Laura Sergeant, Tim Connor, Ruth MacKenzie ( Théâtre du Châtelet ), Me, and Stuart Semple
The venue for our final week’s performances of BambinO is the CentQuatre, it is a huge exhibition and performance space owned and financed by the City of Paris. We are using one of the many smaller performances areas within this amazing building, which in total covers over 25,000 square metres and can accommodate over 5000 visitors per day.
Outside one of the great halls at the CentQuatre
I discovered that the building has over 200 artists in residence and provides a varied and intriguing mix of both live performances and static Art exhibitions. It is hard to visualise that this building originally housed the city undertakers for Paris, for over 120 years it employed over 1000 people who arranged over 150 funeral processions each day. In 1993 the municipal monopoly on the provision of funerals came to end and the building finally closed in 1998. Luckily the building was registered as a historical monument and with the backing of the people of Paris, the Mayor went about finding out the best way to both safeguard and reuse the space. In 2008 I think that they achieved both when it reopened in its current configuration, and I hope that it continues to provide Parisians with a place to socialise, a grand exhibition space, and somewhere to enjoy a wide variety of live performances.
Our run here at CentQuatre finishes on the Friday 20th April, which will also mark the end of our short tour here in Paris for the Théâtre du Châtelet. It has been a wonderful time with some amazing venues and I will be sad to say goodbye when we have to leave next Saturday, so instead, I’ll just say au revoir.
After One Of Our Performances Last Week at Bibliothèque Jacqueline de Romilly
I arrived in Paris with the rest of Team BambinO and we were immediately welcomed by everyone at the Théâtre du Châtelet. The French audiences have been amazing and with the first few shows successfully completed I can’t wait to continue the run. It is crazy to look out across the city skyline from each of the venues and see so many iconic landmarks.
I have managed to practice speaking French and more importantly understanding replies and been happy to walk around Paris in the Spring sunshine. Here are a few photographs that I have taken for my scrapbook that I wanted to share with you all.
Tim Connor, Alison Reid, David Sneddon, Stuart Semple, Lissa Lorenzo, Me, and Laura Sergeant on the balcony of our changing room at the British Consul, Paris.
The set laid out ready for our performance at the Conservatoire Municipal, Les Halles, Paris
The three pictures above are from the Flower Market on the Île de la Cité, Paris.
Stravinsky Fountain, 2 Rue Brisemiche, near the Pompidou Centre, Paris.
This stunning iron-work sculpture is on the wall of the building next to the Le théâtre de la Tour Eiffel, Paris.
The view of the Eifel Tower across from the British Consul, Paris
Basilique Sainte-Clotilde, 23B Rue las Cases, Paris
At the bottom of the Rue des Dechargeurs as the Paris marathon passes on the Rue de Rivoli
The Metro at Place Colette, close to the Musée du Louvre, Paris
In the Jardin Nelson Mandela near to the Chatelet Les Halles, Paris
Inside the In the Chatelet Les Halles, Paris
Inside Galeries Lafayette,Paris.
The view from the roof of the Galeries Lafayette Paris
In between practice and rehearsals, it has been great to read all your comments this week and I will try and answer them if time permits whilst away in France. I have enjoyed catching up with my friends in Glasgow as we prepare for our mini tour and I managed to get the opportunity to Interview Lliam Paterson the composer of BambinO.
I am so happy that I am finally able to share some more amazing news with you all, we are to take ‘BambinO’ to New York 😊 at the end of April for the Metropolitan Opera. I never dreamt that being a part of this fantastic production would allow me to visit and perform in both Paris and New York.
Lliam Paterson and Me
Liam when we met you were the resident emerging artist Composer at Scottish Opera, what did this entail?
The first thing to say is what an amazing opportunity it was to be resident in a national opera company! The level of support and the inspiring atmosphere were really outstanding. Scottish Opera helped to nurture my theatrical instincts, and importantly the company wasn’t afraid to take risks in commissioning a hitherto unknown young composer!
When I first arrived at Scottish Opera, I worked on small-scale pieces: I wrote miniature operas for the marvelous Opera Highlights tours, which take opera to the farthest flung parts of Scotland! It was marvelous knowing that my little dramatic works – each written to a comic libretto of my own devising – would be performed dozens of times all around the country. I also wrote a fanfare to celebrate the opening of the new Theatre Royal foyer in Glasgow in 2015.
