I attended a very special concert a couple of weeks ago: I had the privilege to hear the one and only Dame Emma Kirkby live on stage! She was coupled with baritone Peter Harvey and accompanied by the legendary London Baroque. It was such a special evening that I decided to share it with all my YouTube friends.
I'll start with the performers and then the concert program:
Emma Kirkby, of course, soprano
Peter Harvey, baritone
Güvenç Dağüstün, tenor
Ingrid Seifert, violin (1661, Jacobus Stainer - She bumped me with it, lol!!)
Richard Gwilt, violin (1685, Gioffreda Cappa)
Charles Medlam, bass viol (1720, Finocchi)
Irmgard Schaller, viola
Steve Devine, harpsichord
Ashley Solomon, traverso
19 November 2008, Albert Long Hall
Bosphorus University, Istanbul
The Fairy Queen
- See even night herself is here
- The plaint (O, let me weep)
- If love's a sweet passion
- If music be the food of love
- What a sad fate is mine
- Ye twice ten hundred deities
J. S. Bach:
- Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid, BWV 58
(Güvenç Dağüstün, Peter Harvey, Emma Kirkby)
- Coffee Cantata "Schweigt Stille, plaudert nich", BWV 211
I am so sorry that I could not get any footage of the performance, nor any pictures of it. It was such an intimate setting that one needed more than the audacity to attempt any meddling with a camera. :) So I only took a couple of pictures of the stage before the performance started, while the lights were still on.
When the ensemble and the singers got on stage, I was in such awe, that I could barely believe what I was about to witness. They took their places and lovely Emma sat behind them as if she came to watch the performance like a shy little girl. She was so sweet and humble. The opening notes were something I'll always remember: it was the subtlest, sweetest sound I have ever heard in my life. It seemed to me that the sound was not coming from those instruments but as if it always existed in that room and all of a sudden something triggered it to be heard; like a ghost melody. It was perfectly audible yet so very soft. With the first note, the room fell into such silence, that you could tell that no one in that room had ever heard such sound. It lasted until the end of the concert. Not one person dared to cough, lol! :))
When Emma started singing, I was transfixed; I sat there with my hand on my heart, breathless. The purity of her tone is something nobody can achieve, I am convinced. Her clear voice just stayed suspended above her head and mixed with the violins in such a way... Admittedly, she lost some of her control with age, but to sing as she did, you gotta have a diaphragm of steel! She was still undeniably the master of the piano and even pianissimo singing with such brilliance of tone in the upper register. Not once did she belt out a high note. It was always clear as a bell and delicate. I was only saddened to see her hold her belly every once in a while, especially during the coloratura passages. But when she sang "O let me weep", I couldn't help myself and wept with tears. How beautifully she sang it!
Peter Harvey had such a booming, big voice that was way too big for the ensemble and the little hall. But he was awesome, not for Purcell maybe, but for Bach, I must say. He was great in 2 Bach cantatas. He was wonderfully agile and precise. Although he was obviously trying to sing softly, when he started singing, I wished there were microphones for the ensemble. :)) He was totally in control of his voice and the audience. He opened the Bach repertoire with the cantata BWV 58 which has a name that I can only spell by looking at the booklet. :) Then there was a 10 minute break. I went outside to get a fresh air and some sense of reality. :)
When I got back to my seat, I saw Emma standing behind the door through which I had entered the room just a minute before, and I cursed at myself quietly for being on time once in my life, hehe. I am usually barely on time, if not late. Then I realized that this was the little sort of staging they did for the so-called Coffee Cantata. It is a cantata for 3 voices (tenor, baritone and soprano), with instruments. It opens with a recitative by the narrator, the tenor. In this case, it was a Turkish tenor. He was a young guy of 30, evidently so excited to be performing with such a legendary crowd that his voice cracked a few times at Bach's octave leaps. Although his part was very short to judge by, I could say that he had a beautiful timbre and a good sense of drama. After the recitative, Emma was shoved towards the stage from behind the aforementioned door, by Peter Harvey who was to sing the part of the father, whose daughter drinks way too many cups of coffee every day. Thus they entered the room and got on the stage with a tumbling motion! :)))) Then Harvey sat Emma down on a chair and started scolding the poor girl because she wouldn't give up her multiple cups of coffee, even when the father threatened her with not buying those fancy hat pins made of gold and silver. So the tit for tat went on until Emma gave up the coffee for the prospect of a young handsome husband promised to her by her father. But she is no dummy: she would only accept a guy who would let her drink her coffee whenever she wishes to. And the cantata ended with a trio. It was a fun piece performed with some cute sense of humor. They got some loud laughter out of us with their antics. It was evident by the smiles on their faces that they were proud to get those laughter and giggles from the audience.
The Coffee Cantata was the last piece. There was a loud applause of about 10 minutes, when we hoped to see them on stage once more in vain. They only came back to bow some more towards us, and towards the balcony crowd to whom they had forgotten to bow at the end of the concert, lol! Then some horrid young students in jeans leaped onto the stage to give them some presents, which I suspected to be some Turkish delights (some sort of candy-like, marshmallow-like, also jello-like Turkish dessert with some nuts and fruits). What a shame...
