Showing posts with label Paul Fincham. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Paul Fincham. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Happy Princess and a happy composer

On Friday the Garsington Opera Youth Companies are giving the world premiere of The Happy Princess, a new opera written especially for them by composer Paul Fincham and librettist me. It's based on Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince, but reimagined, updated and somewhat tweaked, and it involves around 80 young people and the soprano Lara-Marie Müller (whom you may have seen as Esmeralda in Garsington's smash-hit production of The Bartered Bride earlier in the summer). I asked Paul: "How was it for you?". We're off to the dress rehearsal shortly...




Rehearsing the factory scene...
Photo: Julian Guidera


PAUL FINCHAM WRITES:

However hard we might try to shape our lives, ultimately so much depends on random happenings. The genesis of The Happy Princess, my first opera and the most significant commission to date in my second career as a composer, is no exception.

I was introduced by Marina Abel Smith to Karen Gillingham who runs the Learning and Participation division at Garsington; she and I met and she then connected me with Jess. 

Jess and I found we had a lot in common (about life as well as music). Jess listened to some of the music I had composed over the last few years and then suggested that she put forward a pitch to Karen for us to write a youth opera based on Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince. There was some initial discussion about writing a 20 minute piece, everything went quiet for a while and then out of the blue, whilst I was at a wedding reception in Delhi(!), an e mail popped up confirming the commission for a performance of a 60-minute youth opera for the main stage at Garsington in summer 2019.  

Deep breath. I had never written an opera (at least not since a rock opera when I was a schoolboy). I had recently taken up composing again after a break of some 30 years, put together a CD of short, intimate pieces recorded in my home studio, delivered a film score for a successful low/micro-budget feature film and written a Christmas carol for the London Philharmonic Choir.  


But writing an opera - setting the text for around 80 singers making up three choirs and a professional soprano as well as arranging the score for an eight-piece band....How would I do that?......But what an enthralling opportunity to work with what many regard as the leading Learning and Participation division in the country.


JD: What’s been the most challenging thing(s) about the project for you?

PF: There are around half a dozen set pieces for chorus, which I would say are my comfort zone (I have sung in the London Philharmonic Choir for over 30 years and there is probably no better training for composing for choir than singing in one!). More challenging were the exchanges between the soloists, which in a Mozart opera would be recitative. These are often quite sparsely scored, but deceptively difficult to write. Quite a bit of this material ended up on the cutting room floor, in some cases more than once (my “bin” folder for the project seems quite crowded!). 

I should add that the necessary process of mastering the computer software for the vocal score and full score, almost from scratch, was quite some challenge (and a sincere thank you to the clever folk at Dorico for their patient support throughout).


What are the most exciting and rewarding aspects of it?

I entirely endorse Britten’s mantra that composers should not occupy ivory towers. Ultimately the most rewarding aspect of writing The Happy Princesshas been working with Jess and with the creative team at Garsington and then finally (it seemed a long time after I started writing it) witnessing it all being drawn together under the conductor, Jonathan Swinard, leading up to the premiere - which is of course the most exciting aspect of all!


Lara being fitted with a prototype 
of her Princess costume
Photo: Julian Guidera
What have you learned through writing the opera that you maybe didn’t expect to learn?

I learnt that writing an opera is (like writing a film score) as much as anything about collaboration: first and foremost, of course, with the librettist, but alongside that with the production team, which at every level provided insightful feedback throughout the process. That brought home to me the paramount importance of respecting text and narrative: every bar you write must be faithful to the drama. From start to finish virtually everything I wrote evolved. Only one set piece (the simple love duet for the Princess and the Swallow in scene 9) survives in exactly the form in which it began. By the time I penned the last notes of the opera I felt I was in a different space from where I had started.


What do you like most about working with a youth company?

Enthusiasm, excitement, energy!


What do you hope to write next? 

