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Features / Song recital should be ‘good fun’

Following a hugely successful solo concert in September, pianist Neil Georgeson returns with soprano Anna Dennis for a second performance.

Neil Georgeson’s last classical performance in Mareel was an elegant, thoughtful and remarkable piano recital that left the audience crying out for more, writes Alex Garrick-Wright.

Now, the locally-born musician, director and composer will be returning to Shetland, accompanied by world-renowned soprano Anna Dennis, for the second part of the classical season.

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Life Story serves as both the title and the theme; musical pieces from various nations, composers and traditions, woven together to tell the story of life. Shetland News spoke to Neil about this intriguing sounding concert, and what the audience can expect.

Soprano Anna Dennis is currently performing opera in Cologne.

“I wanted a narrative, and it came about organically; the idea of progression, of telling a story… We already had Mussorgsky’s Nursery songs and [the theme] grew from there.”

All the pieces are linked to various stages of life; each was carefully selected based on the theme and due to their own specific moods and ambiences. As usual, Neil wants to shake up the audience’s expectations, promising “things expected, and things more unusual.”

Neil was very pleased to be able to be able to bring the “brilliant” Anna Dennis to the isles for the first time. Anna, who Neil has known from their days at the Royal Academy of Music, has sung as a soprano all over the world, and is currently performing opera in Cologne.

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Neil said that he and Anna have collaborated on a number of projects, and that she is always the first person he calls on when vocals are needed in a project. Although she mainly works on opera now, he noted that she was very pleased to be able to do a song recital; especially one with such a rich and varied set list.

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So what kind of songs will Anna be performing? Well, it’s quite a spectrum; of special note are Strauss’ Ophelia-Lieder which Neil described as ‘intense’ (Ophelia-Lieder is based on Ophelia’s ‘mad speeches’ from Hamlet, which should give a good indication as to the tone).

Mussorgsky’s Nursery cycle also gets featured; a funny piece about a small child speaking to an adult.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 (‘The Heavenly Life’) manages to straddle two very different life periods; childhood and death. Mahler strangely presents a child’s view of the day-to-day situation in heaven – right down to what vegetables are available and which saintly figures have to do chores.

“Brilliant English composer” Thomas Adès also features, with the 10-minute long, jazz-inspired Life Story (from which the concert has taken its name). Neil was particularly looking forward to performing this, as the notes for the singer specify that the vocals are to be “inspired by late-style Billie Holiday” (make of that what you will).

More down to earth are Britten’s merry and youthful Folk Songs, a set of seasonal songs by Austrian composer Hugo Wolf, along with pieces by Stravinsky and Varese.

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Perhaps most interesting was a new piece by Neil himself, based on a poem by Shetland poet Christine De Luca set to a traditional fiddle tune, arranged for piano. Neil quickly added that he and Anna haven’t actually had a chance to practice this one at all before, but that he was looking forward to it. Definitely one to watch out for.

Neil and Anna are two world-class performers; seeing them put their talents to work on such an eclectic selection of musical works will surely be worth venturing out on a cold and wet December evening. As ever, Neil is looking forward to playing to a home audience once more:

“There’s all different languages in this concert – French, German, Russian, English. And Shetland, as well,” Neil said. “It should be good fun.”

Life Story is on in Mareel on Thursday 1 December. Tickets are on sale from Shetland Box Office for £16 individually, or as part of a three-concert package for £33.

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