Heaven and hell: an audience with the women of the West Cork Chamber Music Festival

From listening to Debussy to drowning, five performers from the recent Bantry festival share their ideas of life’s highs and lows

Mon, Aug 5, 2013, 01:00

Claire Booth
ENGLISH SOPRANO


What’s your idea of musical heaven? Probably not singing. Probably listening to a big Debussy-fest or a Berg-fest, or a Brahms piano concerto-fest. I think I’d be in the audience somewhere. But it would be a big, symphonic sound-world, I think.

And your musical hell? Being asked to sing for the rest of time? No. You can’t say without being rude about something, can you? I don’t know. I couldn’t possibly say.


What’s your non-musical heaven? That’s easy. Hanging out with my family.


And your non-musical hell? I’ve actually lived quite a happy life. I can’t think about crappy things. Non-musical hell? Being ill, or my family being ill. For me, for work, that’s quite grim. You have to look after yourself so much. But when other people are ill you can’t help them.


What has been your experience with cancellations? I quite often stand in as a replacement. I’m quite happy reading things I don’t know. So, actually, cancellations have often worked in my favour, and I’ve had some lovely opportunities jumping in at the last minute. But I was ill recently with bronchitis, so it was valid, but I didn’t know it was bronchitis and I pretty much had to cancel the day before. People were not impressed. It’s hard as a singer. You try to understand your own voice, and you obviously hope very much that if it isn’t a hundred per cent it’s going to improve. It can be a difficult call to make early enough to say it’s not going to improve. We all suffer tensions, and issues, and sprained thises and thats. But for singers it’s hard sometimes to make the right call.


Clara Mouriz
SPANISH MEZZO-SOPRANO


What’s your idea of musical heaven?
I think it would be pure communication, perfect musical understanding and spiritual thought. Music and heaven are probably the reasons we become musicians and we become an audience. And the ultimate necessity is more than beauty, it’s unity, it’s totality, it’s understanding, reaching the soul of the audience, of the musicians you are playing with, the composer, the poet. Music transcends time through the instant, and it’s through music that we are closer to heaven as such.

And your musical hell?
Isolation, complete isolation. Or insincerity and the abuse of music.


What’s your non-musical heaven?
It will always be music. Even silence is music.


And your non-musical hell?
The absence of life. The absence of music.


What has been your experience with cancellations?
I love being the replacement when there is a cancellation. It’s very beautiful. It’s like being part of a chain. That’s a pleasure. The worst with a cancellation is two days before if you are ill and you have to decide if somebody will be able to do something different and the audience will enjoy it, or whether you will be able to recover.

Deborah York
ENGLISH SOPRANO


What’s your idea of musical heaven? Performing something which you feel very deeply with people who seem to be on the same wavelength as you, and things just flow and click into place without you having really to talk about it.


And your musical hell?
What a question! Working with people who are really not on your wavelength, where you’re not given space to be yourself. I think that’s my idea of musical hell.


What’s your non-musical heaven? Bantry Bay. It was yesterday, my day off, going to Ilnacullin [Garnish Island] on a beautiful, sunny day, no rain, no mist, on the little ferry out to the island, past little seal pups basking on a rock, and just walking around those lovely gardens. This was really a non-musical heaven, this island – somebody had this idea of creating a tropical island off the west coast of Cork. It’s fantastic. It works. It’s incredibly peaceful and tropical and safe, somehow. Beautiful. Otherworldly.
And your non-musical hell? Could be being stuck on a Tube in London in rush-hour with terrible heat and smog and stress. The worst aspects of city life, probably.


What has been your experience with cancellations? I can’t really remember when I last had a problem with cancellations. But I remember having a near-problem, which was four days at Heathrow Airport trying to get to Russia for a concert in the middle of winter. I was flying with a Russian airline and they were absolutely adamant that they could fly, so they kept us waiting till the very end. “This is only a very little bit of snow,” they said. Of course we couldn’t fly. At the last minute we had to leave the plane. Heathrow was total chaos, nobody telling you anything. Next flight out was four days later. We didn’t cancel the concert, but we cancelled the rehearsals. So I literally arrived and did the concert.


Ioana Petcu-Colan
IRISH VIOLINIST


What’s your idea of musical heaven?
Oh, wow. I think I’m probably not that far away from living it at the moment. I’ve a little bit of everything, I suppose. Not only does it broaden your own horizons as a musician, but it keeps life diverse and interesting. Every time you move from one thing to the next, you appreciate the value of what you’re moving to and coming from.
 

And your musical hell?
I love performing contemporary music. I love learning a new world and getting to know new composers and their language. The first time you see a contemporary score, particularly if it’s one that requires a key or an extra book of information, or something that has to tie in with a tape part, or something even more unusual, is absolutely hell. You just look at it and think, Where do I start? How am I going to do this?


What’s your non-musical heaven?
I think I’m probably living that at the moment, too. I’ve two little kids in my life at the moment. It’s a fascinating life experience watching them and seeing them grow. They’re a joy, great fun, and they’re getting to the stage where they’re pals for each other, two and almost four. It’s a lovely relationship.


And your non-musical hell?
Probably being unhappy, for whatever reason – ill health, or your life is not what you want it to be; not being able to think yourself into a better place, or see your way forward to make changes that will be for the better.


What has been your experience with cancellations?
Both that spring to mind were related to the Avalon Chamber Music festival, with the piano trio I play in, Ensemble Avalon. We had a singer who couldn’t come, and we found out quite literally at the 11th hour, and Michael McHale and I had to whip out Beethoven’s Spring Sonatas.

Once we had to cancel our winter festival and turn it into a spring festival, because of the snow a couple of years ago. We had to pull the whole thing the night before it was due to start.

Ruby Hughes
ENGLISH SOPRANO


What’s your idea of musical heaven?
That’s very difficult. There are some incredible slow Handel movements with oboe obligato; what comes to mind most recently was the Largo in B flat, I can’t remember the opus number – two cellos with violin obligato and oboe. Sublime. Heavenly.

And your musical hell?
Being in a restaurant with really loud music and not being able to talk or have a conversation. That’s pretty hellish.


What’s your non-musical heaven?
Probably a really good Thai curry.


And your non-musical hell?
Drowning.


What has been your experience with cancellations?
I had to step in for a summer festival with Philippe Herreweghe with 24 hours’ notice, and I had to sing madrigals by De Wert, which were half an hour, a Stravinsky Mass, Mendelssohn Psalm 39 and Gesualdo. That was hair-raising.