"Songs of Triumphant Love is an enthralling novel: I couldn't stop reading. I got deeper and deeper into the very real world Jessica Duchen has created and just had to find out how it would unravel. Jessica writes with an unpredictable and original voice and a dazzling perceptiveness, and I was hooked from the first page. A sensational achievement."
AUTUMN 2022 UPDATE
ACCLAIM FOR ‘DALIA’
‘DALIA’, a new People’s Opera with music by Roxanna Panufnik and libretto by Jessica Duchen was premiered at Garsington Opera in late July, to a great reception and enthusiastic reviews. Music director Dougie Boyd conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra and the cast included Kate Royal, Andrew Watts, Jonathan Lemalu, Ed Lyon and Merit Ariane, with 16-year-old Adrianna Forbes-Dorant as Dalia – plus a chorus of about 180 people aged 5 to 85. Karen Gillingham directed, designs were by Rhiannon Newman-Brown and choreography by Natasha Khamjani.
**** “Tackling the refugee crisis and cricket, this community opera knocks them for six… Garsington Opera's excellent season-closer features a richly textured score and life-changing debuts. With its story addressing the refugee crisis, this is the most serious and urgent subject matter of the season.” -- The Daily Telegraph
**** “Sharp, embracing and affecting.” -- The Observer
“The dialogue resonates strongly… These are characters we all know from our own lives and their roles are stunningly realised by the cast. An achingly sensitive performance by Adrianna Forbes-Dorant really takes us into the mind of the refugee... Despite the underlying serious story, there are some brilliantly comic moments… It’s entertainment that can be enjoyed on many levels…providing the audience with a great evening out and a thought-provoking message” -- London Unattached
photo by Craig Fuller
‘SEEKING UTOPIA’: A NEW NARRATED CONCERT FOR THE VAUGHAN WILLIAMS 150TH ANNIVERSARY
Commissioned by violist Shiry Rashkovsky, who performs the music together with pianist Viv McLean, this special new narrated concert tells the story of Vaughan Williams’s friendship with the great violist Lionel Tertis. From contrasting backgrounds – one a vicar’s son descended from the Wedgwoods and the Darwins, the other the son of an impoverished East End Jewish cantor – the two men stood among the most important British musicians of their time. During World War II Vaughan Williams also became a staunch advocate in support of Jewish refugees in Britain.
‘IMMORTAL BELOVED’ AT HATFIELD HOUSE FESTIVAL,
I am thrilled to join pianist Mishka Rushdie Momen in a special version of the ‘Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved’ narrated concert to open the Hatfield House Music Festival on 29 September at 5pm. We perform in this great historic venue’s Marble Hall. Please note starting time – and please stay for the rest of the evening!
Thursday 26 JANUARY 2023 at 19:30
Brundibár Festival, Caedmon Hall, Gateshead
‘BETWEEN TWO WORLDS’: A NEW PLAY ABOUT KORNGOLD
The Brundibár Festival has commissioned a new concert play from me, telling the Erich Wolfgang Korngold story. Musicians include festival director Sasha Raikhlina (violin), Jack Liebeck (violin), Thomas Carroll (cello) and Danny Driver (piano), violist and actors TBC. Robert Hersey directs.
DALIA: a new People’s Opera for Garsington Music: Roxanna Panufnik
Libretto: Jessica Duchen
Direction: Karen Gillingham
Dramaturg: Manas Ghanem
Consultant: Gulwali Passerlay
We couldn’t have done it without those gallons of tea. Roxanna Panufnik and I are thrilled that our new community-plus opera, Dalia, is receiving its world premiere performances on 28, 30 and 31 July at Garsington Opera, Buckinghamshire. It’s the story of a young Syrian refugee girl who is fostered in Britain and becomes a national youth cricket champion.
