On Saturday 18th January 2020 I performed as part of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.2 at King’s College Chapel in Cambridge for the Cambridge University Music Society . Andrew Gourlay conducted members of the Cambridge University Sinfonia and Wind Orchestra and the massed collegiate choirs of Clare, Gonville and Caius, Jesus and Selwyn Colleges. Elin Pritchard sang the soprano solo and I sang the alto solo.
The first rehearsal was the night before the concert and it was a privilege just to spend time with everyone – listening to Mahler’s incredible music in the stunning chapel and hearing the young players and singers, who worked so hard, under Andrew’s inspiring guidance!
Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, also known as the Resurrection Symphony, was written between 1888-94 (first performed in 1895). The Symphony was one of Mahler’s most popular and successful works during his lifetime and established his enduring reflection on life, death and the beauty of resurrection.
Mahler wrote of the first movement (Allegro maestoso), “We stand by the coffin of a well loved person. His life, struggles, passions and aspirations once more, for the last time, pass before our mind’s eye. And now in this moment of gravity and emotion which convulses our deepest being… our heart is gripped by a dreadfully serious voice… what now? What is this life – and this death? Do we have an existence beyond it? Is all this only a confused dream, or do life and death have a meaning?” One of the most powerful aspects of this work is that the fundamental human questions asked in the first movement of the symphony will receive their answers by the last. (With tidal-waves of emotions in between – just like life!) The second movement (Andante moderato) is a nostalgic reflection of happier times, along with bittersweet episodes and the third movement contemplates the possibility of the meaningless nature of life.
At the time he was composing the symphony Mahler was also setting music to some poems from the anthology of 300 years of folk literature, and the fourth movement of the symphony includes one of my most favourite songs; “Urlicht” (primeval light). This song was not originally intended to be a part of the Symphony and is taken from Mahler’s ‘Des Knaben Wunderhorn’ songs with piano accompaniment which were composed in 1892 and are based on a collection of poems by L. A. von Arnim and Clemens Brentano. ‘Urlicht’ is written in the key of D flat major which creates an otherworldly moment, taking us to a realm away from the Symphony’s overall tonality of C minor. ‘Urlicht’ is an expression of the ‘need’ and ‘pain’ of Man and it ultimately ensures the empty, meaningless dimension that Mahler portrays in the third movement is not the end. Through courage and belief in choosing to follow God’s guiding light – we are led to the divine final movement and the conclusion of the Symphony.
I’ve loved listening to and singing Mahler since I first heard his music while I was at studying at Music College. As the years go on and life moves along, it becomes more meaningful and this piece is a guiding light in itself.
Mahler is quoted as saying, “A symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything.” Mahler gave us the world and more in this one!
The concert in Cambridge was performed in memory of Jamie Gardiner who died in January 2017 at the age of 22. It was incredibly special that Jamie’s father, Robert Gardiner, spoke to us all during a break in the rehearsal on the day of the concert. His support for the concert and tribute to Jamie was so moving – he expressed to us all beautifully how this piece in particular can help us to remember those we’ve loved and lost, and bring so much comfort and hope throughout our lives.
In 2016 Mahler’s original score for Symphony No.2 was sold at Sotheby’s of London for £4.5 million, the highest ever price for a musical manuscript sold at auction! For so many of us Mahler’s score and the moments we are gifted to spend with it are priceless.
Live at St Wilfrid’s is an annual series of live classical music concerts that take place at St Wilfrid’s Church – located, in a picturesque village on Church Lane, in the oldest part in Grappenhall, Warrington.
Grappenhall is not too far from both Liverpool and Manchester so it is always lovely to see so many friends and familiar faces there – I first sang for ‘Live at St Wilfrid’s’ in 2014 while I was still studying at Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester and returned again to perform a concert with Duncan Glenday in 2016.
This year’s concert took place on 7th September 2019 and Duncan and I were thrilled to return to perform a song recital. The programme included songs by the composers Schubert, Berlioz, R Strauss and concluded with English songs by Quilter, Vaughan Williams and songs from my most recent album by Eric Coates. Duncan also treated us to a beautiful piano solo of Brahms Intermezzo – Op118 No.2 in A major.
The concert at Grappenhall took place during the same weekend as the 70th anniversary of Richard Strauss’ death in Germany on 6th September 1949. It was also very special to sing songs by Hector Berlioz as this year marks 150 years since his death. Performing songs by both composers within the same programme was a special way of celebrating their music and keeping in mind the strong influence that the works of Berlioz had on R.Strauss.
