Tag Archives: Kathleen Ferrier

October-December 2017 – opera and musical theatre – the ‘Rough For Opera’ scratch night in London (9th October); Lucy Steven’s Kathleen Ferrier bio-show tours England (21st/26th/27th September, 3rd December)

2 Oct

Next week in London, a window on some nascent opera work…

'Rough For Opera' #16

Second Movement present:
Rough For Opera #16: A Scratch Night For New Opera
Cockpit Theatre, Gateforth Street, London NW8 8EH
Monday 9th October 2017, 7.30pm
information

“…’Rough For Opera is a performance platform for composers to share new work and opera in progress. Each event is a snapshot and celebration of contemporary opera making, with most work being brought from page to stage for the very first time. With an informal and intimate atmosphere and a Q&A following each performance, Rough For Opera is a great way for audiences to engage directly with opera makers and for composers to get invaluable feedback about their work at an early stage in its development.” 

This month’s edition features the following short opera performances (between ten minutes and half and hour apiece):

Michael-Jon Mizra – ‘Can you Give Up Your Seat Please?’ 
Georgina Bowden – ‘Radium’ (libretto by Eleanor Knight, directed by Ruth Knight)
Voicings Collective – ‘Voicings’ (composed by Michael Betteridge, written by Rebecca Hurst, directed and performed by Freya Wynn-Jones)

Post-performance Q&As will be led by Professor Paul Barker (RCSSD).

* * * * * * * *

Over the course of October (and at the beginning of December), a labour-of-love musical staging of the life of classical and folk singing legend Kathleen Ferrier is touring some of the more out-of-the-way venues in England. From the sound of it, it’s a pretty portable show, so if you’re interested in booking it for your own venue, drop the production company a line.

Dramatic Solutions presents:
Kathleen Ferrier: Whattalife!

Lucy Stevens (as Kathleen Ferrier)

Lucy Stevens (as Kathleen Ferrier)

“This new one-woman play with music tells the story of the great English contralto, whose voice and recordings are treasured to this day. Kathleen Ferrier was one of Britain’s phenomenal women of the twentieth Century. ‘Whattalife!‘ tells her story from her debut as a singer in 1940, her meteoric rise and her tragic death in 1953. ‘Whattalife!’ is the first staged dramatisation of Ferrier’s life, evoking the spirit of the war and post war years. Just like Kathleen during her short but full life, the show has a great sense of fun and talks straight from the heart. 

“Professional actress and contralto Lucy Stevens has researched and created a unique and totally engaging performance. The play is written in Kathleen’s own words taken from her letters and diaries. Sung music with piano accompaniment from her repertoire is woven through the text.”

There’s a ‘Guardian’ article on the piece here, in which Lucy reveals how the piece was put together and throws light on the life, moods and artistry of a strong-minded and talented woman who went her own way during a time when such things weren’t so readily accepted.


 
Dates:

  • Holy Trinity Church, New Road, Bengeo, Hertfordshire, SG14 3JJ, England, Saturday 21st October 2017, 7.30pmemail for details
  • Cooper Hall, Selwood Manor, Frome, Somerset, BA11 3NL, England, Thursday 26th October 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • Anthony Minghella Theatre @ Quay Arts, Sea Street, Newport Harbour, Isle of Wight, PO30 5BD, England, Friday 27th October 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • Dorchester Arts, Corn Exchange, High East Street, Dorchester, Dorset, DT1 1HF, England, Sunday 3rd December 2017, 2.30pm information

And purely to indulge myself, here’s Jocelyn Pook‘s mid-’90s setting of a Ferrier loop as part of her minimalist song-cycle ‘Deluge’: best known as the theme for a mobile phone advert (and, as the video image shows, as fodder for numerous new-age compilations), it’s a little classic of minimalist fusion.


 

Album reviews – Jocelyn Pook: ‘Deluge’ (“a suite of stunning invention and sheer beauty”)

1 Mar

Jocelyn Pook: 'Deluge'

Jocelyn Pook: ‘Deluge’

The elegant grace of tragedy is often linked with the splat of farce. This album’s major selling point (on some copies of the CD, it’s trumpeted by a sticker ‑ I kid you not) is that it features the music from last year’s TV ads for Orange mobile phones, namely Jocelyn Pook’s setting of “Blow The Wind Southerly” sung by Kathleen Ferrier.

Sigh. It’s sad but true that increasingly weird and wonderful music is getting picked up and co‑opted by advertising agencies for their campaigns. Your average ‘Coronation Street’ ad‑break may currently play to a soundtrack of Michael Nyman, Gavin Bryars, Aphex Twin, U‑Ziq, Cocteau Twins… and Pook. They’re selling their souls for the filthy lucre from red‑braced ad execs. Of course they are: rampant fucking capitalism is bringing us the best that post‑modern music has to offer. It’s art selling out!

