« »

2011.11.04 Songs Of War Interview, Jewish Telegraph

Arts and Entertainment

Simon’s hand-picked war poems are more about life than death

by Simon Yaffe for Jewish Telegraph

Previous interview 2011.11.11 Songs of War article, The Independent >>>
Next interview 2011.11.03: BBC Radio 3 'In Tune', Simon and Malcolm Martineau >>>

Baritone Simon Keenlyside’s new album Songs of War is released this month.

Just as Tales of Opera, his Gramophone Award-winning debut recording for Sony Classical, featured a personal selection of the singer’s favourite arias, his new album incorporates Simon’s hand-picked selection  of war songs.

The chosen songs reflect such universal themes as fear, yearning, loss, restlessness, homesickness and love.

Simon told the Jewish Telegraph: “I think that poetry and music written in time of war is not to be ignored and I try to bring it before a wider audience here.”

“At least let’s not turn our heads away from it. At least we should have the decency to look at it square in the face.”

Recorded in February and featuring pianist Malcolm Martineau, the CD includes works by the range of influential composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams, Arthus Somervell, George Butterworth, Peter Warlock and Gerald Finzi.

Simon was struck by the fact that much English language war poetry is, in the main, more about life than death.

He was also impressed by how many former soldiers put their energies into life-affirming, humanitarian projects around the world.

Simon’s album showcases a range of songs, some of which are war poems and some which resonate with war themes or else are clearly associated with war.

Other poems are included becase of his empathy for the safety and well-being of young men and women involved in war – and for those left worrying at home.

The album finishes with two songs by Kurt Weill and Walt Whitman – savage indictments of war.

They turn their spotlight on those innocents who had neither asked for nor provoked conflict or attack.

In this final song, A Dirge For Two Veterans, Simon is a narrator with no involvement, no waves of emotion over the rights and wrongs of war: Just a great empathy and love for those fallen.

Simon explained: ” As Wilfred Owen noted, ‘My subject is war and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity. All the poets can  do is warn’.”

Born in London, Simon is the son of violinist Raymond and Anne Keenlyside. And his grandfather. Leonard Hirsch, an immigrant from Riga, Latvia, was one of the best-known violinists and conductors until his death in 1995. He formed the Philharmonia Orchestra, which he founded to offer a British counterpart to the Vienna Philharmonic.
Simon studied the violin as a child, but never took it seriously. He preferred singing, and, aged eight, he joined the choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he stayed for six years.
From there, he moved to Reed’s school in Cobham, Surrey, where he completed his A-levels.
During school holidays he spent time as a warden with the Royal Society for Protection of Birds. His passion for nature led him to read Zoology at Cambridge. Despite his fervour for nature, Simon decided to go down the musical path and won a scholarship to the Royal Northern College of Music, in Manchester, where he studied voice.
After leaving college, he went to Salzburg, Austria, where he was taught by the famous baritone Rudolf Knoll.

Simon’s professional debut as a baritone came in 1987 in Hamburg, where he sang Count Almaviva in the marriage of Figaro.
Two years later, he joined the Scottish Opera, staying for five yeards, and appearing in a number of roles, including Marcello in La Boheme, Danilo in The Merry Widow, and Figaro in the Barber of Seville.
He also made his debut at the Royal Opera House, the San Francisco Opera and sang at the Metropolitan Opera, in New York.

Simon, who is married to Russian ballerina Zenaida Yanowsky, will be performing Songs of War tomorrow night at London’s Wigmore Hall together with Malcolm Martineau.

Previous interview 2011.11.11 Songs of War article, The Independent >>>
Next interview 2011.11.03: BBC Radio 3 'In Tune', Simon and Malcolm Martineau >>>

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment