Our new season of events at the Edinburgh Society of Musicians got off to a flying start with a fascinating talk by Antony Negus on rhythm and silence in Wagner’s preludes. With the perspective of an experienced Wagner conductor he demonstrated the insight and artistic engagement he brings to his work. His illustrations from the keyboard confirmed his command of the music and we were all disappointed when he finished. For the rest of this season, we have an excellent programme lined up and hope that many of you will manage to attend these entertaining Sunday evening talks and recitals.
We hope that everyone is now aware that the Bayreuth booking system has changed with immediate effect. Societies such as ours will not be allocated tickets which can be bought on behalf of members. This means of course that we will no longer have a ballot for tickets. Individual members must buy their own tickets through the Bayreuth booking system, stating that they are a member of our society and giving their membership number. (This is printed on the address label of those receiving their newsletter by post and can otherwise be obtained from the membership secretary Ian McLennan.) This is not altogether a bad thing in my opinion. Ian and I obtained tickets through our ballot this year and found ourselves in ‘the Galerie’. We had a wonderful view of the stage, but it was the hottest place in Germany when we were there. A gentleman from Namibia sitting beside me even complained about the heat! Members can also continue to apply for the ‘auntie and uncle’ tickets which enable them to accompany our Bayreuth Scholar to certain events and will be sold on a ‘first come, first served’ basis when they are available. Details will be given in a later Newsletter. To monitor the new ticket system we would be grateful if members could advise us if they applied for tickets and whether they were successful. Please reply to Derek Williams.
SOCIETY WEBSITE – our website has been updated and modernised. Our events can now be booked by Eventbrite. Thanks to all who were involved in this. Please look at it and let us know what you think! (Web Address is given at the end of the Newsletter).
SUBSCRIPTIONS 2020: Please remember that subscriptions fall due from 1 January 2020. If you already have a direct debit or standing order in place, no further action is needed. Anyone who pays by cheque, please try to ensure that these are in our hands during January. Although subject to approval at the AGM on 8th December 2019, it is likely that the subscriptions for next year will remain unchanged at £25 for a single member and £35 for a couple.
Finally, you will notice that we have included a Gift Aid form with this mailing. If you pay UK Income Tax, we can claim back a proportion of the tax and add it to the Membership subscription. This is of great assistance to us and if you have not already done so, please sign the form and return it to the treasurer.
Upon receiving the great news that I had been awarded the Bayreuth Scholarship for 2019, I instantly started planning my trip to Germany. Although specialising in the disciplines of conducting and composition, I enjoy a varied and diverse interest in music and this opportunity to attend the Bayreuth Wagner Festival also enabled an extended study visit. I factored in a period of two weeks in August based round the five days of opera in Bayreuth and planned a route that encompassed much of east Germany. Earlier in the year, I twice visited Hamburg and attended performances of Beethoven’s Fidelio and Richard Struss’s Daphne at the Staatsoper which allowed me to brush up on my German and reacquaint myself with good quality beer and musical culture.
My journey started in Berlin and my first visit to one of the world’s most vibrant cities. Known as a centre for music and contemporary culture, I was able to meet with composer and performance artist colleagues met during my studies at the University of Edinburgh and attend highly energetic concerts of experimental music and theatre. I was also able to visit the huge collection of historical instruments at the Berlin Music Museum.
A wonderfully quick train journey took me to Leipzig for a few days – Wagner’s birthplace as well as the home of J.S. Bach, Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann, among others. There I found a warm welcome at the Leipzig Wagner Society headquarters who maintain a shop front in the city centre and are very proud that “Wagner ist ein Leipziger!”, with flyers and posters proclaiming this message. As well as visiting museums dedicated to Bach, and both Mendelssohns, I was able to meet choral director Edward Caswells who works with local choral societies and relocated to Leipzig from Scotland a few years ago. Throughout my time in Germany, I attend organ recitals in all the cities I visited but was especially lucky that my visit to Leipzig coincided with a solo organ performance by Japanese conductor, Masaaki Suzuki in Thomaskirche, the very church where Bach served as organist and is buried. Known for his work with the Bach Collegium Japan, I was delighted to be introduced to him following the next day’s Sunday morning service.
