Saturday, May 06, 2017
Quick note: if you're around the Southbank Centre for the Belief & Beyond Belief Festival today, please pop along to the pre-concert talk. Tonight's performance includes Beethoven's Ninth, with the LPO conducted by Kazushi Ono [replacing an indisposed Christoph Eschenbach], and I've been drafted in to moderate a pre-concert discussion with professors Matthew Bell of Kings College London, an expert on German literature, and Benjamin Walton of Cambridge University's music department. We'll be exploring the history and context of the symphony and Schiller's Ode to Joy. Ballroom floor, Royal Festival Hall, 6.15pm. Please come along and say hello.
Friday, May 05, 2017
A terrible journey; a moving tale; a fortunate end. Many have not been so lucky. Last week a young Kurdish musician was drowned while trying to reach his brother in Belgium, dying with his violin in his arms.
Here is Rami's story. His album is released today.
After travelling thousands of miles from Syria with his violin on his back, 21-year-old refugee Rami spreads a message of hope with his life-affirming debut album ‘My Journey’, released on Friday 5th May on Decca Records. The lead single ‘Ode to Joy – Anthem for Europe’ is being released digitally in support of the British Red Cross as part of Red Cross Week (7-13 May) to help raise awareness of people in crisis, wherever they are.
In 2015, Rami was studying at a music school in Homs, Syria, but as war developed, he had no choice but to flee the country in search of safety. He travelled from Syria, through Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria and Germany, on foot and by boat, often running and swimming for his life. However, through this exhausting journey, Rami managed to keep his violin safe by wrapping it in cling film and carrying it on his back.
After travelling from Syria to Lebanon and Turkey, it took four attempts to get a boat from Istanbul, and after the engine failed, Rami and other passengers rowed through the night until they were picked by the Greek coast guard and taken to Kos. Rami says, “I arrived and I was so tired. I slept together with the violin because I was scared of someone stealing it.”
From Athens, Rami travelled to Macedonia. At a camp on the border, he started to play a beautiful Arabic-influenced version of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ for his fellow refugees, and was heard by journalists. He then travelled to Serbia, where he spoke to journalists about the bad living conditions. Rami was punished for his actions, separated from his friends and deprived of food and drink – until a security guard noticed the violin and Rami started to play for him. Rami explains, “This made him very happy. He started to film me and then spoke to his wife. He got a lot of enjoyment from this.” The security guard reunited Rami with his friends and they continued on the next stage of their journey from Belgrade to Budapest by train.
After Rami was thrown off the train by police, he walked through the forest from Budapest with a friend. However, police caught up with them, and running in different directions, Rami became separated from his friend – and his violin. Rami was taken to a camp, which he described as “so bad and so sad” with everyone living in tents in hot and dusty conditions. He left the camp and travelled through the night to Austria, and onward to Munich and Sasbachwalden in Germany. He was given refuge there and – after telling his story to a local woman – he was handed a violin.
Rami was then transferred to a sports hall in Lahr, filled with bunk beds and more than 200 families, and he practised in the room with washing machines. He found a local church to pray and practise in – and a photo of him playing violin there appeared in a local newspaper. After seeing this, a German couple offered him a room in their house and gave him the chance to practise his violin in quiet and taught him German. This marked the start of a new chapter for Rami, which led to him making his very first album.
Alex Fraser, Director of Refugee Support at the British Red Cross said, “A huge thank you to Rami and Decca for this collaboration which will help raise funds for the British Red Cross. Rami’s story is incredibly moving and shows the dangerous journey refugees undertake to find a place of safety.
The Red Cross works in countries spanning migratory trails across the globe. The funds raised from this single will go towards supporting our humanitarian work, supporting refugees arriving in the UK as they start to rebuild their lives and be reunited with their families.”
Thursday, May 04, 2017
|Sam Furness (tenor), who sings our hero, Jack|
A "community opera" is generally about the experience of those taking part in it, who in many cases are not auditioned. This "people's opera" is about the audience too: whether or not they are seasoned opera-goers or first-timers at a performance, the show should be equally enjoyable for all.
We do have a wonderfully large community involvement, but everyone has been auditioned and there is a strong professional core.
The Learning and Participation department has led the project, with Karen Gillingham, head of the department, as director; 180 people are taking part in the performance, including children from local primary schools, members of the armed forces, the Garsington adult community choir - and also a truly fabulous solo cast of some of the best young singers in the country.
|Victoria Simmonds (mezzo-soprano) is our strong-hearted Anna|
So it is, really, for everyone and about everyone. It's all about all of us working together. That's one reason we love it so much, and we hope you will too!
Wednesday, May 03, 2017
|The Silver Birch youth company in rehearsal|
The Oxford Times has run a preview of our Garsington opera, Silver Birch (music by Roxanna Panufnik, libretto by me). Read it here.
Here's what I've said about the process so far..
Jessica Duchen, Librettist
Tuesday, May 02, 2017
|Glyndebourne. Photo: glyndebourne.com/David Illman|
Glyndebourne's announcement today of a new competition for young singers is a big deal indeed. The top prize in the biennial Glyndebourne Opera Cup will be £15,000 and a "platform for launching an international career"; the jury consists of directors, agents and head casting honchos from some of Europe's top operatic organisations; and Sky Arts is to televise an associated series of programmes. Preliminary rounds will be held in different cities and the finals at Glyndebourne itself. Dame Janet Baker is honorary president.
Intriguingly, they have decided to focus on a different composer every time the competition is held - and for the first session in 2018 it is Mozart, with idiomatic accompaniment provided by the OAE.
The contest is the brainchild of Glyndebourne's general director, Sebastian Schwarz, who says:
“I’ve been on the judging panels of a number of singing competitions and have seen what works and what doesn’t. When I arrived at Glyndebourne, with its giant reputation for discovering exceptional talent, it seemed an incredible opportunity to design the perfect singing competition from scratch. To me this means offering maximum benefit to those who enter. This is reflected in the jury which comprises esteemed colleagues representing houses that, like Glyndebourne, have a lot to offer competitors as they seek to develop careers. Our ambition is to establish The Glyndebourne Opera Cup as among the premiere competitions of its kind and we are delighted to be partnering with Sky Arts to bring this to a wider audience.”Singers up to the age of 28 are eligible. Applications open later this year and preliminary rounds will be held in January in Philadelphia, London and Berlin, with the final next summer at Glyndebourne. The jury is:
- Sebastian F. Schwarz, General Director, Glyndebourne (Chair)
- Barrie Kosky, Artistic Director, Komische Oper Berlin
- David Devan, General Director and President, Opera Philadelphia
- Joan Matabosch, Artistic Director, Teatro Real de Madrid
- Sophie de Lint, Artistic Director, Zurich Opera and Director designate of Dutch National Opera
- Fortunato Ortombina, Artistic Director, Teatro La Fenice, Venice
- Pål Christian Moe, Casting Consultant for Bayerische Staatsoper Munich and Glyndebourne
- Maria Mot, Associate Director, Vocal & Opera, Intermusica