Whilst writing HP I kept my head down, writing a score for a short film and taking on one other small commission to compose a wedding anthem – which, unbelievably, is being performed on the same day as the premiere of HP by a choir comprising singers from the Glyndebourne Opera chorus!

What next? I will likely go wherever it takes me - I would like to write another feature film score, I certainly aim to write more choral music, possibly another Christmas carol. I finished HP feeling elated but pretty drained; it felt as though it had been in my in tray a long time (it was around 15 months from start to finish, including orchestration).   

But if someone calls me on Saturday and asks whether I’d consider writing another youth opera…I am pretty sure I know what the answer would be. And of course I would love to work with you again - though I understand you're in demand! [thanks :) jd]


THE HAPPY PRINCESS world premiere is at Garsington Opera on Friday 2 August, directed by Karen Gillingham and conducted by Jonathan Swinard






Friday, December 21, 2018

WELCOME TO THE JDCMB CHOCOLATE SILVER AWARDS 2018



Deck the halls with chocolate silver, 
Falalalalaaaah, meow me-ow...

If you've been reading JDCMB for a while, you'll know that TODAY'S THE DAY. It's the Winter Solstice, which means it's time for our very own virtual awards ceremony, in which we take a lighthearted look back at the year's peaks and plunges, while Ricki (chocolate silver) and Cosi (silver) present our winners with a special prize purr and let them stroke their luxuriant fur.

Please come in. Welcome to the CyperPoshPlace! 

No need to stand on ceremony here. All are welcome. No tickets are checked, no charges made for the cloakroom, and the CyberBubbly, being virtual, is limitless free to all and won't make you drunk. Just the right degree of pleasantly tipsy, if you so wish.

It's been a...well, I can't remember a year quite like this one. It's tense. Everyone is anxious and exhausted and we still don't know what the heck is going to happen to us all, let alone the music business, in three months' time. We, dear world, are the proud owners of a government that currently seems determined to throw us all over a cliff, below which there are food shortages, medicine shortages, island gridlock, troops on the streets, mass unemployment and a violent economic crash, just to prove that 'Brexit' can be done - when actually it can't. It's like trying to take the vodka out of the martini after it's been shaken and stirred. Good countries do occasionally go mad and learn horrific lessons in the worst possible way. We can't be certain that that's not happening to us now.

Message in a bottle: Britain calling. HELP! Please send chocolate. 

[PING. yesterday I went to Brussels on Eurostar. Stopped here en route home.]




Right. Now that that's out of the way, let's PARTAAY like it's 2006!

Have a drink, enjoy our cybercanapes, meet and greet the great and famous of many countries and all centuries who have come to celebrate with us. Here's Ludwig, with Josephine on his arm - at last. Here's Anna Magdalena, pulling a grumbling Johann Sebastian away from his work. Over there Robert Schumann is giving Steven Isserlis a hug, and Fryderyk Chopin, holding a flat parcel about the size of a mazurka manuscript, is asking if anyone's seen Alan Walker arriving, please, because he has a gift for him. I personally am going up to embrace Gabriel Fauré before we do anything else... merci, mon cher Monsieur Gabriel, et grand bisous! The rainbow glitter balls are spinning, gold bit-lets are dropping from the ceiling and Ricki and Cosi are ensconced upon their silken cushions, ready to present the prizes.

Quiet, please! Thank you... First, let's have a huge round of applause for each and every musician who has touched the hearts of his/her audience this year. You're wonderful. You help make life worth living. We love you. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all your inspirational artistry.

👏👏👏👏👏👏💜💜💜🎶🎶🎶🎵🎹🎻🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉


The first prize, though, goes to Ricki himself.



