The Seven Ages of Shakespeare

Wednesday 1st June, 2016, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Nicolai  The Merry Wives of Windsor – Overture , 8′
  • Arne  Songs, 8′
  • Sullivan  The Merchant of Venice – Masquerade Suite, 12′
  • Vaughan Williams  In Windsor Forest , 18′
  • Porter  Kiss Me, Kate – highlights , 12′
  • Berlioz  Béatrice et Bénédict – duet , 10′
  • Purcell  The Fairy-Queen – highlights , 20′

“Sounds and sweet airs, that delight and hurt not…” No-one serves up musical entertainment with a sunnier smile than Nicholas McGegan. And there’s laughter in the air tonight, as he introduces four centuries of musical tributes to Shakespeare: from Cole Porter to Purcell’s all-singing, all-dancing take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Fairy-Queen. In between, there’s Berlioz, Arne… and you’ve heard of Gilbert and Sullivan? Now discover Sullivan and Shakespeare.


Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

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…     “And when he uses that knowledge – as in the shimmering, whispered closing bars of the duet Vous soupirez, madame? from Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict – he can hold an audience breathless. What did work – gloriously – was Vaughan Williams’s cantata In Windsor Forest, a suite of choral offcuts from his operatic version of The Merry Wives of Windsor, Sir John in Love. McGegan’s trump card here was Simon Halsey’s CBSO Chorus: bright, clear and alert, they made each phrase dance as well as sing, relishing the Tudor drolleries of the Drinking Song and providing great glowing arcs of sound in the Bridal Chorus. McGegan and the orchestra responded with a huge Sea Symphony swell.

The best came last: effectively the whole of Act IV of The Fairy Queen, with the three soloists plus tenor Andrew Henley taking their season-themed solos with poise and a rich palette of colours, and the full CBSO – yes, all on modern instruments, and with at least 30 players on stage – playing vibrato-free and drawing from Purcell’s score a range of shades and textures to match any period-instrument band. McGegan, beaming with enjoyment and looking at times as if he was about to start bodypopping, draped violin lines artlessly over Purcell’s melancholy plaints, detonated volleys of trumpets and timpani, and shaped big, dramatic dynamic contrasts. A choir of over 120 in Purcell’s lively little refrains? Well, why shouldn’t we get to hear music this good sound this magnificent, at least once in a while? It’s a celebration, after all. And if this concert proved one thing, it’s that genius is infinitely adaptable.”


Review by Ruth Horsburgh, Redbrick.Me:

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…      “Nicholas McGegan expertly and energetically conducted the orchestra and chorus with an infectious enthusiasm. There was an abundance of skill on display on stage, with excellent solos performed from all sections of the orchestra. The orchestra performed every piece strongly, with pinpoint accuracy in achieving the softest and tender dynamic to relay poignancy or a wave of sound which triumphantly enveloped the music hall, as was evident in their commanding performance of Sullivan’s ‘The Merchant of Venice – Masquerade Suite’. This effect was also enhanced by the CBSO Chorus, which is made up of, as was said in the programme notes, ‘amateur professionals’. Their skill as a choir was particularly evident in their performance of Vaughan William’s ‘In Windsor Forest’, with sweeping and beautiful melodies filling the auditorium.

There were also vocal solos performed throughout the evening, including a memorable and charming duet of ‘Wunderbar’ from Kiss me, Kate by Cole Porter, between Mezzo Soprano Sandra Piques Eddy and Baritone Duncan Rock. Soprano Fflur Wyn beautifully performed several solos, a highlight being ‘When Daisies Pied’ by Thomas Arne, which epitomised the harmonious relationship between Shakespeare and music, with a call and response ‘Cuckoo’ section. This was then followed by tenor Andrew Henley who sang Arne’s ‘Fear No More the Heat o’ the Sun’.

Shakespeare is renowned for his ability to convey the complexities of love and human relationships and this variety was reflected in the performed pieces, from the poignant Berlioz performed by the two soprano soloists to the feisty and amusing ‘I Hate Men’ performed by Piques Eddy. The evening culminated in a united and compelling rendition of Purcell’s ‘The Fairy Queen’.”     …


Purcell’s King Arthur

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2012/13… more events…

Friday 31st May

Town Hall

New London Consort

Philip Pickett  conductor

Nicholas Le Prevost actor (Merlin)

Joanne Lunn Cupid

Faye Newton Siren

Anna Dennis Philidel

Penelope Appleyard Siren

Adriana Festeu Priestess

Tim Travers-Brown Spirit

Joseph Cornwell Comus

Andrew King Man

Nicholas Hurndall Smith Shepherd

Benjamin Bevan Grimbald

Michael George Cold Genius

Simon Grant Aeolus

Ace McCarron lighting designer

Please note
The role of Merlin, which was due to be played by Oliver Cotton, will now be played by Nicholas Le Prevost.


