Wigmore Hall / Kohn Foundation International Song Competition
Marcus Farnsworth - baritone & Elizabeth Burgess - piano
Erin Morley - soprano & Laura Poe - piano
Benedict Nelson - baritone & Gary Matthewman - piano
Sidney Outlaw - baritone & John Reid - piano
Marcus Farnsworth - baritone
Elizabeth Burgess - piano
Schubert Nachstuck Strauss Gefunden Loewe Hinkende Jambe Poulenc from Chansons gaillardes: La maîtresse volage; Chanson à boire; Madrigal; Invocation aux Parques; Couplets bachiques Butterworth Loveliest of trees; Think no more, lad Gurney Sleep Britten The last rose of summer
Erin Morley - soprano
Laura Poe - piano
Mussorgsky The beetle; The naughty cat Poulenc Il vole; Violon Rossini La fioraia fiorentina Schumann Liebeslied Mozart Abendempfindung Rachmaninov Dreams; Ay!
Benedict Nelson - baritone
Gary Matthewman - piano
Quilter Fair house of joy Britten from Songs and Proverbs of William Blake: Proverb VII; Every night and every morn Fauré Vasissaux, nous vous aurons Debussy Les mort des amants Duparc La vie antérieure Mahler Die zwei blauen Augen Schumann Die alten bösen Lieder
Sidney Outlaw - baritone
John Reid - piano
Duparc Le galop Brahms Von ewiger Liebe Copland Zion's walls Brahms Botschaft Schubert Erlkönig Fauré L'hiver a cessé Oquin I've seen the Promised Land Johnson City called heaven
Recorded at Wigmore Hall on the 10th September
Presenter - Sandy Burnett
Daily Telegraph - Rupert Christiansen
Special Camera - Mark Robinson, Rob Clapton and Glen Woodcock
Vision Engineer - Nevill Orton
Engineering Manager - Stephen Dunn
Sound - Darius Weinberg
Insert Director / Editor / Camera - Mike Morley
With thanks to John Gilhooly, Helen Peate, Claire Hargrove and Rylan Holey at Wigmore Hall
with thanks to SiS Live, David King and Darius Weinberg
For Videojuicer & Plushmusic
Producer - Matt Jolly
Editor - Simon Ings
Executive Producers - Steve Jelley and Lyndon Jones
Associate Producer - Amanda Cooton
Executive Producer - David Pounds
Supervising Producer - Ann Parker
Director - John Kirby
The Song Competition
One hot, humid, febrile week in September, 2009, London’s Wigmore Hall opened its doors to Plushmusic. The presitigious biennial Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition had never been broadcast before, let alone syndicated in high definition sound and vision over the web.
One hot, humid, febrile week in September, 2009, London's Wigmore Hall opened its doors to Plushmusic. The presitigious biennial Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition had never been broadcast before, let alone syndicated in high definition sound and vision over the web.
The Hall – one of the world's great and most respected chamber music venues – believes this collaboration is a world first: the first ever classical competition to be covered in this way.
The Song Competition is an essential part of the young singer's calendar. It is the brainchild of Dr Ralph Kohn, who feels increasingly exercised at the lack of opportunities for music's next generation. "In a previous era great talent very often enjoyed patronage and the personal support of impresarios," he says. ‘This is hardly the case now." His foundation donates £17,500 to the singers' prizes. There is a £5,000 prize for pianists, too, and a £5,000 prize for a duo donated by the Jean Meikle Music Trust.
If ever a long and illustrious career could make a judge's job easy (it can't), then the jury Director John Gilhooly assembled for 2009's competition would have had no difficulties in deciding a winner. Dame Anne Evans, Ann Murray DBE and Dame Margaret Price were joined by Anneke Hogenstijn of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Dr Ralph Kohn FRS, Sir Thomas Allen and Wolfgang Holzmair. Graham Johnson OBE, Iain Burnside and John himself completed the panel.
Few musical forms pack the emotional punch of a lied – a form of song that grew out of the Romantic tradition and has since expanded to encapsulate virtually every national tradition. The intellectual and emotional demands on the performers are extreme, especially in the early rounds, when each duo has only 15 minutes to demonstrate its unique character and way of working. The atmosphere of the event was perfectly captured by baritone John Chest, speaking shortly after his performance in the heats of the competition.
Finalist Benedict Nelson has already won second prize in the Kathleen Ferrier awards and the Guildhall Gold Medal, both in 2007. But he admits that performing in competitions does not get easier with practice. Quite the contrary: ‘You work and work until you're in a place where you can feel good about yourself,' he says, ‘and then a competition comes round!'
Under this kind of pressure, a cast-iron sense of who you are is essential. Benedict's fellow finalist, American baritone Sidney Outlaw, understands this well. ‘For me, singing is like speaking,' he says. ‘After all, I sing every day, without thinking about it, and whether or not there's anyone around to hear. I certainly don't want my body to feel contrived when I sing on stage.'
