Strung with poets' sinews
Poets and composers have always made natural collaborators. Words and music gain potency when intertwined.
The Greeks believed that Orpheus could coax the trees and rocks to dance through his magical combination of poetry and melody. As Shakespeare’s Proteus put it, his lute was ‘strung with poets’ sinews, / Whose golden touch could soften steel and stones’. But what are composers looking for when they choose which poems to set to music? What kind of poetic rhythm or imagery works best when it becomes a song?
The Centre for Modern Literature & Culture has commissioned three composers to set words by contemporary poets, to be performed by the renowned Greek mezzo-soprano Angelica Cathariou.
Song recital and discussion
The programme features songs by Silvina Milstein, Nicola Moro and Luminata Spinu (setting poetry by John Fuller and Fiona Sampson), alongside Michael Berkeley’s settings of David Malouf and Rainer Maria Rilke, and Rob Keeley’s Stevie Smith songs. The recital will be followed by a discussion between Silvina Milstein, Michael Berkeley and John Fuller (chaired by Lara Feigel) exploring the relationship between poetry and music.
Angelica Cathariou (mezzosoprano),
Arthur Boutillier (cello)
and Dominic Saunders (piano).
Michael Berkeley, Silvina Milstein and John Fuller, chaired by Lara Feigel
Angelica Cathariou sings a wide range of operatic, symphonic and contemporary repertoire at venues including Carnegie Hall, Concergebouw and Megaron Athens Concert Hall, and the international festivals of Marseille, Ferrara and Roque D'Anthéron. She has recorded the world premiere of Skalkotta's 16 melodies for BIS and her recording of Xenakis's Zyia was awarded the Orphée D'Or Prize for best recording of contemporary vocal music.
Michael Berkeley studied at the Royal Academy of Music and later with Richard Rodney Bennett. Berkeley has held Associate Composer roles with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and later with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, during which he composed notable works such as Or Shall We Die?, Organ Concerto and Concerto for Orchestra. He currently presents Radio 3's Private Passions and he is Chairman of the Governors of The Royal Ballet. Berkeley was appointed a CBE for services to music in 2012 and has been made an independent peer in the House of Lords.
Silvina Milstein emigrated to Britain after the Argentinian military coup of 1976. At Cambridge University she studied extensively with Alexander Goehr. She is currently a Professor of Music at King's College London. Her music has been played by some of the world’s leading orchestras and ensemble, such as BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Ensemble Modern, broadcast by BBC Radio 3 and recorded by LORELT. Over the past decade she has explored musical forms arising from heightened states of awareness, as evident in her works for the London Sinfonietta tigres azules and surrounded by distance… as well as of gold and shadows commissioned by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.
John Fuller is a poet, novelist and critic. He has published 21 books of poetry, the latest two of which appeared in 2014: You’re Having Me On! (for children, published by Laurel Books) and The Dice Cup (Chatto). He is an Emeritus Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, where for many years he was Tutor in English.
Fiona Sampson has published twenty-four books of poetry, criticism and philosophy of language, and received various national and international awards. She is Professor of Poetry at Roehampton University. Her Selected Poems have recently appeared in the US, China and Romania and are forthcoming in Ukrainian and Serbian. She is at work on a biography of Mary Shelley, and a study of musical form in poetry, and her new collection The Catch appears in February 2016.
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