Yesterday I took part in the first performance of new music for Advent. Thomas Hyde’s set of O Antiphons were commissioned by the church of St. Paul’s Knightsbridge for performance by the choir and on the organ – and for the purposes of dancing.
This was a very different project to other new music performances that I have done inside a church. Not only did the performance include three dedicated dancers, choreographed by Hubert Essakow but the principal performer, Clare McCaldin and the rest of the creative team recorded a series of videos from the start of the project’s inception to try and chart the process of bringing this work to fruition.
In the event, the performance was relayed onto a screen above the choir screen. This was a good idea, given that the dance took place on the dais in front of the screen and so, as is usual, it would have been difficult for those in the congregation to see.
In addition to the performance, the parish rector Fr Alan Gyle spoke either side of the music. He examined the Antiphon texts and the wider issue of Advent. He also talked about the nature of art in church, and the benefits of being open to it even in the face of incomprehension.
As a performer, it was tricky to really assess the impression or effectiveness of the performance in the immediate aftermath of the post-service reception. My own impression was that Thomas Hyde’s music is really good and the ideas explored exhaustively in each (very different) movement were substantial not only for choreography but also for simple reflection.
Tomorrow morning I have been invited to give a talk to the South and South East Equity branch on ‘Effective Social Media Use‘. As a freelance classical session singer, I use all available tools to maintain and promote myself publicly as a competent and available performer. Managing information about myself and distributing it to (potential) employers and audiences online is now an essential part of the work that any freelance performer does. You can read about my work in this area here.
This talk is designed to show what online platforms for self promotion are available and suggest ideas about optimising their use. Though my experience is that of a singer, I hope that it will be of interest and use to all performing artists, whose own experiences I look forward to hearing and sharing at the Young Vic Theatre, tomorrow 21 November at 11am.
Last night I took part in the first full performance of Timothy Hamilton’s Requiem. The concert, which included many pieces of familiar choral music in the first half, was given at the church of St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate near the Old Bailey. Timothy conducted and I was singing with his specially convened choir, Cantoribus.
Photo: Robert Workman for The Arts Desk
This week begins a run of performances of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny at English National Opera. I am singing in the extra chorus. There are a lot of us: Calixto Bieito’s production casts the belligerent masses as nationalists at the inception of the Spanish civil war. This powerful, sprawling opera will run until the beginning of December before it goes across to the Metropolitan Opera House, as it is a co-production.
On Sunday I am taking part in a performance of a Bach cantata (BWV 80, ‘Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott’) in Bach Vespers with Music-at-Hill. This will be an unusual event in an otherwise familiar series as it is the first performance under a new director. The format remains the same to those who are familiar with this cantata within Lutheran liturgy. In future, the series may be opened up to include core works by composers other than Bach. Consequently the series is being re-worked as ‘Bach Choral Vespers’. Admission on 25 October at 1830 is free with a retiring collection.
Photo: Clive Barda
This month I am involved in the opening production of ENO’s 2015-16 season, Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. Dimitri Tcherniakov’s updated conceit has Shostakovich’s modernist fairy-mare set in a health and safety-compliant warehouse. We in the chorus populate the space as worker ants, be it at the beck and call of the state or some private entrepreneur. Shostakovich’s conundrum is that disaster befalls the individual trying to follow their own impulse, whatever its moral equivalence. The company orchestra are on their greatest form to date with the new Musical Director Mark Wigglesworth. And I get to ride a fork lift truck.
Last weekend I attended the latter half of the second Southwell Music Festival. Because of other commitments I was unable to attend as a performer this year (the old adage, ‘never book a deputy better than you’ was taken out of my hands and the bass section of the Southwell Festival Voices was excellent whether in individual or corporate voice!).
However, I was there in an official capacity, helping to maintain the website and social media platforms. It’s an important role for a company such as this that wants to match the quality of the musical output with competence and professionalism on the periphery. Informing and involving people is always best done face to face with performers, staff and volunteers in and around the Festival itself but indirect engagement via mobile internet is now a sine qua non for such an operation.
