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Thursday 22 February 2024 at 7:30 pm
at St Mary's Church, Barnes

Seeking Utopia

A programme of words and music with author/narrator Jessica Duchen, award-winning pianist Viv McLean and violist Shiry Rashkovsky, performing works by Vaughan Williams, Holst, Clarke, Delius, Korngold and Bloch 



Seeking Utopia tells the story of the unlikely friendship between the composer Vaughan Williams, a stalwart of English classical music, and the violist Lionel Tertis, son of an impoverished Jewish East End cantor. Their musical connection transcended religious, cultural and socioeconomic borders, bringing together two very different worlds.


Featuring music by Holst, Clarke, Delius, Korngold, Bloch and Vaughan Williams, this narrated concert makes an impassioned plea for unity and transcendence in our own time.


Jessica Duchen writes for and about music, dividing her time between fiction, stage works and journalism.

She contributes to the i, the Sunday Times, the Evening Standard, BBC Music Magazine and the JC, among others, and was classical music correspondent for The Independent from 2004 to 2016.

As a librettist she has written numerous texts for choral works and operas for the composer Roxanna Panufnik, including Silver Birch, commissioned by Garsington Opera and shortlisted for an International Opera Award in 2018. Her libretti for two works for Garsington Youth Opera are based on stories by Oscar Wilde: The Happy Princess with composer Paul Fincham (2019) and The Selfish Giantwith John Barber, premiered in summer 2021 and going to its co-commissioner, Opera North, in 2022.

Her novel Immortal (2020) is based on the latest research into the identity of Beethoven’s mysterious ‘immortal beloved’. Ghost Variations tells the astonishing story of the Schumann Violin Concerto’s bizarre discovery in the 1930s. Odette is a magical-realist modern fairy tale. Among her earlier books, Alicia’s Gift is about a child prodigy trying to grow up, and Hungarian Dances the saga of a family of violinists through the 20th century.

She often performs her own narrated concerts and concert dramas. Some are based on my novels, including Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved, Ghost Variations, Alicia’s Gift, Hungarian Dancesand Odette. Musicians she has worked with include violinists David Le Page, Fenella Humphreys and Bradley Creswick, and pianists Viv McLean and Margaret Fingerhut. Being Mrs Bach is a concert drama about the life of Anna Magdalena, with Steven Devine (harpsichord) and a choice line-up of colleagues.

Other work includes biographies of the composers Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Gabriel Fauré and a play, A Walk Through the End of Time, introducing Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time.

Work in progress includes a new book for the London Chamber Orchestra’s centenary-plus, for publication in 2022, and a biography of the great pianist Dame Myra Hess, for Kahn & Averill. A new opera with Roxanna Panufnik, Dalia, is in the pipeline for Garsington 2022 and a new narrated concert, Seeking Utopia, commissioned by the violist Shiry Rashkovsky, will coincide with the Vaughan Williams anniversary in 2022.

Jessica was born within the sound of Bow Bells, studied music at Cambridge and lives in London with her husband and two cats. She loves theatre, playing the piano, cookery, hiking and deliciously obscure books about music.

Described by Le Monde as "possessing the genius one finds in those who know how to forget themselves", since winning First Prize at the Maria Canals Piano Competition in Barcelona, British pianist Viv McLean has performed in all the major venues in the UK as well as throughout Europe, Japan, Australia and the USA. Viv’s concerto work includes appearances with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Halle Orchestra, English Chamber Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, Sinfonia Viva, Orchestra of the Swan, Orchestra of St John’s, Northern Chamber Orchestra, Scottish Concert Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of such conductors as Daniel Harding, Wayne Marshall, John Lubbock, Christopher Warren-Green, Owain Arwell Hughes, Philip Hesketh, David Charles Abell, Stephen Bell, Carl Davis, Rebecca Miller and Marvin Hamlisch.


Recent concerto highlights include Mozart K467 with the ECO at the Royal Festival Hall, Grieg with the LPO at the Barbican, Rachmaninov’s 3rd Concerto with the RPO in Cambridge, Gershwin, Bernstein, de Falla and Ravel with the Hallé at the Bridgewater Hall, The Sage Gateshead and other venues in the North of England, and Beethoven's 5th Concerto with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall. Engagements in the coming months include a tour with the London Concert Orchestra playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in venues including the Royal Festival Hall London, Symphony Hall Birmingham, Bridgewater Hall Manchester, Usher Hall Edinburgh and the Royal Concert Hall Glasgow. Viv will also be doing a series of words & music concerts with the acclaimed writer, Jessica Duchen, featuring works by Beethoven and based on her new novel “Immortal”. 

Viv plays regularly with the Adderbury Ensemble and the Le Page Trio and has also performed with other leading chamber groups such as the Ysaye String Quartet, the Sacconi String Quartet, members of the Elias, Allegri, Tippett String Quartets and Leonore Piano Trio, Ensemble 360, the Galliard Wind Ensemble, the Bristol Ensemble, the Berkeley Ensemble and the Leopold String Trio. He has collaborated with musicians such as Natalie Clein, Marianne Thorsen, Daniel Hope, Lawrence Power, Mary Bevan, David Le Page, Matthew Sharp, Guy Johnston, Ruth Rodgers, Kate Gould, Clare O'Connell, Alice Neary, Adrian Brendel, Fenella Humphreys and many others.

