Centenary 2012

This is a report on the 2012 Kathleen Ferrier’s Centenary Year which proved a resounding success, confirming Kathleen’s worldwide reputation as one of the great international singers of the twentieth century.

The Kathleen Ferrier Society are most grateful to all the organisers and participants in the centenary celebrations and congratulations them all on their contributions to such a memorable year.  We are most grateful to our President, Sheila Armstrong and esteemed Patrons for their support, interest and participation during the year.

The Society endeavoured to co-ordinate most of the events and we were, at times, overwhelmed with enquiries and details of events but I think we can all agree the whole year was a resounding success. Whilst many supporters of the events were familiar with Kathleen’s life and story, it also introduced her to a whole new audience.

There were 100+ Ferrier events worldwide, in Australia, Ireland, South Africa,  France, USA and Holland, to name but a few, and over 80 were enjoyed throughout the UK; from the Royal Festival Hall to Rhyl Music Club, Penkhull to Perth Festivals, concerts, talks, exhibitions, lots of memories and many new friends.

You may remember that there were commemorations in 2003 for the 50th Anniversary of Kathleen’s death, and when we at the Ferrier Society first talked about her Centenary several years ago, we wanted, in the centenary to celebrate Kathleen’s life and music and the legacy she left us, and it has been gratifying to see how many winners of the Kathleen Ferrier Award and the Society’s own Bursary for Young Singers have taken part in the various concerts.

The first concert of the year was a wonderful evening at Central Hall, Scarborough with Anna Stéphany and Simon Lepper, who recreated the concert that Kathleen Ferrier and Gerald Moore had given at the same venue exactly 60 years previously. This concert like many others raised money for cancer charities, including the Kathleen Ferrier Cancer Research Fund at University College Hospital, London.  We were particularly delighted that the Kathleen Ferrier Chair of Oncology, Prof. Daniel Hochhauser, was our guest at the final of the 2012 Kathleen Ferrier Awards. Daniel is also the son of one of our 2012 Patrons, Victor Hochhauser.

We are thrilled that the Kathleen Ferrier Awards joined with us in the celebrations and the Fleischman bust of Kathleen from Blackburn Museum was on the stage at Wigmore Hall during the 2012 Awards in April. They also produced a fine commemorative book entitled Blow the Wind Southerly, which includes newly commissioned articles from Rupert Christiansen, Christopher Fifield and Graham Johnson; a selection of memories from people who met Kathleen or heard her sing, including John Copley, Sir John Tooley and Sir George Christie, and extracts from letters and diaries offering insight into her character and the impact she made on the public.  The accompanying CD features a selection of lesser known recordings, spoken excerpts from Kathleen herself and includes memories from colleagues and contemporaries.

The Ferrier Awards arranged several concerts during the year, featuring recent Award winners Kitty Whately and Njabulo Madlala and Trustee, Sir Thomas Allen; then two very special evenings at Wigmore Hall: the first in June – Kathleen Ferrier and her Musical World – featuring Award winners, Anna Stéphany, Gillian Keith, Ben Johnson, Jonathan McGovern, John Reid and James Baillieu; and in September the recital A Tribute to Kathleen Ferrier with Alice Coote and Graham Johnson.

It was wonderful to see how many concerts during the Centenary year were the same, or similar to, those that spanned Kathleen’s career, from major concert halls, Bridgewater, Wigmore, Royal Festival,  Queens Hall in Edinburgh, St. John’s Smith Square and The Sage to the churches, smaller halls and music clubs to which Kathleen always remained so loyal .  Her Centenary was celebrated at many Music and Arts Festivals, including, of course, Edinburgh International Music Festival, where Kathleen, uniquely for a classical singer, performed at the first six Festivals. The Bath International Music Festival repeated their successful Klever Kaff from 2010, with Hilary Summers, Paul Allen, Andrew West and Sara Todd; for 2012 Kathleen had a starring role in their logo and publicity! Then Buxton, Penkhull, Carlisle and Perth Festivals and all to packed houses. The Royal Scottish Conservatoire dedicated their superb production of Britten’s Rape of Lucretia, to Kathleen, the first Lucretia.

Almost 60 years after her death, the almost magical name Kathleen Ferrier was still drawing in the crowds, with many events sold out weeks before the performance and we had many wonderful tribute concerts to Kathleen from contraltos and mezzo-sopranos, including Margareth Beunders in Holland, where Kathleen was so greatly admired, Dominique Hoff in Paris and, here in the UK, Karina Lucas, Victoria Simmonds, Antonia Sotgui and Diana Moore.

