Through my research for my ‘Women In Music Module’, I was intrigued to read that the wife of Gustav Mahler, Alma Mahler, had also composed before their marriage. Having recently performed some of Gustav Mahler’s songs I decided to search out her compositions to see if I could add them to my repertoire.
As I read about her life I felt that it would provide an interesting point of contrast for my upcoming presentation on Kaija Saariaho to demonstrate how life’s opportunities have changed for women over the past 100 years.
Alma was born in Vienna August 1879, eldest daughter of a landscape painter Emil Jakob Schindler and Hamburg Singer Anna Sofie Bergen. Her early life was influenced by the many artistic people that visited the family home, including Gustav Klimt with whom she is said to have shared her first kiss, she was considered quite a beauty.
Boulevard of Poplars near Plankenberg, Emil Jakob Schindler, Leopold Museum, Vienna
Encouraged by her father, Alma showed great promise as a pianist and with the help of her teachers, one of which was the composer Alexander Zemlinsky, she started to create her first compositions.
Through the growing circle of artistic contacts, Alma was introduced to Gustav Mahler who at the time was the Director of the Vienna Court Opera. Shortly after their introduction Gustav Mahler became enamored by Alma and pursued her during a brief period of courtship.
Alma’s life to that point had been very bohemian with the freedom to explore and experiment, however, Gustav Mahler, 19 years her senior, had a very traditional view of marriage and family life and is believed to have written a lengthy letter to Alma detailing his requirements of a wife. One of his key demands was that she stopped composing as he did not want her distracted from her duties which included caring for his needs.
Alma agreed to his demands and married Gustav Mahler in 1902 and her brief experimentation with composition was brought to an end. However, towards the end of his life, Gustav Mahler had an appointment with Sigmund Freud to try to better understand his wife, Freud deduced that Alma had tried to replace the father figure in her life by marrying Gustav Mahler, following her own father’s death when she was just thirteen. Freud encouraged Gustav Mahler to revisit his decision to curb Alma’s artistic outlet through her compositions which led him to have five of her works published.
After the death of Gustav Mahler in 1911 though Alma led a full and interesting life she never returned fully to composing career. Although in 1915 she published a set of four songs and five songs in 1924.
Updated: Alma died in 1964 in New York at the age of 85 the 14 songs, written for voice and piano, that were credited to her from the time before her marriage to Gustav Mahler remained the only pieces of music that she published as most of her earlier compositions were lost in the Second World War.
To add to existing knowledge of women’s work in music in history I decided back in September 2017 to take a programme in my Master’s studies called ‘Women in Music’. Women are stepping forward more into the spotlight and news, just now I read that the American Conductor Marin Alsop has been appointed the first female artistic director of the Vienna orchestra. I just hope that at some point in the future this isn’t front page news, why is it so rare? She was also the first woman to conduct the Last Night of the Proms and the first woman to lead a major US orchestra, let’s hope she’s not the only woman able to break through. Read this article:
It’s quite shocking that a female harpist spent 26 years in the orchestra but was never acknowledged and only her hands were shown on tv broadcasts.
I was assigned a professional female mentor after submitting a list of people I would like to work with to get a better understanding of what a professional career in Music looks like and to gain an awareness of issues and experiences female musical professionals may encounter whilst studying an introduction to current gender theory. This project will be coming to fruition over the next two months with a project I’m submitting mid-February and a performance lecture-recital I will be presenting at the RCM on 8th March 2018 based on one female figure breaking through a glass ceiling in music – I chose Kaija Saariaho, a Finnish composer based in Paris, France.
I’m hoping that I can share my slides with you all after the event and if you’re in London as part of this project I will also be performing at the Royal Academy of Arts on the 9th March , which I am really excited about, as you know I like to see art and music combined.
