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
Over My Shoulder is at St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge on Thursday 15 February
Celine’s Salon is on at the Mediterranean Cafe, 18 Berwick St on Wednesday 21 February
Victim (sold out at the Soho Theatre) plays at the King’s Head Theatre from 31 March – 21 April
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.
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
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.
This autumn I have been fronting the campaign to put up a plaque in London to the composer Joseph Haydn. Despite his enormous contribution to London’s musical life and two long visits to the city at the end of the eighteenth century, there is no permanent memorial to him here.
As there is no original building that can support a plaque (and thus qualify for English Heritage consideration), a small team from the Haydn Society of Great Britain has worked to obtain the required permissions relating to the building that now stands at 18 Great Pulteney St. This is the site where Haydn lived when he first arrived in London in January 1791, as recorded in a letter he wrote to Maria Anna von Genzinger.
We have exceeded our crowdfunding target for the costs of the plaque’s manufacture and installation and, in the process of fundraising, we have also opened a wonderful dialogue with Haydn fans across the world. We have talked to people from as far afield as the USA and Japan about their favourite works by Haydn and why they feel he is still not as popular as his contemporaries Mozart and Beethoven. This highly unscientific survey will be summarised next year in an article for the Haydn Society.
The exact date of the plaque unveiling has yet to be confirmed. The hope is that the plaque will be in place in Spring 2015 and London will finally have its first memorial to a composer who was such an important part of its cultural heritage.
For more information about the campaign and research into the plaque’s position, go to The Haydn Society of Great Britain and Kickstarter.