Events in the North West in particular attracted full houses, notably Clitheroe, Leyland, Ulverston, Carlisle and the three events at Bridgewater Hall, Manchester; the first, the Kathleen Ferrier – Ordinary Diva afternoon with Bursary winner Kathryn Rudge, accompanied by James Baillieu, was followed by a showing of the BBC film An Ordinary Diva and discussions with its writer Sarah Broughton and producer Suzanne Phillips. There was a fine recital by Diana Moore and John Reid for Manchester Midday Concerts Society, for whom Kathleen took part in seven concerts, and then the wonderful evening with the Hallé and Sir Mark Elder including Das Lied von der Erde with Alice Coote and Lars Cleveman.  Towards the end of the year Blackburn Music Society gave us a Gala Performance of Messiah with Ferrier Society Bursary Winners, Fflur Wyn, Sarah-Jane Lewis and Nicky Spence as soloists, a very special evening with the appreciative audience in Blackburn Cathedral giving them all a standing ovation.

Ferrier experts and authors Paul Campion and Chris Fifield also gave numerous talks, as did the Society’s own Joint Chairman Robert Langstaff, bringing Kathleen’s unique story, optimism, humour and music to audiences throughout the UK, with Paul being invited to speak at the Vocal Record Collectors Society in New York and the National Portrait Gallery.

Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery delved into their extensive Kathleen Ferrier archive to mount a six month exhibition from Kathleen’s birthday in April until the end of September.   The Bach Choir with which Kathleen sang on many occasions organised a lovely exhibition too, at their St Matthew Passion at the Royal Festival Hall, which included contributions from Blackburn Museum, the Britten-Pears collection and their own archive.  Centre stage was given to the Lucretia cloth, on which Kathleen and Nancy Evans had embroidered with the names of the cast during the run of The Rape of Lucretia at Glyndebourne and on tour. Glyndebourne themselves staged an exhibition dedicated to Kathleen on their Circle Terrace during the season, the first time they had done so to honour a singer. KFS members Paul Campion and John Pickstone too created a most interesting exhibition in the Barbican Music Library.

Carlisle, where Kathleen’s singing career began, honoured her with a Kathleen Ferrier Day at the annual Music Festival, with a talk by Dr. Christopher Fifield, an evening concert by Ferrier Award winner and Trustee Joan Rodgers, and an exhibition about Kathleen Ferrier at Cumbria archives which included many personal photographs and local recollections.  On the same day a book was launched Kathleen Ferrier in Cumberland written by Barbara Thompson, and published by the glorious Carlisle book store ‘Bookcase’, who had decorated their window with Kathleen Ferrier merchandise in honour of the day.  The paperback, is described as “The Story of Kathleen Ferrier in the Forgotten Years”, and brings to the foreground Kathleen’s time in Silloth, pointing out that this was the catalyst for Kathleen Ferrier’s emergence as a singer.

In February Royal Mail honoured Kathleen with a First Class postage stamp, naming her one of ten ‘Britons of Distinction’.

On 22 April, the actual Centenary of the birth of Kathleen Ferrier, a wonderful Service of Thanksgiving was held at All Saints, Higher Walton, just a short distance from the house where she was born. The service was conducted by Rev. David Woodhouse with superb accompaniment from Epiphany, after which  the Mayor of South Ribble, Councillor Jim Marsh, planted a Kathleen Ferrier rose in the churchyard. The recital by the contralto Bridget Budge accompanied by Jonathan Ellis set the tone excellently. Beside the side of the River Darwen in Higher Walton is the Kathleen Ferrier Garden of Remembrance which had undergone restoration and extension and looked quite splendid.

There were over 30 broadcasts around the world, at least 7 in the UK, including the BBC relay of Das Lied von der Erde with Alice Coote, Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé from Bridgewater Hall,; Edinburgh International Festival’s opening concert at Queen’s Hall, with Sir Thomas Allen and Kitty Whately and The Ferrier Awards’ A Tribute to Kathleen Ferrier from Wigmore Hall, again with Alice Coote and Graham Johnson. At one point in April Kathleen had three CD’s in Classic fm’s Top 30 and consequently David Mellor devoted a whole programme to her.  BBC radio featured Kathleen in several programmes; Woman’s Hour, and Radio 3’s In Tune, Music Matters Saturday CD Review.  Österreich 1, the culture channel of Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, broadcast a tribute to Kathleen over four mornings in December, and an Australian channel devoted a whole evening to her; Ireland’s RTELyric fm repeated its 2003 programme Art thou troubled….Music will calm thee and, as well as airing the BBC broadcast from Wigmore Hall in September, the ABC channel in Australia also devoted several programmes to Kathleen during April.

