What about the story of Enoch Arden initially captured your imagination, and how did you come across the work originally?
I was fascinated by the idea of a work written for narrator and piano - a very unusual pairing indeed. Secondly, Strauss' music has captivated me for my entire life, especially since accompanying the violin sonata, which is perhaps the greatest sonata for violin and piano of all. And lastly, because the story of a lone man seeing meaning and redemption from a cruel world was very resonant with my understanding of the world in 2017.
The work, while popular when it was written, hasn't been performed very often because of the fact that recitation and melodrama have largely fallen out of fashion, I imagine. What do you enjoy about this kind of work and is there a renaissance for narration coming?
It is a very new thing for me as well and as such, initially felt strangely antiquated and even overindulgent - until I understood that that was the whole point. Melodrama is a distillation of things that we feel every day, magnified to gargantuan levels.
Can you tell me a little bit about your rehearsal process in preparing a work like this?
Both John and I aren't overly keen on huge and laborious rehearsals and we are both very seasoned performers, and thus can economise very quickly, concentrating on what is vitally important. We started working together very close to the recording - the main issues of 'ensemble' were working out exactly how the music intersected with the text, as dictated by Strauss' score.
You will be performing this work around the country for a month. When you do so much work on the road, how do you look after yourself and balance all the projects you are juggling at any given time?
That's the eternal question for a performer. In my case, always make sure that you have healthy food on hand and plenty of rest. Right now, I'm jetlagged as hell and I'm not even at my final destination yet!
Has your process of preparation differed from how you would rehearse a work of Lieder, based on the fact you're working with a narrator rather than a singer?
Absolutely. The reading voice works at a different speed, intonation and timbre to the singers voice, and the notion of breath is certainly different. So, I felt like much more of a conductor than a colourist.
This work is extremely musically interesting and became one of Strauss' most popular works when it was premiered. What about Enoch Arden made it so incredibly loved at the time of its writing, and where does it fit in the repertory - being at the crossroads of drama, lied and recitative?
Melodrama fit into the romantic ethos perfectly - it captured the notion of human beings, entirely vulnerable at the hands of nature and dependent on their inner fortitude and relationship with the almighty. In terms of today, I feel that it is a remarkable piece of music, written by a timeless genius, depicting the interchange of romantic poetry and music that whilst seemingly of a different age, is entirely appropriate for the challenges of the world today.
You've said that the themes of the work are still as relevant now as they were when the poem was written in 1864. What about Tennyson's words allow them to stand the test of time in such a pertinent way?
Great poetry is great poetry - and even though the words and dialogue themselves are old fashioned, they have an internal rhythm, metre and depict a landscape that is as beautiful as any Les Murray or TS Eliot.
When you're learning a new work, what does your rehearsal process generally look like? Do you have a practice routine that you stick by, or does it change from one project to the next?
Changes entirely on multiple factors - how much time I have, the challenges of the piece, what else I'm learning at the time, the instrument I am using, and even my mood! But generally, the fastest way to mastery is slow practise - irrespective of the piece.
For young pianists working towards a career in the industry, do you have any advice for balancing projects and putting on your own performances?
Yes - be daring and don't listen to stuff like 'find your niche' - play the great music and play it well and for the rest of your life. And be humble.
Bell Shakespeare’s John Bell and award winning pianist Simon Tedeschi join forces to put on a rare performance of Enoch Arden at His Majesty’s Theatre. Tickets available here.