The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] Ian Bostridge enjoys incorporating great works of literature into music

English tenor set to deliver lecture, concert at Sejong Soloists' festival

By Park Ga-young

Published : Oct. 22, 2023 - 16:17

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English tenor Ian Bostridge (Warner Classics) English tenor Ian Bostridge (Warner Classics)

The Hic Et Nunc! music festival, which strives to focus on subtly changing trends in the classical music world, is set for its sixth edition next month.

From Nov. 9-22, Hic Et Nunc!, a Latin phrase that means "here and now," will present six main programs with its organizer Sejong Soloists, featuring emerging Korean musicians as well as acclaimed international musicians like tenor Ian Bostridge and saxophonist Steven banks.

Presenting the festival's goal of nonconformity and boundlessness, Bostridge will kick off the event on Nov. 9 not with a concert, but with a lecture under the theme of “Invitation to Music and Humanities.”

The English historian-turned-tenor told The Korea Herald in an email interview last week that he would like to talk about Benjamin Britten and war. Bostridge and the Sejong Soloists will introduce the British composer's "Les Illuminations" for high voice and strings, Op. 18, on Nov. 14 at Seoul Arts Center.

Composed in 1939, "Les Illuminations," a song cycle of nine songs, is based on a selection of poems by the French poet Arthur Rimbaud's collection "Les Illuminations."

“Britten is a great composer representing the late 20th century. Even looking at the entire 20th century, I think he is one of the top five composers. In many of Britten's works, he incorporated a variety of social themes directly into his work from the beginning of his career,” he wrote.

“These days, while looking at the war between Israel and Palestine, I am trying to look at the phenomenon from various perspectives. I think the lecture will include these stories.”

Britten’s “Les Illuminations” was originally scheduled to be sung with the Sejong Soloists at the 2020 Hic et Nunc. However, due to COVID-19, that was delayed to 2023.

“It's always nice to incorporate great works of literature into music. I heard that this year marks the 140th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and the UK. I find it meaningful to perform the work of a great composer from my home country,” he said.

During the pandemic, the 58-year-old realized “not singing is as important as singing for the voice. Rest and freshness.”

Even though many performances and projects were canceled during the pandemic, he was able to do other things, like writing and lecturing, and authored “Song and Self.”

The book features answers to questions about identity in performance, like “How important is gender in performance -- I conclude that gender can be blurred in performance. Does music allow us to face death? Can we sing other identities than our own?” he said.

Bostridge, who attended Cambridge and Oxford to earn his master's and doctorate in history, began his professional music career at the age of 27. Since his debut, he has won a bevy of major international prizes with his recordings and has been nominated for 15 Grammys.

Bostridge’s lecture on Nov. 9 will be held at Geoam Art Hall in Seoul, while the “Les Illuminations” concert on Nov. 14 will take place at Seoul Arts Center.

In addition to “Les Illuminations,” English composer and violinist Frank Bridge’s Valse Intermezzo in E minor, H. 17, American composer Andrew Norman’s Gran Turismo for violin octet and Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 45 in F-sharp minor, Hob. I:45, “Farewell,” will be performed.

Following Bostridge’s lecture and concert, Hic et Nunc will present a concert for small children titled “Songs My Mother Taught Me” on Nov. 15 at Cosmos Art Hall and “NFT Salon,” a session that explores technology and arts.

On Nov. 19, American saxophonist Steven Banks will collaborate with Sejong Soloists for a recital at Seoul Arts Center.