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Wednesday 10th December 2014, 7:30pm

Harriet Mackenzie and Phillipa Mo

Retorica is a violin duo formed in 2007 by Philippa Mo and Harriet MacKenzie. ‘Retorica’ is the Italian feminine form of ‘rhetoric’ – artful persuasion. Once you have seen and heard them play, I am sure you will agree what a suitable name this is for them.  A violin duo is considered to be a rare ensemble but Retorica are becoming known for their commitment to establishing the genre. Bach and other composers show how much can be done with a solo violin, so it is no surprise that the violin duo can yield the riches vividly displayed by Retorica. In 2011, they toured China including concerts at the Beijing National Centre of the Arts and Shanghai Oriental Art Centre. In 2012 Retorica broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 In Tune and were artists in residence for the 2012 Presteigne festival city tour.

Notable composers who have written music for Retorica include John McCabe, Paul Pellay, Jim Aitchison, Robert Fokkens, Ben Ellin, Owen Bourne, David Matthews, Sadie Harrison and Dmitri Smirnov. As well as this new repertoire, Retorica perform duos by Mozart, Haydn, Jean-Marie Leclair, Henryk Wieniawski, Alan Rawsthorne, Eugène Ysaÿe, Prokofiev, Ligeti, Telemann, George Frideric Handel, Gorecki, Honegger, and also their arrangements of Bach Inventions and the famous folk-derived duos by Bartók. One of the most notable additions to Retorica’s repertoire is a new sonata written exclusively for them by Gabriel Prokofiev, premiered in March 2014 at ‘Live at LICA’ (Lancaster University). Our Concert Organiser Ken Geddes went to hear them there and was completely bowled over, both by their playing and their presentation – hence this engagagement.

Harriet Mackenzie has toured Europe, America and Japan as a soloist, recitalist and chamber musician. Harriet made her highly acclaimed Purcell room debut as part of the Park Lane Young Artists Series. Since then she has given recitals worldwide in prestigious venues such as the Wigmore Hall, Concertgebouw and Beers van Berlage Hall in Amsterdam, the Lysenko Hall of Marble Columns in Kyiv, the Marble Hall in Budapest and the Expo Dome in Japan. She premiered Robert Fokkens violin concerto, written and dedicated to her, at the Southbank Centre, London and in 2012 gave the premiere of Graham Coatman’s violin concerto at the Swaledale Festival, which was also written and dedicated to her. Harriet regularly performs concertos both in England and abroad.  She has broadcast recitals ‘live’ for BBC Radio 3, Classic FM and for Hungarian National Radio.

Harriet studied at the Royal Academy of Music graduating with first class honours, MMus and Dip RAM – the highest award for graduates. She is a recipient of awards from the Tillett Trust, The Manoug Parikian Award, Hattori Foundation.

“Searing intensity…. A performance full of panache… captivating” – The Strad
“vibrantly intense yet hypnotic playing.” – The Strad, Edward Bhesania
“A knock-out from start to finish.” – The Guardian

Philippa Mo studied at the Royal Academy of Music, and at the Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing with Professor Lin Yao Ji. Her studies were supported by the Belmore Woodgate Scholarship and the Countess of Munster Musical Trust. Since finishing her research studies culminating in the award of an MMus degree, Philippa now performs extensively as a chamber musician. She has given concerto and chamber performances all over Europe; including her acclaimed debut at the Wigmore Hall, the premiere of the revised Fugue Refractions by Jim Aitchison at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, the Beethoven Series at St John’s, Smith Square, and performances at the Deutsches Museum, Munich, Ulaan Bataar, the Centre for Contemporary Art, Glasgow, the Barbara Hepworth Museum and The Tate St Ives in the UK and televised performances in Turkey as part of the Ankara International Music Festival with Orkestra@Modern.

She was invited as the only British musician to participate as soloist in the International Music Festival of Contemporary Music, Mongolia in 2002 where she gave a programme of new British works in the State Opera and Ballet Theatre and the Palace of Culture, Ulaan Bataar and also amongst the dunes of the Gobi Desert and at Erdene Zuu Khiid, the capital of Genghis Khan. A champion of contemporary music, Philippa has given recital/discussions and workshops on British music at the Central Conservatory, Beijing and at Bilkent and Hacettep Universities in Ankara, Turkey. She also regularly returns to coach students of the Kurmangazy National Conservatory of Kazakhstan in Almaty where she has given televised interviews and performance of British contemporary music. Philippa plays a violin by Julius Cesare Gigli from 1786.

“…thought provoking and exciting…” – Musicweb, 2004
“A little cracker” – The Times, Richard Morrison
“Carried off with exquisite point and finesse” – The Independent

Click here to hear them play. No wonder Ken was bowled over!

Gabriel Prokofiev was born in 1975 to an English mother and Russian father Oleg Prokofiev and is the grandson of the 20th-century composer Sergei Prokofiev.  He studied composition at both Birmingham and York universities, but eschewed classical music for electronica  and became a composer of garage music and producer of Dance, Electro & Hip-hop music under a variety of different guises.  He founded the independent record label Nonclassical in 2003 and returned to his classical roots, composing String Quartet No. 1 for the Elysian Quartet.  His other compositions include two further String Quartets, a collection of piano pieces, Piano Book, and his most recent composition, the Sonata for Two Violins. Since the performance in Lancaster, Gabriel has added a fourth movement and it is this completed version that we are to hear played by Retorica.

Click here to read an interview with Gabriel and for a video of extracts from the premiere of  his Cello Concerto


Telemann ~ Sonata for two violins, No.5 in B minor
Mozart ~ Sonata in G major, K.739
Moeran ~ Sonata in A major for two viooins
Gabriel Prokofiev ~ Sonata in C major for two violins, Op.56
J S Bach ~ Two-part inventions, Nos. 2, 6 & 8
Handel/Halvorsen ~ Passacaglia