The Festival, was a success (actually it was of unstintingly first class quality and a little overwhelming – more here) and I hope that those who engaged with the Festival vicariously through alternative media felt something of that too.
Cheyney as Colline in Opera 24/Darker Purpose Theatre’s La Boheme for the Grimeborn Opera Festival at the Arcola Theatre, Dalston. Photo: Robert Workman
I’m really looking forward to singing in the first performance of an updated La Boheme this week. Opera 24 and Darker Purpose Arts are bringing Puccini’s opera to the Grimeborn opera festival (at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston, Hackney) from Tuesday.
La Boheme sitzprobe. Photo: Opera 24
Lewis Reynolds’ production uses a translation from John Farndon which places the drama – and its vernacular – in contemporary Dalston. I am singing the role of Colline, the bearded ‘philosopher’, a character for whom the markets of Hackney provide plenty of opportunity to find a coat and satisfy his love of books (and a kebab!).
The rehearsal process has been organic and collaborative. Together we’ve pursued the fun of the story of young people living and loving in the city; we’ve also tried to find the authenticity of the relationships and dramas in this contemporary situation, dusting off the quicksilver observation of Puccini’s score and punching new life into the music.
Nick Fletcher conducts a specially reduced arrangement of the score that is at once expedient for the Arcola but nonetheless sustains the richesse, tenderness and power of this much-loved opera. This is by no means, except by irony of its setting, a hackneyed production of La Boheme.
UPDATE (25/08/15): The production and performance was generally well-received and we were pleased to get a brief, four-star write-up in the Observer.
It’s a grey, wet day in this final week of July here in London. This is nothing more than the capricious English weather toying with us during the Summer of course. Yet it might be said to reflect the sentiment of a group of musicians about to meet at St. Mary-at-hill church in the City of London.
That’s because this evening threatens to be the final in a series of Bach cantata performances within the liturgy of Lutheran Vespers that has been ongoing since the 1980s. Martin Knizia, the current director of the group (the Sweelinck Ensemble) who also holds the position of cantor of St. Anne’s Lutheran church in London is leaving to take up a position in Berlin. Martin has been the administrative and artistic force behind the series of so-called Bach Vespers, as his predecessor Peter Lea-Cox was before him, so his stepping down brings the series (under the umbrella of Music-at-hill, formerly the St. Anne’s Music Society) to a practical halt.
Martin Knizia & Cheyney Kent
I’ve had the good fortune to have been invited to sing with Martin’s Sweelinck Ensemble more often than not over the past 10 years. Our work has included performances of the St. John Passion and the B Minor Mass, as well as memorable outings of the prima inter pares of Bach solo cantatas, BWV 82, Ich habe genug: one meant walking to St. Anne & St. Agnes, Gresham Street to perform through heavy overnight snow; more recently, we performed the cantata in order to raise funds to try and keep the series going in the face of increased costs and dwindling support in November last year. In addition Martin has unearthed all manner of fine music by Bach and his contemporaries, which we have performed at appropriate moments in the series.
Of course, the miserable weather might well be said to resonate with the cantata we are about to perform in valediction of Martin. BWV 131, Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir is particularly morose even by Lutheran standards of self-abasement. The inexorable trudge of the Bass arioso wonders whether they’ll be anyone left after God has decided who’s worth saving.
BWV 131 and other music by Bach, Buxtehude and Schütz is performed within the Lutheran service of Vespers this evening at 6.30pm. Entrance is free and there is a retiring collection.
Photo: Donald Cooper
Edward Gardner’s final production as conductor of English National Opera, Tchaikovsky’s Queen Of Spades, has now opened at the Coliseum in London. Reviews have been positive, not least for the music, with most critics pointing towards the contribution of the chorus (prepared by Stephen Harris). I am singing as an extra chorister in this production by David Alden, my second with the company this season. My role in this expressionist production involves all manner of characters and costumes – including a big furry mouse’s head. Above all, it has been a tremendous privilege to watch and hear the highly-respected mezzo-soprano Dame Felicity Palmer at work. The production runs throughout June.