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.