Bethany Seymour is writing a monthly blog exclusively for Early Music Today to talk about her experiences as a BBC Performing Arts Fellowship Award winner. The young professional soprano is carrying out her fellowship at the National Centre for Early Music (NCEM) in York. The BBC Performing Arts Fund (BBC PAF) is a charity committed to developing new performing arts talent from across the UK in all disciplines, including early music.
Having just arrived back from Leipzig BachFest, I have been spending some time getting to grips with July’s concert repertoire which includes Handel’s Salve Regina (York Early Music Festival, York Minster, 5 July), Carrisimi’s Lamento de Maria Stuarda (Early Music Show, 1pm, 7 July), Bach Motets (Bingen, 20 July) and Handel’s Messiah (Anghiari Festival, with Southbank Sinfonia and Parliament Choir).
My concert with the Rhienische Kantorei was in the very individual Leipzig Nickolei Kirche. Due to the larger forces, and for better audience contact, we performed from the east end instead of in the organ loft. The programme was J.S. Bach Cantata 67 and C.P.E. Bach Die Auferstehung der Himmelfahrt and the concert was broadcast on Deutschland Radio Kultur.
During the festival, Leipzig is always a hot-bed of early music ensembles and soloist. As such, it is very exciting to be around as you never know who you might bump into out on the street; it was a particular pleasure to see Hannah Morrison, Peter Harvey and Matthew Brook who were there singing with Monteverdi Choir. Bachfest is a very active festival with a large number of concerts and talks going on each day.
York Early Music Festival is starting this week (5–13 July) and I am performing in the opening concert alongside the wonderful Mhairi Lawson, Yorkshire Baroque Soloists and Yorkshire Bach Choir. I have added a sound clip of one of the Handel arias I will be performing, ‘Lascia la Spina’ from Il Trionfo del Tempo. In the attached recording Ian Hoggart has joined me, here playing the oboe line on recorder. Do let me know what you think! This concert is in York Minster on 5 July at 7.30 pm and tickets are still available from www.ncem.co.uk.
I am also very excited to be performing in the BBC Radio 3 Early Music Show broadcast live from York Early Music Festival on Sunday 7 July at 1pm. I have chosen to perform Carissimi’s Lamento de Maria Stuarda which sets the (supposed) last letter of Mary Queen of Scots, written the night before her execution. The theme of the Festival this year is ‘The Eternal City’ (Rome) and, as there are no other performances of Carrisimi, one of the most popular composers and teachers in the seventeenth century, I thought it would be a good addition. The piece is very dramatic, as you will hear if you listen in, with a very wide vocal range, some very fast Italian text and some wonderful harmonic and melodic chromaticisms. The lament was a very popular form in the seventeenth century with many examples including the famous Lamento d’Arianna of Monteverdi through Carissimi’s Lamento and Purcell’s concluding solo in Dido and Aeneas. One of the problems to be considered here was the pitch at which my father (on the harpsichord) and I should perform the piece. Carissimi sets it in a very high register but the performing pitch in Rome was lower than much of the rest of Europe. I’m sure he expected each singer to perform it at a pitch that allowed the fantastic emotional palette to come across to the listener to the best effect.
The rest of July sees me visiting the RheinVocal Festival to perform Bach motets in Bingen and then straight on to Tuscany for a week with Vox Musica and Southbank Sinfonia. It will be my fourth year out in Tuscany with these ensembles and it is always a very diverse week in terms of programming. In the past, performances have ranged from Monteverdi Lamento della Ninfa through to Vaughan Williams Serenade to Music. This year I will perform some Zelenka and Schubert songs as well as Messiah with the Parliament Choir.
Listen to Bethany performing ‘Lascia la Spina’ here