Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘St John’s Smith Square’

On the Theme of Islands

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 9th May, 2017

Europe Day concert 2017The annual Europe Day concert in St. John’s Smith Square is always an emotional occasion for me. Although I abandoned any ambition for a musical career in my early teens, music still has the ability to move me more than any other art form. So strong is its influence that I cannot write with music on in the background, as it distracts my mind from the task at hand. But it’s not just the music that stirs my emotions on Europe Day; my belief in the European project is unshaken, while arguing that the EU should certainly reform — as many political leaders on the continent, such as the European Commission’s Foreign Affairs supremo, Federica Mogherini, now concede. And yes, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy does sometimes bring tears to my eyes. How brave Emmanuel Macron was to use that European anthem for his victory celebration in the Louvre on Sunday, rather than the Marseillaise! Would even Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron dare to do that in the UK? I have attended several Europe Day concerts and for me tonight’s programme beat all previous offerings. The Maltese presidency chose a subject thread for the evening: Music on the Theme of Islands — underlining not only Malta’s maritime history but also the situation of the British Isles, too. There was a brilliant selection of both orchestral and choral music, from Sibelius’s The Tempest to Martinú’s Ariane. Of course, there was an added edge to this evening’s concert as everyone was aware that it might be the penultimate occasion of its kind, assuming Britain leaves the EU by the end of March 2019. In common with many people in the church this evening, I find that a matter of immense sadness. But while I would prefer to stop Brexit in its tracks it is absolutely vital that a Hard Brexit is avoided and that the UK maintains as close a connection with the EU27 as possible.


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Europe Day Concert

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 9th May, 2014

European Youth OrchestraEurope DayAs Greece currently holds the six-monthly rotating European Council presidency there was a Greek theme to tonight’s Europe Day concert in St John’s, Smith Square. The programme included two lively folkloric dances by the 20th century Greek composer, Nikos Skalkottas (1904-1949), but most of the other works drew their inspiration from classical Greek legends and literature. Thus we heard extracts from Monteverdi’s Orfeo, Gluck’s Alceste and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, among others. The Richard Strauss Interlude added to to Mozart’s Idomeneo in 1931 was a novelty for me; apparently in Strauss’s time the original opera was considered a bit serious and dated. The combination was certainly intriguing. As ever, the European Youth Orchestra, conducted by Dominic Wheeler, was of a phenomenally high standard and four young singers — Monica Bantos, Elsa Galasio, Sophie Rennert (who I’d heard previously performing at Europe House) and Camille Tresmontant — enchanted, not least in a comparatively frivolous Offenbach Finale. Beethoven’s ODE to Joy (the European anthem) rounded off the evening, with the entire audience rising to their feet. It was enough to give any UKIP supporters in the church an apoplexy, but I guess there were none. And I am sure I was not alone in rejoicing in the display of the flags of all the EU member states flying in Parliament Square as I made my way home.

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Wexford Opera in Concert

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 5th March, 2013

Mariangela SiciliaSt John's Smith Square 1Since its founding in 1951 the Wexford Festival Opera has served as a home for lost operas, breathing new life into works that have long been gathering dust on the shelves. Although I have never been over to see the festival for myself, I have been a strong supporter of the concept and have enjoyed the tales of friends who did go and sometimes experienced its characteristically Irish organisation. In recent years it has boasted a new theatre, which has raised the professional bar for productions, though it always had a reputation for finding and nurturing new musical talent. There are many Friends of Wexford Festival Opera in the UK and there have been annual concert performances in London, but tonight’s was the first to be held in the prestigious St John’s, Smith Square, with its imposing surroundings and superb acoustics. This was doubling fitting as Ireland currently presides over the European Union and the headquarters of the European Commission Representation in the UK and European Parliament are also in Smith Square, at Europe House. Small wonder that the concert and its pre-reception were packed. In keeping with the Wexford informal spirit, there was no programme for the evening’s concert and at times it was difficult to make out what the very gifted pianist/repetiteur and in effect compere of the evening, Rosetta Cucchi, was announcing. But the music, with her on piano and the tenor Daniel Szeili and soprano Mariangela Sicilia singing, was splendid. Ms Sicilia merits special mention as she has one of the most powerful and affecting voices I have heard for quite a long time and deserves wide acclaim.


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The Castle of Love on Europe Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 9th May, 2011

Franz Liszt wrote only one opera, Don Sanche or the Castle of Love, while aged 13. When the work had its premiere in Paris in 1825, there was a generous reception — particularly when the pint-sized composer was virtually carried on stage. But the libretto is preposterous even by 19th century opera standards and the music not that innovatory so the work was rarely performed afterwards before disappearing from view for a long period. As this is the bicentenary of Liszt’s birth, however, and Hungary currently presides over the EU, he was a fitting choice for tonight’s Europe Day concert at St John’s Smith Square. The European Opera Centre backed by the European Youth Orchestra under the baton of Laurent Pillot gave us some of the highlights of this often rather Mozartian curiosity. The concert was closed with the European Anthem, Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’, which brought the audeince to its feet and many a tear to the eye. Meanwhile, David Cameron may have small-mindedly refused to fly the European 12-star blue flag outside 10 Downing Street today, but Westminster Council, in contrast, used the flagpoles left over from the Royal Wedding to fly not only the European flag but those of all 27 member states.


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