Posts Tagged ‘Emma Kirkby’

Review – “A Choice Collection” – Emma Kirkby, Jakob Lindberg, Steven Devine – Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music 2009 at St. John’s Smith Square

May 23, 2009

Last night my┬ápartner and I went to St. John’s Smith Square to see the second concert I’d bought tickets for in the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music – Emma Kirkby’s presentation of English song masters of the Baroque era, featuring songs of master composers Purcell and Dowland as well as pieces by less well remembered folks such as Robert Johnson, Thomas Campion, Maurice Green, and William Croft. Truly, it’s one of the pleasures of a series like this that instead of having Baroque music represented by the same music over and over again (my God, may I live without ever once again hearing a tepid concert consisting of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and the freaking Brandenberg Concerto) that at last the richness of the era really comes to the fore. It’s incredible to think of how much has been lost or fallen by the wayside – in a guided walk I took in the City of London Wednesday, our guide told us that only about 12% of the total number of plays produced during Shakespeare’s era were saved – and almost all of that number were his own works! It could make me throw it all in to become a music or theater historian, I tell you, if only I thought there were some chance of me actually being able to find some missing work of genius.

Fortunately the rise of the Early Music movement means there have been rather a lot of people devoted to finding these less-known musical works and giving them the benefit of the light of day – and, more importantly, a fresh performance. Emma Kirkby was, as ever, a lively interpreter of these old scores. She was deliciously over the top for Purcell’s “Bess of Bedlam” and John Blow’s “A Mad Song” (poor Belinda! Poor bess!), but for all the songs she showed a wonderful dedication to the making the text come alive. Of course, for most of these songs, the focus was on sadness and death – very appropriate for the age (did Purcell really only live to 46?) – but also love and seduction. I especially appreciated “She loves and she confesses, too,” with text from Cowley’s “The Mistress” – without hearing Kirkby say it, I would have never appreciated the delicious alliteration of “Noisy nothing, stalking shade” – but the poetry came right to the fore. Ms. Kirkby is probably in my top three of favorite early music performers, at the level where I make special efforts to go see her, and once again she made it an evening well worth my while.

I have to say that her accompanists, Jakob Lindberg on lute and Steven Devine on harpsichord, were also excellent. My preference was of course for the lute (since I find the harpsichord a rather unemotional instrument), and with Lindberg’s ability to sit next to her, a very strong interaction was happening. He was no hired gun – he was playing with her, not for her, in the kind of jazzy interaction style I only ever see with this era of “classical” music. His solos were great, too – Dowland’s “Rosamunde’s Pavane” and “Daniel’s Gigue” made me want to go out and get some more lute music. Devine was fine, but, well, “harpsichord,” what more can I say – great behind something else but not so great on its own (afraid my tastes can’t account for skill). Overall, though, a great night, and I was only sad that there was time for just one encore, William Croft’s Mr Dufy (a song to Venus, though I’m sure I haven’t attributed it correctly).

(This review is for a concert that took place on Thursday, May 21st, 2009. I also saw the Phantasm performance the next night but I don’t have much to say about it and am marking it here just as a reminder to myself.)

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Great review on Clement Crisp’s talk about the state of ballet

May 12, 2009

I had a Twitter person refer me to this wonderful report on Clement Crisp’s pre-show lecture at the National Ballet of Canada. Now, I didn’t agree with his take on Northern Ballet’s Hamlet, but it was certainly clear he’s got the decades of experience behind him. And this review makes clear that he’s also dedicated to one of my pet causes, supporting the future of ballet. It must not die, and to not die, it needs fresh blood in the forms of new choreography and new audience members. To die, it just needs to be allowed to become a museum piece.

That said, I’m helping (eep!) support the death of ballet by going to see Giselle tomorrow. It’s one of my favorite classical ballets, and I figure that it will be a nice addition to the version by the Mikhailovsky I saw last year and the version I saw performed by the Ballet Nacional de Cuba way back in ’99. (Good lord! A performance before I was blogging!) Sure, it’s a museum piece, but on the lines of the Mona Lisa when you’ve got an excellent company performing it. (Actually I’d say it’s more like Millais’ “Ophelia,” but that’s just me.)

