FAQ: Benjamin Bagby's Beowulf

A double tour de force of scholarly excavation and artistic dynamism.
— San Francisco Chronicle

Arguably one of literature’s greatest epics, Beowulf – the story of King Hrothgar, the monster Grendel and the eponymous hero Beowulf - has been passed down in written form for hundreds of generations. As one of the world’s leading practitioners of historically informed music and theater, Benjamin Bagby has presented his acclaimed dramatization of Beowulf to sold out crowds all over the world, transporting audiences with this awe-inspiring poem, delivered in the original Old English and accompanied only by the Anglo-Saxon harp. On Saturday, 5 May, he is set to electrify the Fitters’ Workshop with his one-man tour de force.  Want to know more? In this FAQ, we explore Benjamin Bagby the musician and his unique Beowulf project.

Who is Benjamin Bagby?

Singer, harpist and scholar Benjamin Bagby is perhaps best known for his work with the ensemble for medieval music, Sequentia.  Co-founded together with the late Barbara Thornton in 1977, Sequentia was based in Cologne, Germany, for 25 years. Sole director since 1988, Bagby has created over 70 innovative concert programs of medieval music and music drama, giving performances in across Europe, North and South America, Africa, the Middle East, Japan, Korea, and Australia. Both Benjamin Bagby and Sequentia are now based in Paris and perform 15 to 30 concerts yearly, developing 1-2 new programs each year. Sequentia also have an extensive discography, including two CDs of musical reconstructions from the medieval Icelandic Edda. The ensemble’s most recent release forms the 9th and final installement of Sequentia's Hildegard von Bingen complete works project. In addition to his activities as singer, harpist and director of Sequentia, Benjamin Bagby writes about performance practice and teaches widely in Europe and North America. He is currently on the faculty of the Sorbonne University in Paris, where he teaches in the master’s program for medieval music performance practice.

Read more: http://www.sequentia.org/biographies/bagby.html

Who, or what, is Beowulf?

The opening page of the Beowulf epic

Beowulf is the hero of an Anglo-Saxon poem of the same name, which survives in a single manuscript dated to the early eleventh century. It is written in Old English, the language used in England roughly between the years 500 to 1100 AD. Beowulf explores timeless themes of individual glory; the anxiety of encountering the unknown, the different, the monstrous; and the troubling conflicts at the heart of a warrior culture.

What is so special about Benjamin Bagby’s Beowulf performance?

Beowulf is thought to be the oldest surviving long poem in Old English and is commonly cited as one of the most important works of medieval literature. The Anglo-Saxon literary tradition continues to capture the modern imagination, and like J.R.R. Tolkien, James Campbell and countless medieval literature students around the world, this heroic tale has held Benjamin Bagby in thrall since he was a young teenager in his native US. Since 1987, he has taken this fascination further, researching and reconstructing several medieval oral epics. He has performed in Old Icelandic, Old High German, and Anglo-Saxon, accompanying himself on a Anglo-Saxon harp. However, it is in his acclaimed bardic performance of Beowulf, created in 1990 and now with 10-20 performances yearly worldwide, that Bagby truly shines. His reconstruction (accompanied by modern English supertitles) has captivated sold-out crowds from Carnegie Hall to Munich to Bruges – even the Edinburg Festival – earning rave reviews in every locale. The New York Times writes: “Mr. Bagby comes as close to holding hundreds of people in a spell as ever a man has…that is much too rare an experience in theater.” Benjamin Bagby’s appearance at the Festival is an especially rare chance to encounter one of the most popular texts in western literature as it was originally performed.

Mr. Bagby comes as close to holding hundreds of people in a spell as ever a man has…that is much too rare an experience in theater.
— New York Times

What is an Anglo-Saxon harp?