BEST CAT: RICKI

Because of everything that happened this year, the very best was that Ricki survived. In April he came down with a terrible infection: pyothorax, which turned into sepsis. We had to rush him to an animal hospital near Luton Airport and nobody really thought he was going to live. He was in there for a week and a half and we had twice-daily reports - some hopeful, others less so, several times asking if we wanted to grant permission for him to be put down if in the night he took a terrible turn for the worse. It was agony. Ricki is the sweetest-natured cat in the whole world, he's my personal most-special-cat-ever, and he wasn't even four years old. Against all the odds, by some miracle, he pulled through. He's now bouncing happily around doing megapurrs and chasing his own tail when he's not chasing his sister or mellowing out on the armchair in my study while I work.

NB: One person wasn't too happy about this: Cosi, whose nose promised to be thoroughly out of joint. She was furious when he came home and she no longer had Sole Cat status. This prize has involved some serious trade-offs including copious quantities of fish.


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ICON OF THE YEAR

It's got to be Leonard Bernstein. The year's been bookended by super-Bernstein: Wonderful Town and 'The Age of Anxiety' with Simon Rattle and the LSO back in January was the most fun I've ever had without joining in a conga. Wonderful Town went wonderfully to town. Bravi. And the other weekend I adored hearing Candide live again - one of my big favourites, for all its flaws. 

And what an injection of energy this centenary has been: bursting out all over with glorious tunes, snarky, sparkly lyrics, dazzling drama and the musical world's most enormous heart. Here's Lenny himself, with the incomparable Christa Ludwig and castanets, a long way from Rovko-Gubernya - the superbly cutting celebration of internationalism, from Candide.




SINGER OF THE YEAR


Sarah Connolly at the centre of the Brexit protest
Photo: EFE (from Las Provincias.es)

Step forward, please, Dame Sarah Connolly! You have been a searing firebrand of inspiration to us all, throwing your weight into anti-Brexit campaigning, and offering a Fricka in the Covent Garden Ring cycle whose power and magnetism makes the whole story turn upon her intervention. Thank you for your glorious singing.

Here's a mesmerising aria from Handel's Ariodante.



ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR



Hello and welcome, dear Kathryn Stott! What a privilege it was to be part of your Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville this summer. (OK, it was winter there, but it sure didn't feel like it.) Being up close in an intensely programmed week of musical festivities that run for round about 12 hours every day, one gets to see how things work, and I soon realised there's nothing you can't do. You put together a programme of glorious variety and dazzling diversity, played a phenomenal range of chamber music under extraordinary pressure, kept cheerful and social and even went paddling at the tropical island concert [above]. Saying Brava Bravissima is not enough. I note that Ricki and Cosi are both letting you do their tummy fur, which is very special and not often permitted.

Come on, play us some Fauré. You know you want to. I have him here in person, ready to cheer you on.



INSTRUMENTALIST OF THE YEAR


Boris Giltburg
Photo: Sasha Gusov

This award goes to Boris Giltburg, partly because I'm furious to have missed two of his recitals this year for different reasons. There's a glut of glorious piano playing out there are the moment, but only a handful of musicians to whose recordings I find I have to listen flat out on the floor with the volume right up and sod what the neighbours think. (Actually, that's not fair, because we have wonderful neighbours.)

After I commented on this, thinking that it was more characteristic behaviour for heavy metal fans, Boris sent me a tweet saying he's a bit of a metal-head himself and recommending some tracks for me to try. I tried Metallica. I loved it. (Yes, there's a genre specially for people who seek all-out-intense virtuoso musical experiences and have long curly hair.) Step up to the podium, please, Boris!



YOUTHFUL ARTIST OF THE YEAR


Fatma Said
Photo: from BBC website
Just listen to this Brahms song from the incredible young Egyptian soprano Fatma Said, currently one of the BBC New Generation Artists. What more could I say?! Welcome a thousand times, Fatma!




ARTIST OF THE YEAR


Roxanna Panufnik

Step up, my wonderful composer colleague and collaborator-in-chief, Roxanna Panufnik, who has been flying high this year, which contained her half-century celebrations. What a joy it was to see her bring the houses down at the Proms and Symphony Hall, with music that is growing, deepening, daring more and more. (You can hear our next joint effort in Baltimore in March, by the way, under the batons of Marin Alsop and Valentina Peleggi...)

