Mary, Queen of Scots

Tuesday May 26, 2015

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Last summer, I sang for Sholto Kynoch, director of the Oxford Lieder Festival, who offered to co-commission new works by three composers for a concert, with Schumann's 'Maria Stuart Lieder'.

Next step – find the composers! I listened to many recordings of living composers and wished to find those who could reflect different aspects of Mary Stuart's character. As soon as I heard a piece for soprano by Judith Bingham, I knew she could bring the humanity and drama alive. I wrote to her blog page, not sure if she would receive my message and she replied immediately, saying yes! Already a well established composer, little did I know that Judith would soon be inundated with requests, as she was working on an anthem for the reinterment of the body of Richard 3rd in Leicester Cathedral. We met in London, at my singing lesson, so Judith could hear the Schumann pieces and she told me about her idea. Work began!  

Then Eddie McGuire also agreed to write, because of the historical significance of the subject. I knew that Eddie had the skill to set French poetry and that he worked across classical and traditional Scottish spheres. When we met in Glasgow's Mitchell Library, Eddie said that he would like to set something from Mary's youth, as he was moved by her vibrance and her early losses. We found a set of poems that Mary Stuart wrote, in French, 'stanzas on the death of King Francis 2nd', her husband who died when she was barely eighteen and he sixteen. Eddie told me that he had an anonymous score of the wedding of Margaret Tudor and James 4th of Scotland, so we looked up the family tree and discovered that these were Mary Stuart's grandparents. Work began on variations on this marriage anthem. 

Composer Dee Isaacs was immediately drawn to write a setting of Mary's words, 'In my end is my beginning', embroidered on a cloth round her bed in her last place of long-term imprisonment. She has brought a tender voice and simplicity to Mary's story and wrote a lullaby for James. Looking at the Marian hangings, needlework of Mary in captivity, Dee chose the theme of the Phoenix Rising, as a central panel in her 'Triptych for Mary'. I remembered a poem, Phoenix Rising', by John Donne, who was fifteen at the time of Mary Stuart's death, so this was perfect. 

My motto for this project has been, 'turn obstacles into springboards', finding solutions and asking, 'what next?' in response to many challenges.  I am so proud to be in rehearsal with the wonderful pianist Ingrid Sawers, with support from the West End Festival for the premiere.