Showing posts with label Goldner String Quartet. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Goldner String Quartet. Show all posts

Thursday, August 02, 2018

AFCM#6: Being Anna Magdalena

It’s done! The premiere of Being Mrs Bach was yesterday at 5pm and it simply flew by. It’s almost impossible to sum it up...but the great reward, when you’ve dreamed up a project and you can see it in your mind’s eye, and then months later that image actually becomes reality and does what you want it to do - that’s a good feeling.




The original commission for Being Mrs Bach came through last summer from Kathy Stott and Tom and I took off to Leipzig to experience Bach’s environment as far as humanly possible. The trip made a big difference to the story, because there is information at the Thomaskirche, the Bach Museum and the city museum in the Town Hall that provides colour and authenticity that would not have been available to me from the comfort of my bookshelves. Anna Magdalena’s tragedy was that she gave her whole life to Bach and her family, only to find, first, that she could no longer sing - women were not allowed to sing in public in Leipzig - and then, after JSB’s death, she and her youngest daughter were left reliant on charity as, for some reason, the other children gave her little support. In 1894, when Bach’s body was exhumed so that scientists could measure his skull, hers was left behind. By the time he was reburied in pride of place in the Thomaskirche in 1950, anything that remained of Anna Magdalena had probably been blasted to pieces by allied bombing.

How to choose the right pieces from Bach’s gigantic output to include in the show was, to put it mildly, mind-boggling - especially with such an eclectic roster of astounding musicians available to take part. But as soon as Kathy let me know who my singers could be, things began to fall into place. The chance to persuade Roddy Williams to sing ‘Mache Dich’ from the St Matthew Passion to finish the show seemed almost too good to be true, and he kindly agreed to sing ‘Hat man nicht mit seinen Kinder’ from the Coffee Cantata as well. The glorious soprano Siobhan Stagg sang ‘Bist du bei mir’ - such a favourite of mine that we had it at our wedding. (You may have seen Roddy and Siobhan as Papageno and Pamina in The Magic Flute at the Royal Opera House last year....).




The Goldner Quartet are in residence - who better to tackle the legendary Unfinished Fugue of The Art of Fugue? The effect is devastating: this magnificent complexity unfurling in phase after phase suddenly peters out into silence with a few final notes on the viola. Daniel de Borah contributed not only two splendid solos - the chunky, good-natured E flat Prelude and Fugue from Book 2 of the 48 and the ubiquitous Minuet in G, beautifully embellished on its repeat - but also accompanied Siobhan and joined the Winterschool’s very accomplished student quartet and bassist Kees Boersma in the ensemble for ‘Mache Dich’. Guy Johnston played the first movement of the C major Cello Suite, just as Anna Magdalena remembers how she made fair copies, put in all the bowings and used to imagine that one day someone might find those pages in her handwriting and wonder if she wrote them herself... ;).

Funnily enough, the single most complicated part of the process was setting up the stage. We wanted everyone there all the way through for ease of running - we only had an hour - and it can be hard to tell in advance what will fit and what won’t. Solutions were found, lighting was planned, and everyone made valuable contributions to the placements and the flow.

And to judge from the audience reaction, I think it went pretty well.

It’ll be a wrench to say goodbye to Anna Magdalena and return her dress to the costume store, but I hope she may simply be awaiting a resurrection of her own, should any more concert halls or festivals fancy meeting her.

Onwards...and today I am giving the Winterschool a lecture about eight - or nine - wonderful composers across the ages who happen(ed) to be female.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

AFCM#3: Working. Seriously: working....



The pic above is from our first rehearsal today for Being Mrs Bach here in Townsville. I’m wielding my script at the side, offscreen, while some of our siezable team of musicians rehearse in the studio - pictured, baritone Roderick Williams, pianist Daniel de Borah, the young Stanley Street Quartet, who are studying at the festival Winterschool, and bassist Kees Boersma, getting to grips together with ‘Mache dich’ from the St Matthew Passion and ‘Hat man nicht mit seinen Kinder...’ from the Coffee Cantata.

The wonderful soprano Siobhan Stagg - who does actually look like Anna Magdalena - will be channelling our heroine’s spirit into ‘Bist du bei mir’, Daniel is playing the Minuet in G and the E flat Prelude and Fugue from Book 2, and somewhere in the room the Goldner Quartet were preparing to play the unfinished contrapunctus from The Art of Fugue. Completing the line-up, Guy Johnston will offer a movement from one of the cello suites.

I can hardly believe I’m working with this team of musicians. They’re simply the best in the world...and somehow I have to match up. Gulp.

The first two evening concerts have brought us some astounding performances - last night’s included Roddy and Daniel in the Vaughan Williams Songs of Travel and a roof-raising Tchaikovsky Souvenir de Florence with an all-star international line-up, to say nothing of a supremely talented young Australian violinist, Grace Clifford (she’s 20), playing Julian Yu’s Passacaglia after Biber so splendidly that I suspect a magnificent future for her.



Relaxed festival-goers who don’t need to rehearse, practise or write about things can enjoy musical events from morning til night most days at AFCM. In the mornings, Kathy Stott presents Concert Conversations, interviewing her artists, with  performances by them to follow, a Winterschool lunchtime masterclass, a 5pm Sunset Series (in which Being Mrs Bach is included) and then more events in the evening. Tonight people are off to a Supper Club where they will be entertained with jazz, tango and Gershwin while munching. Some of us, though, are grabbing the opportunity to conquer the jet-lag, or try to, and cook ourselves some local fish.

The jet-lag is quite something. Jokes are zipping around the festival about how everyone is ‘drugged’ - on melatonin. I don’t know how we’d manage without it...but I made the mistake of taking a second one at about 3.30am and then slept through to 9.30am, when I had to write and file some copy by 10am. Tom kindly made the coffee while I jumped to it...

To be fair, it wasn’t only jet-lag. We’re having too much fun. After the concerts you go out, bump into people, eat gluten-free linguine with seafood or veggie burgers, sample the local produce (I have a none-too-secret passion for Ozzie wines) and before you know what’s happened, it’s midnight. Music festivals were ever thus, but this one is more than usually friendly - and exceptionally well set up by its devoted teams of volunteers, patrons and management, so everyone seems free to be in a singularly good mood. Long may that continue.

More pics at my Instagram account (jessica.duchen) and another update will follow tomorrow. For the time being, the Chadonnay beckons and the pan is waiting for me to pop in the barramundi...