“Strauss loved Berlioz’s last opera, and Cosima [Wagner] recommended ‘Les nuits d’été ’ to him. In December 1890 he went to Karlsruhe for Mottl’s performance of Les Troyens – ‘a mixture of stupefying nonsense and spine-tingling genius’, was his verdict, conveyed to his father.”Michael Kennedy ‘Richard Strauss: Man, Musician, Enigma’ p61
St Wilfrid’s Church has been the sole local Parish Church for the people of Grappenhall for 900 years and it is mainly a 16th Century building – constructed in local sandstone with parts of it dating back to the 12th century.
I loved seeing the knitted Mouse Trail throughout the church (I think it’s supposed to be for the children – but it was right up my street!:)) There is also a relief sculpture of a “Cheshire Cat” on the tower that watches over them all – and it is believed that this may have inspired the young Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), whose father was vicar of the nearby Daresbury church.
So it’s farewell to Live at St Wilfrid’s for this year – with huge thanks to everyone who came along to see us. Already looking forward to next time!
Scarborough Spa, Ryedale Festival
Every year, the Ryedale Festival welcomes outstanding performers from all over the world, both established and emerging, to perform a wide-ranging and distinctive programme in the many spectacular venues in and around Ryedale, North Yorkshire – an area full of history and natural beauty. Under the present Artistic Director, wonderful Christopher Glynn, the festival continues to go from strength to strength!
It was such an honour this year to be invited by the Festival to sing Elgar’s ‘Sea Pictures‘ in the wonderful setting of Scarborough Spa Grand Hall with Conductor Renato Balsadonna and the Orchestra of Opera North in July this year. The North Yorkshire coastline is my favourite – since I was a child we’ve had annual breaks here and it holds so many happy memories. To return to Scarborough and perform this beautiful piece right beside the sea was very special indeed!
This was my final concert before the Summer break with a lovely warm audience – when we came out of the Grand Hall to head home we were greeted by a spectacular firework display which was taking place on the sea front of the Scarborough bay. Perfect ending to a wonderful time!
Here’s the Blog I wrote about it all when I was gearing up for the performances with the orchestra of Opera North recently;
I am so thrilled to be performing Elgar’s incredible piece ‘Sea Pictures’ song cycle (Op 37) with The Orchestra of Opera North and conductor Ben Gernon at Huddersfield Town Hall on Sunday 25th February 2018.
My first experience of singing Elgar’s Sea Pictures was with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Ben in Elgar’s beloved town of Malvern in May 2016. It was so magical to have the opportunity to perform the songs there for the first time. It also happened to be the anniversary of Elgar’s death and members of the Elgar Society who were present invited me to a gathering the following day at his graveside in St Wulstan’s Church in Little Malvern. It made it all a very special memorable occasion and really gave me a beautiful insight into Elgar’s life and also the opportunity to meet lots of people who are passionate about celebrating Elgar’s music and his life too – the more I learn about him and his music it’s not hard to see why!
Sea Pictures are a set of five poems set to music
1.Sea Slumber Song
2. In Haven (Capri)
3. Sabbath Morning at Sea 4. Where Corals Lie
5. The Swimmer
Five contrasting, unique and stunning pictures that conjure up images of the magnitude and mystery of the sea – the moment when you look out to sea and it takes your breath away, seeing the horizon across the vast expanse of the water – at times
the wonder of the sea is indescribable. Elgar knew so well how to portray it through this music that captures our emotions and imagination. The songs are an adventure, full of moments as onlookers to observe the scene, to hold each other close through all weathers, discover an ethereal calm, reflect upon the mystical qualities of the landscape and contemplate the power of the crashing waves.
The texts are all by different poets and Elgar works a miracle conveying the power and beastly nature of the sea through his setting. I am so enamoured by this work because the music and text also convey so beautifully our own vulnerabilities. I feel this particularly though song 2 – ‘In Haven’ with the text written by Elgar’s wife Alice – it is perhaps the simplest of all the songs with 3 strophic verses and through it he allows us that special moment to treasure the intimacy and unity of two people. Throughout the work I feel we come face to face with nature versus love – ultimately for me I have found in these songs the story of a soul, full of that love and faith with the music always inspiring us to contemplate the whirlwind that is life and the galloping waves as we race against time. This work is a complete gift.
As part of my initial preparations with the piece, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to discuss the songs with the world renowned mezzo soprano Dame Janet Baker. I had previously worked with her in coaching on the RPS/ YCAT Phillip Langridge mentoring scheme and she very kindly agreed to speak with me about the songs. It was such an honour – I have long admired Dame Janet’s recording of the songs which I had listened to during my student days at Royal Northern College of Music. It was a dream come true to be able to discuss the score in detail with her, talk about the composers intentions and about how as singers we embark upon the interpretation and challenges of the piece.
