Emma Kirkby

15 December 2010
2010: A Year in Review

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Up to now I had been worrying about the run up to Christmas, feeling (doesn't everyone?) that I'm nowhere near ready and have too little time between engagements. Well now the "run" part has been ruled out. I sprained my ankle on a station platform on Friday, have had to cancel everything until at least 19th December and probably beyond, and therefore have plenty of time for, well, whatever family- and house-based activities one can do on one leg, or lying with the other foot above heart-level and crowned with frozen peas.

I can think about this past year, though, and recall favourite moments: sometimes I had a camera ready, more often not; but I'll be lazy now and let the images on this page partly shape my narrative.

I love the free use of English, as on the kiosk I saw at Hong Kong airport; but for the warning sign on a Tokyo station platform no words were needed! I was rather enchanted with these girls in the Shinkansen Waiting Room. When I asked if I could photograph them, they happily gave me their "peace" sign. Later I was told that such carefully considered hair and clothing is used by young Japanese girls to deflect the attentions of young men.

I sang in many special venues this year; probably Pergolesi's "Stabat Mater" took me to the most exotic locations — the Urania cinema in Budapest, a wonder of Deco ornament (less welcoming acoustics but never mind!); a series of magnificent churches, in Montréal, Santiago, Ourense, St Polten, Melk, Passau, Aschaffenberg, Landshut, Nürnberg, and in UK Bourton Aluph, Bristol and Warwick; and fine concert halls too including our own Wigmore Hall. Mostly I failed to capture on camera the wonder of being inside these spaces; so I've included here instead a sort of natural pink cathedral, one of the groups of "Erdenpyramiden" that shocked me on a walk above Bolzano in September.

I had the chance to wander along exquisite streets, especially in South Germany — like this one in Passau — and in Budapest on a sunny October day was enchanted with all sorts of buildings, like this roof on the old post office.

I sang the Pergolesi with two groups, Florilegium and Musica Petropolitana, and Bach's version of the piece with two more, The Theatre of Early Music in Canada and the Casal Quartet in Switzerland. (Alas, they are the group performing without me at this moment, but there are two marvellous sopranos standing in — Monica Mauch and Julia Doyle — so it's my loss more than anybody's.)

Alongside "Stabat Mater" were other programmes it was a joy to repeat: with London Baroque, our Shakespeare anthology — we had a bit of trouble expanding this to two programmes for Japan, since there is only so much of the Bard that you can represent with a five-piece Baroque ensemble; and duos with Anthony Rooley and Jakob Lindberg in perfect lute-friendly acoustics, in UK and elsewhere. I especially remember two golden June evenings in Loseley House, near Guildford, in that exquisite Hall, under the eyes of James I and Queen Anne themselves!

This year, I had the luck to sing with exciting new colleagues: in January, The Holland Baroque Company, with Fred Jacobs on theorbo. They played Purcell and Blow like angels, in a series of unique and beautiful Netherlands halls, and I hope we'll work together again sometime.

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In June, Joel Frederiksen, bass, joined me in Krakow for intricate and beautiful duets by the Polish composer Zielenski; more will be heard of him because he emerged from obscurity with a huge book of huge church pieces, published in Venice in 1611. (After all the Monteverdi 1610 Vespers celebrations, of which I sang three this year, I hope some of those fine groups of specialists will give Zielenski a go; he was ambitious and individual! I enjoy the duo with Joel very much, but the real way to show Zielenski off is to put those antiphons in context, with full choir and instruments.)

My rough-and-ready German had a bit of kindly help in the autumn from lovely singers in Koeln, Essen and Frankfurt — in gorgeous pieces of Schütz, Graupner and Bach himself. I'll never feel completely confident alongside native singers, but can't resist trying!

August found me in Japan again, just for eight days; a crazy time to go, but dear friends the Arimuras invited me to year 20 of the Early Music Course in Tsuru, an hour or two out of Tokyo — a bit fresher, in the mountains and close to Fuji-san, though alas we never saw it. As ever, I was astonished at the high level and joyful concentration of the students; no-one auditions for this course, it's simply first come, first served; and anyone who wishes to perform each lunchtime is allowed to do so. The standard anywhere else might have been comically varied, but here, while there was of course a range from extreme accomplishment to eager amateurism, there was no person not worth hearing for one reason or another, and the positive listening of all, well beyond politeness, was a delight to witness.

Actually 2010 was for me a year of appreciating the UK — fleeting visits to so many places where I need to return for a proper spell! Of the many, I include here snapshots of only two — Swaledale in June and Aberdeen in early snow in November — we had a terrific walk along the beach and were dumbfounded to see surfers there too.

I'll end with a couple of colourful images, of varying degrees of tastefulness, as a Season's Greeting to everyone.

May you all have a joyful and peaceful time, interspersed I hope with Random Acts of Culture! –Emma