The opportunity to visit Dresden was a fleeting day trip where as well as the heavily ornate Fraukirche, I took a tour of the stunning Semperoper building. It was very interesting to visit a city and establishment where Wagner had begun to really develop his distinct compositional voice and experience as a conductor. With clear blue skies and warm weather, I took a small bus up the Elbe river towards the town of Hosterwitz where there is a small museum dedicated to composer Carl Maria von Weber in his former summerhouse. His work and output were an important influence on Wagner’s early career.
Departing from Leipzig, a small train weaved its way down the Saale river and various small towns taking me to Nuremburg. Noticing a distinct change in the local accents, architecture and culture, it proved an informative visit to one of the most historical cities in Germany’s history and that of the Holy Roman Empire. While Nuremberg is associated with many darker moments in twentieth-century, I made a conscious decision to visit the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, which had brilliant examples of art and craftsmanship from all over the country and encompassed many centuries of shared heritage between German-speaking peoples. It was in Nuremburg, while on one of my routine trawling of second-hand bookshops, I found a good quality copy of Derek Watson’s short biography of Wagner which proved a useful and valuable travel companion for the rest of my trip throughout Germany.
Finally arriving in Bayreuth, I met up with Derek Williams and Jan Conway who were also representing the Wagner Society of Scotland and following a jovial lunch, headed for check in on the Stipendiaten programme. What I discovered was a wonderful fellowship with some of the finest young musicians, singers and arts professionals from around the world. As we had all won the same award and were there for the same shared experience of Wagner and a wider love of music and opera, it immediately gave us all an instant connection. Speaking to other conductors and orchestral players at different stages of their careers was of special interest in considering my own progress and direction.
The first full day consisted of a welcome reception at the Festspielhaus, including a brief introduction to Katarina Wagner and the International Wagner Societies staff who co-ordinated our programme. A guided tour and long-anticipated first look at this famous opera house proved an informative introduction to the space, including its distinct acoustic and how this was achieved through architectural design. What struck me was how the attention was drawn immediately to the stage from wherever one stood or sat in the auditorium. We continued to the lowest depths of the vast orchestral pit appealing greatly to my conducting interests and an opportunity to see the perspective and ensemble outlay from the conductor’s podium where so many great musicians have imparted their interpretations of Wagner’s work.
The first production as part of our scholarship programme was Parsifal, possibly the most appropriate as it was the opera Wagner composed specifically for performance in this theatre. Conducting the performance was Semyon Bychkov while Andreas Schager sang the title role. Even from my somewhat elevated seat in the Festspielhaus Galerie, the clarity and high quality of the acoustic completely enveloped me, even with the space and lightness of the opera’s opening chords. This production set the story in the Middle East rather than Spain and highlighted the tension between world religions as a contributor to world conflict. With much religious iconography and relevance to the current international situation, it was a powerful and deeply moving opera to experience and was well received by the audience and my scholarship colleagues.
We had a morning reception at the Bayreuth Rathaus and met with the city Burgermeisterin or mayoress. We were allowed up to the building’s panoramic viewing platform where the Festpielhaus holds its commanding position over the town with its distinctive facade.
That evening’s festival production was Tristan und Isolde, directed by Katarina Wagner and conducted by Christian Thielemann. While it was a very elaborate production with a set that was strongly inspired by M.C. Escher’s unique optical art, it was quite a dark production that raised many questions about some of the direction and artistic choices. Following discussion with others, it seemed a widespread opinion that, regrettably, this was the weakest of our three opera experiences. Stefan Vinke (Tristan) and Petra Lang (Isolde) did sing well in their extended duets and solos, but the supporting cast of Gerog Zeppenfeld as König Marke and Christa Mayer as Brangäne performed strongest out of the whole cast.
There had been some media coverage about our final opera, Tannhäuser, which has been performed at the Festival nine times. While there was much resulting discussion about the effectiveness of the production among the Wagner faithful, I would suggest that this was an electric and fun performance. Directed by Tobias Kratzer, the choice of Valery Gergiev as conductor was controversial. In addition to Stephen Gould as Tannhäuser and Lise Davidsen as Elisabeth, the supporting cast included Elena Zhidkova as Venus assisted by two silent nymphs, performance artists Le Gateau Chocolat (a British based, drag performer) and Manni Laudenbach. This highly surreal performance was a fully immersive experience, with extended performances during the interval. Its ‘tongue in cheek’ attitude held a mirror up to the Bayreuth audience and its controversy was just part of its intrigue.
