Over ten days, Your Loyal Correspondent has been exploring the Variations for Judith with a performance each lunchtime of the aria (‘Bist du bei mir,’ sung by fourth-year soprano, Kathryn Cox) followed by one of the modern reflections from the set.
It’s been a fascinating odyssey, during which the aria has changed, developed, altered, as we’ve explored the resonances between it and the ensuing variation; a daily visit to the same piece of music, performed ten times in front of different people, has seen the aria sung differently on each occasion; more intimately, more expansively, at different tempi, exploring a wider dynamic range.
I’m hugely grateful to Kathryn for undertaking the project, and for turning up each day on the foyer-stage at 1.15pm to sing the same piece each time! Tomorrow, we perform the set as a whole, including the aria, in the concert-hall at 1.10pm, and I’ll also be performing pieces by Amy Beach, Satie and Alison Wrenn.
The ‘Variation a Day’ project exploring each of the pieces in Variations for Judith began yesterday (see rationale here); preceding each variation with the aria to which each responds, ‘Bist du bei mir,’ throws up the resonances between them.
Day One began with fourth-year soprano Kathryn Cox singing the aria, before Anthony Burton’s Breaking Away, whilst earlier this afternoon the aria prefaced Stephen Johns’ evocative Spitalfields Echoes. These delicate responses to the aria have really drawn the audience into the performance, both Burton’s filigree fragments of part of the melodic line above a singing lower-register incarnation, and Johns’ bell-like incantations floating above static chords.
The odyssey continues tomorrow at 1.15pm with the aria and Antony Payne’s excitingly dissonant canonic variation. See you there…
As a lead-in to the recital in March of the complete Variations for Judith, I’ll be launching the set with a performance each week-day of one of the variations, together with the original aria, Bist du bei mir, on which they are based starting on Weds 18 February.
Variations for Judith comprises eleven beautiful responses to the aria from a collection of contemporary composers including Tarik O’Regan, Judith Weir, Richard Rodney Bennett, Jonathan Dove and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies; the set was originally written as a leaving-present for Judith Serota on her departure as Head of Spitalfields Festival in 2007, and embraces a wonderfully inventive series of reflections – from the distant bell-ringing of Stephen Johns’ piece to the witty variation by Judith Weir which sees the left-hand blundering into a sprightly, dancing right hand and being soundly chastised; Tarik O’Regan’s variation moves in contemplative, pointillist fashion through an expansion of the melodic line across several octaves, illuminated at intervals by colourful, jewel-like, chords, whilst Richard Rodney Bennett’s would not sound out of place adorning the soundtrack to Downton Abbey.
Here’s Melvyn Tan performing Judith Weir’s playful variation, followed by Jonathan Dove’s rhapsodic response:
The daily variations take place on the foyer-stage at 1.15pm each weekday from Weds 18 Feb – Tues 3 March, and I’ll be performing the set as a whole on Weds 4 March in a lunchtime recital at 1.10pm in the concert-hall that also includes pieces by Satie, Amy Beach and the UK premiere of the Bill Evans-esque Unicorn in Rainbows by Alison Wrenn. Details about these events online here.
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