Saturday 11 January 2020 sees the world premiere of Emma-Ruth Richards’ The Sail of a Flame for mezzo-soprano and orchestra by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, chief conductor Thomas Dausgaard and Lucy Schaufer. Composers Edition’s Dan Goren caught up with Schaufer as she prepares for this major performance.
Dan Goren: You’ve been working with Emma-Ruth Richards for some time now, tell me about how that developed.
Lucy Schaufer: Like so many working relationships, I believe we met at a concert supporting other colleagues, and the link was Olly Knussen. Emails ensued, followed by other post-concert natterings, and Emma-Ruth then asked me to do a workshop reading of her opera written with Nic Chalmers called Traffik at the Various Stages Festival in 2017.
DG: What is about Emma-Ruth and her music that that attracts you as a performer?
LS: These things always start with friendship, well, anyway, for me they do. Connection. Who are you? What makes you tick? How do you write? What do you write? Why do you write? People are puzzles, and it takes time to explore all the jiggy-jagged pieces so the big picture can come into view. That’s what attracted me to Emma-Ruth and her music. Complex puzzle pieces which take time to appreciate and understand how they fit together, which lead me to an unexpected image.
DG: All the texts that Emma-Ruth has set in ‘The Sail of a Flame’ are by Scottish writers, or writers connected to Scotland and address a sense of ’northerliness’ as described by Robert Macfarlane. How has that informed your approach?
LS: Well, I’ve definitely developed a craving for square slice! Emma-Ruth and I have discussed at length Macfarlane’s writing and how it informed her choice of the six poems in this cycle. My approach is to seek out those human moments of clarity, precision, and presence within each song. Macfarlane’s “northerliness” provides the lens through which I view the text, Emma-Ruth’s music, the fabric of shape, punctuation, and colour of the stories, and with luck, my performance melds these together and adds the intimacy of narration. These aren’t easy songs, so occasionally I embrace my new motto: Rest and Be Thankful.
DG: You’re a real champion of new music both as a singer and as a producer. Tell us about what else you’re up to.
LS: How long do you have? Wild Plum Arts keeps me plenty busy with commissioning, performing, and in the new year, recording. Now that our artist residencies Made at the Red House are going to be a yearly event, we have the supporting of our APlumni too. That said, I teach as much as I possibly can at the RCM, and in addition, this autumn I accepted an invitation for a week’s residency at the Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) in Perth – Genevieve Wilkins, phenomenal percussionist, sent the invite. We had become friends during the original production of 4.48 Psychosis and talked about life, music, and the importance of caffeine (tea and coffee) for survival in the new music world. I’ve also begun consulting at the UCL School of Management, which is a wild ride, and I’ve joined NMC’s Artistic Strategy Committee.
As we approach the holidays, I’ll be making and baking as you might imagine. For the first time, no Christmas cake this year – I’m making a Danish kringle with cranberries and almonds. Plus, I picked up all the windfall medlars at the Red House last week, and will be cooking up some spiced jelly to bring back to Aldeburgh for everyone’s Christmas dinner.
DG: Sounds delicious – From what I’ve heard of your singing, I think the audience will be in for a similarly sensuous and full-bodied performance in January!
Saturday 11 January 2020, 8pm
BBC SSO, Chief Conductor Thomas Dausgaard & Mezzo-Soprano Lucy Schaufer
Glasgow City Halls
Recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3Concert Tickets & Information Lucyschaufer.com Emma-Ruth Richards Profile & Works