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!
I was delighted to return to sing for the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre and their Charity Carol Concert this year. The concert was a festive celebration of music, art and poetry for their ‘landmark’ 60th anniversary year – Congratulations to everyone involved and thank you for all you do!!
This year my Mum, Sue, began receiving palliative care for incurable stage 4 lung cancer – she is receiving amazing care from Clatterbridge Cancer Centre and Whiston Hospital. This comes just a few years after my Dad George also received eight years of cancer treatments for Multiple Myeloma blood cancer at Royal Liverpool Hospital and also through the Clatterbridge Cancer Center. It really means the world to me to be able to sing for the charity again and support the amazing work they do.
It’s been a heartbreaking time since my Mum received her diagnosis in August – she is an amazing lady, my inspiration and best friend! We know, more than ever, that every day we spend together is the greatest blessing – and that sharing music and celebrating special occasions like this one will bring us so much joy and hope through the hardest times ahead.
More than 200 people attended the event at Thornton Manor, hosted by Angela Samata. I was thrilled to sing with The Luminelles and Over The Water choirs, conducted by Matt Lammin. Wirral-based photographer and performing artist Mike McCartney read Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem by Maya Angelou and poet Mandy Coe shared some of her wonderful work; embracing the themes of joy, love and laughter. Professor Dan Palmer, medical oncologist at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, addressed the audience and expressed the importance of research in the future of cancer treatment and patient Becky Brothwood spoke so beautifully to everyone about her own cancer treatment.
After the concert there was a brilliant exhibition of artwork and photography by Mike McCartney, acclaimed sculptor Emma Rodgers – works from De Lacy Fine Art, Wirral Grammar School for Girls and Prof Arthur Sun Myint, who is a medical oncologist at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, it was so lovely to meet everyone. I also found it really inspiring to hear Dr Liz Bishop, Chief Executive of Clatterbridge CC, speak about the future of the Centre and how much this will help cancer patients in the future.
The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust is one of the UK’s leading cancer centres providing highly specialist cancer care to a population of 2.3m people across Cheshire, Merseyside and the surrounding areas including the Isle of Man. Based in Wirral, Merseyside; treatment is also supported by a £17m radiotherapy centre in Aintree, Liverpool. They also operate specialist chemotherapy clinics in seven of Merseyside’s district hospitals and deliver a pioneering Treatment at Home service. This enables them to provide a comprehensive range of inpatient care, advanced radiotherapy, chemotherapy and other systemic anti-cancer therapies (i.e. medicines) including gene therapies and immunotherapies.
The Clatterbridge Cancer Charity is the only dedicated charity for patients and research at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre. The Charity helps to improve patient experience, fund vital research into the latest therapies and innovations in cancer treatment. They are embarking on a journey to change cancer care for the better, by expanding services in the heart of the population with the further ground-breaking research and therapies they undertake. In the next few years they are building Liverpool’s first cancer hospital in the heart of the city, backed by the Clatterbridge Cancer Charity’s £15m appeal! Find out more about the charity here; https://www.clatterbridgecc.nhs.uk/charity/home
What a beautiful night it was! Merry Christmas and heartfelt thanks to the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre for the wonderful work they do.
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.
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.