 BEOWULF -  Benjamin Bagby

Eröffnungskonzert im Museum Tinguely
Basel, 30.11. 2011

am Internationalen Symposium
der Schola Cantorum Basiliensis
Basel, 18. November - 3. Dezember 2011

MONODIEN  
Paradigmen instrumental begleiteten Sologesangs
in Mittelalter und Barock

FOTO:
© Susanna Drescher 2011
www.susannadrescher.ch

The specially-built 6-string harp used in this performance was based on the remains of an instrument excavated from a 7th century Alemannic nobleman's grave in Oberflacht (south of Stuttgart). The remarkably intact pieces of oak clearly show a thin, hollow corpus with no soundholes. There are strong indications, supported by contemporary iconography, that such an instrument had six gut strings, a tailpiece and a free-standing bridge, the strings providing the ‘singer of tales’ with a series of six tones. Although several possible tunings present themselves, the tones used in this performance were arrived upon through a careful study of early medieval modal theory (a gapped octave which contains three perfect 5ths and two perfect 4ths). The result is a musical matrix, upon which the singer can weave both his own rhetorical shapes and the sophisticated metrics of the text. The harp is a relatively quiet instrument, but in the ear of the performer it rings with an endless variation of gestures, melodic cells and repetitive figurations which give inspiration to the shape of the vocalisation: in the course of the story the vocalist may move imperceptibly or radically between true speech, heightened speech, speechlike song, and true song.

Read more: http://www.bagbybeowulf.com/background/index.html

Still have questions? Check out these links for more information:

ARTICLE: Beowulf and the Performance of Medieval Epic, by Benjamin Bagby
INTERVIEW: Between Music and Story-telling, with Benjamin Bagby and Katarina Šter
REVIEW: Beowulf, sung and recited by Benjamin Bagby at Tanglewood, by Michael Miller

Benjamin Bagby brings his tour-de-force performance of Beowulf to the Fitters’Workshop on Saturday, 5 May at 8pm. Tickets are $69/$64 (concession). Book online at cimf.org.au

 

 

Making Canberra a cultural destination with new board member, Genevieve Jacobs

The Canberra International Music Festival reaffirmed its place as a leading Canberra cultural attraction after a record number of interstate visitors during the 2017 Festival. This week, the Festival adds to its successes with the appointment of broadcaster and writer Genevieve Jacobs to the board.

The Festival welcomes new board member, Genevieve Jacobs. Photo by Samantha Hawker

The Festival welcomes new board member, Genevieve Jacobs. Photo by Samantha Hawker

The Festival has seen a dramatic increase in interstate visitation over the past three years, with approximately 1 in 6 patrons coming from outside Canberra in 2017, an increase of 43% over the previous year. With Tourism Research Australia’s recent announcement of record total visitation and expenditure for the ACT in 2017, the Festival is positioning itself as significant contributor to the ACT Government’s aim of developing Canberra as a cultural tourism destination.

For Artistic Director Roland Peelman, this growth marks a new era for the Festival:

"For almost 25 years, our Festival has carried the 'international' label in its title for obvious reasons, but it is only recently that its national significance has become apparent. The ever-increasing number of patrons from interstate coming to the Festival makes Canberra a very     exciting place to be this Autumn."

Genevieve Jacobs has been a journalist for 30 years, working in print and radio. She is well known to the local community, having spent over a decade with ABC Canberra, reporting on everything from politics to human interest.

A dedicated volunteer and advocate for community engagement, Genevieve works with a wide range of organisations including the Tara Costigan foundation, Gift of Life ACT and ACT Wildlife Rescue among others. She also sits on the ACT’s advisory committee for historic places.
 
Her renown in the arts community has attracted the interest of Sydney-based cultural tour company, Renaissance Tours, and she will host a group for the Festival’s opening weekend in the tour company’s inaugural tour to the Canberra region.

An ardent promoter of the Canberra arts community, involvement with the Festival at board level was a natural progression for Genevieve:

“I'm honoured to join the board of the Canberra International Music Festival, and to be part of a major Canberra arts story. CIMF's vision in creating an energetic, diverse, exciting programme of music is a terrific match for the city's strong cultural growth in recent years.

“For me it's a brilliant chance to bring our own arts community and visitors together for ten days of wonderful musical adventures.”

The 2018 Canberra International Music Festival runs from 27 April – 6 May. For more information, visit www.cimf.org.au  

For more information on Renaissance Tours’ 5-day package to the Festival, visit http://renaissancetours.com.au/tours/short-breaks/2018-canberra-music-festival/

 

A sneak peek into our 2018 season

In 2018, the Canberra International Music Festival promises another exhilarating season - 10 incredible days filled to the brim with events, forums, talks and no fewer than 23 concerts! You can expect a wealth of early music, from the great classic epics to a number of masterpieces of the baroque as well as classical music on period instruments.

