City gets Paris match

Tina May and  Nikki Iles
Tina May and Nikki Iles
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DURING the course of this year’s Music in the Round May Festival, Ensemble 360 and a few friends are in the most influential city in the history of music and crucible of artistic innovation generally – Paris.

It is not, though, a festival of music by French composers, although they are obviously much in evidence: Debussy’s name crops up seven times, Fauré’s six, Ravel’s and Poulenc’s both four times over 17 concerts between May 11 and May 19.

It’s a rather more cosmopolitan affair with non-French names regularly appearing such as Rossini, Donizetti, Boccherini, Mozart, Stravinsky; Brits Lennox Berkeley, Adela Maddison and Ethel Smyth and Americans George Gershwin and Cole Porter.

But they all have one thing in common: along with many more musicians they all lived, worked or studied for varying degrees of time in Paris.

The festival is accordingly presented with the sub-title The Extraordinary Musical Life of Paris attached to its main one, Les Nations, the title that François Couperin gave to four substantial trio sonatas in 1726 representing cosmopolitanism.

A couple of extracts from Les Nations are heard but the bulk of the music in the festival dates from the back end of 19th century onwards, some of it by composers who are far from household names.

To the already mentioned Ethel Smyth and Adela Maddison, both with major works being performed, can be added Louise Farrenc (two works on offer) and George Onslow, two first-rate French composers who have been heard in previous festivals.

There is piece by Joseph Kosma, a Hungarian who will not mean anything to anyone, but he penned a piece of music everyone knows as Autumn Leaves – not the piece being performed!

Among the women composers it is perhaps a little surprising not to find something by Germaine Tailleferre, while women exerted considerable influence in Paris, in particular, Nadia Boulanger with whom a who’s who of composers studied.

And complementing her was Winnaretta Singer, otherwise the Princesse Edmund de Polignac, whose salon was at the centre of artistic and creative Parisian life where anyone who was anyone was seen, including the likes of Proust, Cocteau and Diaghilev.

A concert in the festival recreates the salon, props and all, with actress Maggie Steed in the guise of Winnaretta, and another guest is celebrated jazz chanteuse Tina May and her trio, including pianist Nikki Iles.

The Elias Quartet return for two concerts, one with members of Ensemble 360 taking in the wonderful Wagnerian excesses of Chausson’s Concert in D and Enescu’s Octet for strings, and Peter Hill joins forces with Tim Horton for Stravinsky’s four-handed piano version of The Rite of Spring.

Accordionist Phuong Nguyen is in tango mode when the festival decamps to the City Hall Ballroom for a Parisian café day, which includes optional tango and wine-tasting workshops, on May 13.

All other concerts and events take place in the Crucible Studio.