Rehearsals have been intense, noisy and crickety, with Karen Gillingham directing nearly 200 people on stage aged 5 to about 85, and the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by the phenomenal Dougie Boyd. Rhiannon Newman Brown’s astute designs and Natasha Khamjani’s brilliant choreography make everything feel real and authentic. Our cast features the amazing 16-year-old singer Adrianna Forbes-Dorant in the title role, with Merit Ariane as her mother Aisha, Kate Royal and Jonathan Lemalu as her foster parents Maya and Harry, Ed Lyon as Fred the national cricket champion turned youth coach and, last but not least, star counter-tenor Andrew Watts as…Roger.
We open on Thursday 28th. The run is sold out, but do check the box office for returns. 01865 361636
Adrianna Forbes-Dorant, who’s going to be
Dalia herself, as Flora in Garsington’s
The Turn of the Screw" last year
Booking Link here
(please click logo)
DALIA: a new People’s Opera for Garsington, July 22
Booking is now open for Dalia at Garsington Opera!
There are three performances: 28 July and 30 July (7.30pm)
and 31 July (3pm).
Dalia, a new opera by composer Roxanna Panufnik, librettist Jessica Duchen and director Karen Gillingham, has been commissioned by Garsington Opera to engage local participants of all ages from diverse backgrounds, with professional and emerging artists for new audiences in a creative community opera. A new "People's Opera", like the same team’s highly successful Silver Birch (Garsington, 2017), Dalia is performed by 180 amateur and professional participants.
The opera is an original story, developed in close consultation with refugee organisations, sports charities and practitioners, and advisers from Syria and Afghanistan. The central character, Dalia – a young girl of 12, arrives in Britain as a refugee from Syria having lost her family in traumatic circumstances. Fostered by a local family, she discovers a passion for cricket. She follows her dream but must contend, however, with racism from the community, battle her demons and make an impossible decision.
Nadine Benjamin and Jonathan Lemalu sing the roles of Maya and Harry, Dalia’s foster parents. Tenor Ed Lyon is Fred, the cricket coach, and counter-tenor Andrew Watts is the town busybody, Roger. The Egyptian soprano Merit Ariane, a specialist in Arabic singing, is Dalia’s mother, Aisha. Dalia herself is sung by Adrianna Forbes-Dorant, who played Flora in Garsington’s magnificent production of The Turn of the Screw last year. As well as Garsington’s sizeable adult community chorus and both the Garsington youth companies, two remarkable youth choirs in the Middle East - the Al-Farah Choir from Damascus and the Amwaj Choir from Hebron - participate remotely via video. The Philharmonia Orchestra is conducted by Garsington’s music director, Dougie Boyd.
And there is cricket on stage.
Please join us to celebrate the premiere of a work into which we have poured our hearts and souls.
“A special resonance”: THE SELFISH GIANT. Plus more opera plans
The Selfish Giant, the new youth opera by John Barber for which I’ve written the libretto, has triumphed at Garsington this summer. The performance took place against all the odds, directed by Karen Gillingham and starring Matthew Stiff as The Giant, Barbara Cole Watson as The Linnet and Barnaby Scholes (11) as The Child, with a chorus of 75 youngsters from Garsington Youth Opera, an ensemble from the Philharmonia Orchestra and conductor Jack Ridley.
The review in The Stage said that the work has “a special resonance” for our circumstances, and The Times wrote that it is “an opera to last”. We can’t wait for its next incarnation, due in summer 2022 in Leeds with its co-commissioner, Opera North.
Now I’m hard at work with Roxanna Panufnik for a new opera on the scale of Silver Birch, commissioned again by Garsington and scheduled for summer 2022.
Dalia is the story of a young refugee girl finding her feet in a little English town where the local obsession is cricket…
Books on the Boil
The London Chamber Orchestra has commissioned me to write its 101-year history for a special book to be published in 2022. It’s a roller-coaster story that encompasses the roaring twenties, World War II, the struggles of mid-century symphonists, a boom-time genre-bending revival, right royal celebrations galore (they played for William and Kate’s wedding, among other things), two pandemics and two quite remarkable conductors, Anthony Bernard and Christopher Warren-Green. I’m writing an occasional progress blog at the orchestra’s website:
For many years I’ve been fascinated by the playing of Dame Myra Hess, who to my ears is the greatest pianist ever to be born in Britain. I now have the chance to write her biography. The book has been signed by the specialist music press Kahn & Averill and I am starting work on it in earnest in autumn 2021. Thrilled and honoured by this opportunity!