Here's Roxanna's 'Unending Love', from her latest album Celestial Bird, sung by Ex Cathedra




AND ONE STUFFED TURKEY

An orchestral director who was in favour of Brexit, despite running an orchestra that depends on carnet-free, visa-free touring and includes members from some 22 nationalities, most of them European. He may have changed his mind for all I know, but it's a bit bloody late now. For shame. 


PROUDEST MOMENTS

Sharing a stage with Roderick Williams, Siobhan Stagg and the Goldner String Quartet among other wonderful musicians in Australia, for Being Mrs Bach, is something I'll remember all my life with great joy and slight disbelief that it really happened. But it did, and it was great.

Going to Paris to see the manuscript of the Fauré Requiem was also unforgettable - what a joy to explore its marvels together with Bob Chilcott and the BBC Radio 4 team! I came over quite tearful. The result was on 'Tales from the Stave'.

I've been working on more librettos since Silver Birch and am delighted with the new youth opera that Paul Fincham and I are writing. It is scheduled for Garsington on 2 August 2019 and it's an adaptation and updating of Wilde's The Happy Prince – to The Happy Princess. Paul has been working in the City for a few decades, but after winning an award for his first film score, he's ditched the day job to get back to his first vocation. In his Cambridge days he was music director of the Footlights, working with the likes of Emma Thompson and Hugh Laurie, and I can promise a few very persistent ear-worms are finding their way into the new piece.

More pieces with Roxanna are also in the pipeline, and so is one with another well-established composer whom I greatly admire, but we can't announce it just yet.

I can say, though, that writing librettos is my favourite thing in the whole world and if I'd realised this 20 years ago I'd just have done that to the exclusion of as much as possible else. It's a task that is creative and collaborative - there's nothing lonely about it. It blends words and music to the ultimate degree. And it culminates in a live musical experience so you see people actually responding and you feel the vibration in the theatre. I love love love love love it.

Last but by no means least, Odette made target in June and the next few months were devoted to getting it ready for publication. It's out now, and flying. The blog tour this past week has produced some reviews that collectively show that the book does what I wanted it to do, and after 26 years, it's wonderful to see people enjoying it.


WEIRDEST MOMENTS

There are always a few, and 2018 was no exception. 

There was the time my husband challenged Norman Lebrecht to a duel after the celebrated Slipped Disc blogger took issue with some of the decisions made during the Radio 4 Women's Hour Power List. Glad to say the cats prevented piss-takes at dawn.

There was the other night. For some reason we thought it would be clever to go to Iceland in the dead of winter to see the Northern Lights. We reckoned without the fact that other sightseeing has to be done in the few scant existing daylight hours, and that late-night excursions looking for the Aurora involve standing around for hours in sub-zero temperatures, and we both got sick. We did see the Northern Lights, though - sort of. A kind of grey misty effect on the horizon, with some sparky, starry things jumping about within it. Here's my photo of it.



Otherwise...the whole year's been a bit weird, and I fear the next will be more so. 

Good luck, everyone, and solidarity. Let's pull together and try to stop this disaster while we still can. And don't forget the chocolate.







Thursday, August 23, 2018

AGED 9-21? AUDITION FOR OUR NEW OPERA!

The cat is out of the bag! I'm writing a new youth opera for Garsington 2019 with the composer Paul Fincham and the company is now announcing the auditions, which will be held on 15 September.

So if you are or know a young person aged 9-21 who likes singing and stagecraft, send 'em our way, please. Details on Garsington's site here.

The opera is THE HAPPY PRINCESS, an updated adaptation of that ever-popular Oscar Wilde story, The Happy Prince [NB, the Garsington site currently says Andersen, but it isn't]. We hope it will be touching, fun, 'relevant' and full of beautiful new music by Paul. I've been having way too much fun doing the words.

Read about Paul and the audition plans here.