The final day of the scholarship programme involved a tour of Bayreuth which took in many aspects of the city’s history. One of the most interesting elements was the UNESCO listed Margravial Opera House with its highly ornate baroque interior. Beautiful for all the opposite reasons, it was quite an overload having experienced the plain yet effective design of the Festspielhaus these past few nights. The afternoon was largely focused on Wagner’s house of Wahnfried, its museum and included a masterclass with young singers guided by legendary Wagnerian soprano, Dame Gwyneth Jones. I was able to see examples of Wagner’s conducting batons (or taktstock), their design and balance in comparison to today’s models, as he said virtually nothing on the matter in his writings. After a poignant and simple wreath laying ceremony at Richard and Cosima’s graves with all the Stipendiats and officials from the International Wagner Society, we retired to the impressive Bauhaus inspired house of Siegfried Wagner for a champagne reception. That evening’s closing showcase performance by some of our peers was a very memorable occasion and, over dinner and drinks, we were able to bid farewell to our new friends with many promises to visit each other in the future.
Following a swift bus ride back up to Berlin, I spent a couple more days exploring the atmosphere of this energetic city before flying back to Edinburgh. On reflection, this August’s trip to Germany has proven a very enlightening and profound experience. By my own admission, conducting is a very lonely profession. Usually working unsocial hours, and being the principal artistic problem solver for a group of musicians – amateur or pro – the pressures of the job means a conductor can quickly lose sight of the rewards and love of their art. The opportunity to be part of a bigger fellowship of musicians and young professionals and being the only representative of Scotland in an international atmosphere was a boost to the confidence. While only time and experience will be able to quantify the numerous benefits of this experience, both within Bayreuth and in my wider journey, I know I have gained musical contacts and friends around the world. Above all, this opportunity has lit a deeper appreciation of Wagner and insight to many dimensions of musical interpretation through his writings. On receiving this award early in 2019, the orchestras and choirs I conduct took great pride and interest in this achievement and my resulting tour. As a conductor, I share this award and experience with them for without their support, playing and loyalty, I would not be the musician I have grown into today. I wish future Scottish scholarship winners would have as much of an experience as I have enjoyed.
Michael Graham is a conductor and composer based in Edinburgh. He currently conducts the Falkirk Tryst Orchestra, Bathgate Concert Orchestra, Edinburgh Mandolin and Guitar Orchestra and Edinburgh Recorder Ensemble. He is also Assistant Conductor to the Strathclyde University Chamber Choir. In addition to performances in Scotland, the next year will see Michael conduct guest engagements in York and Manchester in addition to Festival appearances in Suffolk and Edinburgh.
The Society’s Annual Residential Course, this time on Die Walküre took place over four days and was led again by David Nice in August at Gartmore House with 18 participants attending. In the past, these courses were conducted by the late Derek Watson. David has adopted a completely different approach to Derek which would be expected. The result is a fresh look at familiar operas and their themes and artistic context. This year we got valuable feedback from our participants and this has been relayed to David. It is everyone’s hope that the relationship between David and the Society will be a long term one.
After everyone arrived, David set up the action with a talk on the storm that begins the opera. On the following day, there were several lectures moving the action on as far as Fricka’s famous ‘domestic’ with Wotan at the beginning of Act 2. David finished with an evening screening of the whole of Act 1. On the third day, David completed his analysis of Act 2 with emphasis on the ‘Todesverkündigung’ or the annunciation of death to Siegmund. Again, the day concluded with a screening of Act 2. After breakfast, Sunday began with the beginning of Act 3 and the ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ and continued with an analysis of the tumultuous events of Act 3. There were then two separate sessions on the confrontation between Wotan and Brünnhilde, leading to the scene on the mountain and Wotan’s farewell to his daughter. The final evening closed, as would be expected, with the whole of Act 3 on screen.