Jessica’s new novel Immortal brings to life a mystery that has intrigued music lovers for nearly 200 years.
After Ludwig van Beethoven’s death, his secretary discovered in his apartment a love letter – returned or unsent – to an individual addressed only as ‘Immortal Beloved’. The mysterious woman’s identity has never been definitively established.
The ageing Countess Therese Brunsvik von Korompa, a pioneer of Kindergarten education, tells a young writer that she herself was Beethoven’s lost love. But Therese is protecting somebody, concealing a tragic secret. She begins to write a letter to the one person who deserves to know the whole truth, at least as Therese remembers it.
Becoming Beethoven’s pupils in 1799, Therese and her sister Josephine grew close to the composer, following his struggles in the ensuing years against the onset of deafness, Viennese society’s flamboyance, privilege and hypocrisy, and the upheavals of the Napoleonic wars. Yet while Therese sought liberation, Josephine found the odds stacked against even the most unquenchable of passions.
Immortal unfurls in Vienna and Hungary in a turbulent era when the world order of 1000 years was overturned and ideals of equality and liberty were rising against entrenched aristocratic privilege. It casts perspective on the destructive class divisions placed on relationships and the invidious position of women seeking to break free from these strictures - whether in personal or professional and intellectual life. It also offers, in the most readable way, fresh light on some of Beethoven’s music.
The novel is inspired by the latest detailed research and coincides with the Beethoven 250th Anniversary Year in 2020.
Immortal will be published byUnbound on 29 October 2020.
“IMMORTAL is a revelation, offering the ideal blend of historic exactitude and a book you simply won’t want to put down." -- Daniel Hope, violinist and president of the Beethoven-Haus, Bonn
“The perfect companion for this landmark Beethoven anniversary year. Jessica’s writing is, as always, deeply knowledgable, emanating from a profound understanding of her material. This new book brings the human, vulnerable side of Beethoven into focus for our 21st Century audience.” -- Marin Alsop, conductor
From its first, dazzlingly-rendered pages IMMORTAL pulls you into a vanished world and an utterly compelling love story – at its centre, one of music’s greatest and most enduring mysteries. Few authors understand better than Jessica Duchen the way music can change the course of a life; and few writers make that music leap more vividly off the page. If you’ve ever wondered what Ludwig van Beethoven was like as a man, here he is, painted as if from life: inspiring, infuriating, and intensely, unapologetically real. Because for all her understanding of art and character, and her brilliantly-described evocations of early 19th century Vienna in all its splendour and squalor, Duchen never forgets that at the core of all great music – and all great stories – beats a human heart.
-- Richard Bratby, music critic
How exciting it used to be to look ahead. How nerve-wracking it is now: who knows what we can plan safely any more? My work in progress includes a number of enjoyable projects: not least, I’m writing the biography of the London Chamber Orchestra for its 101st anniversary, which is a lot more fun than the orchestra probably anticipated when they commissioned it. Please watch for release date, hopefully in autumn 2022. Meanwhile, here are dates in the diary for 2022 up to summer, many of which have been rescheduled after initial postponement from 2020. Let’s hope some or preferably all of them can go ahead! JD
2 March 2022, School of Divinity, Edinburgh University, Edinburgh, Scotland
13:00, Roxanna Panufnik: Songs of Love and Friendship, libretto by Jessica Duchen
18:30 ‘Piercing the Clouds’ -
Jessica interviews Roxanna Panufnik about the interaction of faith and composing
29 May 2022, 7.30pm, Philharmonie, Berlin
‘Ever Us’ new choral work by Roxanna Panufnik
For the Berlin Rundfundchor and guest choirs, libretto by Jessica Duchen, created for and postponed from Beethoven 250.
