Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Commentary

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Kirsten Flagstad Born This Day 125 Years Ago

On this day, the great Kirsten Flagstad was born 125 years ago.

New titles announced for Glyndebourne Open House

Glyndebourne has announced the next two opera titles in its virtual festival, Glyndebourne Open House - Britten’s Billy Budd and Rossini’s The Barber of Seville.

Les Talens Lyriques announces 2020-21 season with first modern performances of Salieri's Armida

Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques announce their 2020-21 season championing heroines, with the first modern performances of Salieri's breakthrough success Armida, 250 years after the work's premiere. A recording of Armida to be made during the season is complemented by the release of Mozart's Betulia liberate on Aparté this autumn. In June 2021, Les Talens Lyriques join the centennial Mozartfest Würzburg with performances of Idomeneo.

BBC Proms Announce 2020 Programme

From Bernstein to Benedetti, Haitink to Hvorostovsky, Mackerras to Kanneh-Masons, musical greats, from the past and the present, will be brought together in one extraordinary Proms season, 17 July - 12 September 2020.

Garsington Opera announces 2021 season

Next summer we return to celebrate our 10th Anniversary at Wormsley, in true Garsington style, using our distinctive indoor / outdoor theatre that offers so many opportunities for us to create wonderful performances in a safe environment for all.

UNMUTE: A Musical Reunion - Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Together with members of the Philharmonia Orchestra, Douglas Boyd conducts a programme of Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven and Strauss with six soloists and readings by Samuel West.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

Live from London: first-ever global online vocal festival announced

Live from London is a new, paid-for online festival from the VOCES8 Foundation, featuring some of the world’s finest vocal ensembles including VOCES8, I Fagiolini, Stile Antico, The Swingles, The Sixteen, Chanticleer and more.

Eboracum Baroque - Heroic Handel

Eboracum Baroque is a flexible period instrument ensemble, comprising singers and instrumentalists, which was founded in York - as its name suggests, Eboracum being the name of the Roman fort on the site of present-day York - while artistic director Chris Parsons was at York University.

Opera Rara at 50: Anniversary talk and Live Q&A

Artistic Dramaturge Roger Parker will be in conversation with musicologist Ditlev Rindom, introduced by Artistic Director Carlo Rizzi, on Thursday 25th June 2020 at 7pm BST.

Longborough Festival Opera launches opera podcast

Longborough Festival Opera is delighted to launch a new podcast, featuring today’s brightest stars for a series of conversations about the world of opera.

100 artists across 14 countries and 4 continents stage Guildhall School of Music & Drama digital opera double bill

This summer, Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s opera double bill has been transformed from the physical to the digital stage, with the creative team and artists from across the School bringing the productions to life from their homes using digital technology. It is now available to stream for free until Wednesday 1 July 2020.

Wexford Festival Opera: Waiting for Shakespeare…The Festival in the air

The 69th Wexford Festival Opera further develops its digital presence for 2020 to present a reimagined Festival: Waiting for Shakespeare…The Festival in the air, from Sunday, 11 October - Sunday, 18 October 2020.

First recipient of Andrea Bocelli Foundation-Community Jameel Scholarship to start at the Royal College of Music

Today the Royal College of Music (RCM) has announced that French soprano Clara Barbier Serrano will become the first recipient of the Andrea Bocelli Foundation-Community Jameel Scholarship. The scholarship means Clara will join the world-renowned RCM Opera Studio this September on the Artist Diploma (ArtDip) in Performance course at one of the world’s greatest conservatoires, ranked the top institution for Performing Arts in the UK for five consecutive years (QS World University Rankings).

English Touring Opera: In Conversation with Themba Mvula

English Touring Opera are starting a live series of conversations with the company's Artistic Director, James Conway. Each week James will be joined by a special guest and ETO Associate Artist Bradley Travis, and they hope listeners can join us and be part of the conversation.

Tête à Tête Airs Programme for a Real Opera Festival in an Imaginary World

Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival 2020 is rooted in themes of unreal and fictional worlds, impending political doom and apocalyptic futures, reflecting a real world in a state of unease.

A Celebration of Aldeburgh Festivals, 12-28 June 2020

12 - 28 June 2020 would have been the 73rd Aldeburgh Festival and this is the first time in its history that it will not go ahead. During the period that the Festival would have taken place, Britten Pears Arts presents a celebration of the Festival’s unique programming over more than 70 years, in collaboration with BBC Radio 3 and BBC Four, part of BBC Arts' Culture in Quarantine, keeping the arts and culture in the homes of the public despite the impact of lockdown which has seen festivals and performance venues unable to open.

English Touring Opera: Autumn 2020 Season Update

At English Touring Opera we are working to produce a live season of lyric theatre this Autumn, touring in October and November. This programme is being designed to observe social distancing guidelines in the interest of the safety of our artists and audience.

Opera Holland Park: Un ballo in maschera streaming postponed until Wednesday 3 June, 7.30pm

Opera Holland Park is aware of the #BlackOutTuesday movement among parts of the music industry that began to gather pace yesterday. For several weeks, we have planned to mark what would have been the opening night of the 2020 season with a streaming of our production from 2019 of Un ballo in maschera on our website and YouTube channel.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Commentary

05 Jul 2019

An interview with composer Dani Howard

The young Hong Kong-born British composer Dani Howard is having quite a busy year.