In addition to a night with an old standard, I’m also going to see the New Works at the Linbury on Thursday, because I do, seriously, support the vitalization of this art form which I love so much. And to add to this, I’ll be popping over to Sadler’s Wells on Tuesday to see the Northern Ballet Theater’s mixed bill (Gillian Lynne’s “A Simple Man,” “Angels in the Architecture” and “As time goes by”). Supporting these performances will help ballet move forward as an art – but I’m going because I love ballet, and I love the chance to see new works, and the thought of seeing some amazing dancers performing makes me grin from ear to ear.

The rest of my month is going to mostly be classical music at the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music – three or four concerts (including Phantasm and Emma Kirkby) over its two weeks – and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m only going to see two plays – Exquisite Corpse at the Southwark Playhouse, and Aunt Dan and Lemon at the Royal Court. Overall, May won’t be much of a theater month, but I think it will be great!

Review – 2008 York Early Music Festival, first weekend – Jordi Savall, Emma Kirkby, and Handel’s “Israel in Egypt”

July 7, 2008

This weekend I took a break from the many delights London has to offer and headed up to York for the first weekend of the York Early Music Festival. I had first heard about it when doing a search for Jordi Savall, when I ran across his touring calendar and … look, there he was going to be in York, which is quite a bit easier for me to get to than, oh, Oslo. And since I hadn’t really been getting my early music fix in London, I thought, why not just do a whole weekend? This became an even more exciting possibility when I realized the program Jordi was going to be performing was one I desperately wanted to hear (music of Marais! the “apotheosis of the viol,” indeed!) and that Emma Kirkby was going to be performing the next day. (She is one of two singers I actively follow, the other being Ellen Hargis.) It was kismet! I booked the time off work and booked train tickets at the earliest possible moment.

What I did NOT do was book tickets for the Jordi Savall concert, which sold out some two months before I made it to York. (I was trying to split up the costs of the trip, but apparently I made the wrong decision about what to get “before” and what to get “after.”) I was on the waitlist, but on the very day of the concert, as I was heading north, I had not been called and there had only been one pair of tickets returned! The Kirby ones and tickets for Handel’s “Israel in Egypt” on Saturday had already been purchased (as had my train tickets), so with a worried heart I headed north, figuring … well, it was still going to be a good trip, and there was always the ghost walk if it completely fell through …

As it turned out, there was only one person ahead of me at the York Minster and I had no problems getting two tickets. In fact, as it was mostly general admission, I found my very early self sitting in the third row – in the lovely building that is the Chapter House of the York Minster, all Gothic carvings and stained glass and a lovely arched dome overhead to just make the atmosphere perfect. I can’t really say that atmosphere extended to the acoustics, however, as they seemed, even in the third row, to be muddy at times, but it often seems that is the case with early music – the instruments just aren’t as piercing as later ones, and a chattering harpsichord can easily drown out the whispers of an archlute.

The program: well, it was everything I had hoped for and the first half of the program (which started with the Marais, “Suite d’un Gout Etranger”) pretty much justified the entire trip. Jordi Savall is the master of the viol, and to hear him playing pieces that Marais, the master composer of the viol, created to “stretch the skill of those who do not like easy pieces” was heaven. At one point (I think the “Allemande La Superbe”), I heard such unusual combinations of notes and techniques that it was like falling out of my own consciousness and into another person’s body. Were these things possible? Can you really play all SEVEN strings at the same time, in harmony with a bow? I was floored. I was in the room with the master. Jordi Savall, Arianna Lallone, Carlos Acosta – there are very few artists who have left me with the gap-jawed feeling I get when I feel I am witnessing genius.

Frankly, after this opening left me weak-kneed and gasping for air, I felt there was little hope of equalling it during the rest of the show. That said, Rolf Lislevand, who provided a lovely accompaniment to Jordi during most of the show, got his chance to rock out solo and took the bit in his teeth and ran. His Spanish guitar suites practically set his strings on fire – I suddenly felt like I was watching some super band at Glastonbury getting an ocean of people up and jumping. Jason and I walked out of the hallway fanning ourselves. Early music: who could ever think it would be so hot! (The audience, of course, expressed its state of rapture by not even breathing, as near as I could tell, during the performance.)

The rest of the evening was fine but I’ll move on to discussing the next evening’s performance: Emma Kirkby and Peter Harvey with a few members of the London Baroque performing songs of the Jewish exodus (as written by 17th century German composers, i.e. Heinrich Schutz and friends). This performance was in the Salvation Army Hall of York, on Gillygate street; as we walked in, I was finding myself remembering the fiery Major Barbara of Shaw’s play and thinking of her preaching away inside of this very building. That said, it was QUITE warm in the building and I think it was affecting those of us in the balcony seats rather negatively – there was much more shifting and coughing, as well as plenty of fanning.

