A Child of Our Time
Serenade for Strings
directed by Mark Shanahan
Sally Silver, soprano
Leah-Marian Jones, alto
Tom Randle, tenor
Andrew Mayor, bass
7.30pm Saturday 16th March 2013
“A wonderful performance, so moving and sung with such conviction and sensitivity”
“The ‘steal away’ spiritual was lovely and the ‘singing trumpets’ were particularly fab!”
“What a wonderful performance… Well done to everyone it was truly magnificent”
“Well done on last night it was truly splendid!! I felt very proud of you all.”
“What a stunning performance. The spirituals sent shivers down my spine. Its a great compliment to the choir that it can command such accomplished soloists. Very well done all.”
“The opening was chilling and dark – I had no idea it would grip me like that and was immersed in it right to the last note”
“I have only one word to describe the concert tonight – WOW! It was wonderful. I was engaged and enraptured from beginning to end. It is a beautiful piece of music and you created a lovely atmosphere around it.”
A Child of Our Time, Michael Tippett
In Paris in November 1938 a 17-year-old Polish Jew, Herschel Grynszpan, shot and killed a German diplomat called Ernst vom Rath. The young man had fled from Germany, and was being illegally sheltered in Paris by his aunt and uncle. He was frustrated at every turn in his attempts to get the papers he needed from German officials, and tortured by the thought of the privations and persecutions his parents and two sisters were undergoing back in Nazi Germany. His mental turmoil built up and up until there seemed to him only one way out. He got himself a gun. He tried to obtain an interview with the German ambassador but he was palmed off with a much lowlier Legation secretary, vom Rath. He took out his gun and shot him five times. Vom Rath died two days later.
Grynszpan was arrested (and later tried and imprisoned) by the French authorities, and put his motivation on record: ‘I acted … because of love for my parents and for my people who were subjected unjustly to outrageous treatment…. It is not, after all, a crime to be Jewish. I am not a dog. My people have a right to exist on this earth.’
The Nazis milked the incident for all and more than it was worth, and it formed an explicit pretext for the murderous pogrom of 9/10 November 1938 known as the ‘Reichskristallnacht’, in which thousands of Jews were arrested and beaten up and their property and businesses destroyed.
It also made a considerable impression on a young British musician in his early thirties called Michael Tippett. At that time he was spending most of his time on teaching and practical music-making (in 1940 he became musical director of Morley College, a college for working men and women in Lambeth), but he was also beginning to make an impression with his compositions (for example, the Concerto for double string orchestra of 1939). Always intensely politically engaged (he was imprisoned for three months during World War II as a conscientious objector), he saw in Grynszpan’s desperate story the possible germ of an oratorio touching more widely on the human predicament. He began work on it in 1939, on the day World War II broke out, setting a libretto which, as in his later operas, he had written himself (the poet T.S. Eliot had originally agreed to write it, but he later made a diplomatic withdrawal). The result was A Child of Our Time, which was finished in 1941 and received its première in March 1944 (the conductor was Walter Goehr, and Peter Pears was the tenor soloist). It scored an immediate success, and it has remained ever since the most popular of the composer’s works.
Tippett constructed it (on the model of Handel’s Messiah) in three parts, which he characterized thus: ‘Part I deals only with the general state of affairs in the world today as it affects all individuals, minorities, classes or races who are felt to be outside the ruling conventions – Man at odds with his Shadow. In Part II appears the Child of Our Time, enmeshed in the drama of his personal fate and the elemental social forces of our day [Tippett adapted the expression from the title of Ein Kind unserer Zeit (1938) by the anti-Nazi German writer Odon von Horvath]. The drama is due to the fact that the forces which drive the young man prove stronger than the good advice of his uncle and aunt – as it always was and always will be. Part III is concerned with the significance of this drama and the possible healing that would come from Man’s acceptance of his Shadow in relation to his Light.’