This year’s featured composers include Bach, Handel, Schubert, Chopin and Stravinsky, alongside world premieres from 2018 composer-in-residence Mary Finsterer. The Festival shines a spotlight on young Australian talent with performances by the Orava Quartet and Bach Akademie Australia. Above all, 2018 will be a celebration: Leonard Bernstein’s one hundredth birthday and Debussy’s centenary with none other than pianist Roger Woodward taking centre stage. The full program will be released in mid-November, but read on for a preview of this year’s selected highlights.

Saturday 28 April | 11AM
Fitters’ Workshop
DAPPER’S DELIGHT

English-German duo Dapper’s Delight (pictured above) gained renown for their exuberant impromptu performances on the streets of Europe. In this Festival exclusive, these early music specialists present music from a time when English glee clubs morphed into music hall.

Living Legend Roger Woodward

Living Legend Roger Woodward

Saturday 28 April | 3PM and
Tuesday 1 May | 6:30PM
ROGER WOODWARD’S RETURN

Power and magic: living legend Roger Woodward returns to his old love for Chopin and Debussy. Over two much anticipated recitals he performs Chopin’s complete Etudes as well as Debussy’s most beguiling poetic tableaux.

New York based violinist Tim Fain

New York based violinist Tim Fain

Saturday 28 April | 8PM
Fitters' Workshop
FOUR SEASONS

Max Richter’s re-invention of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is one the most remarkable and remarked upon musical statements of our time. Tim Fain, Philip Glass’ close collaborator shines on the violin with the Festival strings.  A new take on the passing of nature features the luscious sounds of the Seven Harp Ensemble directed by Alice Giles.

Madeline Easton at the 2017 Festival. Photo by Peter Hislop

Madeline Easton at the 2017 Festival. Photo by Peter Hislop

 



Monday 30 April | 6:30PM
Fitters' Workshop

ISRAEL IN EGYPT

Flies, frogs, locusts, horses and riders, nothing stands in the way of Handel’s wondrous oratorio covering the Israelites’ return to their homeland. A Festival exclusive featuring Bach Akademie Australia.
 

Thursday 3 May | 6:00PM
Fitters' Workshop

ORAVA QUARTET

With a reputation for passionate and engaging performances in Australia and abroad, Orava is one of the most exciting string quartets of its generation. Music by Haydn, Rachmaninov and Debussy.

Tickets for the 2018 Festival will go on sale 1 December, with a one week priority booking period for members. Sign up for our newsletter and make sure you are the first to hear all the news about our upcoming season!

The Festival reserves the right to vary any aspect of the program.

 

FORMA ANTIQVA WIN SPANISH MUSIC AWARDS

Congratulations to our 2016 Festival artists Aaron, Daniel and Pablo Zapico (Forma Antiqva) for their double recognition in Spain's Gema Association of Ancient Music Groups awards

Gema Asociación de Grupos Españoles de Música Antigua

In the categories

** Best Baroque Music Group (s. XVIII)
** Best Label Production 2016 for "Raw love - agostino steffani" (Winter & Winter).

"If this music is the stuff of revolutions, give me excess of it": CIMF2017 in the press

The 2017 Festival enjoyed some fantastic coverage, both from local media outlets and nationally. City News in particular took on an ambitious project this year in publishing an online review for each and every Canberra International Music Festival performance. Here are just some of the highlights!

"To paraphrase a famous saying: if this music is the stuff of revolutions, give me excess of it."
-Concert 1: Opening Night. Reviewed by Clinton White, City News, 29 April

"This was a lovely little concert, well structured to introduce the very young to music quite different to their everyday listening and it succeeded in spades. Well done to all involved and especially to the CIMF for assuming responsibility for this informative aspect of education."
-Concert 4: Blinky Bill. Reviewed by Ian McLean, City News, 30 April

"This charming concert of Chinese traditional music, presented by the China Orient Orchestra, together with guest artists, soprano Shu-Cheen Yu and instrumentalist Nicholas Ng proved to be as visually engaging as it was aurally intriguing."
-Concert 7: Red Dragon. Reviewed by Bill Stephens, City News, 3 May