During my research I studied female composers through the ages one thing stood out to me and that was I don’t sing any of their music in all of my years training their songs did not form part of the exam syllabus or the A-level music I studied, then I looked at the wider music industry as women forged ahead in some areas more than others. I tried to find parallels and I asked my family and friends back at home who their top female musicians were and when, how and what influences did they use to break through in their genre: from Dolly Parton (unique, trailblazer), Madonna (revolutionary), Kate Bush (ahead of her time, original, innovative, arti), to Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand and Diana Ross and current big-name stars like Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Katie Perry.
Then I wondered do people outside of the classical music world know the celebrated female stars of opera – if so why did Maria Callas have to be played by Meryl Streep when there are so many superb actress/singers in the world of Modern Opera such as: Renee Fleming, Anna Netrebko, Angela Gheorghiu, Joyce DiDonato, Jessye Norman when you google search ‘top female British Opera singers’ we get Lesley Garrett and Sarah Brightman followed by Dame Janet Baker, what do you think? Who would you put at the top of a list of female singers still alive today that could be counted as role models for today’s students? Can you tell me who your choice of a female musician that has broken through and is a household name in the Classical music world?
It has been fabulous this week to perform in three separate events which were the culmination of several weeks of hard work and preparation.
On Wednesday afternoon I sang and gave a tribute to Gary Waller’s memorial service at St Stephen’s Church, Westminster, it was a beautiful and touching ceremony. As a friend of Gary it was lovely to see so many lovely people gather to remember and speak fondly about his lifelong achievements, passion for music and support for his colleagues in politics. It was also a pleasure to perform alongside the talented pianist Waka Hasegawa, and I hope that we find the opportunity to work together again in the future.
After meeting some of Gary’s family and sharing memories with them, I then traveled to the Lancaster Hall Hotel in order to prepare for the evening concert. Soon after I arrived, I had a rehearsal with Dr. Leslie Howard, he is the very talented and renowned pianist who specialises in music composed by Franz Liszt and I believe is the only pianist to have recorded all of Franz Liszt’s music for solo piano, which in itself is a huge achievement. The event began at 6:30pm and it was so lovely to perform alongside the talented Michelle Alexander, Andrew Yiangou, Dr. Leslie Howard, Simon Wallfisch, and Nigel Foster. We each represented a different music society, Wagner, Alkan, Mahler, Liszt, and Schubert. I represented the Gustav Mahler Society and really enjoyed telling the stories within the poetry and making music with Dr. Howard. The songs are truly beautiful and delicate and it was a great challenge to work on them. I look forward to performing them again. After the performance, we were invited to join the societies members for a meal and relax in each other’s company. At the end of the recital, we were presented with a gift of London Honey, which is a tradition of the event and one that I appreciated as locally sourced honey is a boon to a singer.
A Big Thank You To Catherine Who Helped Organise The Event
The Whole Cast Of Our Opera Scenes
A few days later, I presented my opera scene along with my accomplished colleagues at the Royal College of Music. On Friday we had a technical rehearsal at 10:00 am, which involves plotting the lights, practicing the scene in Costume and using any props/scenery. It was very useful especially because my costume isn’t usual daily attire, I had to practice moving, kneeling and hearing with my full habit on. It was very interesting and added another layer to the drama. At 14:15 we had a dress rehearsal in front of a few friends and teachers. Then we opened to the audience at 17:30. I performed alongside Glen Cunningham, who some of you may recognise from previous projects I have done with Scottish Opera Education. It was wonderful to work together again and build on our relationship on stage. It was also a great opportunity to be on stage with Davidona Pittock who I went to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland with, she was Mother Marie.
Glen and Me On Stage In Our Scene From Dialogues des Carmélites
Photo credit of Stage scene provided by Laura Pearse who also designed and selected the costumes for this year’s scenes, thanks, Laura.
This week is going to be full of mixed emotions. On Wednesday afternoon I will be singing two songs at the memorial service for Gary Waller, a friend and supporter who many of you that regularly read my posts know, I met a couple of years ago through my blog. It will be an emotional event for me and I have chosen to sing two songs that I know were dear to his heart, Gersang (An Sylvia) by Franz Schubert, and Frühlingsmorgen by Gustav Mahler. I wanted my contribution to be a celebration of his life, to remember him as I knew him, as a happy man, an encouraging and supportive friend who had a passion for music. I will be accompanied on piano for the service by the very talented Waka Hasegawa who very kindly agreed to play for me.
