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. 

Belcanto - La Dolcezza

Bethany performing in Germany

I have been away in Germany again and I thought I would take the opportunity to talk about the festival I have been performing in that might not be so well known in England.

In 1992 conductor Hermann Max launched an early music festival based in Knechtsteden, a Romanesque basilica around 10 miles north of Cologne. Since then the festival has become renowned for exclusive historically informed productions. Max conducts two ensembles – Rheinische Kantorei and Das Kleine Konzert – both of which have been the core of the festival since its inception. The choir Rheinische Kantorei is an elite group trained in singing baroque repertoire and are renowned for trying new things such as using gestures in both sacred and secular baroque music, as well as using different tunings from the sixteenth century. His first CD, the B minor Mass, which was recorded 22 years ago, gave the choir and orchestra a crowd of admirers from Germany as well as from Netherlands, Belgium and France.

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Hermann Max’s two ensembles are at the core of the festival

This year’s festival explored tolerance as a means to prevent wars, hatred and misunderstanding. An international cast played and sang not only early music by J. S. Bach, G. F. Handel, Heinrich Schütz and Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, but also the currently unknown oratorio Luther in Worms by Ludwig Meinardus from 1871. This romantic piece, performed in the closing concert of the festival with Concerto Köln, was quite a jump in style from previous concerts at the festival, but what a piece it is! I can only describe it as a German equivalent to Elgar – very patriotic with wonderful melodies and six main soloists. As well as the concert performance, we also recorded it for a CD set to be released next year, so do watch out for it. I hope you are as moved as I was, when hearing it for the first time.

The festival takes place each year in the second half of September with around 10 concerts and multiple workshops, including a children’s concert which involved young people trying out conducting a choir and orchestra. This year also included a symposium on the theme of tolerence.

Later this week, I’m performing in Germany again (in Weissenfels) with Rheinische Kantorei and Max in a performance of a Vespers sequence from the later-seventeenth century by Melani (and edited by Max). It’s very interesting to sing different repertoire to that which I often perform in the UK. Pronunciation is always different, for example, as they sing in ‘germanic’ Italian rather than our ‘anglicised’ Italian.

Belcanto - La Dolcezza

Bethany has been performing under the baton of conductor Hermann Max

As I mentioned in previous blogs, I am performing in the York Early Music Christmas Festival which runs from 6 to 16 December. Some highlights of this year’s festival are Alamire (8 December), Brecon Baroque (7 December), the Yorkshire Bach Choir (6 December) and The Sixteen (12 December). I will be conducting a children’s choir at the festival for a joint concert with the Minster Minstrels. I am looking for singers aged 10-18 to sing in the choir who have an enthusiasm for early music. I also have a concert on 13 December in the National Centre for Early Music in which Niels Tilma (trumpet) and I will perform (with the Yorkshire Baroque Soloists) a programme including Bach Cantata 51 (Jauchzet Gott), Scarlatti’s ‘Su le Sponde del Tebro’, Conti’s ‘Languet anima mea’, Handel’s ‘Eternal Source of Light Divine’ and Vivaldi’s ‘La Follia’.

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