15 June 2022, 7.30pm, Sedbergh Festival, Lake District
‘Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved’
Words&music concert drama based on Immortal, with Jessica Duchen (narrator) and Viv McLean (piano).
Booking link supplied, when available.
2 July 2022, Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, Oxford
‘Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved’
Words&music concert drama based on Immortal, with Jessica Duchen (narrator) Benjamin Appl (baritone), Manon Fischer-Dieskau (piano) and a quartet of musicians from the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra.
Booking link supplied, when available.
8 July 2022, 6.30pm, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
Pre-concert talk about the Korngold Violin Concerto
for Chetham’s orchestral concert.
Booking link when available.
28, 30, 31 July 2022, Garsington Opera
‘Dalia’ (world premiere)
A new community&professionals opera by Roxanna Panufnik and Jessica Duchen, directed by Karen Gillingham. Cast includes Nadine Benjamin (Maya), Jonathan Lemalu (Harry), Ed Lyon (Fred), Merit Ariane (Aisha), Andrew Watts (Roger), with Garsington Youth Companies and Community Chorus. Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Dougie Boyd.
Summer 2022, Opera North – date TBC
‘The Selfish Giant’, youth opera by John Barber and Jessica Duchen – co-commission with Garsington Youth Companies.
Booking link when available.
... more to come
19 February 2022, 8.15pm, TivoliVredenburg, Utrecht, Holland
Roxanna Panufnik: Songs of Love and Friendship, libretto by Jessica Duchen
based on two poems of Belle van Zuylen. Performed by Grootomroepkoor Netherlands.
In this special concert, the Netherlands Radio Choir and chief conductor Benjamin Goodson provide a lot of adventure and variety. They perform a great 'song of praise to the sun', while it is still winter outside. The variety comes from six composers from no fewer than five countries.
17 February 2022, 7pm, Knowledge Centre, The British Library
‘Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved’
Words&music concert drama based on Immortal, with Jessica Duchen (narrator) and Viv McLean (piano). Part of the British Library’s Beethoven Exhibition.
BOOKING LINK BELOW
15 August 2021, Time: TBC Fidelio Orchestra Cafe, 91-95 Clerkenwell Rd, Holborn, London EC1R 5BX 'Up Close and Musical' Festival
A reading from IMMORTAL plus Q&A with Jessica Duchen.
Info & booking here:
Meet Jessica, author of Odette and former music correspondent for the Independent. Jessica will read from her new novel Immortal released in October 2020 and share her personal experiences as one of the most prolific music writers of her generation in a candid Q&A led by Artistic Director Shiry Rashkovsky.
29 July 2021, Two performances in the afternoon, TBC
Wormsley Estate, Stokenchurch, Buckinghamshire HP14 3YG Garsington Opera Company
The Selfish Giant
No trespassing! The tale of one giant, his garden and an equal share of paradise.
In 2021 our Youth Company takes to the stage once more, with a world premiere of The Selfish Giant, a new co-commission with Opera North by John Barber & Jessica Duchen based on Oscar Wilde’s short story.
Directed by Karen Gillingham, this new production will feature young professional singers performing alongside 90 members of our Youth Company aged 9-25.
Booking details will be announced later this year.
29 July 2021, 17:00 (POSTPONED DUE TO COVID) Australian Chamber Music Festival, Townsville Civic Theatre
Immortal Beloved Jessica Duchen Author
with Cheryl Barker (Concert host), David Greco (Baritone), Timothy Young (Piano), Flinders Quartet
After the triumph of Being Mrs Bach 3 years ago, Jessica Duchen has recently turned her attention to Beethoven. This chamber version has been specially created for AFCM and promises to be equally special. We can look forward to music and words illuminating the very essence of this romantic story.