In the same evening I have been asked to represent the Gustav Mahler Society here in London at the Combined Music Societies Dinner which is to be held at the Lancaster Hall Hotel, 35 Craven Terrace, London W2 3EL. This is great honour for me, and a privilege to sing alongside accomplished performers for such an appreciative audience. My programme for the evening comprises of four songs by Gustav Mahler, Frühlingsmorgen; Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder; Ich atmet‘ einen Linden Duft; and Liebst du um Schönheit. For the performance, Dr. Leslie Howard has agreed to accompany me on piano and it’s a fantastic opportunity and privilege for me to work with him. The evening will also include works by Schubert, Wagner, Liszt, and Alkan, I’ll tell you all about it next week.
On Friday 19th January 2018 at 17:30 pm I will be performing in my first opera scene of 2018 here at the RCM in the Britten Theatre, performing the role of Blanche de la Force from Poulenc’s Opera ‘Dialogue Des Carmélites’ if you didn’t see my post from last week. Tickets for the events are free and can be booked in advance on the RCM website.
2018 will be a formative year for me after I graduate from the RCM this summer I will be making a huge leap of faith from student to freelance artist, a bit like a Barnacle gosling ( please watch the whole video if you haven’t seen it before ).
That means taking on the daunting task of trying to seek out performance opportunities, finding work with Opera companies, setting schedules, and working privately with coaches. If any conductors, concert organisers, opera producers, or agents are reading this and need an enthusiastic, hardworking and talented soprano or have any ideas, projects or schemes for me to look at please get in touch!! ( email me at email@example.com )
Me with Prajna Idrawati
I will also be looking to expand on my work as part of Lieder duos and if you hear of any venues that put-on concerts for a Lieder duo then please let me know or pass on my contact e-mail details. I currently perform with either of my good friend’s Prajna Idrawati or George Todica who are both looking to establish a career for themselves here in the UK, Europe and eventually Worldwide.
Whilst researching the role of Blanche de la Force from Poulenc’s Opera ‘Dialogue Des Carmélites’, I found an opportunity to embark on a little adventure. My character is the daughter of a French Noble family who joins the Carmélite order of nuns against her families wishes during the period of the French Revolution.
At College, as part of a trio, we were doing some short improvisation exercises led by our Director Stuart Barker during our first staging rehearsal last Thursday. The objective of these tasks was to see how your character would react in circumstances prior to our actual scene. For example, Glen and I improvised a meeting between Blanche and her Brother at home with the objective of organising a birthday party for their father. In the second exercise with Davidona, we improvised that our characters were completing the daily tasks that a nun might participate in. It soon became apparent to me that because I don’t have a Catholic upbringing, there were areas of my character development that I had no way of imagining. I wanted to deepen my understanding of what Blanche may have been going through emotionally and the mechanics of her daily life within a Carmélite Monastery.
In order to do this, on Friday afternoon I decided to research on the internet about the Carmélite Order some of which I have added to the end of my post. To my amazement, I discovered that there was a Carmélite Monastery in London, within 45 minutes travelling by bus from my home. I emailed via their contact form on the website, and I was very grateful to Sister Patricia who said that I could join them for Mass on Saturday morning at 8am. Luckily, I’m an early bird so I set my alarm and planned to start my day with this experience.
I arrived at the Monastery around 7:40am, all was quiet and the morning sun was just starting to colour the sky blue. Not knowing what to expect I was a little apprehensive at first as I was alone and the Monastery was completely enclosed. Ahead of me in the courtyard was a simple sign ‘Chapel’, I climbed the stairs and after a little wait I was greeted silently by one of the sisters and guided into the chapel for Mass.
