Snape on Monday morning, from a practice room in the Maltings
On Sunday a group of us from McCaldin Arts will travel to Aldeburgh to spend a week developing some ideas for a new performance work. At Aldeburgh we will be guests of Snape Residencies, a project based at Snape Maltings, the epicentre of the Aldeburgh Festival set up by composer Benjamin Britten in 1948. We’re really grateful to Snape Residencies for their help in bringing us all to Suffolk and for the support that will help us to make the most of a week of artistic & professional exploration.
You can read more about our initial ideas for A New Poly-Olbion, based on Michael Drayton’s 17th century Poly-Olbionon this page. Clare McCaldin, the producer-performer of McCaldin Arts will be joined by the writer Di Sherlock, the composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad, pianist Libby Burgess and the spoken-word performer John Constable. Though the week will be an extended workshop with a final showing to a local audience we hope we can keep you up to date with our experience via social media: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Last night we were part of a very special event. We had been invited to return to the Society of Antiquaries of London to give a abbreviated performance of Mary’s Hand next to the portrait of Queen Mary I on which Andie Scott and Sophie Meyer (pictured, below) had based their performative costume for the show. The historian Dr John Cooper, a fellow of the Society, gave a talk on the history behind the eponymous Queen and, after the performance, Clare stayed in the costume to chat with the audience and pose for pictures.
It was terrific that the original instrumental ensemble from the summer shows in London (‘Mary’s Band’) were all available to play and that Martin Bussey had time in a particularly busy week to come and hear his music played live for the first time since then. Di Sherlock directed the condensed version of her drama for the space – as she has done each time, as demanded by a site-specific show – which was a surprisingly responsive room for musicians, allowing the words of the story their full bloom.
This event was something of a first for the Society who are trying new things to open up their institution and encourage interest in their collection. To that end, the museum collections manager, Kate Bagnall had curated a small but directly pertinent exhibition in the hall, including royal seals depicting Queen Mary & King Philip II of Spain, a book of Fees & Offices recording Mary’s accession, a copy of a Holbein etching of ‘Lady Mary’ (before she was crowned) and a pair of proclamations for Lady Jane Grey and then Mary, who succeeded her, famously after only nine days. This exhibition remains open over the next week for those who would like to take a look – perhaps if you’re on your way to see the performance at St. Paul’s Wilton Place? (visit sal.org.uk for their opening times). There was also the chance to buy a Marian tea towel! Our thanks to Danielle Wilson Higgins and her predecessor Lucy Ellis for bringing this project to fruition.
The Spring tour of Mary’s Hand now begins in earnest with a complete performance at St. Paul’s, Wilton Place on Tuesday before the show goes North for the rest of the week. As ever, all the details, including booking links, are available via mccaldinarts.com/MaryHand
In one month from today, we will begin a short tour, performing Mary’s Hand in London and the North of England.
This begins with a unique event, in which we’ll perform extracts from the show in front of the portrait which inspired the wonderful costume, the centrepiece of the show’s design. Andie Scott and Sophie Meyer researched and constructed Mary’s post-coronation dress from a 1554 portrait by Hans Eworth which hangs in The Society of Antiquaries of London, in Piccadilly. Clare will sing parts of Mary’s Hand and the historian John Cooper will give a talk on the history around the period.
A few days later we will give a full performance of Mary’s Hand at St. Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge – the venue in which our striking publicity photographs were taken by celebrated arts photographer Robert Workman. From there we travel to Hexham in Northumberland, where Clare’s father helps to run the annual Abbey Arts Festival, for a performance in the Queen’s Hall, and then across the Pennines for another at Lancaster Priory.
Finally, the tour comes to an official conclusion with a performance at Music In Pinner, a popular music festival in north London.
At each event there is an opportunity to buy a copy of the detailed souvenir programme which has many more photographs, essays and information about the history of the period and the making of the show.
For dates, times and tickets for all these events, please click on this link. We hope to see you there!
This week Clare sent out her quarterly Newsletter. In it you’ll find news and information about her forthcoming performances, new projects beginning in the new year and how to get hold of tickets for the Spring tour of Mary’s Hand, one of the stand-out successes of 2018’s Summer opera festivals in London.
If you’d like to get Clare & McCaldin Arts’ Newsletter then you can sign up here.
This year, McCaldin Arts will premiere a new work of music theatre. With words by Di Sherlock and music by Martin Bussey, Mary’s Hand gives voice to Queen Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII and sister to Elizabeth I, in a unique and innovative staging for mezzo-soprano and three instruments.
In performance Clare McCaldin, singing Mary, will wear a dazzling recreation of Mary’s state dress (as seen in the famous portrait by Hans Eworth in Burlington House, right). This meticulously researched and hand-sewn costume will be the centrepiece of the staging.
In order to meet the considerable cost of completing this essential costume, which will also be the de facto stage set, we have decided to run a crowdfunding campaign. We last used a crowdfunder in 2013 to meet the production costs of Vivienne, which went on to have a successful run to critical acclaim. This public-pledge model of funding the production costs proved a popular way for people to become invested in the process and feel more involved with the finished show.
You can view the project history and early designs of Mary’s Hand, and support us with a donation towards the costs of completing this remarkable dress by visiting mccaldinarts.com/crowdfunder.
I’m delighted to have been invited to speak at the Future of Knowledge conference at the British Museum on Monday 12 February 2018. The conference is organised by the Knowledge Quarter to mark its third year of promoting productive partnerships, fruitful networks and creative interaction between its member organisations.
