range from early choral music written by anonymous nuns – with the named exception of the 11th-century German Hildegard of Bingen –­ performed by the all-female group Musica Secreta at St Pancras Church on 16 January, through to the Welsh/Indian violinist and composer Rakhi Sing, who performs, along with her quartet and the electronics group Vessel, her own Written in Fire at Hall One on 11 April.

The season began with a New Year’s Eve Party soft launch featuring the DJ Lady Vendredi and the all-women’s Lips Choir, and its formal launch on 10 January opened with works by the 17th-century Venetian composer Barbara Strozzi. The year closes with a concert of music by The Sixteen for St Cecilia’s Day (29 November) featuring works by Ruth Byrchmore, Margaret Rizza, Kim Porter and Elizabeth Poston, a carol concert from St Catherine’s College, Cambridge Girls’ Choir (7 December), and ‘Prayer of the Heart’, an intriguing celebration of the Winter Solstice by the Brodsky Quartet and Gesualdo Six showcasing works by Roxanna Panufnik.

In between, there is a dizzying programme of lectures, poetry concerts, lock-ins and recitals spread over 90 events that realise the dream of the 16th-century composer Maddalena Casulana: “I want to show the world (to the degree that is granted to me in this profession of music) the foolish error of men, who so greatly believe themselves to be masters of high intellectual gifts which cannot, it seems to them, be equally common among women”.

The whole programme of events can be found on the Kings Place website but it is worth pulling out a few tasters.

On 18 January, Julia Wolfe curates a programme by Bang on a Can All-Stars, New York’s eclectic and innovatory ensemble in Hall One; it competes with Hall Two’s presentation by the Crick Crack Club of storytelling and music around the theme of Kali: Supreme Mother. Two concerts entitled Venus and the Violin (on 27 January and 6 October) feature works by Lili Boulanger, the American 19th/20th-century composer Amy Beach, Rebecca Clarke, Clara Schumann and Agnes Zimmerman. The late-night lock-in on 2 February (with players from Aurora Orchestra and Anna Meredith’s electronic wizardry) is a feast for Meredith’s fans.

No British concert series on female composers would be complete without the inclusion of works by the extremely talented vocal artist and writer Laura Mvula, and, dovetailing nicely with the Kings Place A Cappella Festival, Laura and Black Voices present a programme of her own music as well as a celebration of iconic artists Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin on 23 January.

On 20 February the contributions to contemporary jazz by Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby are explored in a homage presented by Alina Berzhinska and Friends; those seeking even more contemporary jazz might also be interested by the LUME presentation of Entropi and Sloth Racket on 13 March.

There is more music from female baroque composers on 22 February, when the violinist Rachel Podger joins Brecon Baroque for a programme of works by Francesca Caccini, Isabella Leonarda and Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre. The excellent Feinstein Ensemble present later baroque offerings in a pair of concerts on 13 and 14 April; the first, Being Mrs Bach, explores Bach’s second wife , Anna Magdalena’s story, and the second includes works by the children of King Frederick William I: Wilhelmine von Bayreuth and Anna Amalia of Prussia.

From the Renaissance, the composers Raffaella Aleotti, Leonora d’Este, Sulpitia Cesis and Maddalena Casulana provide contributions to Stile Antico’s That Most Grateful Melody on 27 April.

For lovers of folk music, there are several events. She moved through the Fair on 16 March tells the story, in music, of the legendary folk singer Margaret Barry, and on 6 April, Kate Rusby makes an appearance in Hall One.

The diet of music is also varied through lectures and discussion groups, such as Now She’s Fairly Altered Her Meaning exploring the gendered response to British traditional songs on the afternoon of 17 March or Rewriting Herstory in Music, a study afternoon on 27 April (both at St Pancras Room). There’s comedy too in the Venus Unwrapped Comedy Gala on 21 March, and the intriguing Concerto for Comedian and Orchestra by Vikki Stone on 30 March.

Later events in the season, after the summer break, include: a performance, on 18 October of Lera Auerbach’s ‘Dialogues on Stabat Mater’, together with a new work composed and played by Evelyn Glennie, both featuring O/Modernt Chamber Orchestra; a new work by Judith Weir as part of the concert on 24 October by Natalie Clein, Julius Drake and Ruby Hughes (which also includes Henriëtte Bosmans’ cello concerto and Pauline Viardot’s ‘Les étoiles’); and Sunday at the Mendelssohns on 3 November, when the Chiaroscuro Quartet play Fanny Mendelssohn’s E-flat string quartet.

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