Tenor Rufus Muller and Guitarist David Leisner to Tribute Britten at Symphony Space, 10/18
Symphony Space's In the Salon series gets underway on Friday, October 18 (7:30 pm) in the Leonard Nimoy Thalia with a program devoted to Benjamin Britten's music, in celebration of the composer's centenary year. Tenor Rufus Müller and guitarist David Leisnerjoin forces to present a rare performance of Britten's complete oeuvre for the combination. This ravishing and often profound body of work was written for Britten's life partner, Peter Pears, and their friend, guitarist Julian Bream. It comprises Folk Song Arrangements (Vol. 6),Songs from the Chinese, and The Second Lute Song of the Earl of Essex from Gloriana. The program also includes Nocturnal for solo guitar (1963), an acknowledged masterpiece of the genre. It is presented in collaboration with Guitar Plus.
Britten began his cycle of Folk Song Arrangements (which ultimately ran to eight volumes) while living in the US during the early 1940s. It was a way for the homesick composer to reconnect with his English roots, while more pragmatically providing some "popular" material for his recitals with Pears. Britten was not afraid to put his own personal stamp on these tunes, unveiling previously untapped harmonic and textural possibilities in the melodies themselves. Volume 6, for Pears and Bream, dates from 1958.
Britten went on a concert tour to the Far East in 1956, a journey that may have influenced his decision to set Chinese poetry in Songs from the Chinese (1957). However, Britten makes no particular attempt to evoke a specifically 'Chinese' atmosphere. More striking is the way the cycle's musical ideas and textures are governed by an understanding of the guitar's special characteristics and limitations, without compromising Britten's musical identity. The songs (translated from the originals by Arthur Waley) cover familiar Britten themes of innocence, loss and regret.
Britten's skill at composing for the guitar, a challenging task for a non-player, was nearly on par with his mastery of vocal writing. It is said that, when presented with the manuscript of the Nocturnal, Bream was astonished to note only one unplayable chord in the entire 20-minute work. (It is also reported that Britten was rather upset when he realized his error.) The full title of the piece is Nocturnal after John Dowland; it takes the form of a set of variations on Dowland's Come, Heavy Sleep. It was Britten's genius to deploy his variations in reverse, delaying a literal statement of the theme until the end. Yet even there, the theme is not heard in full. Rather, it trails off, suggesting a passage into another state of consciousness. Reviewing David Leisner's recording of the work, Gramophone wrote, "[His] technically immaculate and musically mindful interpretation of Britten's Nocturnal can hold its own with Julian Bream's two reference versions."
Symphony Space's In the Salon series offers insights into the music being presented via informative talks and artist chats. This evening will include a mid-concert talk by Artistic Director Laura Kaminsky.
Rufus Müller has a distinguished career in opera, oratorio, and recital worldwide, as well as an extensive array of recordings. He was hailed by The New York Times as "easily the best tenor I have ever heard in a live Messiah" and as giving "the strongest theatrical performance of a Bach Evangelist that I have encountered". Rufus sings numerous recitals with celebrated pianist Maria João Pires, and with fortepianist Christoph Hammer. 2012-13 performances include numerous Bach "Passions" in Europe and the USA, Britten's "Serenade" and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in Toronto, Zender's "Winterreise" in Montréal, Mendelssohn's "St. Paul" in Madrid, Holst's "Savitri" with Little Opera Theater New York, Monteverdi's "Orfeo" with Andrew Parrott in Germany, Haydn's "Creation" in Norway and DC, and recitals in New York, Germany and Japan. Rufus studied with the late Thomas LoMonaco, and is head of vocal studies at Bard College NY.
David Leisner has a multi-faceted career as an electrifying performing artist, distinguished composer and master teacher. "Among the finest guitarists of all time" (American Record Guide), his superb musicianship and provocative programming have been applauded by critics and audiences around the globe. He has recorded CDs for the Azica, Naxos, Telarc, Koch and Etcetera labels, and a solo concert DVD on the Mel Bay label. David Leisner's recent seasons have taken him around the US, including his solo debut with the Atlanta Symphony, a major tour of Australia and New Zealand, and debuts and reappearances in Japan, the Philippines, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, the U.K., Italy, Czech Republic, Greece, Puerto Rico, Canada and Mexico. His own compositions, noted for their emotional and dramatic power, have been performed, recorded and published worldwide. Leisner is also co-chairman of the guitar department at the Manhattan School of Music.