Every so often someone casually suggests an idea to me that just grabs me, and one of my current projects in development comes from just such a moment. A friend noticed a connection between two very different singers: Elizabeth Schumann (above right), international classical diva, and Jessie Matthews (below right), darling of 1930s musicals, on stage and screen.
Each of these women reached the very peak of her profession, working with the creative giants of her day and experiencing the ups and downs, rivalries and challenges that the performing life unavoidably entails. It is fascinating to weave together the strands of their narratives as an introduction to their music and artistry, built around the curious facts of how their stories finally intersect here in England.
After the success of my first narrated recital Haydn’s London Ladies, this format seemed ideal for combining similarly varied musical items and historical anecdotes. The new programme ranges from Schubert to Rogers and Hart, from Covent Garden and Hollywood.
Elizabeth and Jessie is currently in development, for presentation in late 2017. Dates to be announced.
Last Wednesday, January 18, I visited the Edward Saïd Business School at Oxford University with one of my regular collaborators, Dr Toby Young. We were appearing as guests speakers in the School’s lunchtime series entitled Engaging with the Humanities. Among other speakers this term are Dr Ben Morgan (on how Shakespeare’s plays demonstrate the form, survival and collapse of all kinds of communities – national, political and domestic) and Pegram Harrison (on synchronicity as a key to high performance in teams).
We were encouraged to talk about leadership in general terms, but soon focussed on the unusual fluidity of the system that has developed to produce such a complex art-form as opera. The range and number of skills and contributors to the finished product requires a strongly-defined but flexible system in which different functions can take the lead at different moments.
We chose to illustrate the issue of leadership at a micro-level by performing Schubert’s An die Musik, Toby accompanying me on a piano suitably graffitti-d with inspiring quotes. Musicians often speak of the negotiations that go on between players or singers in rehearsal or performance. While many audience members understand the principle, it is always interesting for them to see and hear this in action. It is also a pleasure for us to find sympathetic listeners in a business world that sometimes appears exclusively concerned with tangible assets at the expense of the intangibles in which we deal. How appropriate, then, to find on the side of the piano, these words of Winston Churchill’s.
Two images of Mary I and Katherine of Aragon (top)
McCaldin Arts is excited to announce a new project with an old friend: Martin Bussey, whose music I first sang at the Ludlow Festival a couple of years ago.
We agreed we want to make a work featuring the Tudor Queens Katherine of Aragon, her daughter Mary I, Elizabeth I, with reference to the other wives of Henry VIII. Martin is extremely well-read in this area of English history, which I am definitely not. So I have been catching-up by reading various books by Alison Weir, David Starkey, Jessie Childs, David Loades and Anna Whitelock.
Mary I has had a bad press. It suited her successors to denigrate her and she is chiefly remembered as Bloody Mary for her persecution of Protestant heretics.
But there’s so much more to her that she has become the key figure in our project.
Mary’s rule was in many ways unhappy, even disastrous, but she made political and legal changes without which it is unlikely that Elizabeth I could have reigned so successfully. Mary’s private story is not only sad because of her inability to bear the child she so longed-for but is also at the heart of her failures as a ruler because her deeply Catholic conscience could not substitute for the political astuteness she lacked. Several books have recently rehabilitated Mary’s image and our piece is essentially sympathetic to her in recognising her significant achievements while acknowledging her as a woman of her time.
Having completed our research and found our target, we are now ready to start writing the piece. I think I will leave that bit to Martin.
Listen to Martin’s song A Church Romance which I sang on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune with Iain Burnside.
I’m delighted that I have been accepted, with Dr Toby Young of Somerville College, Oxford University, for a Knowledge Exchange Fellowship project with TORCH, the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities. Our work is entitled Transforming the Operatic Voice and is a ten-month research piece to explore the philosophical and technical space that exists between operatic and pop singing. We aim to develop innovative approaches and techniques with which to compose and perform contemporary opera and other vocal music. In addition to vocal production, register and timbre, we will be examining aspects of groove, pitch manipulation, expressivity, ornamentation and treatment of text.
Toby is a composer whose work explores the boundaries between pop music and sonic art. His academic research looks at the philosophy of creativity, in particular exploring the relationship between aesthetics, culture and the creative mind. This joint piece of work with McCaldin Arts brings together Toby’s academic expertise and experience as a practicing musician with our skill-set based more specifically in live acoustic performance. A series of public workshops will explore the commonalities of approach in opera and pop and form the basis of a new programme of work by McCaldin Arts.
The next performance of Haydn’s London Ladies, in which I am joined by Paul Turner (piano), will be at St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge, on the evening of Tuesday 20th September at 7.30pm.