A interview with Dani Howard, by Robert Hugill

Above: Dani Howard

 

Her first opera, Robin Hood was premiered earlier this year by The Opera Story in London [see my review ], her new orchestral work Gates of Spring will open the 75th Cheltenham Music Festival tonight (5 July 2019) with Elim Chan conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, and her orchestral work Coalescence opens the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic 's 2019/2020 season with Vasily Petrenko conducting the orchestra. I met up with Dani recently in London to chat about her new pieces, and find out how writing her first opera had gone.

Dani often bases her subject matter on the forces required and the length of the piece, so as Gates of Spring was required to be a short concert opener it is quite light-hearted, written for a full symphony orchestra with a big tuba solo. She describes Gates of Spring as being loosely based on the founding of Cheltenham as a spa town, with the title referring not to the season but to the gates which the founder of the spa put round the original spring. Her piece takes a musical journey which depicts Cheltenham as a beautiful old farmhouse, the spring being discovered by a young entrepreneur and the spa developed. So we have an atmospheric beginning, an idea, an outpouring of excitement, a false sense of confidence, doubts growing and then events building, at the end the two musical ideas representing the old and new Cheltenham merge.

Coalescence is somewhat longer, which forms the first work in Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic's opening concerts (19 & 22 September 2019) of the orchestra's 2019/20 season. Dani confesses herself very excited to be working with Petrenko.

When writing works, even apparently abstract ones, she likes to have a very clear story and she talks about a solo tuba piece which arose after seen the optical illusion whereby the wheels of a car going fast can suddenly seem as if they are going backwards. Coalescence was inspired by a walk she used to take every day, where she suddenly noticed a huge old tree which had grown round an iron railing, completely absorbing half of the railing. In Coalescence this has become an analogy for how naive humans are in thinking that they can overpower nature. So for Dani the brass represent the humans, and the rest of the orchestra nature, and the work is about a challenge between the two, but by the end neither side is the winner. Coalescence has been Dani's favourite piece to write so far, and she describes the process as very emotional partly because the environment is something that interests her.

Dani was born and grew up in Hong Kong where her parents worked (both had travelled there from the UK, met, liked the place and stayed). When she came to the UK to study she also found other little differences, growing up the television had been different, she did not get all British people's jokes and there were other differences like things in politics. Yet she was very English, so she started out not quite a foreigner but not quite fitting in, though this has gradually changed over eight years she has been here. And it does mean that the friends she made in the UK are from all over.

As a result of her Hong Kong upbringing, she had no experience of opera growing up. But as a composer it was something she knew she wanted to do at some point, and she loved the experience of writing Robin Hood, yet she was also very nervous. It was her first time writing an opera, and also her first time writing for operatic voices (before that she had only writing one choral work), and also the length somewhat scared her ( Robin Hood is a substantial three-act work).

Prior to writing Robin Hood she needed a clear idea of the structure of a work in her head before she started writing, and with a clear time line she would plot out the emotional content to ensure that the piece flowed. With Robin Hood she read the libretto each morning but could not see the shape of the full 90 minute work, there was too much information and too many changes of mood. So in the end she had to break it down, act by act, scene by scene, and the over time she could look back at the music she had written and see the bigger picture.

One of the things that she enjoyed about writing the opera was how collaborative the process was. Usually composition is quite a lonely business, but though the bulk of composition for Robin Hood was done by the end of 2018, so much work was done collaboratively after that. Whereas writing an orchestral work can be quite impersonal, with the opera she was able to work with the singers. It helped that they had a great team, with all the performers really wanting to be there.

They started with a general idea about the opera, talking about characters and voice types, then Zoe Palmer wrote the libretto, collaborating with Rebecca Hurst, and because Palemr was based in the USA there was not so much back and forth. Polly Graham , the director, became involved after the first draft and then Dani started writing. It was very much a learning process for Dani, and she feels she grew in confidence and ability during the process. She would love to do another opera 'at some point' and she feels that her experience with Robin Hood would enable her to contribute far more in the initial discussion about the piece.

Her first instrument was a drum kit, at the age of five, and she still loves rhythmically driven music. Her main instruments were cello and piano, and she received cello lessons from the principal cello of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra . She took the instrument seriously but did not want to be a performer. Her cello teacher taught her more than the cello, she credits him with teaching her music and it was whilst doing studying for her GCSE Composition examination that she realised that she wanted to be a composer, and she sent on to study composition at the Royal College of Music .

Dani describes her music has having a clear rhythmic drive, and refers to her style as post-minimalist; she love minimalism but whilst she uses lots of repetition her style is not minimalist. Whilst not strictly tonal, her pieces are harmonically accessible. She refers to Benjamin Britten (his studying at the Royal College of Music was one of the reasons why she wanted to study there), John Adams and Debussy as great influences, along with Brahms' chamber music. She is very interested in the music of new American composers such asNico Muhly, Mason Bates (here she mentions his opera The (R)Evolution of Steve Jobs).

She has a number of projects lined up for next year, and we also talked about the hope that Robin Hood might get further performances, enabling her to re-visit the score. As well as the orchestral premieres in Cheltenham and Liverpool, she has some chamber music being performed in Liverpool by the Pixels Ensemble and the pianist from this group, Ian Buckle, will be premiering her piano piece The Earl St Vincent, during the summer.

Full details of all the performances of Dani Howard's music from the events page of her website.

Robert Hugill

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):