In summary, it was felt that David’s course was well prepared, and the daily lectures (with illustrative musical excerpts) enhanced everyone’s understanding and appreciation of the opera being considered. The Society has made reservations with Gartmore for the following dates (to complete David’s analysis of the ‘Ring’):
Siegfried – Friday 11th – Tuesday 15th September 2020
Götterdämmerung – Friday 17th – Tuesday 21st September 2021
All Wagner Society of Scotland events take place at the Edinburgh Society of Musicians, 3 Belford Road, EH4 3BL (by Dean Bridge). Admission is £7 for members and £10 for non-member and meetings begin promptly at 6.30pm.
Sunday 17th November 2019
JULIA LYNCH MASTERCLASS
Julia Lynch will lead a masterclass with young artistes from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, concentrating on the works of Richard Wagner. Julia is on the staff of Royal Conservatoire of Scotland as head vocal and repertoire coach and was a Musikassistentin at the Bayreuter Festspiele from 2008-2014.
Sunday 8th December 2019
AGM and CHRISTMAS SOCIAL
Notice is hereby given that the Annual General Meeting will take place on Sunday 8th December 2019. Following the AGM members are invited free of charge to a Christmas social evening including a buffet and drinks. During the evening entertainment will be provided by Claudia Wood, our 2018 Bayreuth scholar and her accompanist.
Sunday 19th January 2020
WAGNER, PARIS & THE ORIGINS OF THE FLYING DUTCHMAN – Katy Hamilton
How did Wagner get from a French-language opera set in Scotland, to a German-language piece about Norway? From the travails of establishing himself in Paris, to a fraught sea-crossing from Riga to London, we explore the complex origins of this work and the German and Scottish influences that lie behind this dramatic masterpiece.
Dr. Katy Hamilton is fast becoming one of the UK’s most sought-after speakers on music, providing talks for a host of organisations including the Wigmore Hall, Southbank Centre and BBC Proms. She is the editor of two books on Brahms, and a frequent contributor to BBC Radio 3’s Record Review. You can find out more about her work at www.katyhamilton.co.uk
Sunday 16th February 2020
STAGING WAGNER – Anthony Ogus
In “Staging Wagner”, Anthony Ogus will describe the historical evolution in the different styles and theories of staging of Wagner from Romantic Realism in the 19th century to Deconstruction in the present day. The talk will be illustrated with photographs of various productions exemplifying the evolution.
Professor Anthony Ogus CBE is a retired academic lawyer, an Emeritus Professor at the Universities of Manchester and Rotterdam, and a Fellow of the British Academy. He has published a book on operagoing, Travels with my Opera Glasses, and writes a monthly article in the Opera Now magazine
Sunday 15th March 2019
FROM BAYREUTH TO BABYLON: WAGNER GOES TO HOLLYWOOD – Rolland Man
Ever since the beginning of the sound era, cinema seems to have had a love affair with Wagner’s music. Comedies and tragedies, avant-garde and mainstream films have used some of his most famous pieces. We will look at some cinematic examples and explore how filmmakers used his music for different purposes.
Rolland Man is a Teaching Fellow in Literature and Film Studies at The University of Edinburgh, Centre for Open Learning. He has a special interest in the interrelations of music, image and text.
RWVI Kongress in 2019 will take place from 28 November to 2 December in Venice. A report will be published in the next newsletter.
A Ring Cycle returns to the Opernhaus Leipzig in January 2020 played by the famous Gewandhaus Orchestra under the baton of Ulf Schirmer. https//www.oper-leipzig.de
A new production of Parsifal will be staged at the Erkel Theatre in Budapest in April 2020. https://www.jegy.hu
Lyric Opera conducted by Sir Andrew Davis presents a new Ring Cycle in Chicago in April-May 2020. https://www.lyricopera.org
New productions of the Ring Cycle will take place in Paris at Opera Bastille during 2020 (April-November). https://www.operadeparis.fr
Very advanced notice: London Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Vladimir Jurowski is giving two semi-staged Ring Cycles at London’s Festival Hall between 25th January and 10th February 2021.
Please note that several office bearers of WSoS have had to change their email addresses (see below) owing to persistent phishing and other intrusive emails.