Shortly after I sat down, the regular congregation began to slowly arrive. The sister turned on the electric lights to reveal the beautiful intricacies of the chapel. Somebody then came to light the candles and prepare the altar for the mass. One very interesting observation, even though I could barely see, was watching the sisters in the separate room prepare for Mass as well. The grille was in place, and heavy curtains were opened. Then one sister unlocked half of the grille and it opened in folds like a concertina to create a private opening to the altar. Then the Priest entered the chapel through a private door and began the Mass. It was so wonderful and humbling to watch the mass. I felt very relaxed and reflective. Deep in thought about what I had seen and experienced whilst sharing this short time with the Sisters, I left full of energy for the day ahead. I have the utmost respect for their dedication and commitment and I will try my very best to show that when developing the character that I am to portray in my performance on January 19th at the Royal College of Music.
The Nuns live a cloistered life, in 2010 they allowed a documentary film director a rare glimpse into their world after he asked them for permission over a ten year period, this film is called ‘No Greater Love’.
You can read more about the Carmelite order on their website here and if you have a minute please take a look at their shop as they have some lovely items for sale.
More Information On The Carmelite Order
The Postulancy is the initial stage of formation and is generally an 8-month experience.
The first and last months of the Postulancy are spent at the Motherhouse, and the other six months are spent at one of the Homes served by the Congregation. The Postulant is given the opportunity to work with the elderly in the facility and to participate in the prayer life of the Sisters.
A Certified Nurses Aide training program and other pertinent services are provided for a postulant with no previous experience working with the elderly.
Classes are given on the following: Spiritual life, Community history, Carmelite Spirituality, Catechesis, Community life.
The Postulant Director meets at least weekly with the Postulant to discuss her progress and difficulties, and to offer guidance.
If readiness for the Novitiate is ascertained, the Postulant receives her name in religion and prepares for the next phase of formation: the Novitiate.
The Novitiate is a two-year period of time during which the Novice explores on a deeper level what it means to be a member of our Carmelite Congregation. The resolve and suitability of the Novice is further discerned. There is concentration on developing a solid spiritual foundation.
The First, or Canonical Year
The Novice receives the Habit of Carmel (Brown tunic, brown scapular, and a white veil.)
The Sister becomes more fully acquainted with the many facets of religious life.
Classes are given on the Rule and Constitutions, the Vows of Obedience, Chastity, and Poverty, Scripture, Prayer, Liturgy, Christian Doctrine, Vatican documents, spiritual growth, and development.
These classes are given by the Novice Director, experienced priests, and other qualified speakers.
The Second Year
The Novice continues to learn and live the spiritual and religious aspects of the Carmelite life.
She learns more about the apostolate through a course on the Organization and Operation of the Long Term Care Facility and by spending time in two homes of the Congregation.
If readiness and suitability of the Novice are ascertained, Sister then goes on to the next step of her religious formation “Profession of First Vows” and receives a black veil that distinguishes the Professed Sister from the Novice.
The Temporary Profession of Vows
The Temporary Profession of Vows is the stage in religious formation during which the newly Professed Sister is assigned to one of our mission houses, where she will gain further experience in integrating the spiritual and apostolic aspect of our lives as Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm.
The Religious Vows are renewed annually before perpetual profession.
The Sister continues in the active ministry of the Congregation and resides with a local community of Carmelite Sisters.
The Sister continues to attend formal spiritual programs held at the Motherhouse twice a year.
She strives to grow in union with God and in her gift of self to the Community and the apostolate.
The Perpetual Profession of Vows
After completing the five to seven year period of temporary vows, the Sister may request to make perpetual profession.
A gold ring is given at the time of perpetual profession.
The Sister becomes a permanent member of the Congregation.
By her final profession of vows, she gives herself forever to God, her Community and the Church.
Thanks to everyone for all your encouragement and support over the past five years, 2017 brought with it some amazing experiences for me and I think 2018 is going to be a real rollercoaster, so climb aboard, hang on to your hats, and let’s enjoy the thrill of the ride.
Whatever 2018 brings you I hope that you all have a fabulous year, with opportunities to take, decisions to make, and plenty of happy events along the way.
