Established values ​​and new works abound in a magical Classical Pride, plus the best of July’s classical concerts

Classic Pride, Barbican ★★★☆

A snappy opener, a new commission, a compact concert, contemporary work and a short symphony with choir – at first glance this could have been a Barbican concert, mixtape-style. But there were rainbow lights winking around the stage and the stage was draped in the LGBTQ+ flag. The clothing choices were brighter and more sparkly. I smoothed my own sequined combat trousers and caught the eye of someone else wearing the same.

This was Classical Pride, the second part of Oliver Zeffman’s cleverly conceived celebration. Last year’s concert, also at the Barbican, with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was – surprisingly – the first event of its kind in Europe. Sunday night’s performance was the culmination of an extensive five-day series, featuring musicians from British conservatoires, local choirs and another first: Classical Drag.

Copland’s rousing Fanfare for the Common Man heralded the arrival of presenter Nick Grimshaw. Classic FM’s idiosyncratic gala concerts and uneven Proms broadcasts have long shown the difficulty of providing a fluid context for complex music, but Grimshaw’s informality generally worked well, guiding newcomers and anchoring the programme.

As music organisations struggle against a wave of budget cuts at national (English National Opera, for example) and local (CBSO) levels, Zeffman’s ability to garner growing support is all the more impressive. It has made possible several Classical Pride commissions from major composers, including Jake Heggie’s Good Morning, Beauty, which premiered here. Pumeza Matshikiza’s creamy soprano energised the joyous love song, with Bernsteinian flourishes from the orchestral accompaniment (Barbican house band the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Zeffman).

After performing at last year’s event (with partner Samson Tsoy), Pavel Kolesnikov returned as soloist in Saint-Saëns’s Piano Concerto No. 2. The virtuoso, showstopping opening is tempered by the dreamy second theme and a humorous, hasty finale. Kolesnikov proved himself a ballet pianist – in Tchaikovsky’s Valse Sentimentale, his arms danced into space above the keyboard, never at the expense of his technique.

Some might attribute this to “queering the performance,” an idea that encourages authenticity in musical expression. Composer Julius Eastman (1940-1990) once captured that spirit when he told an interviewer, “What I’m trying to do is be who I am to the fullest—black to the fullest, a musician to the fullest, a homosexual to the fullest.” Though we didn’t have Eastman in the main hall—Jessie Montgomery’s arrangement of Eastman’s Gay Guerilla was performed in the foyer before the concert itself—Cassandra Miller’s Round hinted at its radical musical minimalism, with trumpets placed in the balcony and an urgent, repeated motif. Sounds swirled, program pages turned.

Russell Thomas – in town to sing Mario Cavaradossi in Tosca at the Royal Opera House – was joined by the LGBTQ+ Community Choir for Szymanowski’s dramatic Symphony No 3 Song of the Night, an ecstatic work that is texturally dense – Thomas’ tenor rather lost in the weave. The counterpoint to this uplifting evening was the reminder that Pride is a protest movement, because rights are still not universal. To that end, all proceeds from Classical Pride will be donated to Rainbow Road, Amplifund and the Terrence Higgins Trust. CJ

No further performances

Sound within sound, Southbank Centre ★★★★

The Southbank festival explores the concept of Sound Within Sound

Southbank festival explores the concept of Sound Within Sound – Getty

A sound within a sound – it’s a strange idea. How can one sound contain another? As the first concert of Sound Within Sound – the Southbank festival of experimental music from around the world – unfolded, it became clear. It meant sounds of a bewitching unknown: the drone and gurgling and hissing of water and insects and bubbles, intricate and layered, like one form unfolding to reveal another. Sounds that – after a moment of resistance – you sink into pleasantly, with a mysterious sense of connection to something ancient.

This was the sound of Jitterbug by New Zealand’s Annea Lockwood, who briefly gained notoriety in the heady late 1960s for recording the sound of burning pianos. “Not very green!” she confessed in her post-concert chat with festival curator Kate Molleson, though she’s since more than made up for it by settling in Montana and turning to nature for inspiration. Lockwood is one of a string of “outsider modernists” as daring in their musical reinventions as any of the other glittering names from the West who dominate official history. Ten of them, including an Ethiopian nun who went to a Swiss boarding school and a Brazilian composer who created a whole collection of new instruments, are revealed in Molleson’s 2022 book (from which the festival takes its name) – music from all of them will be heard at the Southbank, some in the UK for the first time.

Many of the mysterious sound-within-sounds of Lockwood’s music turned out to be field recordings of rivers and insects, subtly altered and diffused by the Queen Elizabeth Hall’s fantastic sound diffusion system. Above these lay plaintive notes and near-mute sighs and scribbles from violinist Angharad Davies and cellist Anton Lukoszevieze. They played these small sounds with the same delicate care as a pianist might place a note in a Mozart sonata, with expressive results that were just as powerful – but in a different way. A Mozart sonata is reminiscent of every other sonata you’ve ever heard. Here the cello and violin laments seemed new and yet old, like a voice from nature.

Then it was a shock to be plunged into the rattling, hard-edged, clockwork world of Music for 5 Pianos by Cuban composer José Maceda. Maceda was inspired by folk music from all over the world, not only his native country, but he was also a dreamer of new musical worlds as daring as those in the West. This piece, played with superb precision and sensitivity by five pianists from the group Apartment House led by Jack Sheen, revealed both sides of this extraordinary man.

The lyrical gusts thrown from piano to piano sounded like a village fete, the bell-like chords and interlocking patterns seeming to point to the stars. It was a world away from Lockwood’s nature mysticism, but the grandeur and innocent freshness were the same. All in all, it was a beautiful start to a festival that harkened back to the days when the Southbank was usually bold. Let’s hope it’s a sign of things to come. IH

The festival runs until July 7. Tickets: 020 3879 9555;

Leave a Comment