Tuesday October 29, 2019 | 7:30PM (Pre-concert talk at 6:45PM)
Christ Church Cathedral | Map
Iestyn Davies is a British countertenor widely recognised as one of the world’s finest singers, celebrated for the beauty and technical dexterity of his voice as well as for his impeccable musicianship. Simply put, he is one of the best countertenors in the world, performing regularly in lead roles at the world’s most important opera houses (the Metropolitan Opera, the Glyndebourne Festival, and Covent Garden). While widely respected as an opera singer, he is also valued as one of the finest interpreters of early and contemporary song repertoire. This concert highlights his work with English composer Michael Nyman, the songs of Henry Purcell, and a new commission by Canadian composer Jon Wild, all accompanied by Fretwork, England’s celebrated viol consort. Expect bold harmonies, wondrous inventions, and melodies that will haunt your dreams – whether from the 17th century or the 21st.
“His countertenor voice… is clear, effortless and warm. Cleanly executed ornamental figures emerge naturally from longer lyrical lines… The music hurtles through daring emotional shifts, with fiery outbursts one moment and achingly confused expressions the next. Mr. Davies sang it overwhelmingly.” – The New York Times
Presented in collaboration with Music on Main’s Modulus Festival
This concert is generously supported by Tony & Margie Knox and Ron Kruschen & Louise Akuzawa
No Time in Eternity (2016)
Fantazy No. 7 in C minor (1680)
Fantazy No. 11 in G major (1680)
Music for a while
Music after a While (2018)
The Evening Hymn
Balancing the books (1999)
Fantazy No. 6 in F major (1680)
Fantazy upon one note (1680)
The Self-Laudatory Hymn of Innanna and her Omnipotence (1992)
Michael Nyman at 75
Is there a contemporary composer whose music is more immediately recognisable than Michael Nyman? I can’t think of one: the insistent ostinanti, the bold, yet simply conceived harmony, the driving rhythms, the aggressive instrumentation, the heavy bass-line; all have combined to make his music instantly recognisable. He has been endlessly imitated, particularly by composers for moving images – film, TV, adverts and so on; yet these are pale imitations, not the real thing.
While he might be known now more for the music he wrote for Jane Campion’s award-winning film from 1993, The Piano, he initially shot to fame a decade earlier with the music for Peter Greenaway’s film The Draughtsman’s Contract, set in 17th century England. This lurid tale was filmed with striking originality, and Nyman mirrored this with his music, most of it derived from one of England’s greatest composers, Henry Purcell. Purcell’s music was well known to Nyman, as he had studied under the great musicologist Thurston Dart at King’s College in London in the 1960s, and had then produced the first modern edition of Purcell’s Catches in 1967.
So it was a natural choice to combine Nyman and Purcell on this disc. Purcell never composed vocal music with an accompaniment of viols, but his magnificent set of Fantazias and In Nomines for viols demonstrated his interest in the instrument; so it was but a short step to realising Purcell’s original bass line and completing the harmonies with parts for four or five viols. While all three on this disc are on ground basses – that is the same bass line repeated over and over again – each song presented different challenges.
O Solitude is a setting of the first and last stanzas (plus half of the third) of the poem La Solitude by Antoine Girard de Saint-Amant, translated by Katherine Philips, who was a remarkable literary figure in 17th century Wales and England. It’s ground bass is unvarying, yet Purcell’s implied harmonies are exceptionally inventive.
The Evening Hymn is a setting of the poem by Bishop William Fuller, friend of the diarists Pepys and Evelyn. The arrangement for viols was made by Silas Wolston. The sound bass here moves to accommodate modulations to different keys, as does that of Music for a While, which is from the incidental music to Dryden and Lee’s translation of Sophocles’s play Oedipus, revived in 1692. Alecto is one of the Greek furies, with snakes for hair, whose work is to castigate mortals for their moral crimes.
In 2017, Fretwork commissioned Michael Nyman (with funds generously donated by Mark Reed) to write a new instrumental work for them, and he responded with Music After a While, which is based upon Purcell’s song, or more particularly upon its strikingly original bass-line, with its insidious rising chromatics. It was premiered in Milton Court, in London’s Barbican Centre in May 2018, just before this disc was recorded.
