György Ligeti (1923-2006) arr. Elgar Howarth - Mysteries of the Macabre
Recorded live on: 12th February 2009
György Ligeti (1923-2006) arr. Elgar Howarth
Mysteries of the Macabre
The Macabre in question is Le Grand Macabre, the opera Ligeti wrote between 1974 and 1977. Put very briefly, the opera is about a drunkard, a pair of young lovers who are permanently on the point of coition, a boy prince, and an astronomer and his wife who are into sado-masochism. All are inhabitants of Brueghelland - a country which is visited by a man who claims to be the Grim Reaper - and which does indeed seem to meet with some catastrophe, though after the event the only person to have died is Death himself. Mysteries are fairly ubiquitous here, though the piece with the title Mysteries of the Macabre is based on the three-part aria sung by the Chief of the Secret Police in the third of the opera's four scenes. This character is sung by a coloratura soprano, who appears in three disguises (as bird of prey, spider and octopus) and each time delivers a message of warning in nonsense code made the more undecipherable by musical acrobatics.
Elgar Howarth arranged this extraordinary, virtuoso showstopper in 1988 for trumpet and piano. Ligeti subsequently approved Howarth's arrangement of the score for chamber ensemble, to create a mini-concerto.
Nicholas Kok conductor
Nicholas Kok is an extremely versatile conductor and musician. In the concert hall, the opera house and on radio he has conducted numerous world and British premieres, including works by Birtwistle, Holt, Maxwell Davies, Reich, Turnage and Xenakis. He is currently Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor to the leading new music ensemble Psappha, with which he has recorded and toured extensively. From 1996 to 2006 Nicholas was Principal Conductor and Artistic Director of Sinfonia ViVA (formerly East of England Orchestra), with which he performed an extremely large and varied repertoire and is now the orchestra's Principal Guest Conductor.
For English National Opera he has conducted Orfeo, Il Ritorno d'Ulisse, The Fairy Queen, The Marriage of Figaro, Così fan tutte, King Priam, a double-bill of world premieres by Turnage - The Country of the Blind and Twice through the Heart - in a joint production with the South Bank and the Aldeburgh Festival, and the world premiere of Alec Roth and Vikram Seth's opera Arion and the Dolphin. He made his Opera North debut conducting the world premiere of Simon Holt's The Nightingale's to Blame at the Huddersfield Festival in 1998, where he also conducted the British premiere of Hindenburg, a major new work by Steve Reich. He returned to Opera North for a new production of Gluck's Orfeo in 2004 and in 2007 with a new production of Les Noces/Dido and Aeneas. Festivals at which he has appeared include Edinburgh, BBC Proms, Orkney, Cheltenham, Montepulciano and "Sound Around" in Copehhagen/Malmo.
Nicholas Kok made his debut at the Stuttgart Staatsoper in 1997 conducting Purcell's King Arthur, and returned for a new production of L'incoronazione di Poppea and revivals of Hänsel und Gretel and L'italania in Algieri. For Cologne Opera he conducted Le nozze di Figaro and a new production of Semele, which he also directed in Graz. In Klagenfurt he conducted highly acclaimed productions of Handel's Teseo and Cavalli's Il Giasone, and for CPO, Porto, Nicholas conducted a new production of L'Elisir d'Amore. He played a large part in setting up Almeida Opera for which he conducted Mario the Magician by Stephen Oliver and A Family Affair by Julian Grant. For Opera Factory London he conducted Poppea, Dido and Aeneas, Cosi fan tutte, The Magic Flute, Curlew River, The Bacchae (Xenakis), Sarajevo (Osborne) and Reimann's The Ghost Sonata and for OF Zürich La Calisto and Marschner's Der Vampyr, in his own version for chamber orchestra. Other operatic engagements have included Don Giovanni for ETO, Il Barbiere for DGOS, Cendrillon by Pauline Viardot for Opera Rara and Gerald Barry's The Intelligence Park for Almeida Festival/Opera Factory. For McKinsey/WDR/Arte he conducted the world premieres of Alexander Krampe's reworkings of Rousseau's Pygmalion and Bizet's Carmen.
Orchestras and ensembles he has worked with include the Philharmonia, London Philharmonic, BBC Symphony, City of Birmingham Symphony, Royal Scottish National, Radio Sinfonie Orchester Berlin, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Scottish Symphony, BBC Concert Orchestra, RTE National Symphony Ireland, Ulster Orchestra, Halle, Het Gelders Orkest, Liepaja SO, Munich Chamber Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Bournemouth Sinfonietta, Jenaer Philharmonie, Orchestra of St John's Smith Square, Orquestra Nacional do Porto, Philippines Philharmonic and the Almeida, Endymion, Nash, Premiere, Remix and Resonanz Ensembles.
Nicholas Kok works frequently with the BBC Singers (with whom he has recorded a huge repertoire) and Schola Cantorum. He has recorded for radio and television, and has written and arranged music for both mediums, as well as working as assistant/banda conductor on numerous recordings for Opera Rara and Chandos. He has worked closely with many choreographers (as conductor and arranger) and has conducted for Scottish Ballet (Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet and Sleeping Beauty, as well as three programmes at the Edinburgh Festival) and Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre. He played the premiere of his own music for Scottish Dance Theatre's "Out of the House" performances, and the world premiere of his own "7th Degree" was performed by Julian Bliss and Viva, conducted by the composer.
Future plans include Gluck Orphée et Euridice for Staatstheater Stuttgart, Handel Agrippina at the Teatro Sao Carlos Lisbon, the world premiere of Maxwell Davies' new opera at the Royal Academy of Music, Stravinsky with Scottish Ballet at the Edinburgh International Festival, Mendelssohn and Rangström with Stockholm Royal Ballet and concerts with Psappha and Viva.
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