After this, I was commissioned to produce large-scale works. The 8th Door was a new opera to partner Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, performed in a co-production with Vanishing Point in a production by Matthew Lenton, and conducted by Sian Edwards. During the process of working on this, Jane Davidson – head of Scottish Opera’s Education Department – commissioned me to write an opera for babies aged 6 to 18 months! The resulting piece – BambinO – opened at Manchester International Festival last year in a production directed by Phelim McDermott.
The 8th Door – Photo By Mihaela Bodlovic
For both works, I had lots of workshop time facilitated by Scottish Opera. I worked really closely with Matthew Lenton for The 8th Door and with Phelim McDermott and design team Giuseppe and Emma Belli for BambinO. I learned so much about all aspects of creating powerful opera through working with these amazingly creative people!
I also did a lot of repetiteur work for the company, ranging from regular playing for the Connect Company (Scottish Opera’s youth opera) to Mark-Anthony Turnage’s opera Greek at the Edinburgh International Festival.
Where did you go to High School?
I attended the Aberdeen City Music School and for my last two years of school went to St. Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh.
When did Composition become your main interest?
I become really fascinated by the idea of composing around the age of 12, although my first work came the following year! For most of secondary school, my main studies revolved around the piano and French horn. However, I realised early on those composers of the past had all been performers too, so for that point on performance and composition were totally linked for me.
What were your favourite subjects and which subjects most helped you to achieve your goals looking back with hindsight?
I loved English and Art & Design more than anything!
Creative writing and Art both help you develop a uniquely subjective view of the world. This is so important in composition, where you have to really believe in the integrity of the sound world you create, whatever it is!
What did you do after high school?
After school, I studied music at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge University, and subsequently studied for a Masters in piano accompaniment and repetituer studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. I started my residency at Scottish Opera even before I’d graduated from Guildhall!
What instruments do you play? What age did you start lessons? Are your family from an art or musical background?
I play the piano and any keyboard instrument that’s put in front of me! For recent opera performances, I’ve played digital piano (set to a fantastic retro 80s synth sound!) and harmonium! I played French horn until I was twenty, but piano and composition took up all my time by my second year at university.
I started piano lessons around age nine and horn the following year. Before that, I was already singing in the Haddo Children’s Choir, which really developed my ear.
I’m from a very creative family – my parents went to the Glasgow School of Art, as did many other family members, and my sister has had a very varied career in the arts, from working in the film industry and radio broadcasting, to teaching English! Although my parents aren’t musicians, they have a very broad interest in the arts, so it feels natural that I ended up as a musician. They encouraged open-mindedness but the impetus for getting involved in music came from me I think! I became obsessed with the idea of playing the harp for some reason! My sister was also in orchestras and choirs all through secondary school.
If you hadn’t gone down the Music/Composition route, what would you do instead? Is there any way you can interweave this into your future career?
I think I would have attempted a career writing fiction and being an academic in a university English department somewhere! It’s wonderful that I now have the opportunity to write my own libretti and devise scenarios for theatre works. It’s much collaborative but still uses my instinct for creative writing!
I’m also a huge fan of film across a wide range of genres! I think this partly stems from my sister’s involvement in the film world! Film really flared up as a big passion at university and remains so today – I collect the BFI’s Sight and Sound magazine and the film journal Little White Lies. I’m currently writing my first film score for a documentary, so it’s brilliant to get my first taste of this business from the creative end of things!
Who would you say are your main role models not just for composition but for life too?
Composer Sofia Gubaidulina for her absolute integrity in everything she does; film critic Mark Kermode for his insights on the importance of film makers’ views of the world and the need to challenge censorship in art; composer John Luther Adams for his connectedness to the environment and his use of music as a powerful reflection of the state of the world; composer Lili Boulanger for reaching profound depths in her work at such an early age despite suffering from debilitating illness and being in the midst of war; film-maker David Cronenberg for the uncompromising vision of his work; composer Philip Glass for the amazing volume and diversity of work he has achieved in his life!
Recently when I have been sourcing contemporary music, I had problems finding
music for a small ensemble, (piano and voice). Is accessibility a concern when you compose or do think that would sacrifice musical integrity?
I think of accessibility as allowing a way in to a musical work for a listener, whether they are a musician or not. How do you grip a listener’s attention in the opening moments of a work to keep them interested? How do I move between consonance and dissonance in my music to keep dramatic tension but overload an audience not accustomed to new music?