I will talking about McCaldin Arts’ project Mary’s Hand, which is in development for performances in 2018. In dealing with historical issues around the life of Queen Mary I, the show considers how her reputation was posthumously manipulated by her half-sister Elizabeth I, and the partial treatment of important facts and truths. As it turns out, fake news and PR spin are not a recent invention.
This morning I joined Clare Lynch and Leslie Hardcastle OBE at Soho Radio to talk about my connections with the area. Clare and Leslie co-host The Soho Society Hour on Thursday from 9-10am. Under Leslie’s indefatigable Chairmanship, The Soho Society lobbies for a local community voice in discussions affecting everything from planning consent and heritage to licensing and events. Each week, alongside Leslie’s updates on the current issues in the area, Clare interviews a couple of guests about their work and life in Soho. Appearing with me today in the studio was singer, writer, curator and Soho resident Celine Hispiche and, down the phone, playwright Martin Murphy.
As it turned out we all had a one-woman show to talk about. I was there mainly to talk about Jessie Matthews, born and raised in Soho, whose story I narrate and perform in Over My Shoulder. In addition to curating a salon for new performance work, Celine is also developing a show about a notorious London Bohemien, Betty May. Martin’s latest play, Victim, is a one-woman show about the relationship between a prison guard, Tracey, and an inmate.
We began by discussing Joseph Haydn, whose blue plaque at 18 Great Pulteney Street is visible thanks to the campaign by The Haydn Society of Great Britain, in which I played a small part back in 2015. Although I had frequently visited Soho in the past to enjoy its many restaurants, it was only through this project that I really got involved in the history of the area. Researching my second Soho story in Jessie Matthews has led me to all kinds of discoveries and people, not least the lovely group with whom I spent this morning.
You can hear this morning’s full Soho Society Hour online here
Born in a Soho slum, Jessie Matthews rose to become a superstar of stage and screen throughout the 1930s, and was often described as “the English Ginger Rogers”. Elisabeth Schumann was a German opera and song specialist whose popularity with British audiences remained undimmed even after Germany and England had fought a war. Both women were hugely famous in their day, and yet their names are hardly recognised now by
younger generations of music-lovers.
Over My Shoulder sets out to remedy this by weaving together the stories of these two singers around their unexpected intersection here in London. In a strange twist of fate, Jessie and Elisabeth now lie buried in the same churchyard. Could they also have met years earlier in Covent Garden at the height of their fame?
Clare McCaldin (mezzo-soprano) and Paul Turner (piano) combine story-telling and singing to celebrate the lives and work of Jessie and Elisabeth. Tales of romantic scandal, tragedy, falls from grace and triumphant come-backs are inseparable from the remarkable artistic contribution of these two women.
The performance includes music by Felix Mendelssohn, Richard Strauss, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Hugo Wolf, Johannes Brahms, Otto Klemperer, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Noël Coward, Harry Woods and Rodgers & Hart.
15th February 2018, 7.30pm St Paul’s Church, 32a Wilton Place, London, SW1X 8SH
Tickets £25, £15, £10. Interval drinks will be served (donation requested). Click here to book in advance or buy a ticket on the door.
September 16th will be the first performance of Over My Shoulder, my latest McCaldin Arts project, about soprano Elisabeth Schumann and musical comedy star Jessie Matthews. In this recital I narrate the remarkable life-stories of these two women and sing some of the wonderful music most closely associated with them. Accompanying me in songs ranging from Mendelssohn, Strauss and Schubert to Noel Coward and Rodgers & Hart will be pianist Paul Turner, my regular collaborator on Haydn’s London Ladies.
It was a photograph of the grave of Elisabeth Schumann at St Martin’s church in Ruislip that first prompted the idea for a recital, followed by the discovery of Jessie Matthews’ grave in the same churchyard. It seems appropriate that Over My Shoulder should get its premiere at St Martin’s where these two women finally came to rest. I hope that, having heard me weave their stories together, the audience will not only visit the two graves, but seek out the substantial legacy of recordings and film left by Elisabeth and Jessie, many of which can be found on You Tube. I am delighted to be presenting their song repertoire, but the inimitable originals are really worth hearing too, and Jessie’s dance routines (she was the “English Ginger Rogers”) are absolutely extraordinary.
This performance of Over My Shoulder is sponsored by Edmission UK and all ticket receipts will go to the Myosotis Trust, a charity with which St Martin’s church and the local community have a long association.
Concert starts at 7.30pm. Tickets will be available on the door. Interval drinks.
Preparing a solo recital is always a lot of work, so the chance to repeat a programme is a welcome opportunity. However, performing the same programme three times in three different counties in just over 24 hours demands a whole new level of stamina and focus, as Libby Burgess and I confirmed on our mini-tour for Concerts in the West. But there is simply no other way to discover how to do it other than by actually doing it. To sing the programme through three times without the presence of an audience wouldn’t achieve the same effect, such is the importance of the audience in the whole undertaking.
Although any programme becomes easier with familiarity, the physical toll of delivering three concerts so close together is not to be underestimated, for both singer and pianist. Clever programming and knowing how to pace oneself are essential, as is the art of cat-napping.
Being on tour is not only about the performing and, as in this case, journeys on winding country roads between venues can also take their toll. We were fortunate that with each passing concert the distance back ‘home’ became shorter, and we were glad to be driven than to be doing the driving as well.
As its name suggests, Concerts in the West is based in the South-West and covers venues in Devon, Somerset and Dorset. It’s always a pleasure to discover new places to perform and we were particularly delighted by Bridport Arts Centre, a lovely little space with a super acoustic, and Ilminster Arts Centre, run by volunteers and, I’m pleased to say, thriving.
Thank you to Catherine and her team at Concerts in the West for a very enjoyable flying visit.