But… Mr or Ms Normal Music Fan are going into Our Price and humming this music over the counter to Shop Assistant. Consequently, they’re getting turned on to (at least relatively) experimental music, er, man… And as Jocelyn Pook joins the hideous capitalist gravy train (look, I’m not being cruel: my tongue is in my cheek) from obscurity to the CD racks, the musos among us will smugly tell that Pook is widely known as the leader of the Electra Strings (along with Caroline Lavelle, Sonia Slaney and others), who have no doubt been rushed off their feet in the past couple of years as every British pop act decided they must show their serious side by having at least one strings‑based track in their repertoire (I think we call it “hiring in a touch of class”).

But here ‑ ably backed by the Electras, knife‑edged art‑scene soprano Melanie Pappenheim and a pocketful of exotic musicians and sounds ‑ Jocelyn Pook shows herself as being beyond simply a viola player. She’s a composer of emotion and invention and, in the best traditions of post‑modernism, introduces classical and traditional musics to the brave new world of samples and electronics. OK, so it has to be admitted that Dead Can Dance are an immediate and convenient comparison, but ‘Deluge’ is warmer, more emotional: less monumentally impressive, perhaps, but also nowhere near as harsh and Wagnerian.


 
The twelve tracks of ‘Deluge’ (germinating from a clutch of “post‑modern hymns” written for a Canadian dance‑theatre project) are best appreciated as one pre‑millennial suite with recurring themes (the emotions drawn from the year 1000, the methodology from 2000). Requiem Aeternam, like many elements of the other tracks, opens the album with solo and multitracked singing of a traditional requiem over one sustained root note. Post‑modern chamber plainsong, in other words, founded upon a sense of inevitability that’s unchanged by the impact of technology.


 
Technology, in fact, might even be hastening that grand inevitable. Oppenheimer is undoubtedly one of the central parts of ‘Deluge’. It opens with a disturbing sample of Robert Oppenheimer talking (he seems heavy with emotion, a man with the weight of his discovery of nuclear destruction bearing down upon him) surrounded by a foreboding nuclear wind: this merges into the poignant but more hopeful sound of the Jewish call to prayer and a dawn chorus of birds. As the central sung theme from the first track returns with a supporting string section, a haunting, heartbreaking elegy is created.

For Oppenheimer himself, this could be the emotions created by his dread and foresight at what he had created. More powerfully, however, this piece stands as a requiem for a world forever changed by the knowledge of possible nuclear annihilation. A post‑Cold War planet we may now be, but his music took me right back to the nervousness of the mid‑’80s and its accompanying, tangible dread of nuclear war.


 
Lightening the mood and returning to the music, Blow The Wind (subtitled Pie Jesu) does indeed feature that Orange ad music again. Heard without those connotations, however, this is a brilliant interweaving of samples and live sound, as Kathleen Ferrier’s familiar rendition of the traditional vocal is interspersed with Pappenheim and Pook’s plangent vocal counterpoint, the echoing sounds of children playing, and more soaring strings. As in hip‑hop, the form that originally used sampling to such great effect and historic importance, the sample of Ferrier is used as a basis to build other musical sequences, instrumentation and vocals. It’s humble, beautiful, and ends far too soon.


 
The lessons in the new technology of music Jocelyn Pook has gained will undoubtedly further influence the writing and performance of her music for her own instrument ‑ strings. The penultimate piece, La Blanche Traversée, appears to be a fairly standard chamber‑piece setting of words by Racine, but more remarkable is the subtle instrumental backing. Pook and the Electra Strings play a slightly off‑rhythm pattern of oscillating notes that, to any DJ or mixer who knows his decks, would be regarded as a loop. I feel that it is safe to assume that the original hip‑hop DJs never had this development in mind when they crafted scratching and looping. ‘Deluge’ is a long way from being electronica, but the ’90s cross‑pollination continues.


 
While music has broken all the boundaries of genre in the ’90s, the end products have resulted in albums of naked emotion or sonic inventiveness. But rarely both together. ‘Deluge’ is a suite of stunning invention and sheer beauty in its music, but with all the necessary emotion of a requiem for the post‑nuclear age. The wind blows cold, with the sound of ravens on the air, but it tugs your whole life right to the surface of your skin.

Never mind the politics of how you got to hear of Jocelyn Pook or ‘Deluge’. Open your mind to it.

(review by Vaughan Simons)

Jocelyn Pook: ‘Deluge’
Virgin Records, CDVE 933 7243 (7 24384 29632 2)
CD-only album
Released: 24th February 1997

Get it from:
(2018 update) long out-of-print, so best picked up second-hand. Most of the tracks on ‘Deluge’ were remixed and reissued on the ‘Flood’ album in 1999.

Jocelyn Pook online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Tumblr Last FM YouTube Vimeo

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