I believe that if you make accessibility a core element of your approach to art, it doesn’t affect musical integrity.
You have been writing Operas is this your preference? If so why?
I love the dramatic immediacy of opera, and music’s interconnectedness to all the other art forms that make up opera: set design, lighting, acting, etc. Music in opera is not abstract: it can propel dramatic action just as it can become the soul of a character. I become inspired by my role in an art work that is greater than the sum of its parts! I am inspired by conversations with directors, librettists, set designers and so on. There is much ‘abstract’ music I also love, but the writing process is much more of an interior one, at least for me. I love the sociability of creativity in opera.
Do you ever enter your compositions into competitions? And what are your thoughts about them?
I have entered my compositions into competitions in the past. For instance, I won the 2014 International Frederic Mompou Composition Competition in Barcelona. Competitions are as much the reflection of a jury’s taste (or the tensions between jurors) as they are a reflection of quality and integrity on the part of competitive artists. Competitions can give a much needed financial boost to an artist in the early stages of their career, as well as giving artists a platform to hone their craft in a highly pressurised environment.
For composers, competitions almost never launch a career – but they are useful if the prize involves the performance of a work for orchestra or other large-scale forces. I’ll end with the much-quoted (and probably miss-quoted!) saying of Béla Bartók: ‘Competitions are for horses, not for people!’ People have very unique strengths and qualities that competitions often don’t have room to recognise.
Do you have a particular approach when you write a new opera/large scale works?
Usually, I do as much research as possible at the start of a project, reading about the subject matter of a new opera from many different angles. Discussions with other collaborators on a large-scale project are also crucial to making many decisions about the work at an early stage.
I write a sketch score of an opera very quickly, usually working to a strict routine every day. Then I play through the sketch score a lot to get a sense of how the dramatic pacing is working, and make extensive amendments if needed. After this, I orchestrate the work and revise as I go.
If possible, I like to speak to singers cast in one of my works as soon as it is finished, so I can respond to any concerns and make revisions. If I know a singer’s voice beforehand, this is in my mind throughout the creative process, and I hear their voice as I write their vocal lines. This was the case with your role of Uccellina in BambinO!
What is your proudest achievement?
My proudest achievement…. that would have to be my name appearing in the New York Times in an article about the Metropolitan Opera performing BambinO! I love the New York Times and am a subscriber, so that was a thrill!
BambinO – Photo By Jamie Glossop
Do certain places inspire you to compose?
I can compose almost anywhere, but I prefer to be in a room with large windows overlooking a city! The Board Room on the top floor of Scottish Opera’s Elmbank Crescent building was my composing base for three years!
Natural landscapes and open skies inspire me very much, especially those of the North- East of Scotland. I also love Suffolk, Aldeburgh in particular.
What are your future aspirations?
I would love to continue writing opera and to explore collaborating across different art forms. In future, I hope to collaborate with other artists who also seek to fuse opera and film.
Finally, Lliam What is your favourite colour?
Coming from a family of visual artists, I have always been sensitive to the different tonal qualities of colour! I am most drawn to blue in all its many shades.
Thank you Lliam for being so open and giving us your time and a peek into your world.
As the Easter Holidays approach, I have some great news to share with you all, I have been asked by Scottish Opera and Improbable to join my friends Tim Connor, Stuart Semple and Laura Sergeant to perform ‘BambinO’ in Paris for the Théâtre du Châtelet this April.
Back Row: Laura Sergeant & Stuart Semple Front Row: Me & Timothy Connor
But before leaving London I had to make sure that I returned all the books that I borrowed from the RCM library for my recent project ‘Women In Music’, my backpack was a lot lighter on the way home 🙂
I arrived back in Glasgow late on Thursday night and it was great to team up with my friends again on Friday morning for rehearsals to refresh the show for the French audiences. It is amazing to see how this wonderful mini-opera, written by Lliam Patersonand directed by Phelim McDermott, has progressed since we first got together back in December 2016. I can remember seeing the set and the costumes for the first time, designed by Emma & Giuseppe Belli, trying to visualise how the babies would respond to their imaginative use of props and move around the fabulous space created for each performance.