He has performed at numerous festivals including the Cheltenham International Festival, Buxton Festival, Music in the Round Festival and Harrogate International Festival in the UK, the International Beethoven Festival, the Mecklenburg Festival and the Kultur Kreis Festival in Germany, the Festival International de Musique Classique d’Aigues-Mortes, the Melle Festival and Festival de Saintes in France, the Vinterfestspill i Bergstaden in Norway and the Musik vid Kattegatt Festival in Sweden. Since 2014, Viv has been pianist-in-residence at the Glossop Festival.

Viv studied from an early age with Ruth Nye and, after attending Chetham’s School of Music, he went on to study at the Royal Academy of Music with Hamish Milne and Maria Curcio. At the Academy he held the Hodgson Fellowship and was made an Associate of the Royal Academy in 2005. He made his Wigmore Hall recital debut through winning the Friends of the Royal Academy Wigmore Award. Whilst studying at the Academy, he was the winner of the piano competition at the Royal Overseas-League Music Competition and was selected as one of the winners of the National Federation of Music Societies' Young Artists Competition. 

Viv made his BBC Radio 3 recital debut through the BBC Radio 3 Young Artists Forum scheme and has also recorded for Classic FM, WDR Radio in Germany, Radio France, ABC Radio in Australia, NRK Radio in Norway and for the Sky Arts television channel. His commercial releases include recordings for such labels as Sony, Naxos, Nimbus, RPO Records, ICSM Records, Harmony & Imagination Records and his most recent releases are a Chopin recital and a selection of live recordings for Stone Records.


Lauded by The Strad for her ‘thrilling and exuberant’ Royal Festival Hall debut, Shiry Rashkovsky pursues an international and diverse career.

Her recording of Kate Whitley’s Viola Concerto (dedicated to her) with the Multi-Story Orchestra and Christopher Stark for NMC Recordings was hailed as ‘fearless’ by the Guardian, while her EP, ‘Erlkönig/Erl-King’ (October House Records), which presents a feminist retelling of the Erlking legend and includes a new commission by Héloïse Werner in celebration of 30 years to Angela Carter’s death, was featured on BBC Radio 3’s ‘New Music Show’. She regularly performs in the world’s greatest concert halls, and has broadcast for BBC1, 2 and 4, WQXR, and RAI.

In demand as a chamber musician, Shiry is invited to international festivals including Prussia Cove Open Chamber Music, where she has performed with Adrian Brendel, Ian Brown, Thomas Gould, Viviane Hagner, Pekka Kuusisto, Min Jin Kym and David Waterman. She has broadcast live in ensemble with Shmuel Ashkenasi, Atar Arad, Stephan Barratt-Due, Vadim Gluzman, Rudolf Koelman, Shlomo Mintz, and has featured in Cadogan Hall’s ‘Rising Stars’ series. She is a founding member of Trio Klein whose groundbreaking ‘80s Night’ programme, which draws inspiration from night clubs by juxtaposing works from a diverse range of genres written in the same decade from Gubaidulina to Duran Duran, has been featured on BBC Radio 3. This season, they have been lecturing at University of Surrey in collaboration with the Music Department; next season sees their German debut.


Shiry is the founder and Artistic Director of Up Close and Musical festival, which in its inaugural year, 2021, featured some of the biggest names in the classical, jazz and electronica scenes. The festival focuses on artists’ individual narratives as a way of bringing audiences closer to their musical worlds, utilising a groundbreaking concert format which incorporates a mid-performance interview and continued engagement with artists in an intimate setting at Fidelio Café in Clerkenwell. Featured in Classical Music Magazine, the Strad, BBC Radio 3, Scala Radio and other major outlets, the festival has enjoyed sold-out performances by genre-defying artists including Abel Selaocoe, Hélöise Werner, Gabriel Prokofiev, Chloë Hanslip, Chi-chi Nwanoku, Alice Zawadzki, Huw Watkins, Clare Hammond, Misha Mullov-Abbado.

Committed to bringing a fresh perspective to programming, Shiry commissioned author and librettist Jessica Duchen to write and narrate a words-and-music programme in celebration of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s 150th. ‘Seeking Utopia’ focuses on RVW’s unique friendship with pioneering Jewish violist Lionel Tertis, which crossed cultural, religious and economic borders to generate some of the greatest viola music of the 20th century. Performance highlights include Three Choirs Festival and Conway Hall, and the programme has been covered in The Strad and on Scala Radio.

Sharing her expertise with aspiring young musicians, Shiry teaches viola at Royal Holloway, University of London and has given masterclasses internationally. She read Social and Political Sciences at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, and obtained her MMus and ArtDip at RCM, studying with Natasha Boyarska and Ian Jewel.


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