It’s three years since I first premiered the show at the Foundling Museum, since when it has developed from an hour-long experiment into a full-length concert. The original group of four ‘London Ladies’, whose stories interleave with Haydn’s own, has been increased with one new Lady, along with the music associated with her.
I am very excited to be performing the show in its new form in London for the first time and am already working on another show that uses a similar format to weave the musical items together around a central storyline.
Tickets for Haydn’s London Ladies will be available soon via the St Paul’s Church website. St Paul’s is at 32a Wilton Place, London SW1X 8SH
My next recital at St Paul’s Knightsbridge is with baritone Paul Sheehan and two composers, Stephen Dickinson and Rob Keeley. We will be performing familiar songs by Peter Warlock (three Shakespeare settings) and Gerald Finzi (the song-cycle, To a Poet), which we have paired with works by our composer-pianists. Stephen Dickinson’s What Have You In Your Heart? sets seven poems from AE Housman’s A Shropshire Lad, and Rob Keeley’s Five Stevie Smith Songs offer a strongly contrasted style, both poetically and musically.
Sunday 5 June, 2.30pm, St Paul’s Knightsbridge.
Tickets are £10 (£5 concessions) on the door.
The full programme is as follows:
It was a lover and his lass (duet) – Vaughan Williams
Three Shakespeare Songs – Warlock
Sigh No More Ladies
Take, O Take Those Lips Away
Pretty Ring Time
Five Stevie Smith Songs – Keeley
La Gretchen de nos jours
Le singe qui swing
Tender only to one
What Have You In Your Heart? – Dickinson
When I Was One And Twenty
Loveliest Of Trees
Is My Team Ploughing
Oh, When I Was In Love With You
White In The Moon
From Far, From Eve And Morning
If Truth In Hearts That Perish
To a Poet – Finzi
To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence
On parent knees
June on Castle Hill
Ode on the Rejection of St Cecilia
Our Revels Now Are Ended (duet) – Dickinson
I’m delighted to announce that 29th April is the confirmed date for the release of my second CD, Notes from the Asylum, by Champs Hill Records. Pianist Libby Burgess and clarinettist Catriona Scott join me on the CD, which features songs by Purcell, Abrams, Brahms, Wolf and Rorem, chosen to complement the central themes in Stephen McNeff’s Vivienne, recorded here for the first time.
To read more about the recording project and watch the introductory video, follow this link.
Download song text translations here
McCaldin Arts’ first performance of the year is at 3pm on Sunday 14 February. Created especially by writer Di Sherlock, this hour-long event combines poems by WB Yeats with the songs of Schumann and Wagner in a seamless conversation between words and music, performed by Clare McCaldin (mezzo) with Libby Burgess (piano) and Di Sherlock (reader).
2016 is the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, so there’s likely to be much made this year of Yeats’ Irish nationalism. We wanted to explore something rather different with this programme, which reflects on nineteenth-century Romantic notions of Love and Beauty.
Frauenlieben und -leben and the Wesendonck Lieder are interleaved with poems from throughout Yeats’ life, including Prayer for my Daughter, Wild Swans at Coole and When You Are Old, plus sung settings of The Salley Gardens and The Cloths of Heaven.
The concert is at St Paul’s Church, 32a Wilton Pl, London SW1X 8SH.
Tickets £10 (£5 concessions) on the door.
The new year is starting with a buzz of activity at McCaldin Arts, dusting off existing projects for performance and preparing the ground for new work.
Haydn’s London Ladies has grown from an hour-long to a two-part presentation with interval and is getting a first performance in this new version at the Swindon Recital Series on 7 Feb. Enlarging the recital has enabled us to bring in a fifth Lady, Emma Hamilton, whose story justifies a whole show in itself, and to introduce some extra music. As well as excerpts from less-known pieces such as The Battle of the Nile, we will also perform the cantata Arianna a Naxos, a piece of which Emma Hamilton sang with Haydn at the keyboard.
We eagerly anticipate the release of Clare’s new solo CD with Libby Burgess – Notes from the Asylum – which is due out any day now. Read more about the project here.
New songs are in the pipeline from Rob Keeley and Toby Young, as well as longer-term projects in development with Martin Ward and Martin Bussey.
We are also pleased to announce our involvement with a new charitable organisation – New Notes & Noises – which will be helping us to develop and present new work in the future. There will be more information on this over the next few weeks.
Clare performing at a Christmas concert at Leighton House earlier this month
Thank you for following me and my work both here and on my personal website. It’s been a busy year of new and exciting work. The promise of 2016 is, if anything, even exotic and demanding.
You can read back over my previous Newsletters by going to the dedicated page.
Have a peaceful Christmas break and a prosperous New Year.