"(Chen) Yi’s 'Chinese Fables' are works of modern art, belonging just as much in the concert halls of Europe as they do in a Chinese market. This was the first time an ensemble from Singapore has been included in the Canberra International Music Festival but, judging from the audience response, it won’t be the last."
-Concert 10: The Lion's Roar. Reviewed by Judith Crispin, City News, 4 May

"It may be, as the Canberra International Music Festival proclaims, a 'Brave New World' in the education sphere, but if it's going to stay that way, music must be at the very centre. That was the message loud and clear emerging from a stimulating day at Canberra Grammar, where music-making mingled with some of the leading minds of our pedagogical world."
-Concert 15: The Education Revolution. Reviewed by Helen Musa, City News, 6 May

"The highlight was a performance of excerpts from Rachmaninoff’s 'The Liturgy of St John Chrysostom', by Canberra choir Coro, teaming up with the Russian Orthodox Choir of Sydney, conducted by the amiable Richard Gill. Sung a capella, this ensemble sang with extraordinary expression, balance and control, evoking the very heart and spirit of Russian Orthodoxy. It was a very moving performance, the audience in awe of the sound and seemingly forgetting to breathe, such was their silence, broken only by a joyful standing ovation."
-Concert 16: Barricades of Time. Reviewed by Clinton White, City News, 6 May

"In 'Game On!' as part of the Canberra International Music Festival, tribute is paid not just to the flourishing scene for composers of gaming music, but to the tremendous talent among young musicians as the Canberra Youth Orchestra, led brilliantly by Leonard Weiss, presented a solid afternoon of symphonic virtuosity. And whether you appreciated the compositions or not, the sheer joy and enthusiasm for performing this works shone through."
-Concert 17: Game On! Reviewed by Helen Musa, City News, 7 May

"Kats-Chernin was joined at the piano by Tamara-Anna Cislowska. It was visually as well as aurally exciting to see them get arms out of the way of each other as they tackled the varied repertoire with a lovely mix of aggression and excitement then gentleness.
-Concert 18: Russian Roots and Rags. Reviewed by Ian McLean, City News, 7 May

 

 

 

 

2017 CANBERRA INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVAL - SELECTED REVIEWS

Program hits highs, with few lows

POST-FESTIVAL OVERVIEW
THE AUSTRALIAN
BY Vincent Plush
Appearing in print and online 8 May 2017

Music
Canberra International Music Festival, April 27 to May 7

Canberra in the early autumn is a blaze of colour, the perfect place and time for a music festival. Twenty-five years ago a band of local music lovers formed the Pro Musica Society to present concerts in their homes, halls, embassies and institutions.

Like he Aspen Institute in Colorado, the Canberra International Music Festival is an exploration of music and ideas. it is unique among the many smaller chamber music festival in this country. It could happen only in Canberra, the repository of our heritage and the portal of our relations with the cultures of the world.

Under successive artistic directors - Nicole Canham, Christopher Latham and now Roland Peelman - Canberra's festival has moved from strength to strength. Last weekend it closed its 23rd season with more than two dozen events in 11 days.

In his 20-year stewardship of the Song Company, Peelman created programs of intellectual breadth and high performance standards. Those same qualities he has brought to his third CIMF.

Peelman's focus drew on the notion of revolution in world history and music.

The 500th anniversary of Lutheranism was observed in some uplifting performances by the Bach Akademie Australia, an impressive new Sydney-based ensemble directed by Madeleine Easton. Stirring renditions of Handel odes and Tallis-inspired music came from England. The French Revolution was represented by Mozart's French-influenced pieces performed by the youthful Van Kuijk Quartet from Paris. Rachmaninov and Shostakovich signified both sides of the Russian revolutionary divide, but where was Stravinsky? There was music also from China, principally the sunny music and personality of Chen Yi, this year's principal international composer-in-residence. Nothing, though, from the US, before or after the Trump revolution.

Elena Kats-Chernin, left, and Tamara-Anna Cislowska. Photo by Peter Hislop

Elena Kats-Chernin, left, and Tamara-Anna Cislowska. Photo by Peter Hislop

My highlights included many local artists. The unbridled and unscripted hilarity between pianists Elena Kats-Chernin and Tamara-Anna Cislowska performing a brace of Russian Rags could earn them a place in comedy and cabaret festivals. At the National Gallery, Robert Davidson and Topology transformed prime ministerial speeches into music. The role of women in music was interrogated at the National Portrait Gallery. The revolution in education in "the Asian century" was dissected at Canberra Grammar School. At the National Museum, 19 composers created short pieces to accompany a rare showing of the Harvest of Endurance, a scroll given by China for the Bicentenary. In the glass-cathedral foyer of the new international airport, several ensembles did battle with airline announcements.