11 July 2021, 19:00
Venue to be advised Deal Music Festival,
Being Mrs Bach Jessica Duchen Author/Narrator Steven Devine Harpsichord
Married to J.S. Bach at the age of 20, Anna Magdalena Wilcke was a gifted singer, soon becoming stepmother, mother, copyist,
manager and more. We learn about the ecstasies and tragedies of her hectic life with her husband, alongside his music.
24 May 2021, 19:00,
Music at 22 Mansfield Street, Bob Boas Foundation
narrated concert based on the novel, with Viv McLean (piano) and Jessica reading.
This event will admit a socially-distanced audience, max 60, from the Barnes Music Society. Music by Beethoven.
Further info here: Bob Boas (contact the foundation via email link and reserve/buy tickets)
21 March 2021, 17:00,
on ZOOM (Virtual Event) Insiders/Outsiders Festival
‘Mendelssohn, the Nazis and Me’ -
Sheila Hayman, four-times-great-granddaughter of Fanny Mendelssohn, is a filmmaker whose documentary about the effect of the Nazis on her family’s musical history will be shown as part of the Insiders/Outsiders Festival, celebrating the contribution to British culture of immigrant refugees from Europe at the time of the Second World War. Following the film, Jessica will chair a Q&A with Sheila and Professor Erik Levi from Royal Holloway College, author of several books on music in the Nazi era.
Release date TBC,ON-LINE Event only
Dryburgh Hall, Putney Leisure Centre, Dryburgh Road, Putney, London SW15 1BL Putney Music
On Stage and on the Page.
Husband and wife Thomas Eisner and Jessica Duchen, respectively a first violinist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra since 1986, and the author of studies of Fauré and Korngold as well as five novels with musical themes, talk to Putney Music’s vice-president Andrew Neill.
Hosted by broadcaster and writer Jessica Duchen, the discussion will investigate
how music is used to help heal communities whose lives are lived out in some of the most
traumatic scenarios throughout the world.
6 February 2020, 18:45,Glasgow City Halls
Pre-concert talk: Jessica introduces Robert Schumann’s fascinating and poetic Symphony No.2. Concert at 7.30pm with Karl-Heinz Steffens conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in Sibelius’s The Swan of Tuonela, Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Zlata Chochieva (piano), and the Schumann Symphony No. 2 to close.
13 April 2019, 17:00,Kings Place, London: BEING MRS BACH - UK premiere
Jessica's concert play about Anna Magdalena Bach, first heard in August 2018 in the Australian Festival of Chamber Music, receives its UK premiere with baritone Benjamin Bevan, harpsichordist Steven Devine and cellist Jonathan Manson. Jessica is Anna Magdalena. Part of the Kings Place Bach Weekend with the Feinstein Ensemble, and also part of the series Venus Unwrapped.
Saturday 1 June 2019, Oxford Town Hall, 7.30pm The Ghosts of War
With the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra, violinist Alena Baeva and conductor Marios Papadopoulos.
I’m overjoyed to be presenting the story of the Schumann Violin Concerto live in concert with the Oxford Philharmonic, exploring the saga of the work’s rediscovery by Jelly d’Arányi. The full, ingenious programme features the concerto as centrepiece, preceded by the exquisite Elegy In Memoriam Rupert Brooke by Jelly d’Arányi’s close friend FS Kelly, who was killed in World War I, and followed in the second half by the stunning Concerto for Orchestra by Bartók, d’Arányi’s old friend from Hungary who wrote this piece after going into exile in the US during World War II. Poised between two devastating wars, the concerto symbolises both a premonition of tragedy and a beacon of hope.
Info and booking here: https://oxfordphil.com/events/128153638/the-ghosts-of-war-2019-06-01
Friday, 2 August 2019, Start time: TBC Garsington Opera: THE HAPPY PRINCESS (youth opera world premiere)
Music: Paul Fincham, libretto: Jessica Duchen (after Oscar Wilde)
Author Jessica Duchen talks about her novel 'Ghost Variations' and the real incident that inspired it: the rediscovery in the 1930s, by the great violinist Jelly d'Arányi, of Schumann's long-suppressed Violin Concerto. Film by Zen Grisdale