On Friday afternoon I took time out to watch my talented colleagues perform in the dress rehearsal of the Royal College of Music’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen. This wonderful opera by Janácek’s was sung in English for this particular production and tells the exciting and episodic story which constantly raises the imagined similarities and differences between humans and animals.
The costumes designed by Hannah Wolfe were flamboyant and wonderfully colourful. Every costume was personalised and each suggested a hint of different animalistic features, such as a spiked backpack worn by a hedgehog/man. It was fun as an audience member to notice these intricacies which added to the story and allowed your imagination to build on the images played out on stage.
The set was also exquisite and full of extra compartments that drew your attention as they that opened and closed the space to new scenes. My particular favourite scene that Alex Berry designed was the chicken coop which showcased a Charlie and Chocolate factory esque egg laying factory that really caught my childlike imagination.
Daniel Slater beautifully combines lustful dancing with animalistic gestures performed by the Singers in his direction of this opera. It worked brilliantly and told the story seamlessly. I particularly enjoyed the love duets performed by the dancers which continued to expand on the story during the passionate orchestral interludes, sophisticatedly lead by Michael Rosewell.
7:00pm | 27 November 2017
7:00pm | 29 November 2017
7:00pm | 01 December 2017
7:00pm | 02 December 2017
I’m really looking forward to the ‘Winter Concert’ with the Thames Philharmonic Choir and Beth Moxon (alto), Steve Mills (tenor), Dan D’Souza (bass) under the direction of conductor John Bate and Stephen Disley (organ) in Kingston upon Thames, with our thanks to The Josephine Baker Trust who match us to engagements and provide half the fees. We’ve had our first rehearsal the program is called ‘A Feast of Baroque & 5 Modern Carols’ you can get tickets at www.thamesphilchoir.org.uk or at the door, should be a great start to the Season.
I’ve also been working hard on my Handel ‘Messiah’ soloist preparations, the Messiah is an English-language oratorio from the Baroque era, composed in 1741 by George Frideric Handel, it premiered in Dublin in 1742 at Easter and has been performed by choirs across the United Kingdom every year since. Handel continued to work on the piece until 1754 when he arrived at the version we use today. You can read more about it here http://www.classicfm.com/composers/handel/music/george-frideric-handel-messiah/
I’m excited to start the first of two performances at Blackburn in Lancashire with the Blackburn Music Society and the Lancashire Chamber Orchestra under the baton of conductor Tom Newall and with Chamber Organist Samuel Hudson. My fellow soloists in Blackburn Cathedral are Helen Ann Gregory; Alexander Grainger and Matthew Mannion who I last performed with in Don Giovanni at Opera Britain last year. Tickets: 01254 201978 or on the door.
Mesmerising singing and acting that made me run home to get some sleep so that I could wake up early today and practice some of the ideas I have learned from watching the opera Monday evening.
The soprano Lisette Oropesa performed Lucia exquisitely and despite telling the story with determination and honesty kept the singing consistently beautiful at all times despite the deeply dramatic gothic libretto.
I didn’t know this opera very well and this evening was my first real encounter with it from start to end I felt transfixed by the story.
The direction was very interesting, I loved it and thought the concept of having two distinct rooms in which separate scenarios of the story were unveiled to us in real time was thoroughly enchanting and allowed me to really connect with the character Lucia as I watched her hatch the plan to meet Edgardo her true love and kill Arturo to whom she had been betrothed. To me, this enhanced the intricate detail of the intrigue and added to my enjoyment of the opera.
However, as a singer, I felt for some of the singers on the stage as at times it was difficult to know which of the rooms to watch on the split-screen set. Often, I was drawn to the scenes that were just acting and the performers didn’t sing, but always returning to the singers communicating the story.
For the majority of the story, I didn’t need to watch the subtitles the plot was strong and the acting really told the intricacies of Donizetti’s tragic masterpiece.
It was a brilliant production for anyone preparing the role of Lucia as you watched her live every moment and understand perhaps why she came to complete the actions that she did as a consequence of a forced marriage.