Shortly afterwards, he and Plushmusic's Sandy Burnett were practising their Oprah hugs. ‘Good for you!' Sidney cried in an eerily accurate impression of the woman he calls ‘The Deity'. ‘Good for you!' Sidney's ebullient personality has won him many friends. In this competition, it may also have saved his skin: he arrived without an accompanist and British pianist John Reid stepped up to the plate at the last moment. The men had only a hour's rehearsal before they climbed the Wigmore stage, and quickly became the audience's clear favourites.
American soprano Erin Morley's performance in the final was easily her best performance in the whole competition. Rupert Christiansen declared her Rossini a ‘knockout': without doubt she gave us one of the most stunning top E-flats since the days of Joan Sutherland.
‘As a singer. I never think in terms of being more or less"dramatic",' Erin says, ‘and I think the differences in delivery between opera and lied are less than people sometimes think. The important thing, in both disciplines, is to learn how to live inside the text.' Her approach paid dividends in the semifinals, with her rendition of Schubert's ‘Im Früling: Delphine'. ‘She's conflicted in her feelings,' Erin explains. ‘She's excited by the prospect of love, but at the same time she hesitates: love is such a nerve-wracking business!'
The 2009 competition attracted 150 applicants from 41 countries. Communicating across so many language barriers – singing in a foreign language to a foreign audience – demanded careful programming. One charismatic Danish duo who reached the semifinals grabbed this particular bull by the horns by crafting a spine-tingling sequence about death. Others, like the South African pair who won the duo prize, Erica Eloff and James Baillieu (who also won the piano prize), evangelised for their native musical tradition.
At this level, mere singing is not enough. The broadcaster Sir John Tusa, (among many other things, Chairman of the Wigmore Hall Trust) put it this way: ‘Those people who just sing the notes are not interesting. They leave you cold. There may be singers who are less than perfect, but character is what the art song is about.‘
During his interview for Plushmusic.tv, finalist Marcus Farnsworth was discussing the finer points of Benjamin Britten’s ‘A Poison Tree’ – the stand-out song in a set which propelled him and his pianist Elizabeth Burgess to the final of tonight’s Wigmore Hall Song Competition – when something caught his eye. Something that made him blanch. It turned out that the great man was scowling back at him from a nearby picture frame.
During his interview for Plushmusic.tv, finalist Marcus Farnsworth was discussing the finer points of Benjamin Britten's ‘A Poison Tree' – the stand-out song in a set which propelled him and his pianist Elizabeth Burgess to the final of 2009's Wigmore Hall Song Competition – when something caught his eye. Something that made him blanch. It turned out that the great man was scowling back at him from a nearby picture frame.
The walls in every room of Wigmore Hall are lined with photographs of illustrious visitors. (As Sir Thomas Allen said this week, ‘It's like Wembley for us.') Great artists seem to be in the very fabric of this building, and there can be few public institutions which feel so much like a family home. A warm triangular relationship exists between artists, audience, and the Hall's management team, and the Hall takes justified pride in its friendliness, and in its care for its musicians.
Wigmore Hall was built in 1901 by the German piano firm Bechstein next to its showrooms on Wigmore Street.'This Hall has been "home" for countless singers and pianists,' says Director John Gilhooly. 'Arthur Schnabel, at the age of 22, played a recital so successful that they had to arrange a second one overnight. Composers Percy Grainger and Saint-Saens appeared. Melba and Caruso sang. 27-year-old Thomas Beecham gave his first concert.'
John might also have mentioned Prokofiev, Poulenc and Hindemith, among many others. Britten and Pears gave recitals, and many of Britten's most significant chamber and vocal works were given their first performances at the Hall; Schwarzkopf sang, Jacqueline du Pre played the cello; the Amadeus Quartet gave many memorable concerts.
The Wigmore Hall is more than a building. It is a family – and that family extends to the audience. Wigmore Hall have done a magnificent job of making first-class live recordings in ways that don't interfere with their audience's enjoyment. Plushmusic's task was to extend that achievement into a new era of high-definition video and audio recording.
‘Along with their pride,' Plushmusic producer Matt Jolly recalls, ‘the Wigmore team had a practical, intimate knowledge of every wall, every conduit, every piece of plasterwork, every brick. It was astounding. Within half an hour we had worked out a way to wire cameras through a major listed building.'
Live coverage of the entire event used lightweight cameras, mobile devices and social networking tools. Plushmusic's partners Brighton TV recorded the semifinals in high definition video for later release. The final was streamed live on www.plushmusic.tv from four cameras and edited in real time from 6pm on Thursday 10 September. The broadcast was produced by Lyndon Jones and Ann Parker and hosted by Radio 3's Sandy Burnett and Rupert Christiansen of the Daily Telegraph.