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<<  -- 3 --  Jennifer Paull    REMINISCENT RETROSPECTIVES


Singers had a very rough time of it in centuries past. Let's gloss over the barbarism of castration. Today, women sing female parts, men sing male parts, and the countertenors do the rest.

A propos, I was in Vienna with Cathy Berberian when she recorded Monteverdi's La Coronazione di Poppea. This was filmed by Austrian television. In his own television series, Yehudi Menuhin chose one of Cathy's arias to illustrate the vocal music of the 17th Century. She held rather definite views about male altos, and had never previously heard Paul Esswood with whom she was about to sing. I had taken part in the recording of Handel's Messiah in a wonderful version brilliantly ornamented by Basil Lam. Charles Mackerras conducted the English Chamber Orchestra, and Paul had been breathtaking. We had studied at the RCM at the same time, so I was familiar with his voice and its richness.

Arriving at the rehearsal rooms, we found Nikolaus Harnoncourt and his ensemble working on the score. From another direction came the most exquisite vocalises; Paul was warming up.

Cathy Berbarian

'Oh, my God, who is she?" exclaimed Cathy, just a hair's breadth short of fortissimo. She refused to accept that it was a man until we found the room and opened the door. It was fun being there at that particular moment!

Today we find women in brass, percussion and woodwind sections, as well as the safe-havens of strings and harpdom. There are relatively few however who compose and conduct successfully. Being a female studying conducting remains more rare than being a male studying midwifery. In France today there are sixty professional male midwives, which rather proves my point. I doubt that there are sixty professional female conductors earning their living doing just that, in the world.

String players can group to a variety of smaller ensembles. There is a wealth of repertoire to tempt those outside the symphony orchestra, whether through lack of opportunity, or choice of direction. Unlike Isaac Stern, many conform to the mould because it is the safest way of earning a living, even if it is not their first choice.

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Copyright © 4 January 2002 Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland





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