Tonight’s concert dream.risk.sing was ablaze with originality, fierce pride, strength and vulnerability - and humanity. The concept and execution of the programme came from our two performers, Samantha Crawford (Soprano) and Lana Bode (Pianist), who wanted to showcase women’s stories and in particular those that aren’t usually portrayed in song. They have brought together a spectacular programme of largely contemporary material to fulfil this ambition. The sheer breadth of lived experience which is brought forth during this programme is that of a lifetime, and yet it was delivered in only a single, riveting hour.
The performance featured the world premiere of Crossing Faultlines - music by Charlotte Bray and words by Nicki Jackowsk, which Bode and Crawford commissioned after discovering that material on women’s professional experiences was woefully lacking. The song cycle includes three movements, depicting the respective themes of mentorship, harassment and ambition in the workplace. Bray’s music is challenging yet accessible, evocative, and filled with drama to complement the text. The scope of the vocal part wonderfully showcased Crawford’s range and technical prowess as well as her expert ability as a storyteller, which was central to the success of tonight’s lyrically-dense programme.
Jackowsk’s text takes the audience on a journey to include doubt, inspiration, power, assault and determination. In the first movement the lines blur between mentor and mentee. We are introduced to a “proud and canny woman”, with ambiguity as to whether she is a character or the narrator herself; the resulting effect is to highlight how women are both learning from others, and are in turn inspiring others. In the final movement the commanding lyrics “It’s your turn now” further stirs up the roles of narrator, characters and audience, turning the piece into a galvanising call to action for the listener to join in solidarity with the women in the narrative - we the audience are invited to dream, to risk, to sing. It is an inspirational piece, which steps far outside the usual confines of audience as listener and performer as entertainer, and must be the closest the Oxford Lieder Festival has ever come to inciting industrial action.
The subject matters of the works performed tonight link the pieces, and the breadth of styles across the programme demonstrated our two performers’ impressive versatility as musicians. Moving delicately from Judith Weir’s highly entertaining “Breasts!!”, about a girl on the cusp of womanhood seeking her identity, to Helen Grime’s Council Offices which highlights the enduring impact of a stillbirth, to Ricky Ian Gordon’s My mother is a singer, a frustrated and loving homage to a mother who gave up her career, each piece was given its own room to speak. The maturity and tenderness in their playing and singing cast light on the broad palette of moods and colours that this programme has to offer, and it was the symbiotic relationship between Crawford and Bode which brought each piece its magic.
It is a rare treat to be given insight into the programming of an event, and to hear first hand how deeply each of these songs speaks to the performers. dream.risk.sing is more than a beautifully curated programme and an inspired performance - it is also an important mirror held up to the stories of women and an exploration of women’s experiences, with hope for what lies ahead. The result is an exceptionally fresh take on the capacity of a concert to shine a light on human experience.
dream.risk.sing is available online until the end of November - tickets available from the Oxford Leider Festival website.
Reviewer: Helen Scott