I have had a great Birthday weekend at home with my family. As a treat my Mum and Dad arranged to take me, Matt, Tom and Alex into Liverpool to watch Judith Howarth, my singing teacher and good friend from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, performing the role of Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus.
I was thrilled to be able to watch her on stage, especially on my Birthday. Judy was so encouraging and supportive to me whilst studying in Glasgow, and also during my time here in London, having the opportunity to support her from the stalls was a real treat.
We arrived in Liverpool and found the theatre quite quickly which was fortunate as it was quite chilly and the wind was picking up. Mum and Dad had booked us into the Ambassador Lounge at the theatre as a birthday treat and for anyone attending a performance here I can thoroughly recommend it. It was lovely and warm inside and the hostess brought us all a welcome drink and you could order nibbles or a snack if you wanted. It was great to be able to leave our bags and coats there and avoid the packed bars before the performance and during the two intervals. The performance was a matinee which started at 4.00 pm which allowed us all to go out for a celebratory meal afterward.
Tom, Dad, Alex, Matt, Me, Mum
Die Fledermaus is an operetta by Johann Strauss II with the original libretto in German. However, for this production, the WNO ( Welsh National Opera ) used an English translation by David Pountney and Leonard Hancock. The story is quite comedic with wonderful music and I can strongly recommend it to anyone and especially for those who want to see an opera for the first time.
WNO : “Rosalinde is looking forward to a few days carefree time with her lover, while her husband is facing time in prison. Her maid asks to be excused in order to care for a sick Aunt. In truth, all four characters are planning to spend the evening at a magnificent masquerade ball given by the Prince. As the characters are brought together in various guises, we set the scene for a hilarious story of mistaken identity full of splendour, posh frocks, and masks.”
Judy was amazing as Rosalinde with crystal clear coloratura and a legato line to die for. She gave a very believable portrayal of the character as she drew in the audience and made us laugh and giggle as the story played out. Both Paul Charles Clarke who played the lover Alfred and Mark Stone who played the husband Gabriel Eisenstein brought power and energy to their roles which complemented Judy’s beautiful vocals and wonderful characterisation. I must also mention Rhian Lois who played the role of Adele, the chambermaid, her comedic timing was excellent and she sang the role beautifully.
The orchestra under the baton of maestro James Southall brought the whole production to life and the ensemble players added a little sparkle to the party scenes in Act II.
The tour moves on to The Bristol Hippodrome on the 17th and 18th November 2017 and then finishes at the New Theatre, Oxford on 1st and 2nd December 2017.
As I sit on the train traveling down to London this evening looking through the window as we travel south watching people celebrate bonfire night with the most fabulous firework displays. It is great to reflect on our last two performances of BambinO today which like the displays I have witnessed tonight concluded in spectacular fashion.
This has been a fantastic production to be involved with and I have enjoyed every second working on stage alongside Timothy Connor, Laura Sergeant, and Stuart Semple. With over 70 performances this year at venues around Manchester, Edinburgh and now Glasgow David Sneddon our brilliant Stage Manager has played a huge part in allowing us to bring a little music and magic to the wonderful audiences that came to join us.
Back Line: Laura, Tim, Lliam, Rachel, Stuart Front Line: Me and Julie
With each show, our front of house colleagues have made sure everyone who comes to watch has an amazing experience and I can’t stress enough the importance they play in making each performance feel special.
From the fabulous and inspiring set and costume designed by Emma and Giuseppe Belli to the free-flowing and imaginative direction inspired by Phelim McDermott, this production has been a real joy to be a part of.
But for me the cherry on the top has been the music composed by Lliam Patterson which I have loved singing and which will stay with me forever.
To those of you who came along to watch one of the performances this year I want to thank you for joining us, it has been fantastic to meet you all and I will take away with me some very special memories. The most amazing thing about performing in this production is that each and every audience has been unique. The babies and toddlers have brought with them their individuality, interacting with us in unpredictable ways and making every show just that little bit different.
Not forgetting Scottish Opera, The Manchester International Festival and Improbable who made all of this possible sincerely thank you very much.