The opening of the concert was four songs on exactly the same text – Psalm 137, “An den Wassern zu Babel” (“By the waters of Babylon/ there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion./On the willows there we hung up our lyres …”). Reading the accompanying translation, I was actually quite confused and didn’t realize we were going back onto the same text again and again – it was like Groundhog Day. Once I realized what was going on, I was able to settle down into the pleasure of hearing them side by side, but I utterly lost the benefit of the first one altogether. The final version, by Franz Tunder (whom I’d never heard of before), was completely bizarre – like hearing a normal song played backwards. I’m not sure what was really going on in Germany at that time – the program notes describes a world of rich musical interaction and all of the composers played knew each other – but Tunder seemed to have been in a world of his own. Perhaps he was playing little jokes in his music, such as by hiding mathematical formulas in it or something of the sort.

I have to admit that I don’t really care for German music in general – like Flemish paintings, it just leaves me dry. That said, I found this music, about crying for a fallen country, oddly resonated with me on my country’s Independence Day – it seemed to me to reflect my feelings about a broken state with no hope for the future, a country that had once been great – a source of inspiration, a “beacon of hope” – and now was just a wreck of its former self. A song about Jerusalem being like a woman who’d been widowed and left alone and friendless (by Buxtehude) was particularly sad. Still, my overall feeling was it’s too damned hot in here and even though I enjoyed listening to both singers, I was just desperate to get out of the building and couldn’t realistically comtemplate going to see the lute quartert (Chordophony) that was happening at 10 PM – I needed to reduce my core temperature stat.

My final night in York was spent at the Minster (again!), this time in the main hall, watching the Yorkshire Bach Choir and Yorkshire Baroque Soloists performing Handel’s “Israel in Egypt” – the original, 1739 version that debuted in London (at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, I think). The first section was, like Buxtehude’s “Klagelied” (of the night before), a piece originally written for someone’s funeral – in this case for his patroness, er, Queen Caroline, I think (I’ve stuffed my program notes into a bag somewhere so I can’t say definitively, but the web is out there if you want to figure it out for yourself). The second section was about the plagues that decended on Egypt when Moses was trying to convince the Pharoah to “set my people free!” This music had lots of great illustrative effects for things like falling balls of fire and, er, biting lice and flies (I swear you have to have a good English accent to sing about lice and flies for five minutes with a straight face – an American just wouldn’t have the gravitas to pull it off).

The accompaniment seemed much more evolved than the German music of the night before – to me, music of the late 1600s can sound kind of tweedly and formless, like it doesn’t have a through line but just makes random harmonies. (The program for the German music mentioned its “expert counterpoint,” but I’m afraid I’m too uneducated to pick it out myself.) The cathedral made the organ sound amazingly resonant, like a pudding with some surprise tasty crunchy bits (as if from toffee or coconut) and the orchestra really blended with the organ well. And it was easy to hear the relationship of this music to “The Messiah.” That said …

I had been rained on SO HARD earlier in the day that it seemed like the life had just been washed out of me. Classical music is something I really have to be in peak form to appreciate – well slept and preferably in a fairly good mood. I’d been having an excellent time and mostly getting enough rest (Bowman’s Guest House was delightfully quiet), but walking back to the hotel soaking wet had worn me out and a nap, tea, and dinner hadn’t restored me. I wasn’t spacing out as the music plays, which happens to me sometimes, but I wasn’t really there – I wasn’t connecting to what was happening, probably in part because I didn’t have a person that I could focus on (and I’m not really that keen on hearing biblical texts sung). It’s possible that I just generally am not a good person for choral work and should stick to smaller ensemble stuff. So … at intermission we headed out the door and off to someplace warm (the complete opposite of the night before!) to sit and have a pint or two and play some cards. I’m sorry, Yorkshire Baroque Soloists and Yorkshire Bach Choir, you were all doing fine, but I was not audience enough for you. I hope we shall meet again when I haven’t spent a very recent hour walking around in wet clothing and losing all of my passion for life.

Overall, the weekend was just great – I loved York in both its wet and dry modes and the music I went up there especially to see was very enjoyable. I liked the the programmatic theme for the festival (“Exiled: Music in a Strange Land”), also. With luck I’ll be back next year – or maybe even for their festival in December!