As in Bach’s passions and cantatas, choir anad soloists move in and out of the action, sometimes participating in the narrative and sometimes commenting on it. In Part II the tenor is ‘the Boy’ (who is universalized as the ‘Child of Our Time’), the soprano is his mother and the contralto and bass soloists are his aunt and uncle. The bass also acts as the narrator, moving the story forwards in linking recitatives. The chorus sets the scene at the beginning of each part, dispassionately observing, but soon it is drawn into the action, becoming by turns oppressors and the oppressed (in Part II, for instance, a double chorus alternates screaming intolerance and the bewilderment of the persecuted). The role of emotional summation in Bach’s works is played by the chorales, based on hymn tunes universally familiar in Bach’s day, and Tippett found his counterpart for these in spirituals, traditional African American religious songs (‘Nobody Knows the Trouble I See’, ‘Go Down, Moses’, etc.) from the southern states of the US. He used five of them in all, and they proved so popular that he made a separate arrangement of them to be sung as a set (performed more than once by the Hackney Singers in the past).
Tippett uses the story of Grynszpan as an allegory of the outcast who is picked out by fate (the ‘man of destiny’) to be the symbolic individual opponent of tyranny. In an ironic circle, persecution of his people impels an act of resistance which itself redoubles the persecution. But cycles can also be benevolent: at the beginning of the oratorio we are in the hard grip of winter, but by the time we have reached the end, ‘it is spring’. The libretto of A Child of Our Time sometimes hovers uncomfortably between the gnomic and the bathetic (‘The words of wisdom are these: winter cold means inner warmth’), and the prospect of redemption which Tippett offers in the reconciliation of the dark and light sides of human nature (the printed score is prefaced by ‘… the darkness declares the glory of light’) seems a little shaky when closely examined, but in the end the power of the music (the radiant final chorus, ‘I would know my shadow and my light’, leading to the balm of ‘Deep River’) carries conviction.
© John Ayto 2013
Sarah Silver, soprano
Resident in London, Sally Silver’s career began in South Africa. In Europe she has performed a wide range of operatic roles with the Opéra de Metz, Opéra de Rennes, Opéra de Nantes, Berliner Kammeroper, Den Anden Oper, Nationale Reisopera, Scottish Opera, ENO and Longborough Festival Opera. Roles include Lucia LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR, Elisabetta MARIA STUARDA, Elvira I PURITANI, Olympia, Antonia, Giulietta, Stella LES CONTES D’HOFMANN, Marguerite LES HUGUENOTS, Mireille MIREILLE, Violetta LA TRAVIATA, Gilda RIGOLETTO , Fiordilgi COSI FAN TUTTE, Elvira DON GIOVANNI, Contessa LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, Angelica ORLANDO, Melissa AMADIGI and Stonatrilla L’OPERA SERIA, Duchess POWDER HER FACE, Sashka THE ELECTRIFICATION OF THE SOVIET UNION , Mila PALACE IN THE SKY and Mum/Sphinx/Waitress GREEK.
Her concert repertoire includes works by Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Mahler, Berlioz, Berg, Dvorak and Richard Strauss. She has performed works commissioned for her by Naresh Sohal with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and and has appeared at the Wigmore Hall, the Barbican, Cadogan Hall, Edinburgh, Cheltenham and Buxton Festivals.
Discography includes Ariadne THE BRIDE OF DIONYSUS by Sir Donald Tovey (Dutton 2010) the title role in LURLINE by Wallace (Naxos 2010) and three song recitals of BALFE (Guild 2010), WALLACE (Guild 2013) and MASSENET (Guild).
Leah-Marian Jones, alto
Before going freelance, Leah-Marian was a company principal at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden for eight years where she sang over thirty roles. She has subsequently sung for all the major British opera houses and in France at Chatelet Opera, Paris and Angers Nantes Opera in roles ranging from Carmen, Maddalena and Meg Page to Flosshilde, Rossweise and Norn in Wagner’s Ring.
