In October 1995, the second ever issue of this magazine (then known as Pulse), we ran a cover image, not a photograph but a kind of abcdedarius — a stylized alphabetical list consisting for the most part of presenters, performers or composers featured in the issue’s concert listings. The Penderecki Quartet came to our rescue for both P and Q. For Z we resorted to jazZ (where were you that month, Winona?), which was a bit lame, and A was as problematic as Z, but for the opposite reason — too many candidates rather than too few.
Aradia Ensemble, Academy Concert Series, Amadeus Ensemble, Autumn Leaf Performance and the Amadeus Choir (worthy candidates all) had concerts, but were the five we didn’t choose. Stephen Ralls’ and Bruce Ubukata’s Aldeburgh Connection was the one we did.
When I sat and chatted with pianists Ralls and Ubukata, in preparation for this story, it’s not surprising that they could not remember who their guests had been on October 10, 1995. After all, The Aldeburgh Connection had been going strong for 13 years before this magazine came into existence. In those 13 years prior and the 17 since, and astonishing 187 singers have appeared in their series, many of them more than once. A “starry constellation” as Ubukata describes them. Even more astonishing is that Ralls and Ubukata over and over again spotted these stars while they were still in the making.
Now on February 19, 2012, 16 “starry” Aldeburgh vocal alumnae will join Ubukata and Ralls at Koerner Hall for a gala concert celebrating the series’ 30th anniversary. It’s a bigger venue than their norm, as befits what promises to be a fittingly grand and heartfelt occasion. Don’t be surprised, though, if tickets turn out to be in short supply. No two individuals in this city have played a more important role in ensuring the place of art song in this country’s musical life, and the audience can expect the hosts for the evening, mezzo Catherine Robbin and actor/director Christopher Newton, to weave a significant and personal storyline through the event.
Robbin, for one, can trace her own Aldeburgh connection almost all the way back to the time of Ralls’ and Ubukata’s own first meeting — at Benjamin Britten’s and Peter Pears’ Aldeburgh Festival in Suffolk, England, in 1977. And Newton, best known as artistic director of the Shaw Festival, has been a long time Aldeburgh collaborator, repeatedly helping to give voice to the meticulously crafted, always evocative storylines that are one hallmark of an Aldeburgh Connection event.
The best news is that after February 19’s Koerner Hall fireworks, there will still be two, more typical Aldeburgh events this season, in the somewhat cosier confines of Walter Hall, their usual venue. March 18th’s programme is titled “Schubert and the Esterhazys”; April 29 brings “A Country House Weekend.”
The first of these carries forward what has been an Aldeburgh Connection tradition since 1997 (the 200th anniversary of Schubert’s birth) — namely some kind of Schubertiad. That first Aldeburgh Schubertiad honoured harpishordist/pianist Greta Kraus, a great champion of Schubert’s work and peerless art song collaborator and teacher. This year’s event, as always, will be rededicated to her memory.
As for the April 29 “Country House” concert, it points two ways. For one thing, it harkens back to the bucolic Suffolk surrounds of Ralls’ and Ubukata’s own first “Aldeburgh connection.” For another, it also, perhaps, gives a little nod to the future, namely Ralls’ and Ubukata’s now annual June Bayfield festival near their country home on the shores of Lake Huron. But that, as the saying goes, is a story for another day.
For now, readers interested in hearing (and viewing) more of my recent visit with Ralls and Ubukata will find the full 20 minute conversation at www.thewholenote.com.
(And, for the record, that particular concert in October 1995, almost 17 years ago, featured a couple of relative young ‘uns, Michael Schade and Norine Burgess, in a recital of songs and duets by Mendelssohn, Brahms, Schubert, Debussy and Chabrier.)