This year marks the 47th Season of Leigh Music Society and it was a pleasure to perform a recital with Duncan Glenday on 2nd Feb 2020. The Society present seven concerts a year between September and March on Sunday afternoons in the Derby Room, above the library at the Turnpike Centre, in the centre of Leigh, Greater Manchester.
The Turnpike is a unique arts venue and since January 2017 Turpike, an independent arts organisation, has occupied the first floor of the iconic 1970s brutalist building. There are lots of activities happening at the centre with the aim to raise aspiration, resilience and encourage people from the across the community to take part in the activities. There are art exhibitions and weekly workshops – Simeon Barclay’s Bus2Move exhibition was just being installed and will be open to the public from 14th Feb. https://www.theturnpike.org.uk/bus2mov
Returning to sing for Leigh Music Society brought back lots of happy memories. Duncan and I performed a programme of English Song this year. The first time I sang there was in 2002 while I was studying at the Junior RNCM – I loved my time there! I was really thrilled that Karen Humphreys MBE, Head of Junior RNCM was at the concert – I’m always thankful for the opportunities, support and encouragement we had as young performers to step out for the first time in front of public audiences – and nearly 20 years later Karen is there in the audience, and all of her support and advice still means the world!
It was great to see a ‘full-house’ for the concert with many much loved friends in the audience. There is always a warm and friendly atmosphere and if you would like to attend a forthcoming concert please visit their website – https://leighmusicsociety.info/about-us/ The Society regularly invites established professional musicians from around the region to perform, and also provides a platform for young musicians to perform. If you are interested in performing a concert for them you can contact them by email.
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!
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.
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.