By Michael Schedin ’20
So maybe it’s not a sequel to the mid-1960s rock music revelation, but Ian Bostridge has certainly marched his musicality into new territories. Bostridge, born in London, is a Brit through and through. A Queen’s Scholar at the Westminster, he went to university at St. John’s College, Oxford. What makes his performance so unique is his approach to the music, from his knowledge of the piece to how he has prepared to perform it all his life.
Bostridge sang Winterreise, Op. 89, D.911 with Thomas Adès on piano accompaniment at the Hop on Tuesday, October 25. This famous piece is a collection of 24 poems by the German poet Wilhelm Müller, written in German, set to music by German composer Franz Schubert. If it wasn’t emphasized enough, this is a very German piece, being performed by a very English man. But that hasn’t stopped him from performing this song for the past 31 years of his life. (Seriously! That’s longer than I have been alive.)
To put on this 75-minute collection of 24 individual songs, a singer certainly needs some serious singing abilities. Bostridge has natural talent in droves. When talking to someone about his singing ability and musical career, it is inevitable that you learn of all his classical training. Or the lack thereof. At Oxford, he was not a music major, he was a history major. In fact, before being a full-time singer, Bostridge was teaching political theory and British history at Oxford. He is a role model to so many singers around the world because he is not classically trained, and has thus developed his own sound.
At this point you must be wondering, how did it sound? How does a British historian singing such a famous German work sound? Is it accurate? Does it lose something in this nontraditional approach? Who the heck can tell if it sounds different, anyway? The answer is fairly simple: Bostridge sings it the way it should sound. And that’s no lie. According to music experts, Bostridge has become the standard for singing Schubert. The man wrote the book on the piece. Literally–Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession (2014), for those of you looking to get into singing this epic. Now that the hypothetical, virtual nay-sayers prowling this blog have been silenced (unlike one man’s phone during the performance), allow me to indulge you in my words describing someone else’s words sung by someone else.
From the first note, the first sound rolling off of his tongue, the entire hall resonated. No need for a microphone, the auditorium is filled with his voice. So resonant, so articulated, these German words new to my ears rang with such beauty. The way he swings seems to resonate off every wall and in my ears. Having performed the piece for so long, Bostridge knows every part of it, which allows him so move his body in expressing the music, standing strong through a forte, hunching over during a minor chord. By this, he seems to be performing his own one-man-musical, the tale of the lonely wanderer. But that is when you realize that this is in fact a two-man-musical, with Thomas Adès’ mesmerizing playing.
Adès, also a London-born man, is a composer and pianist so renowned I had to ask the person next to me why he was even here in Hanover after reading his bio. He has conducted so many of the highest ensembles, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra and London Symphony Orchestra, and received many awards for his compositions. The piano accompaniment in Winterreise accentuates every emotion in the tenor and Adès does such an impossibly outstanding job in matching the expression of the human voice with the timbre of a piano. As far as the technicality of the piano, it is comparable to Guitar Hero III’s Through the Fire and the Flames on Expert (except this time with 88 keys instead of just 5). After the performance, Adès claimed playing that piece “is a totally hypnotizing 75 minutes.”
For 24 poems set to music, Bostridge and Adès move both physically and musically on stage. Each complement the other and tell the solitary monologue of the lone wanderer upon the start of winter (how fitting it was the Tuesday that we encountered our first small snow flurries in Hanover). At the end of such a somber epic, the piano rings its final chords and the two performers remain motionless on stage. The audience doesn’t breathe, fearing that the slightest breath will alter the tapering of those final notes. Then the applause roars to life as the entire audience is standing in moments. The two British men playing the German music for a roomful of Americans bow and exit to the thunder of applause following the lightning of their amazing performance.
I’m a ’20 from New Hampshire who loves physics, Rubik’s cubes and music. I grew up in music. Listening to, playing and writing music. Nothing is more powerful to me than a musical masterpiece. Being an Arts Ambassador allows me to explore all the Hop offers both in music and other performing arts, and I couldn’t be more excited to be able to experience every amazing artist that comes to Hanover.