Monday 26 October 2020

Premeres of two new song cycles by Iain Bell at the Mozarteum in Salzburg and at the London Song Festival

Thom Gunn (Photo Ander Gunn)
Thom Gunn (Photo Ander Gunn)
The forthcoming weeks see the premieres of two song cycles by Iain Bell, in Salzburg and in London. Both setting texts by poets based in the USA, albeit 100 years apart, and both examining gay themes. 

We Two, setting poems by Walt Whitman, will be performed by American bass baritone Douglas Williams and pianist Levi Hammer at the Mozarteum in Salzburg on 27 November 2020, and The Man with Night Sweats, setting poems by Thom Gunn, will be performed by baritone Jarrett Ott and pianist Nigel Foster at the London Song Festival on 4 December 2020.

We Two sets eight poems by Walt Whitman from Leaves of Grass and explores the twin passions of Whitman's work; the joy and wonder of nature and the ecstasy of male physical contact. Williams and Hammer's recital also includes Kurt Weill's Whitman songs, Leonard Bernstein's Whitman setting from Songfest, and music by Alban Berg, and Cole Porter. Further information from the Mozarteum website.

Rather darker in tone, The Man with Night Sweats sets a sequence of poems by Thom Gunn, from his eponymous collection which centres around the death of friends with AIDS. Bell describes the work as a 'near monodrama in song-cycle form' as he has fashion a narrative from Gunn's poems, that of a man seeing those around him dying of AIDS, whilst being aware he too is HIV+. The cycle was commissioned by the London Song Festival and the premiere will be filmed and broadcast by Artist Digital on the London Song Festival’s YouTube channel. Further information from the London Song Festival website.

Thom Gunn (1929-2004) was early on associated with poets such as Ted Hughes, and Philip Larkin. In 1954, he emigrated to the USA to be with his partner. During the 1960s and 1970s his poetry became bolder in its exploration of drug taking, homosexuality, and poetic form. Edmund White described him as "the last of the commune dwellers [...] serious and intellectual by day and druggy and sexual by night".

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