Following our performances in Manchester, Edinburgh, and Glasgow last year I can’t believe that we will now get the opportunity to perform in several venues around Paris organised by the Théâtre du Châtelet, who have embraced the idea of making this production accessible to a wider audience. We will start the tour on 6th April performing twice a day in various locations until the 11th April. On the 13th April through to the 20th April, we will perform twice daily at Cent Quatre. The shows are free for babies with a small charge of four euros for each accompanying adult.
Inside Cent Quatre
It will be such fun to practice my French with the audiences after each show and I hope that the babies can cope with my pronunciation. I’ve already started revising my French conversation skills and I would love to hear of any recommendations for nice walks, places to visit, French meals I should try to cook over the course of my visit. (The perks of having a self-catered apartment). It is such a fantastic opportunity for me to spend some time in Paris and experience the French culture which will hopefully influence my interpretation of French song. I will let you know how it goes and hopefully get some pictures to share with you.
Following my blog anniversary, I said that I would select three people from those who commented or placed a like on the post and send them a signed copy of my ‘Haugtussa CD’. There were 139 people in total so I used a random number generator to select the winners.
I am pleased to announce that the three-people selected were John Howell, Peter Alexander, and Dora Buonfino. I managed to contact John and Peter and have posted their CDs to them which should arrive this week (fingers crossed). I have just received Dora’s forwarding address and will try and post it to her before I leave for Paris.
This week has been filled with such a variety of musical experiences and it has been such a pleasure to share them with both family and friends.
On Monday, my brother, Matt, took me to see the ‘Book of Mormon’ at the Prince of Wales Theatre. The show is a personal favourite of his and provided some much-needed comic relief, I particularly enjoyed the tap dancing, and the choreography reminded me of the fun times we shared together during our dance classes when we were younger.
The Book Of Mormon – London Cast
My dear friend Harvey invited me to watch ‘Rinaldo’ by Handel on Tuesday evening. This was a concert performance, involving very little stage direction, glamourous frocks, and one prop. The performance took place at the Barbican. Iestyn Davies (performing the part of Rinaldo) sang alongside a marvelous cast in an evening of divine music and story-telling. I had not heard Davies sing live before, and it was such a treat. I was blown away by the beauty and warmth of his voice and the fiery coloratura that he made seem effortless.
Rinaldo at the Barbican ( Photo By Robert Workman )
On Wednesday, my friend Alex accompanied me to watch ‘From The House Of The Dead’ an opera by Janácek. I managed to get two tickets as part of the Royal Opera House’s student scheme. It was a very moving opera, with moments full of doom and gloom. It was unlike anything else I have seen before. The set design effectively created the prison environment, with a yard, and the warden’s office, which later became the backdrop for the prison theatre event. The experience felt like you were watching through a cracked window, which gave the impression of a mosaic, each piece filled with a different story and commentary, depicting the lives of the men in the prison. Leading you to question their morals and evaluate their choices. It was very interesting to watch this with Alex as he is a barrister and has a personal interest in law. We were able to discuss the piece in great detail afterward.
Nicky Spence as Nikita and Salim Sai as Actor ( photo by Clive Barda ROH )
The week ended with a fabulous opportunity for me to make music with my talented colleagues at the RCM. On Friday evening I performed for Joe Kiely whose composition ‘Ice Legacy’ featured in the ‘Composition for Screen’ showcase held in the Britten Theatre at the RCM. It was such an honour to perform alongside the orchestra conducted by the wonderful Akos Lustyik, a talented composer himself, whose music also featured in the event.
It has been a real pleasure to work with Joe on this piece, the melody and text were inspired by the Norwegian language. The process of preparing for this event was very exciting. The first rehearsal took place in the Belle Shenkman Studio at the RCM, where we were all equipped by the fantastic sound department with microphones and headphones. The challenge of singing for ‘film’ is that the music has to be extremely accurate in rhythm as it is composed to link up with what is seen on the screen. Therefore, it is vital to be with the conductor and the click that we hear through the headphones, whilst also balancing with the live ensemble. I really enjoyed experimenting and learning how to adapt to the requirements of this style of performance I would love to be involved in similar projects in the future.
Me With Joe Kiely
It has really been a treat to go and watch so many wonderful performances. I feel inspired and full of motivation to begin work on my next projects.
I bought a copy of Annette’s book “Go You” this week and can thoroughly recommend it. Not only is she a lovely person but you can open this book on any page and a little bit of positivity rubs off on you.
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.