It is always really inspiring to gain perspective and advice like this.. and to have the opportunity to reflect on it.. preferably for this piece somewhere by the sea (any excuse!). One of my very favourite places by the sea is on the North Yorkshire coast – Whitby! I have visited Whitby for many years with my family and spent lots of special times there. I never cease to be enthralled and inspired by the changing mood of the sea and landscape – I feel it is one of the most picturesque harbours in the UK. I’ve also spent some time with my Sea Pictures score and Elgar’s perfect soundtrack there! Like with any music, with any artist – year on year these are pieces that are growing with me. I am so grateful to have the chance at this moment in time to explore them.
Since my initial performance of Sea Pictures with orchestra, I have also performed the songs with piano accompaniment. Elgar himself performed the songs with piano on several occasions. Two of the songs were performed with piano accompaniment for Queen Victoria at Balmoral two weeks after their orchestral premier! Audiences have certainly enjoyed listening to the songs performed in intimate settings such as Pembroke College with pianist Joseph Middleton and in Dorchester Abbey with pianist James Baillieu and also at Leeds College of Music for a BBC Radio 3 broadcast. I am also excited to be performing the songs again with piano later this year this time with pianist Jonathan Fisher for the forthcoming Leeds Lieder Festival at Leeds College of Music in April 2018 and again with James Baillieu at the Portico Festival of Ards in Ireland in May 2018.
..So far I have resisted the temptation to wear a mermaid outfit complete with fishtail as Dame Clara Butt had done in the first performance of the songs at the Norwich Festival in 1989…(give it time!). I would have loved to have been there that night!! It is said that when Elgar first called on Dame Clara to discuss the work she was in the bath and refused to see him. Can you imagine!!
I can’t wait to perform the songs with the brilliant Orchestra of Opera North.
I have had the privilege of sharing some great times with them in past opera productions at the Leeds Grand Theatre and on tour and I am really looking forward to the forthcoming production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni too. It will be the “icing on the cake” to explore Sea Pictures together! I absolutely love performing English song repertoire and Elgar’s music has a special place in my heart that only grows stronger the more I get to know his music – he has brought me so much pleasure already in my life, as I know he does for so many people. So this will be a total joy to share this experience with the Orchestra of Opera North and the audience in Huddersfield as we ride the waves together!
About Scarborough Spa.. The Spa Complex is unique among British venues, not only because of its location; right on the sea front in the scenically beautiful South Bay, but also for the variety of facilities housed in what is largely a magnificent Victorian building. In the 17th century, spa waters were discovered by Thomasin Farrer, the wife of one of Scarborough’s leading citizens, John Farrer. She found natural spring water bubbling out beneath the cliff to the south of the town! The precursor to the present Scarborough Spa complex became a fashionable attraction. Scarborough Spa is a Grade II* listed building in the South Bay of Scarborough and the Grand Hall seats nearly 2,000 people.
Uppermill, Music Festival
I was so glad to be able to return to the Uppermill Summer Music Festival in July 2018 – I had a great afternoon (giving a ‘masterclass’ (never like that title!)) meeting two young students Caroline and Mia students from Junior Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. (I attended Junior RNCM on Saturdays (2002-04) such a great place to learn so many aspects of music and prepare for big college!!) We (well I did, and really hoping they did!) had lots of fun studying a Mozart aria and a Mahler song together in detail and they presented them so beautifully. It was great to hear from the audience members afterwards that they had enjoyed the insight into how detailed our approach is to learning, presenting and interpreting the pieces. It is exciting discovering that the smallest changes and choices can make a biggest impacts on music making and create really exciting performances. The masterclass was followed by performances by two of the Kathleen Ferrier Society Bursary winners Camilla Saba Davies and Jacobo Ochoa who sang beautifully for us.
I returned the following week to Uppermill to perform with Festival Director/pianist Duncan Glenday in a recital dedicated to remembering the legendary contralto Kathleen Ferrier who passed away 65 years ago. It was a real treat to sing many of the pieces that Kathleen had performed in the past including; Handel’s ‘Art thou Troubled,’ Schubert’s ‘An die Musik’ and with big thanks to Duncan and Garfield Jackson (viola) for the chance to perform Brahms’ beautiful 2 songs with viola during the evening. We also included some songs which the audience had voted for to listen to within the programme (which kept me on my toes!!) Thanks to everyone that voted:) It was such an honour to bring back happy memories of Kathleen’s choices of repertoire. St Chad’s Church is such a lovely venue and we had a packed audience for the evening who even gave us a standing ovation at the end!