We had previously commissioned Nyman in 1992 to write a work for James Bowman and us for the Spitalfields Festival. Nyman described the remarkable chance encounter that led to the choice of text:
The text of the Self-Laudatory Hymn came to light while I was browsing among the bookshelves of an Armenian acquaintance in February 1992. Opening, for no apparent reason, a fat anthology entitled Ancient Near-Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, edited by James B. Pritchard, I found S N Kramer’s translation of this Hymn. I was immediately taken with its tone of unashamed self-congratulation (very suitable, I thought, for James Bowman’s voice) and its repetitive structure (very suitable for my music).
In conversation with another friend I learned that Inanna was not an obscure goddess known only to me and a few experts on Sumerian civilisation, but a central focus of that civilisation and a figure highly esteemed by feminists. In Kramer’s works: ‘Female deities were worshipped and adored all though Sumerian history…but the goddess who outweighed, overshadowed, and outlasted them all was a deity know to the Sumerians by the name of Inanna, ‘Queen of Heaven’, and to the Semites who lived in Sumer by the name of Ishtar. Inanna played a greater role in myth, epic, and hymn that any other deity, male or female.’
In the Self-Laudatory Hymn I have made no attempt to evoke Sumerian music (or music of any other period). The opportunity to work with the viols of Fretwork recalls my use of early instruments in the first Michael Nyman Band, which uses rebecs rather than viols; and also my studies in the 1960s with Thurston Dart (and his memorable Musica Britannica edition of Jacobean consort music) and the finest book ever written on English music, English Chamber Music by E H Meyer.
Some time during the 2000s, I came across Nyman’s song If, scored for piano and strings and thought it could work for viols – I made an arrangement and sent it to the composer, who approved. The calm simplicity of the harmonic pattern and melody makes for a compelling work, which expresses the child-like naïveté of the text. It was written, together with Why, to texts by Roger Pulvers as part of an animated film by Seiya Araki, The Diary of Anne Frank.
And then, having seen my arrangement, Nyman suggested I look at a work he had written for the Swingle Singers, Balancing the Books, a wordless vocal work in 8 parts. I arranged this, but we didn’t find an opportunity to perform it until we were invited to take part in the Minimalism Unwrapped festival at Kings Place in London inn 2015.
No Time in Eternity was commissioned by the French counter-tenor Paulin Bündgen with Ensemble Celadon in 2016 and first performed by them in Lyon in March of that year. It is a setting of several poems by the great 17th century poet Robert Herrick: To Music, No Time in Eternity, Fortune, The Definition of Beauty, Things mortal still mutable, The Watch, To Music. All are from his Hesperides, published in 1648. His most famous verse is ‘To the Virgins to make much of time’, espousing the sentiment to seize the day, or carpe diem; and we see similar sentiments in these epigrammatical works that Nyman has chosen to set. He was highly sensitive to music and a close friend of the Lawes brothers, Henry & William.
Michael Nyman was born in Stratford, in the east end of London on 23rd March 1944. In addition to his current work as a composer, he is also a film maker, conductor, pianist, musicologist, writer & photographer. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music and, after his Ph.D studies with Thurston Dart, he went to Romania to collect folk music.
While working as music critic for The Spectator, he coined the term ‘minimalism’ in 1968. He also wrote for The New Statesman, The Listener and Studio International. He seminal work on new music – Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond – was published in 1974 and has recently been reprinted.
His preferred musical form is opera, and he has written several notable works in this form: The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Facing Goya and Many and Boy: Dada.
More recently he has focused on composing soundtracks for silent ﬁlms from the late 1920’s: Jean Vigo’s A Propos de Nice, Sergi Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin and new soundtracks for three Dziga Vertov ﬁlms- Man with a Movie Camera, The Eleventh Year and A Sixth Part of the World.
Iestyn Davies, counter-tenor
Iestyn Davies is a British countertenor widely recognised as one of the world’s finest singers celebrated for the beauty and technical dexterity of his voice and intelligent musicianship. Critical recognition of Iestyn’s work can be seen in two Gramophone Awards, a Grammy Award, a RPS Award for Young Singer of the Year,the Critics’ Circle Award and recently an Olivier Award Nomination. He was awarded the MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List 2017 for services to music.
