In this striking modern update, set to words by Simon Armitage and music by Matthew Kaner, the children are refugees and the fairytale is a nightmare

Guardian ★★★★ (July 2018)

 ‘Not a sugary dream, but a nightmare in eight scenes: make no bones about poet Simon Armitage’s contemporary retelling of the tale most familiar in the Brothers Grimm version. Hansel and Gretel’s plight becomes that of child refugees, whose parents’ agonising decision is to abandon their offspring to give them their only chance of surviving war. Armitage took his cue from the darkly imaginative illustrations by artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins, who has now translated those original visions into a puppet show with new music by Matthew Kaner. In this premiere performance at the Chelteneham Festival staged by Goldfield Productions, what appeared at first to be a slight, small-scale affair in the end resonated altogether more deeply.

Kaner’s quintet of players – strings, wind and toy pianos – were arranged on either side of a screen whose animated shadow play featured first the parents and then the ravenous craw of the archaeopteryx-like witch. On the central trestle table were Hansel and Gretel, wooden puppets barely a foot high that were manipulated by Diana Ford and Lizzie Wort. It was the intimacy of tiny gestures offering expressive detail, in turn mirroring Kaner’s musical mood, that spoke volumes. Armitage’s words are the constantly shining white pebbles guiding the piece; his final verbal riff on light and dark will be even better savoured on the published page Narrator Adey Grummet – twice bursting into sung lines – emphasised the mix of humour and satire with the moments of dystopian horror, making this an all too timely reminder of some children’s living, waking, starving nightmare. (Rian Evans, full review)

This familiar text has been reimagined as a narration peppered with virtuosic wordplay and black humour

The Times – Hansel & Gretel (July 2018)

Those who find Humperdinck’s 19th-century operatic version of Hansel and Gretel almost as sickly-sweet as the witch’s gingerbread house might enjoy this very 21st-century take on the fairytale, which is less tuneful but a great deal darker.

Superbly spoken and very occasionally sung by Adey Grummet, the familiar text has been reimagined too. The poet Simon Armitage has turned it into a 65-minute narration peppered with virtuosic wordplay, black humour and some startlingly earthy similes.

Scored for a rather sombre combination of viola, cello, cor anglais, horn and clarinet, with a tinkle of toy piano ironically sprinkled here and there, the music certainly matches the sinister implications of Armitage’s story… projected with admirable finesse by the Goldfield Ensemble. The puppetry is fascinating, and there’s one good visual gag. When the kids are being fattened up for the kill we notice a tin of food labelled Heinzel und Gretel. (Richard Morrison, extract from review)

Little life theatre blog: Hansel & Gretel

Producer, Kate Romano’s new UK tour is a performance of layers, harmonising the talents across all areas of the arts: Clive Hicks-Jenkins, provided the visual direction, inspired by Simon Armitage’s re-write of the Classic fairytale. Hicks-Jenkins marries stunningly precise and delicate use of table-top puppets in front of a screen that projected a close up live-filming of the puppetry enhanced by paper-cut graphic design sequences. A true multi-media spectacle.

Armitage’s poetry is delivered by narrator and opera singer, Adey Grummet, who arrives on stage with a magical book that lights-up upon opening and battles for attention with the cheeky children, putting a clear stamp of style on the production as a whole. This, she exudes, is not a children’s tale for the weak or faint of heart.

The spoken word is enhanced by the evocative strains of the five piece chamber orchestra. The compositional work of Matthew Kaner combines the use of clarinets, a horn, a cello and cor anglais with percussion from toy pianos which chime in with the patter of unsettling nursery rhymes and Grummet’s haunting operatic lilt.

The story is as grimly dark as the original. The telling is somewhat clunky, which renders it fittingly uneasy to listen to and, at times, naughty, intended to shock. But where the quirky and suggestive music ties the piece together, it is the skilled and emotive puppeteering that steals our hearts.

Jan Zalud’s creations (designed and commissioned by Hicks-Jenkins) are breathed into life by the masters of miniature subtlety, Diana Ford and Lizzie Wort. Ford and Wort lead us to be enchanted by the petty rivalry of the bickering siblings vying for the top bunk of the bed. The endearing poignance of the tender love that evolves between Hansel and Gretel results from the helpless plight of two vulnerable children lost in the woods but it is the timing and precision of Ford and Wort that guides us there. A touch, a look, even in miniature, speaks volumes.

The tour, ‘suitable for adults, teenagers and adventurous children over ten’, demands a level of patience from the observer. Parents should be under no illusion that this is a fun theatrical performance. It is a cultural demonstration of high level skill that requires both acceptance and appreciation of the arts so should be booked with this in mind. (full review)

“A tremendously moving performance…

the Goldfield Ensemble’s marathon labour of love produced several distinguished performances.”

Read the full review

Seen and Heard International, April 2015

‘Extremely impressive in both concerts of British chamber music, the playing of The Goldfield Ensemble was vibrant, full of concentration and commitment.   

Edmund Rubbra’s Piano Trio is a creature of its time, of post-war Cheltenham Festival commissions.  Spiritually nourishing music of intense soul-searching gravity, it is now ridiculously unfashionable.  John Ireland’s arresting, terse single movement Second Piano Trio was first performed at the end of the First World War.  It bears its composer’s fingerprints, though much of it is stark and sombre.  It is haunted by elusive march themes, as if killing fields are being recollected in semi-tranquillity. Frank Bridge’s grandiose Piano Quintet hails from a very different, world, an Edwardian world of comfort and opulence, before Europe was torn apart.  Here the piano vies with the string players as if in a concerto. There are, nevertheless, interludes of delicacy and the second movement has an electrifying central section.  James Sherlock scintillated at the keyboard.