This is where the fun and excitement began for me. I was wondering whether I should wait and see if they would have a signature session; but there was no indication of it, apart from the stand where CDs that they brought with them were being sold. Then I thought to myself, it's now or never, and went straight towards the front rows where the heavily painted, fur-coated women with their bald yet pony-tailed husbands were sitting. I boldly made my way between them while they were talking some pseudo-intellectual mish-mash. I got backstage, and saw Medlam leaving while Seifert was still packing her little treasure. I quickly said hello and thanked them for a wonderful evening, just before Medlam managed to get away, hehe. :) But Seifert stayed behind and talked with me. She kept asking questions as if I was the star of the evening, lol. I could only manage to tell her that it was my first Baroque concert and I was glad to hear the best at my first experience. Then I apologized for imposing myself like this. I mean, there was nobody else but me! But she told me that she was happy to see someone in the audience who was really interested and involved. She asked if I was studying in that university; I said that I wasn't, and that I was only there to listen to them.
Then she asked where I lived and what I did, etc. She found out, after a fit of serial question asking, that I sing. So, she asked me to sing something. I was about to fall on the floor with trembling, and could not remember a note worth a hoot. I told her so. She asked who my favorite composer was; I said Handel. So she said, "Sing some Handel, then!" God! I cannot explain that feeling! I felt so tiny and impotent. What to sing? How to start? What were the words? The key? What if I started too high? Too low? Geez! I said, "OK, I'll sing but promise me not to call the police!" She said, "It's OK dear, I just want to hear your voice. C'mon, sing something, anything! Start form the middle, jump to the end if you want. It's OK!" I managed to remember one bloody aria of Sesto from Giulio Cesare: Langue offeso mai riposa. I started way too low and stopped and told her so. I restarted at what seemed close enough to the original key and sang like I don't know what! I heard my voice ringing in the empty hall and it made me feel even more excited. What kind of conceit was it? I barely got through the coloratura passage, and wanted to die and perish! I felt terribly embarrassed. I was trembling like a leaf, but managed to finish the A section without disaster. I told her that I was about to collapse because of trembling. She put her violin case down and said, "Come here!" She grabbed me, spun me around, started giving me a back massage and told me to relax. She shook my arms and told me to drop my voice down to the very bottom of my stomach. Then she turned me around to face her, poked my belly with her fingers and told me to sing from there. I said, "OK." So, she asked, "OK, what are you waiting for? Sing it again, now, from your guts!" I was in shock. I said, "Something else? I cannot remember anything." She told me to sing the same one, and that it was even better that way. So I did it again. This time it was louder and with more sense of drama, or so it seemed to me. She asked yet once more. I managed to remember the B section and sang it. She applauded me and said that I should get some auditions sometime. That I got the timbre for this kind of music and that my voice was very dramatic.
Then she grabbed her violin case and told me to follow her. We went downstairs, and I managed to thank her for listening to me, being so extremely nice to me. Well, she had been more than nice: we had stayed there talking and I had sung, all together for about 25 minutes. She called Emma Kirkby, saying: "Come here, Emma, I got someone to introduce to you!" Emma came, asking: "Who was singing? I heard some nice singing." Ingrid told her that I was. She said "Really? How nice!" I thanked her for a wonderful evening and told her that I had to see her before she left. She said, "Of course, here I am!" Then she asked my name and I said, Eser. She surprised me by spelling my name "E-S-E-R?" That was so wonderfully sweet of her. The first non-Turkish person ever to spell my name correctly, let alone pronouncing it. I also told her hello from Marc, as he asked me to. She asked where he was. I told her that he was in France, and that he also wanted to be here tonight but couldn't manage it. She said "How nice!" once more. And I used the last bit of my strength left to ask her if we could get a photo taken together. At this point, Ingrid Seifert had said goodbye and moved towards the exit, to get in the car which was to take them to the after-party somewhere. My friend Zeynep, who was waiting for me, took a photo of Emma Kirkby and I together. Then, Emma hugged me and we said goodbye. Then I thought that I thought to myself, "wish Ingrid were in the picture, too" but apparently I said it aloud. So, Emma yelled, "Ingrid! You are wanted here!" Wow! She came back from the car, and they took me in between them to get another photo together. I was about to faint with joy, lol! I thanked them both and we said goodnight.
I was walking towards the exit just behind Ingrid when she suddenly stopped short, just to tell me that she listened to some unbelievable talents in Istanbul, some very young kids playing fiddle, tzigane style. :) And not being able to stop fast enough, I had to bump her 347-year-old violin! And she only said, "It's OK, dear, don't worry!" I would have had a heart attack if I were in her shoes, hehe. Apparently, the concert organizers had taken them out to have some fish in some restaurant by the Bosphorus where Gypsies play awesome music. And then she told me to try to get some auditions in Europe if I can, and that I should be able to make it. And we said goodnight for the last time.
Wow! Just WOW! I have no idea how I walked uphill for about a kilometer under the pouring rain to find a taxi cab. When I woke up in the morning, I just laughed to myself thinking how silly Seifert was. And how wonderful at the same time. She spent a total of half an hour with me, while the whole concert crew was waiting for her to go to the after-party. Not to mention the private masterclass, plus the relaxation/massage session!! I couldn't dream of a better experience for the first Baroque concert I have ever been to. I cannot imagine a better experience, period. Good God! Did all that really happen to me? I guess it is too late to get pinched now. :) I am still in awe.