Posted tagged ‘Harrison Birtwistle’

Philip Langridge CBE (1939-2010)

March 8, 2010

Another sad piece of news – the passing of Philip Langridge. A wonderful, intelligent English tenor, with a distinctive voice, great musicality and a huge range of repertoire (BBC Radio 3 marked his passing with ‘Comfort ye / Every valley’ from Handel’s Messiah – beautifully sung of course, and repertoire I had never associated with him before. How typical).

Probably my earliest memory of him is as Tom Rakewell in a student production of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in Cambridge, probably in 1969 or 70.  (The conductor was Antony Beaumont, director David Pountney, harpsichordist Mark Elder.)   Besides Philip’s voice, I remember his cream-and-brown ‘co-respondent’ shoes (it was a modern dress production).

All I ever want is to be true to the piece, the words and the character; to the whole thing, its meaning and so on. When we are true to what we do that is what makes great art. If you try and nudge it in a certain way to try and make it better for you or make you more famous then that’s boring. The public are not stupid and they may not have studied many hours what you are performing – some have, but many haven’t – but you can always tell when somebody means something and when they don’t.

Communication is also an important thing and if we do not communicate what we are doing – or what the music is doing – what is there left?
[from the interview referred to below]

Modest, unassuming, never a diva, always ready with a smile and a friendly word – Philip was one of music’s gentlemen.  I am proud to have worked with him at Glyndebourne, ENO and the Royal Opera. In the ground-breaking production of Janáček’s Osud at ENO he gave a harrowing performance as the composer Zivny, playing the tricky onstage piano part himself. With his wife Ann Murray he made a memorable double-act in Berlioz’s Beatrice and Benedict at ENO.

I treasure his recordings of Britten and Tippett and others, and memories of live performances including Schubert’s Winterreise at Blackheath Halls (with David Owen Norris). I also treasure the postcard he sent me from Aldeburgh (a watery watercolour scene with ‘Dawn’ from Britten’s Sea Interludes in a stave across the sky) in response to my congratulations on his CBE in 1994.

Energetic to the end, he could be seen leaping around the stage as Loge in Wagner’s Ring, or in more sedate (but vocally demanding) roles in Berg’s Lulu or Birtwistle’s The Minotaur.  Ever ready to learn new or unfamiliar music, at the age of 70 it seemed he would go on for ever.

Farewell, Philip.  And thank you for the music.

Deepest condolences to his wife Ann Murray, and his children including Anita and Stephen.

Obituary by Barry Millington here:

and a nice interview with Philip:

Harrison Birtwistle, ‘The Minotaur’

April 16, 2008

Harrison Birtwistle

Last night was the world premiere of Harrison Birtwistle’s opera The Minotaur, at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Breaking my rule about not commenting on performances I am involved in… I have to say it was amazing:  hugely powerful, great production, simple and dramatic (designed by Alison Chitty, directed by Stephen Langridge, lit by Paul Pyant), charismatic performances – Christine Rice warm, communicative and unbelievably accurate musically as Ariadne, John Tomlinson giving the performance of his life as the eponymous ‘Man-beast’, Johan Reuter giving his all as Theseus despite not being totally at home with the English language (for once I imagine there won’t be any complaints about having surtitles in English).  And Antonio Pappano supremely in control of this vast and difficult score.

Birtwistle’s music polarizes opinion – remember the rumpus about ‘Panic’ at the Last Night of the Proms a few years ago?  I was at ENO when we put on The Mask of Orpheus, and operas don’t get much more monumentally complicated or unapproachable than that was.  But The Minotaur seems to me one of his finest scores, with many of his hallmarks – lots of noise, two growling tubas, screams and shouts, angular lines, stomping rhythms, strange sounds such as cimbalom and contrabass clarinet – but focused, singer-friendly, often very still and beautiful.

The text is by David Harsent (who also did the libretto for Birtwistle’s previous ROH opera, Gawain).  As soon as I read the libretto I got shivers up my spine, and they really haven’t gone away since!  He absolutely captures the essence of the Minotaur story – the duality of half-man, half-animal, the resonances of his conception and birth, the fact that he is locked in the labyrinth away from human eyes, the whole story of Ariadne and the thread that enables Theseus to get out of the labyrinth… Harsent doesn’t flinch from the brutality of sacrifice and murder – the Minotaur’s sacrificial victims, the Innocents, are raped and killed on stage (watched by an excited chanting crowd of spectators), and vulture-like Keres descend to disembowel the dead bodies.  Not for the squeamish!

this is on my wall!
I have felt a very personal link (more…)