Christopher Fifield’s revised and enlarged book Letters and Diaries of Kathleen Ferrier was published for the Centenary year in paperback and included almost 80 additional letters as well as a completely new chapter on Ferrier’s relationship with the BBC – the book provides a vivid picture of Kathleen Ferrier’s life.

An Ordinary Diva,  BBC’s 2003 documentary, was aired many times on BBC 4 during 2012 and a  new film – Kathleen Ferrier – was directed by Diane Perelsztejn; made primarily for European Television, this was an entry into the Montreal Film Festival and was broadcast throughout Europe and shown at cinemas in many countries including France, Belgium and Australia. This most enjoyable and well crafted film is available on DVD, with an accompanying CD from Decca.

October saw a stunning exhibition, ‘Paintings to the Music of Kathleen Ferrier’ by the much acclaimed artist, Ronald William Webb being staged in Blackburn.

For first time Kathleen Ferrier was portrayed on the stage in ‘Kathleen Ferrier – Whattalife!!!’ – Lucy Steven’s amazing one-woman show based on the letters and diaries. It’s a real treasure not to be missed, not only for Lucy’s superb acting and singing but for its pathos and humour which was all part of the Ferrier life story.

The Centenary CD releases run into double figures and the real ear openers are

  • Naxos’s issue of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, Kathleen’s performances of which were legendary; she herself said “You’ve never heard me sing if you haven’t heard me in Bach”.
  • Naxos have also included for the first time on CD Bach’s Cantata Hold in affection Jesus Christ.    (Naxos 8.111373-75)
  • The Tahra CD In Memoriam, includes Kath’s never-previously-issued interview on Austrian radio, from Salzburg in 1949, and part (sadly only part) of the Salzburg Das Lied von der Erde conducted by Bruno Walter with the VPO, again never previously issued. (Tahra 725)
  • Diane Perelsztejn’s 2012 film Kathleen Ferrier is issued by Decca on a DVD/CD set with a CD of previously unissued performances from Town Hall, New York in 1950: three Bach songs, Brahms Four Serious Songs and excerpts from Gluck’s Orfeo. (Decca 074 2471)
  • Decca’s 14 CD +DVD set Kathleen Ferrier Centenary Edition, The Complete Decca Recordings on which much of the re-mastering has brought up several recordings like new, most notably the 1949 Edinburgh Festival recital, the 1949 Oslo recital and the 1952 BBC recital of British songs. It really is Decca’s complete Ferrier output and has at last been issued in an appropriately excellent format with full texts and essays included. (Decca 478 3589)
  • As well as Kathleen’s first recordings, EMI’s 3CD boxed set Kathleen Ferrier, The Complete EMI Recordings gives us two unissued takes from the 1949 Walter/VPO Kindertotenlieder as well as all their other recordings in generally excellent sound. These include all Kathleen’s contributions to the rehearsal of the B Minor Mass from Vienna in 1950, under Karajan, and the superb complete Orfeo from Amsterdam in 1951. (EMI 50999 9 56284 2 4)

At the Society’s own centenary celebrations centred at King George’s Halls in Blackburn, we enjoyed a presentation by Paul Campion and our President, Sheila Armstrong, a recital by 2011 Bursary winners Thomas Isherwood (RNCM) and Harriet Eyley (RAM) before enjoying Lucy Stevens in the play ‘Kathleen Ferrier –Whattalife!!’. Then a wonderful evening concert ‘In Celebration’ featuring, the fine mezzo-soprano Diana Moore accompanied by Christopher Glynn together with students from the RNCM, Sofie Haig-Smith, Natasha Best, Stefan Berkieta, Sean Boyes and Tim Kennedy.

It was such a memorable, successful and hugely enjoyable year and we really appreciate everyone’s contribution. Perhaps to sum up, one cannot better the quote of her esteemed colleague Bruno Walter, when he said that “Kathleen Ferrier should always be remembered in a major key”.