  King Arthur


Celebrating the triumph of good over evil in Arthur’s enchanted island realm, Merlin the magician tells a gripping tale of love, battles and betrayal. Pagans sacrifice, warriors triumph, spirits enchant, nymphs and shepherds pipe and dance, the Cold Genius shivers, and naked sirens seduce – all to some of Purcell’s greatest music.

Oliver Condy, Editor of BBC Music Magazine, explains why he has recommended tonight’s concert:

No-one who saw the New London Consort’s stunning Fairy Queen in 2011 will want to miss their new version of one of Purcell’s most vibrant works. Performed by an A-list cast of singers and a colourful consort of baroque instruments, it’s sure to be an enchanting evening.



Review by Verity Quaite, BachTrack:

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…     “Despite my reservations about the juxtaposition of the old with the new, the authentic instrumentation with the lighting, the performance by the New London Consort was exemplary and these talented musicians lived up to their reputation for artistry and virtuosity.  Anna Dennis’ depiction of the spirit Philidel was impressive, with her full and agile voice suiting the part well. Faye Newton and Penelope Appleyard’s voices as the Sirens sent to distract Arthur from his mission were well matched, and Appleyard, overpowered by Dennis in choruses, came into her own here. Unfortunately Adriana Festeu appeared to struggle in the lower register at times, while Joanne Lunn gave a consistently high calibre of performance. Similarly, countertenor Tim Travers Brown, tenor Andrew King and baritone Benjamin Bevan all executed their parts admirably.”     …



Review by Geoff Read, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “Merlin moved events rapidly on in Act III, relating the capture of Arthur’s blind betrothed Emmeline by former suitor and Saxon leader Oswald, before illustrating his magical powers by curing her blindness. Pickett had moved the Passacaglia to this point, believing it to be its rightful and original location; this took us mid-act to the interval. Cast as Cupid an animated Joanne Lunn got the second half off to a cracking start with her What Ho! thou genius of this isle to introduce a shivering Michael George as Cold Genius. I thought the choral singing of See, See, we assemble excelled here, music and voices the epitome of ‘quiv’ring with cold’. The strings superbly led by Penelope Spencer had a primary role in the subsequent Dance – a cold scene that warmed the cockles. The brief Act IV saw Le Provost tell Arthur to trust nothing he encounters in his quest to reclaim Emmeline from the enchanting wood. Newton and Appleyard as two Sirens generated an ethereal resonance to support the illusions that the king encountered, but naturally the good spirits overcame the bad.”     …



Review by Maggie Cotton, Birmingham Post:

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…     “The link man was actor Nicholas le Prevost, telling the story in disturbing modern vernacular; raising laughs and groans from the absorbed listeners however.

Ace McCarron’s interesting and imaginative lighting helped throughout from a flitting airy spirit single moving spot, to cool icy shadows. The stage management was most impressive, with smooth interchanges and movements from the soloists.

Four male soloists responded wonderfully to sparky tabor for a lively front of stage dance, after which soprano Joanne Lunn sang the familiar Fairest Isle with true commitment and lovely tone.”     …

Purcell’s Fairy Queen

Birmingham International Concert Season 2010/11

Thu 17 Feb 7:30pm at Town Hall

New London Consort
Philip Pickett conductor
Joanne Lunn soprano
Dana Marbach soprano
Faye Newton soprano
Christopher Robson countertenor
Tim Travers-Brown countertenor
Ed Lyon tenor
Joseph Cornwell tenor
Michael George bass
Simon Grant bass
Mauricio García Lozano director
Ace McCarron lighting designer

Please note Mauricio García Lozano replaces Neil Wallace.

Purcell The Fairy Queen 130’

There will be one interval and the concert will end at approximately 10pm.
A co-production de Doelen Rotterdam and The Sage Gateshead, in collaboration with Circus Space

London audiences in the 1690s revelled in the spectacle of The Fairy Queen – a maverick combination of Purcell’s glorious music, acting, costumes, and ‘machines and decorations’. This new production uses innovative stage direction and circus performers to recreate something of the colourful, fantastical spirit of the original.

BBC Music magazine’s Editor, Oliver Condy, explains why he has recommended tonight’s concert:
“Purcell’s opera contains his finest music. Based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Fairy Queen is a dramatic and musical masterpiece that delights and moves in equal measure. This fun-filled, circus-inspired production features a superb line-up of artists.”

6.15pm Pre-concert conversation with the artists.

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

… “Philip Pickett’s New London Consort, cosily tucked up in a corner of the Town Hall Stage, delivered the score brightly and lovingly, and his soloists (complicated to identify from the otherwise informative programme) sang with immense style, technical brilliance and emotional communication.” …