In his essentially wistful Canzonetta, the clarinet plays with a gently rocking 6/8 theme of some distinction.  The programmes were completed by two works from Lydney-born composer Herbert Howells.  Both the Rhapsodic Quintet and the Piano Quartet display the rich chordal progressions that have made his choral music so popular.  The large-scale Quartet is dedicated to “the hill at Chosen”.  With its moments of ethereal beauty and sweeping lyricism, it palpably evokes a sense of peace.

“Vibrant, wistful and full of concentration and commitment.”

Colin Burrow, Gloucester Citizen, 21 April 2015

“…The marriage of music and film here attained perfection in terms of both aesthetic continuity and elegance.”

For new music at the Cheltenham Music Festival, the key phrase yesterday was “transfigured time”. Time in the sense of history, as two of the concerts directly explored, confronted, embraced and challenged contemporary music’s relationship with instruments, images and idioms from the past. The afternoon event at Parabola Arts Centre featured the Goldfield Ensemble and Langham Research Centre in a concert that unfolded as a long-form electroacoustic audiovisual meditation on these ideas.

Tristan Murail‘s short duet for clarinet and violin Les Ruines Circulaire set up an environment where focus and a united sense of purpose only gradually materialise, the players initially taking turns to ignore each other, until eventually falling over themselves in a joint cascade of overlapping arpeggios, before collapsing into a wretched sequence of ruins yet always retaining a lyrical heart (brilliantly nuanced by Nicola Goldscheider and Kate Romano). Ricercare una Melodia by Jonathan Harvey, composed in 1985, above all reminded one how long it’s been that composers have been using electronics to respond to acoustic instruments, and how challenging it is to come up with genuinely successful results, as Harvey does. Here, Romano’s clarinet seemed to be releasing more and more tendrils of melody around her, communing a language of electroacoustic interaction that was complex in nature but simple in syntax.

Leaps and bounds beyond all of these, though, was the world première of Singularity by Kathy Hinde. The marriage of music and film here attained perfection in terms of both aesthetic continuity and elegance. Norwegian artist Solveig Settemsdal‘s visuals were utterly mesmerising and impossible to resolve, featuring a large globular agglomeration of some kind of matter–liquid or fabric or feathers or something–that pulsed, shivered, hovered, struggled, and evolved, like a glutinous, biological and altogether more placid version of Alex Rutterford’s Gantz Graf. Hinde’s music was similarly amorphous and behaviourally limited, forming a vaporous texture of shifting densities (including delightful intrusions from the bowed and tickled innards of toy pianos), ethereal, ephemeral, excruciatingly wonderful, like a cross between high ambient and a tantric orgasm. Those wanting a taste can experience it in various locations in the coming months.

5:4 review | Cheltenham Festival 9th July 2016

‘ Ritual in Transfigured Time consists of a 1946 film by Maya Deren set to a 2016 score by Arlene Sierra. What begins as a fly-on-the-wall video showing the day-to-day events of an anonymous female protagonist ends as thrashing choreography, the music following every development of the film, almost as though it had been composed as a soundtrack. The result was an example of how much more powerful sound and visuals can be in their own right, when united in intent’
The Cusp Magazine | OVADA Gallery 30 September 2016

“….. a wonderful concert from the Goldfield Ensemble.”

St Johns Smith Square, March 2015

“Stuffed full of musical delights…

a brilliant and remarkable afternoon.”

Read the full review

Local Secrets Cambridge, December 2014

“Goldfield Ensemble; Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, York UniversityNow that we are (at last) less diffident about our own music, English programmes are becoming increasingly popular. The Goldfield, barely three years old as a group but of slightly riper years as individuals, are already specialists in this area. They appeared on Wednesday as a piano quintet.To the advertised Ireland, Bridge and Elgar, they added a zesty string trio by William Alwyn, written in 1959. Its four movements are uneven, but the central two benefited from the Goldfield’s rhythmic vitality and precise chording respectively.Elsewhere Alwyn’s deliberate severity was never less than absorbing: his day will come.Bridge’s Piano Quintet, completed in 1912, stands fascinatingly with one foot in its own century and one in the 19th. The Goldfield brought warmth and passion, not just to its skittish central scherzo, but to its three adagios, and engineered a smooth accumulation of tension in the finale.The whimsical changes in Ireland’s Second Piano Trio reflect its origins in the First World War. Its brooding opening bars colour the whole piece. Such was the Goldfield’s conviction that it emerged as a coherent set of variations.In contrast, Elgar’s Piano Quintet is altogether sunnier, dating from the immediate post-First World War years. Here the group was especially alive to its spirit of dance. Claire Hammond worked wonders of restraint in the elaborate piano role.The Adagio might have been less leisurely, but its ending was properly sinister.” Read the full review.

“The Goldfield is a group to watch.”

February 2014 in Music news and reviews, York Press By Martin Dreyer

Dai Fujikura  – Flare (Minabel label)

“Halcyon (2011) for clarinet and string trio is played by the Goldfield Ensemble. A high solo clarinet surrounded by strenuous strings, with burst of energy alternating with stasis. The clarinet writing uses advanced phonics, often over Fujikura’s beloved plucked strings. In the piece the composer wanted the music to sound as if manipulated using electronics, and it does…….Fujikura explores his chosen forces to their limits taking his players to the edge. And all respond brilliantly giving a series of fascinating performances. Fujikura does not write easy music, each piece on the disc requires care and attention from both performers and listeners. But the results can be magical” Read the full review

Planet Hugill – A World of Classical Music

“Two brilliant clarinet quintets by Mozart and Brahms

played with superb style.”

West Norfolk News, June 2013