Kathleen’s recording of ‘What is life’ was the first aria I ever listened to when I was about 15 years old– my wonderful singing teacher at school, Polly, first introduced me to opera and one day bought in an aria to school for me to have a look at ‘Che Faro Senza Euridice.’ I didn’t really know how I’d ever manage to sing an aria and the best starting point seemed to be to keep listening to it, lots! I really felt a connection to her singing and personality and playing through the record I found such a contrast of pieces – and began to grasp the joy of the ‘art of song’ and what it’s all about! Years later, during my second year at music college, I won a bursary from the Kathleen Ferrier Bursary Society competition and received the Joyce Budd prize – the greatest prize from that day was the friendships we made – I met and kept in touch with a wonderful lady Dorothy (her sister, Joyce Budd, was great friends with Winifred Ferrier) and also Kathleen’s goddaughter Kath and her husband Paul who are still such a support and great friends. I have always been really inspired having the close connection to Kathleen and an insight into her life – I always enjoy referring back to the books about her and the recordings she made. Her Letters and Diaries edited by Dr Christopher Fifield give a great insight into her life and also Winifred Ferrier’s book she achieved so much in a short time and she was so well loved. A few audience members at Uppermill remembered seeing her sing live and shared how wonderful she was – It must have been such an exciting time for music and she gave so much of herself to music and did it with such grace.. and humour! I would have so loved to have met her and been in the audience at her performances – the best I can do is to remember her though music and its the greatest honour to have been able to do that this week.
“The greatest thing in music in my life has been to know Kathleen Ferrier and Gustav Mahler – in that order.” That’s what the conductor Bruno Walter wrote after Ferrier’s death from breast cancer in 1953, at the age of just 41.
Most of us never saw #KathleenFerrier perform, but if you were lucky enough to be at #Uppermill Festival this week for @kathrynrudge ‘s Remembering Ferrier recital, you might believe you had. A fantastic selection of Ferrier repertoire sung by a very special voice. @KFSoc pic.twitter.com/Gp3iE9oo3H
— Tim Light (@light100) July 14, 2018
Liverpool, Our Lady’s Bishop Eton School
Thanks so much to Our Lady’s Bishop Eton School and music teacher Leighton Jones for inviting me into school this Summer! I loved meeting everyone and hearing the children sing at their special assembly with the whole school and staff in June 2018. It was fantastic to hear all about the music they are making together, the music activities happening during school-time and in after-school groups and trips to see performances. I was so inspired and encouraged to speak to so many of the pupils who were really enthusiastic in sharing with me that they are learning instruments and enjoying making their music making – With so much credit going to to the teachers and parents that help, support and encourage the children in doing this!
I love visiting schools and especially making music and speaking with the children; Pop, Opera and Disney songs – anything and everything – music is music and it all brings so much joy. It is amazing to know it can take just a moment to connect with the music, the words, the sound, the performance, the person, the heart and soul of it all – and that moment can open up a whole world of music that literally changes lives.
I remember finding loads of subjects and exams a big struggle at school – it wasn’t until I found music that I really felt like there was a subject I could enjoy and throw my heart and soul into. Performing helped me to build my confidence and eventually being guided through a structure of how to practise music taught me so much about the joy of learning and the reward of overcoming obstacles. Music and the people who supported me in pursuing this gave me the boost I needed to make more progress in my other lessons and activities at school. Looking back on it now – I was lost without music and I know there will be other children out there feeling the same. Sharing the importance of valuing music and participating in creative subjects at any age – but especially during crucial stages of childrens’ development means so much to me.
It is so rewarding to be able to provide support wherever I can to help people and organisations in making music an essential part of a curriculum and recognising its benefits as a core part of society.
There is everything to be gained from giving children the opportunity to discover, make and explore music more often together.
It’s awesome when you see the difference a dedication to sharing music together can make over years or just in one moment. I met a pupil from a Reception class who the teachers explained to me was really shy and didn’t usually speak at all or participate in anything – After hearing me singing with my ‘big voice’ and talking about being in operas – the pupil came over to me to sing to me some of their very own ‘opera notes!’ 🙂 …Watch this space!
Thanks to them all – days like these and meeting incredible staff and students are so rewarding and keep teaching me so much more about music and the positive impact it have in our life than I could have ever imagined.
Thank you @kathrynrudge for a truly wonderful afternoon. The children have been talking about what an amazing afternoon they have had. We are all looking forward to you coming again to @bishopeton https://t.co/1DDX5XFmMe
— BEMusic (@OLBEMusicroom) June 26, 2018
ELGAR, CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL
I feel really lucky to have performed Elgar’s wonderful ‘Dream of Gerontius’ in two magnicent historical chapels this year. Performing ‘Gerontius’ in Cambridge had been so memorable and I had to pinch myself again during the rehearsals in Canterbury Cathedral as I looked at the beautiful architecture all around me!