Almost all the national cultural institutions and many embassies contributed to the festival program. There were exhilarating performances from the Simon Bolivar String Quartet from cash-strapped Venezuela, and East-West fusion pieces from the Ding Yi Music Company from Singapore. Not unexpectedly, there were a few duds including the strange program of computer game music from the otherwise splendid Canberra Youth Orchestra.

Future festivals will surely address educational dimensions for its audiences, largely comprising agile retirees, thirsty for new experiences and information. The content of the program book needs to be addressed, likewise the staging of each presentation. Enhanced amenities around the Fitters Workshop are needed, and even a kind of festival club would be appreciated.

The CIMF relies on a unique but sometimes unsteady mix of government, institutional and diplomatic support, as well as an army of volunteers. But it must strive for more than mere survival.

With an estimated one in four patrons coming from outside Canberra, the festival is already a major cultural drawcard to the capital. It is now more than its brave founders could have hoped for a generation ago. It is an event of national significance: stimulating, provocative and deeply satisfying at so many levels.

Read the article online here.

2017 CANBERRA INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVAL - SELECTED REVIEWS

Stunning end to an extraordinary festival

CONCERT REVIEW
CITY NEWS
BY Clinton White
Appearing online 7 May 2017

Festival Finale-Canberra's Farewell to Arms, Fitters'Workshop, Sunday 7 May 6:30pm

The Combined Festival Artists. Photo by Peter Hislop  

The Combined Festival Artists. Photo by Peter Hislop

 

A near-capacity audience was in, waiting in anticipation for this grand finale to the Canberra International Music Festival.

Three works were programmed, starting with Beethoven’s String Quartet in E Minor, op 59 no 2. It’s nicknamed “Razumovsky”, after the Count, who sponsored the world’s first professional string quartet and commissioned three suitably challenging works for it.

Venezuela’s Simón Bolívar String Quartet gave a nice account of the quite long work, in four movements. They played all the notes with well-defined expression and precision, but overall it lacked personality and spirit. In the last movement, marked presto, there was a loss of tonal clarity and the first violin had the occasional high-note pitch problem.

After the first interval, a totally contrasting piece was given its world premiere. Written by Hong Kong-based composer, Hing-yan Chan, “Double Happiness” is a charming, witty and humorous programmatic piece about the gastronomic traditions of a Hong Kong wedding. There’s everything from the whole roast suckling pig (signifying the bride’s virginity), to the winter-melon ring stuffed with whole scallop (signifying the curious presence of the groom’s ex-girlfriend).

Roland Peelman conducting The Combined Festival Artists. Photo by Peter Hislop  

Roland Peelman conducting The Combined Festival Artists. Photo by Peter Hislop

 

Narrated by William Yang, the mainly western instruments created some quite convincing far-eastern sounds. The only traditional instrument was the sheng, a sort of mouth organ with pipes, played by Loo Sze-Wang. Roland Peelman conducted the piece in flamboyant style and precision, producing some fascinating sounds in this highly entertaining performance. The composer liked it, too.

The third offering was the work of Chinese-Australian composer, Julian Yu. He had taken Mussorgsky’s programmatic work, “Pictures at an Exhibition” and put it into a completely new light. Yu’s reworking was nothing short of brilliant, bringing it right up to date. Instead of promenading through a dimly-lit, musty and stuffy museum gallery, we might be doing the rounds of a light-filled exhibition of contemporary art. Yu has given the original, sometimes-ponderous, composition new freshness and vitality, packed full of vibrant new colours.

Peelman conducted an orchestra he called The Combined Festival Artists through this fantastic piece. He obviously had studied the score assiduously, for he knew its every detail and his conducting and the orchestra’s response showed it. Without doubt, this was a world-class performance. Even from the very back of the Fitters’ Workshop, the sound was beautifully balanced and dynamics brilliantly controlled, encircling the hushed audience from beginning to end.

A standing ovation, which continued until all the musicians had exited via the long centre aisle, was the reward for what was a stunning end to an extraordinary festival.