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Global Art Song

In spring 2021, the pandemic restrictions seemed endless and no one could know whether live music-making would have any future. After the explosive aftermath of Black Lives Matter in summer 2020, its deeper consequences were slowly unfolding, but conversations about racial inequality in art music were often fraught with tension. Above all, it seemed impossible to do anything, apart from wait and worry.

From that strange time was born the idea of an online Global Art Song concert to raise money for the charity Musicians Without Borders. This umbrella organisation, established over twenty years ago in Holland, cooperates with local musicians in places affected by war and displacement. They have worked in Srebrenica, Kosovo, Rwanda, Palestine, El Salvador, Jordan, Northern Ireland and elsewhere. Three principles underpin their work: a belief in the power of music, a commitment to nonviolence, and a desire to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We could not have found a more worthy cause to support.

Why Global Art Song? Simon Lepper is one of the most respected collaborative pianists in the world, while Natasha Loges has devoted her scholarly life to the study of voice-piano repertoire. We believe that the combination of words and music is the most intimate and powerful form of musical expression. But although the classical repertoire is dominated by European art song, our colleagues come from all over the world. Each country has developed its own rich song tradition, and we wanted to celebrate this – both the diverse heritages of the many musicians who sing and play the art-song repertoire, and the idea of art song itself.

Many emails and Zoom conversations later, we had gathered video recordings from the following artists, representing the following countries with their chosen songs:

Stephan Loges & Simon Lepper, Frühlingsglaube D686, Franz Schubert/Ludwig Uhland 

(Germany)

Anu Komsi Keval Shah, Rauha, Ilmari Hannikainen/ Eino Leino (Finland)

Natalya Romaniw Lada Valešová, Stálosť, Leoš Janáček (Czech Republic)

Christopher Ainslie & Anthony Romaniuk, Kinderland, Hendrik Hofmeyr/ Sydney Petersen (South Africa)

Fatma Said Tim Allhoff, El Helwa Di, Sayed Darwish/ Badi’ Khairy (Egypt)

Karim Sulayman & Eighth Blackbird, Li Beirut adapted from Joaquín Rodrigo, Concierto de Aranjuez, Adagio (Lebanon)

Fleur Barron and Myra Huang, Hard it is to Meet and Part, Kai-Young Chan / Li Shang-yin (China: Cantonese) AND Hua Fei Hua, Huang Tzu/ Bai Juyi (China: Mandarin)

Sumi Hwang & Jisun Kwon, The Grass of my Heart, SungTae Kim/ Eok Kim (South Korea)

Natasha Te Rupe Wilson and Rachel Fuller, Powhiri, David Hamilton / Jacqueline Carter (New Zealand)

Niamh O’Sullivan Marcelo Amaral, Trovas, Alberto Nepomuceno / Osório Duque-Estrada (Brazil)

Eleazar Rodríguez Irene-Cordelia Huberti, Alma Mía, Maria Grever (words and music), (Mexico)

Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton, Spring Sorrow, John Ireland/ Rupert Brooke (Britain)

 

We collated the songs into an online concert, connected with recordings of poems to bridge locations. We had a Yoruba incantation for good luck; a Hawaiian poem about hearing a piano in the evening; a poem of separation and longing by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda; and a poem about Spain by American poet Alice Corbin Henderson. The practical challenges were many, but we were struck by the passion and imagination all our musicians brought to the project.  

We were incredibly fortunate to secure the brilliant Jamie Hall for the delicate stitching together of videos of varying quality, as well for filming Natasha speaking the texts on a blustery day on the south coast of England. Countertenor Jamie is the Editor and Creative Digital Director of vopera, the digital opera production company which produced an award-winning reimagining of Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortileges during the pandemic. We are so grateful to the Royal Philharmonic Society Enterprise Fund in association with Harriet’s Trust for enabling us to pay the artists and videographer a fee for their work. 

What did we learn? Apart from discovering much new music and celebrating our contributors’ backgrounds, this project was also an act of friendship, an affirmation of the personal ties which bind musicians and transcend their nationhood. Simon Lepper continues to programme diverse repertoires on the international stage. Natasha Loges is organising an international conference in Germany (where she now works) on global song in 2024, hoping to have useful conversations between musicians and academics about post-colonialism and globalism. There are so many beautiful songs to discover!

See the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g24Tjxo8-xE

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