A celebration concert in Scarborough on 16th January 2012 to mark the 60th Anniversary of Kathleen Ferrier and Gerald Moore in concert at the Methodist Central Hall, Scarborough January 16th 1952.
The proceeds of this concert will go to three charities – Kathleen Ferrier Cancer Research, MacMillan Cancer Support and St. Catherine’s Hospice, Scarborough.
What is Life? A Concert for Kathleen by Maureen Eastwood
‘The worst fears she had harboured since childhood were now realised’. These were the words that prompted me to make an appointment to see my GP. I had been reading Maurice Leonard’s biography of Kathleen Ferrier, one of the best and most loved contraltos of the twentieth century, a woman with an incomparable voice. Her time was brief, her legacy immense. Kathleen Ferrier died at the height of her career, aged 41, from breast cancer.
I think of it as serendipitous: a singing lesson that took place a couple of weeks earlier. My singing teacher, Sue Hartley, had given me a song to learn, An Die Musik, a lied by Schubert. Although I have never been able to do the song justice, it remains the one I would take with me to my desert island. I fell in love with it instantly, for the song embodies a near perfect musical exemplar of the way in which music has the power to transport the hearer to a place of bliss, the sense of which is conveyed through the words of the song. I turned to YouTube where I discovered the existence of many versions of An Die Musik by celebrated singers: Elizabeth Schwartzkopf, Lotte Lehmann, Dietrich Fischer Dieskau and Hans Hotter. Then I came across Kathleen Ferrier. I was captivated at once by the simplicity, warmth and resonance of her contralto voice, a voice once described as a ‘pure crystal stream’.
An interest in her life and repertoire followed. In a career that spanned just one decade, Kathleen Ferrier’s achievements were extraordinary. In her lifetime, she was as well known as Princess Elizabeth; and her concert work took her to America and Continental Europe where she rose to prominence on the international stage. Benjamin Britten described her as having ‘no equal’. Bruno Walter, a conductor closely associated with Mahler, when asked about his greatest musical experiences replied, ‘To have known Kathleen Ferrier and Gustav Mahler in that order.’
In reading her biography, I was fascinated to discover that she had performed a recital in Scarborough in 1952, the year before she died. The cancer which eventually metastasised to her bones left her in great pain, yet audiences were unaware of her illness. The following year, during her performance as Orfeo at Covent Garden, a ‘dull crack’ was heard by the cast and members of the audience: her left thigh had fractured and she was unable to move. In excruciating pain, she sang on to complete what was to be her final performance. Her voice on that night was described as ‘beautifully magical’ and ‘entrancing’. When she sang What is life? one witness to the event said ‘I was moved to tears by the emotion in her voice’.
It is my belief that singing raised her tolerance threshold, giving her the strength to complete her performance and, ultimately, to endure in the months to come the inevitable consequence of the progression of her disease. Two days before she died, Sir John Barbirolli visited her in hospital where she sang for him parts of Chausson’s Poème de l’amour et de la mer. He recalled on that occasion that although her body had deteriorated, her ‘voice had lost none of its radiance’.
The fears Kathleen Ferrier had harboured of developing breast cancer, had for several years also been mine. And so with only the vaguest of symptoms, I attended my appointment at the surgery. Within a week I was referred to the breast clinic at Scarborough Hospital. A week later I was diagnosed with breast cancer and was told that I would need to undergo surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone therapy. It remains for me a curious and fortuitous sequence of events that brought me to where I am today. For now, I am cancer free, due to the outstanding medical treatment I received from the staff at Scarborough Hospital, Castle Hill Hospital in Hull and my GP. The best results, of course, come from early detection.
In many ways, a cancer diagnosis concentrates the mind on what is important, how to live in the present and how to make the most of each human encounter. It is the point at which the impermanence of life is brought into sharp focus. I have been fortunate in so many ways. There are many living with cancer less so, some of whom I know personally. Their resilience in the face of a poor prognosis is remarkable.
I have an exceptionally gifted and perceptive singing teacher who encouraged me to continue my lessons throughout the months of treatment, knowing that it would aid my recovery. She helped me to discover for myself the transformative and restorative potential of singing. During chemotherapy, lessons took place on my ‘good’ days and, with Sue’s support, I was able to continue, virtually as normal, learning some exquisite pieces from lieder, folk song and opera – a tiny fraction of Kathleen Ferrier’s repertoire. Singing was and remains my therapy, the place where I go to find serenity, energy and meaning.
A review of Kathleen Ferrier’s recital of January 16th 1952 appeared the following day in the Scarborough Evening News: ‘The recital was a wonderful experience and one which must have given unalloyed pleasure to all who were privileged to hear it. From beginning to end, Miss Ferrier succeeded in holding her audience enthralled.’ For the occasion she was accompanied by the internationally renowned pianist, Gerald Moore, who played for the leading soloists of the last century. 2012 will be the 60th anniversary of the Scarborough recital; it will also be the 100th anniversary of Kathleen Ferrier’s birth. Events are scheduled to take place nationally throughout the year in celebration of her life and music.
There could be only one way to pay tribute in Scarborough to an artist who enthralled audiences and continues to delight music lovers around the world. In 2012, Scarborough will host the first event of the Kathleen Ferrier Centenary Year. On January 16th, the anniversary of Kathleen Ferrier’s Scarborough recital, the original 1952 concert programme will be performed by Anna Stephany (mezzo soprano), winner of the Kathleen Ferrier Award, and Simon Lepper (piano accompanist), winner of the Kathleen Ferrier and Gerald Moore Accompanist Prizes. The concert will be held at its original venue, Queen Street Methodist Central Hall, and proceeds will be in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support, St Catherine’s Hospice and the Kathleen Ferrier Cancer Research Fund.
I am sure I will feel a sense of wonder, almost disbelief, on the occasion – similar to the way I felt only the other day when Sue revealed to me that, while a student at the Royal Academy of Music, she accompanied on the piano the students of Roy Henderson: Kathleen Ferrier’s singing teacher.
Maureen Eastwood is an academic writing tutor at the Scarborough Campus, University of Hull.
Kathleen Ferrier and Gerald Moore 60th Anniversary Concert
Performed by: Anna Stephany (mezzo soprano) and Simon Lepper (pianoforte)
Date: January 16th 2012
Venue: Queen Street Methodist Central Hall, Scarborough
Tickets available from Scarborough Tourist Information, Brunswick Centre, Scarborough (01723 372075)
Adult £20 Concession £15
or from Website address: www.kathleenferrieratscarborough.com
or contact Gerda Wright Tel: 01947 810727 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org