Although blessed with a Welsh name, Iestyn hails from York, born into a musical household, his father being the founding cellist of the Fitzwilliam String Quartet. He began his singing life as a chorister at St John’s College, Cambridge under the direction of Dr.George Guest and later Christopher Robinson.Later, after graduating in Archaeology and Anthropology from St John’s College, Cambridge Iestyn studied at the Royal Academy of Music, London of which he is now a Fellow.In 2015 he delighted London theatre audiences singing the role of Farinelli in the play, Farinelli and the King with Mark Rylance at the Globe Theatre. The hugely successful project transferred to the West End this season and was nominated for a number of Olivier Awards. His operatic engagements have included Ottone (L’incoronazione di Poppea/Monteverdi) for Zürich Opera and Glyndebourne Festival Opera; Arsace (Partenope/Handel) for New York City Opera; Oberon (A Midsummer Night’s Dream/Britten) for Houston Grand Opera, English National Opera and The Metropolitan Opera, New York; Apollo (Death in Venice/Britten) for English National Opera and in his house debut at La Scala, Milan; Hamor (Jephtha/Handel) for Welsh National Opera and Opera National de Bordeaux; Steffani’s Niobe at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; his debut at The Metropolitan Opera Unulfo (Rodelinda/Handel) where he has also appeared as Trinculo The Tempest; the Lyric Opera of Chicago in Rinaldo; Bertarido Rodelinda for English National Opera; his debuts at the Opéra Comique and the Munich and Vienna Festivals in George Benjamin’s Written on Skin and the title role Rinaldo for Glyndebourne Festival Opera. He returned to Glyndebourne in 2015 for David in Handel’s Saul. His concert engagements have included performances at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan with Dudamel, the Concertgebouw and Tonhalle with Koopman and at the Barbican, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Lincoln Centre and at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall with orchestras that include the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic, Britten Sinfonia, Concerto Köln, Concerto Copenhagen, Ensemble Matheus,the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Academy of Ancient Music and Scottish Chamber Orchestra. He recently made his debut, in recital, at Carnegie Hall, New York. He enjoys a successful relationship with the Wigmore Hall, where, in the 2012/13 season, he curated his own residency. Recent highlights have included two Bach recitals at the Edinburgh International Festival, Britten’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at the Aldeburgh Festival and Schubert’s ‘Die Schöne Müllerin’ with Julius Drake at Middle Temple Hall, London. Future plans include Thomas Adès’s “The Exterminating Angel’ at the Metropolitan Opera New York and Farinelli & the King with Mark Rylance on Broadway, New York. His recordings include two versions of Handel’s Messiah(New College Oxford, AAM/Naxos) and (Polyphony, Britten Sinfonia/Hyperion), Handel’s Chandos Anthems on Hyperion, Handel’s Flavio for Chandos with The Early Opera Company and Christian Curnyn, Bach’s Easter Oratorio with Retrospect Ensemble, his debut solo recording Live at the Wigmore Hall with his own Ensemble Guadagni,a disc of Porpora Cantatas with Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo,an award winning disc of works for Guadagni for Hyperion and a disc of Handel arias with The King’s Consort for Vivat. 2014/5 saw the release of The Art of Melancholy, a recital of Dowland songs for Hyperion, Flow my tears, songs for lute, viol and voice on the Wigmore Live label and Arise my muse for which he received the Gramophone Recital Award. He has added recordings of Bach Cantatas with Arcangelo, Faure Songs with Malcolm Martineau and looks forward to the release of Bach’s Magnificat and B Minor Mass in the coming months both for Hyperion.He is the recipient of the 2010 Royal Philharmonic Young Artist of the Year Award, the 2012 & 2014 Gramophone Recital Award, the 2013 Critics’ Circle Awards for Exceptional Young Talent (Singer).
Few other ensembles can match the range of Fretwork’s repertory, spanning as it does the first printed music of 1501 in Venice, to music commissioned by the group this year. Their recordings of arrangements of J. S. Bach have won particular praise, but they have recently issued a disc containing music by Grieg, Debussy, Shostakovitch, Warlock & Britten. This extraordinary breadth of music has taken them all over the world in the 25 years since their debut, and their recordings of the classic English viol repertory – Purcell, Gibbons, Lawes & Byrd – have become the benchmark by which others are judged.
Their 2009 recording of the Purcell Fantazias won the Gramophone Award for Baroque Chamber Music.
The consistently high standards they have achieved have brought music old and new to audiences hitherto unfamiliar with the inspiring sound-world of the viol.