(The beautiful glass installation is by artists Philip Baldwin and Monica Guggisberg and is called ‘Under an Equal Sky’ – It is mould blown glass and steel blown – one hundred clear glass amphorae suspended in the shape of a ship in the Cathedral‘s Nave – each one represents a year of remembrance since 1918 in the shape of a ’Boat of Remembrance.’)
I had last spent time in Canterbury during my first year as a professional singer in 2012 touring with an opera for Glyndebourne in their production of Mozart’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’. I had been able to explore the beautiful town then and visted the Cathedral… I could never have dreamed I’d be singing Elgar’s Angel there! On 23rd June 2018 I performed with Andrew Staples (tenor) as Gerontius and Edward Grint (bass baritone) conducted by Richard Cook with the Philharmonic Orchestra and Canterbury Choral Society and Youth Choir.
Canterbury choral society as been led by their music director Richard Cooke since 1984 and the Canterbury Society Youth Choir was formed in 2007 and provides an amazing platform for young people – The Society performs four major concerts and hosts Family Carols at Christmas in Canterbury Cathedral every year. Canterbury Festival has invited Canterbury Choral Society to perform a major concert each year since the Festival’s launch in 1984. Find out more at their website
The Dream of Gerontius Op.38 was composed by Sir Edward Elgar in 1900 is a work for voices and orchestra in two parts. Elgar has gifted us the most magnificent and moving musical setting to the text of the poem by John Henry Newman – It’s a work that is literally ‘out of this world’ – and I love singing the part of the Angel!
A little bit of history about Canterbury Cathedral…
The Cathedral houses a Romanesque crypt dating back to the 11th century, a 12th century early Gothic Quire and a 14th century Perpendicular Nave. The beautiful medieval stained glass windows illustrate royal connections, bible stories and miracles and stories associated with Thomas Becket.
I stayed within the grounds of the Cathedral and it was such a stunning setting particularly as the cathedral is illuminated during the evening. It was great to be able to wander around the lovely gardens and cloisters when general visiting was over and everything was so peaceful.
St Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, arrived on the coast of Kent as a missionary to England in 597AD. He came from Rome, sent by Pope Gregory the Great. He established his seat within the Roman city walls (the word cathedral is derived from the the Latin word for a chair ‘cathedra’, which is itself taken from the Greek ‘kathedra’ meaning seat.) and built the first cathedral there, becoming the first Archbishop of Canterbury.
Canterbury’s role as one of the world’s most important pilgrimage centres in Europe is inextricably linked to the murder of its most famous Archbishop, Thomas Becket, in 1170. When, after a long lasting dispute, King Henry II is said to have exclaimed “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?”, four knights set off for Canterbury and murdered Thomas in his own cathedral. A sword stroke was so violent that it sliced the crown off his skull and shattered the blade’s tip on the pavement. The murder took place in what is now known as The Martyrdom. When shortly afterwards, miracles were said to take place, Canterbury became one of Europe’s most important pilgrimage centres.
2020 marks an important dual anniversary for the extraordinary figure of Thomas Becket. It will be 850 years since his dramatic murder on 29th December 1170 in Canterbury Cathedral, and 800 years since his body was moved on 7 July 1220 from a tomb in the Cathedral’s Crypt into a glittering shrine. The events of 1220 were orchestrated to relaunch the cult of Becket, and ensured that Canterbury became the principal pilgrimage destination in England and one of the major pilgrimage sites within Europe.
Young Irish architect John Millar designed the venue PORTICO in 1839. He had trained under Thomas Hopper an eminent London architect of the mid 19th Century. This church was built in 1841 by the Presbyterian congregation of Portaferry on land gifted to them by the local landlords, the Savage family. It is modelled on the Temple of Nemesis on the Greek Island of Rhamnous (although this has been contested) but Professor Margaret Myles of the University of California, and a world authority on that ruin, is convinced of its lineage.
The church building was little changed, apart from the installation of an organ in 1917, until it underwent a £1.5m restoration in 2015. This not only resulted in its structural “salvation” but also fitted it out with 21st Century facilities and equipment. Today the building is still used by the local Presbyterian congregation but it is now under the ownership of the charity friends of Portaferry Presbyterian Church and is a nondenominational building used as an Arts and Heritage Centre centre for the region and a venue for weddings, conferences and events of all kinds.