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Rêverie: The Life and Loves of Claude Debussy
Lucy Parham – Piano and Alex Jennings – Narrator
Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds
Concert audiences are declining, home entertainment systems are at their most sophisticated, the weather has turned and the clocks have gone back. Add to that the supermarket promotions of a meal for two for a tenner with a bottle of wine thrown in, and the Strictly Results Show on the telly, and you wouldn’t expect a Sunday evening concert of Debussy to pull in much of a crowd. Nowadays.
Enter stage left the visionary Lucy Parham who has bucked the trend, creating a new style of presenting classical music to audiences: the Composer Portrait. Lucy has shaken up the traditional concert format (sitting through two halves of musical masterpieces whilst struggling to read the academic programme notes in the dark) and instead serves up a story on a silver platter. Witty, informative, entertaining and, as the lady at the bar said to me in the interval with sparkling eyes, ‘mesmerising’, we are transported into the world of Debussy by means of an elegant script, exquisitely delivered by Debussy himself, as if reading from his diary.
Such is the success of this format that she has attracted the UK’s stellar actors to the cause, and tonight it was national treasure Alex Jennings who assumed the role of the French composer, talking us through his loves, passions, quirks, triumphs and insecurities with selections from the oeuvre, played so sensitively by Lucy herself, punctuating the tale. We listened with fresh ears, indeed with the composer’s ears, to the colours in the music, to the layers of voices, and to the many sounds of nature that he heard.
A Lecture Recital has its place and its merits but can distance the audience from the ‘experts’ on stage. Lucy Parham’s Composer Portrait format has the opposite effect, drawing the audience into the world of the composer and including us in his narrative as he bravely shares his secrets, inner turmoil and musical motivations. Please let this be rolled out in schools – I cannot thing of a better introduction to a composer.