Leah-Marian recently added the roles of Brangane in Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, Kabanicha in Katya Kabanova, Witch in Hansel & Gretel and Baba the Turk in The Rake’s Progress to her repertoire.
In concert she has appeared with international stars such as Bryn Terfel, Luciano Pavarotti and UK favourite, Lesley Garrett.
Tom Randle, tenor
Tom Randle began early studies in conducting and composition but a scholarship to study voice soon meant a change in career direction. He made his début with the English National Opera as Tamino in The Magic Flute and has repeated the role with great success at Deutsche Oper Berlin, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Hamburg, New Zealand and the Covent Garden Festival. Well known for his vivid and committed stage portrayals and a unique ability to embrace a wide variety of repertoire, Tom has emerged as one of the most exciting and versatile artists of his generation. Tom made his Royal Opera House début as Essex in Phyllida Lloyd’s highly acclaimed production of Gloriana, which was later released as a feature film for BBC Television.
Other appearances for the Royal Opera include Johnny Inkslinger in Paul Bunyan and the Fool in Gawain. He is very active in the field of contemporary music with several world premières to his credit, many of which were written especially for him. This includes the role of Dionysus in John Buller’s opera The Bacchae for ENO, the world première of Peter Schat’s opera Symposium for the Netherlands Opera, and the world première of John Taverner’s oratorio The Apocalypse for the BBC Proms. He also created the role of Nunez in Mark-Anthony Turnage’s opera The Country of the Blind, written for the 50th Anniversary of the Aldeburgh Festival, and premiered and recorded Penderecki’s oratorio Credo for the Oregon Bach Festival. His intense portrayal of Judas in the world première of Birtwistle’s Last Supper under Daniel Barenboim at the Staatsoper Berlin (as well as Glyndebourne) won him outstanding critical acclaim. In recent times he has had many additional opera engagements in the UK, as well as throughout Europe and in New Zealand. He devotes equal time to an active concert career, singing with many of the world’s leading orchestras including the Boston and Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, The London Symphony, Philharmonic and Philharmonia Orchestras, the Israel Philharmonic, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, and The English Concert. Amongst his recordings are the title role in Handel’s Samson with Harry Christophers on Collins Classics, Vaughan Williams’ A Cotswold Romance with the London Symphony Orchestra and Hickox for Chandos (both premiere recordings) and orchestral works by Luigi Nono on the EMI label.
Tom also appeared as Molqui in the groundbreaking film version of John Adams’ Death of Klinghoffer for Channel 4, released on DVD, and as Monostatos in Kenneth Branagh’s The Magic Flute. Engagements during the 2012/13 season include an appearance at the BBC Proms in The Yeomen of the Guard, Lulu (Maler/Negro) in Brussels’ La Monnaie and Jenufa (Steva) in Lille and the role of Aegisth in Elektra in Aix-en-Provence.
Andrew Mayor, bass
Andrew Mayor was born in Manchester, and won a postgraduate scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music where he received various prizes. During his studies he sang Borilée in Rameau’s Les Borèades, conducted by Roger Norrington.
Recently Andrew sang
• Prospero in Luciano Berio’s Un re in ascolto in Münster conducted by Fabrizio Ventura
• Starveling (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) in the Linbury Theatre for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden conducted by Richard Hickox
• Danilo (Die lustige Witwe) in New York and throughout the USA
• Sharpless (Madama Butterfly) in Tokyo and Worms, Germany
• Gianni Schicchi im Teatro Communale Monteleone di Spoleto
• The Music Master in a concert performance of Ariadne auf Naxos at the Windsor Festival.
• Beckmesser in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in Edinburgh
Last season he performed recitals in Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe, Japan and St Petersburg, Russia. Gunther in Götterdämmerung in Edinburgh, Schaunard in La Bohème and Zurga in Les pêcheurs des perles in nationwide UK tours.
This season Andrew sings the title rôle in Rigoletto throughout Europe for Compagnia d’Opera Italiana di Milano.