Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Sir Arthur Bliss ~ a glorious homecoming.

Well, it happened and what an occasion – a true moment of music history.

For Michael Foster, this was the culmination of a 21 year dream – to bring The Beatitudes home to be performed in Coventry Cathedral, the iconic building for which it was commissioned and written and where it should have been performed on the evening of the Cathedral’s Consecration in May 1962.

Not only was it not performed in the Cathedral then, but it had to wait 50 long years to be so, Saturday last, 22nd September 2012.

In conversation, Michael said that for other men they might have a vintage car or perhaps a boat that was their life’s dream and passionate hobby, but for him it was The Beatitudes and that it should perform in Coventry.

I was lucky enough to help with the marketing of the project, not least the writing of this Blog to tell and share the amazing story that was to become Bliss’ journey, home to Coventry. When corresponding with Michael (many times daily) I would sign myself off Rodney Bashford, Chandlerthis was the night Michael Foster’s boat came in.

I am not a musical journalist – anything but, so this is not a review of the evening. I leave that to the professionals and none perhaps more so than John Quinn who writes for MusicWeb International. This is John’s review: http://www.seenandheard-international.com/2012/09/23/the-beatitudes-in-coventry-cathedral-50-years-late/.

For me that’s it. The boat is home and we have done our level best to honour the memory of a gentleman – Sir Arthur Bliss.

These are some final thoughts, the memories I leave to the photographs that follow.

For Jonathan Crown, son of Jennifer Vyvyan, Bliss’ Soloist for the fated premier of The Beatitudes, I’m sure he felt that his own mother’s memory was beautifully heralded by the joyous voice of Orla Boylan, soloist for the homecoming.

To a person, orchestra, chorus, soloists, everybody had that extra lift to do justice to the work that night. Paul Daniel, conductor, put personal grief behind him and was so clearly enthused to lead, as he put it “the real premiere of this magnificent work”.

John Spence, Director of Membership at the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus told me beforehand “how much the chorus was looking forward to the performance. They knew the story and were each delighted to be playing their part in musical history”.

So, beginning with the Chorus gathered before the West Screen of Coventry Cathedral in advance of the concert, I invite you to enjoy the photographs of Richard Lycett who has superbly captured this extraordinary journey’s end:

Andrew Kennedy, Tenor - Orla Boylan, Soprano - Paul Daniel, Conductor:

BBC Philharmonic Orchestra:

Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus:

Omar Ebrahim, narrator - Schoenberg's 'A Survivoor from Warsaw':

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Bliss ~ the Coventry homecoming draws closer

It’s time to forget the wrongs and look forward now to the rightThe Beatitudes is finally going to be performed in the iconic arena of Coventry Cathedral for which it was written over 50 years ago.

As part of a concert including Schoenberg: ‘A Survivor from Warsaw’ op 46 and Beethoven: Symphony no 5 in C minor op 67. With the BBC Philharmonic and the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, Paul Daniel is conducting.

Tenor Andrew Kennedy, soprano, Orla Boylan and narrator Omar Ebrahim round off the key contributors to what promises to be an extraordinary performance as well as an historic musical event.

It is quite hard to get one’s head around the fact that The Beatitudes was written by Sir Arthur Bliss with his loyal librettist, Christopher Hassall, to celebrate the opening of a brand new Cathedral, conceived, created and built as a symbol of post war peace and reconciliation.

Whilst not performed post war and in the icy chill of the cold war – the message it conveys is as true today as it would ever have been in May 1962.

If you can, come along and be part of history at 7.30 pm on 22nd September 2012 – it’s never too late for hope.

The full story can be read in an extraordinary Souvenir Programme available on the night.

It can also be read as part of the tribulations considered in Michael Foster’s new book on Britten’s War Requiem – The Idea Was Good, available @ www.warrequiem.co.uk

For more information read on...

(Short code to Coventry Cathedral website)

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Two sopranos – one historic voice

Elizabeth Watts had been previewed as the soprano performing in the extraordinary musical event that brings The Beatitudes home to Coventry on 22nd September. Elizabeth was unable to fulfil the role and we are delighted to announce that Orla Boylan (pictured below) will now perform in this historic concert.

Perhaps it is fate that Orla will again be singing under Paul Daniel, conductor, with whom she recently performed Vier Letzte Lieder with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra under Paul Daniel and War Requiem with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.

Is this a sign?

 …for surely it was Britten’s War Requiem (together with no lesser a degree of ego-massaging miss-management) that ‘forced’ Sir Arthur Bliss’ Beatitudes to be performed, not in the iconic Cathedral for which it was written, but in Coventry’s old and acoustically challenged theatre.

The Times has described Orla Boylan as “…the Irish soprano in sensational form.” And we are all looking forward to welcoming her and The Beatitudes into Coventry Cathedral – home, finally.

It was Jennifer Vyvyan (pictured below) who, in May 1962, should have taken to the stage below the huge vaulted ceilings of the new Coventry Cathedral to sing the soprano sections of The Beatitudes, so caringly and passionately written by Sir Arthur Bliss (Master of the Queen’s Music) for the Cathedral’s Consecration – to be performed on the night of the Consecration.

But, this was not to be.

Jennifer Vyvyan’s son, Jonathan Crown, will be attending the concert on 22nd September and wrote: “ I am very much looking forward to attending this exciting event”.

For the original fated performance, Bliss was particularly pleased to receive the letter from Jennifer accepting his invitation for her to perform the soprano role. She was in fact on honeymoon at the time, having married Leon Crown.

She wrote to Sir Arthur – “Thrilled to bits with the parcel that arrived this morning.” -  He had posted the new score of The Beatitudes to Jennifer on her honeymoon - “am hard at work already and think it is wonderful. More soon. XXX J.V.”

[The original postcard can be seen in the Cambridge University Library.]

But it was not to be. She performed admirably, but the performance could not deliver what was intended as a grand celebration of everything Coventry’s new Cathedral was to stand for. Sir Arthur called it “a major disappointment” and Jennifer took in her professional stride what Bliss referred to as “a maladjustment most unfortunate to me…”.

Professional understatement in the shadow of a more vocal creative regime.

On 5 April 1974 Jennifer Vyvyvan suffered complications from a bronchial/asthmatic condition she’d been struggling to control for years, and died at her home in Fitzjohns Avenue, Hampstead, NW London. She left a husband, Leon Crown (married 1962) and a 9yr-old son Jonathan Crown.

Orla Boylan is no stranger to grand musical occasion. Her presence and her voice will carry Bliss’ memory to an audience who eagerly await this amazing homecoming. Under the familiar baton of Paul Daniel, who himself said: “I'm delighted to be a part of paying homage to Sir Arthur Bliss in this wonderful event. Putting things right after all these years is long overdue and I'm really looking forward to conducting the real 'premiere' of this magnificent work.” This promises to be a truly magnificent occasion.

 At 7.30 pm on 22nd September this year, Coventry promises a rapturous welcome and enthusiastic performance of The Beatitudes in a concert including:

Paul Daniel, conductor
Orla Boylan, soprano
Andrew Kennedy, tenor
Omar Ebrahim, narrator
BBC Philharmonic
Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus
Schoenberg: ‘A Survivor from Warsaw’ op 46
Beethoven: Symphony no 5 in C minor op 67
& Bliss: ‘The Beatitudes

For more information read on...

(Short code to Coventry Cathedral website)