Come to ‘A Moonlight Christmas’ in Cambridge!
Published November 2023
As Advent approaches, I am very much looking forward to participating in ‘A Moonlit Christmas’ – a captivating concert featuring the Moonlight Mandolin Orchestra and the Moonshot Ensemble.
The programme showcases a delightful selection of Christmas music, evoking the magic and joy of the holiday season.
19:30, Saturday 2 December 2023
Histon Baptist Church
Cambridge CB24 9NL
Tickets are available via Eventbrite or on the door. Doors open at 19:00. All are welcome and the venue is wheelchair-accessible.
Copies of the Moonlight Mandolin Ensemble’s first CD, Moonbeams, will also be on sale. Something for the Christmas stocking, perhaps?
Cambridge4Ukraine concert helps fund Saturday School
Published October 2023
I’m delighted to report that the recent ‘Concert in aid of Cambridge4Ukraine’, held at Downing Place URC Church in Cambridge on 22 September 2023, was a great success. The event, in which a number of musicians from the Cambridge scene participated, raised £1,852.09 towards the creation of a Cambridge4Ukraine Saturday School for Ukrainian children now living in Cambridge.
It was a pleasure and a privilege to take part in this warm-hearted evening of great music. My thanks go to everyone who contributed in their various ways, and especially, of course, to Roland Gallery and Evelyn Nallen of the Jonathan Steffen Trio and to Rowena Sudbury, Elizabeth O’Beirne-Ranelagh, Bob Brisley and Anna Langley of the Moonshot Mandolin Ensemble. The Moonshot Mandolin Ensemble was founded this year by five members of the Moonlight Mandolin Orchestra of Cambridge, and this was our debut performance, playing the Rio de Janeiro Suite by Jürg Kindle.
A big thank-you to everyone who made this memorable event possible, and we’re all looking forward to the next concert!
‘The Falcon to the Falconer’ in EMS Poetry Playlist
Published October 2023
I am very pleased and not a little surprised at the inclusion of my poem ‘The Falcon to the Falconer’ in the recently published ‘EMC Poetry Playlist: Contemporary voices for the classroom’ (ISBN: 978-1-906101-71-8).
In the words of the publisher, The English & Media Centre, “EMC Poetry Playlist is an anthology of approximately 130 contemporary poems for 11–16 year olds. The collection is designed to excite students’ interest in reading, writing and talking about poems – both in the classroom and beyond. The anthology has diversity at its heart – a diversity of voices, identities, experiences and approaches.”
Written in Berlin in May 1982 when I was travelling on the Harper-Wood Studentship for English Poetry and Literature, awarded by St John’s College, Cambridge, this poem first appeared in The Spectator on 19 September 1992 and was reprinted two years later in ‘Poem for the Day: 366 Poems, Old and New, Worth Learning by Heart, Ed. Nicholas Albery, Sinclair-Stevenson 1994’ (reprinted Chatto & Windus 2000 and 2001). I recently included a musical setting of it on my album ‘Histories of the Heart’ (Syemusic 2022).
My thanks go to The English & Media Centre for reprinting this poem, and to everyone who has taken an interest in in over the years. I hope that some of today’s students will enjoy it too.
by Jonathan Steffen
Raffaele La Ragione Mandolin on Stage: The Greatest Mandolin Concertos
Outhere Music 2022
First published in The British BMG Federation Newsletter, Issue 105, Summer 2023.
The front cover of Raffaele La Ragione’s latest CD shows the artist holding out a Lombard mandolin with both hands as he looks the viewer straight in the eyes. “This is the hero,” the image seems to say: “this small, exquisite and indescribably expressive instrument.”
It is a wonderfully chosen advertisement for a marvellous recording. Joining forces with the orchestra ‘Il Pomo d’Oro’ conducted by Francesco Corti, La Ragione here presents the listener with a sparkling showcase encapsulating everything the mandolin is capable of on stage. Given the fact that some of the greatest exponents of, and composers for, the instrument spent their lives trying to assert the mandolin’s validity as a fully-fledged orchestral and solo instrument, this undertaking is long overdue. La Ragione places the mandolin centre stage in the concert hall – and the result is dazzling.
Or rather: He places three different mandolins centre stage, each chosen to interpret specific periods of the instrument’s evolution. A six-course Lombard mandolin, a four-course Neapolitan mandolin and a four-string Brescian mandolin are variously deployed to articulate the compositional universes of Antonio Vivaldi (1678– 1741), Baldassare Galuppi (1706–1785), Giovanni Piaisello (1740–1816), Francesco Lecce (fl. 1750–1806), Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) and Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778–1837). As we listen, we move from the intimacy of Baroque chamber music to the grandeur of the 19th-century concert hall, marvelling at the grace, sensitivity and brio of La Ragione’s playing, the sweet ensemble of Il Pomo d’Oro, and the remarkably compelling voice of this small, precise and irrepressibly expressive instrument.
Mandolin on Stage has deservedly garnered many awards since its release, and is likely in years to come to be viewed as a milestone in the history of mandolin recordings. Lovers of the mandolin, lovers of the Baroque, lovers of classical music – in fact, all who love the mysterious magic of what a plectrum can do to a string – are urged to listen to this wonderful CD, and also to explore some of the splendid recordings on https://www.raffaelelaragione.com/.