Grime sees debut at Wigmore Hall Helen Grime, composer.

Grime sees debut at Wigmore Hall

Jenna Simeonov

February 10-24, Wigmore Hall presents its Seven Ages Festival, a series of concerts inspired by Shakespeare’s idea of the seven ages of man, from infancy to old age. Included in the Festival on 15 February is the world premiere of a new song cycle by Helen Grime, specially commissioned for soprano Ruby Hughes and pianist Joseph Middleton. The cycle is set to Fiona Benson’s Bright Travellers, poetry about the joy and pain of parenthood.

“It is wonderful to me that Helen Grime, such a phenomenal, fearless composer and also a mother, should take these poems from the book and give them a new embodiment in her song cycle,” says Benson.

Hughes adds, “These songs are refreshingly honest interpretations of pregnancy, birth and new life, so rarely explored or openly expressed in the musical spheres of our time.”

Grime chats about her new cycle, and its place in Wigmore Hall’s Seven Ages Festival.

What prompted you to set poetry about parenthood for your new song cycle?

I had recently given birth to my son Samuel and came across the poems by chance in a bookshop. I was very struck by them and immediately wanted to set them.

What are some of the highlights of parenthood that are in these songs?

There is so much joy and intensity in these poems, ranging from first hearing the heartbeat on a scan to breastfeeding and those first days of motherhood . The extremes of emotion perfectly express some of the many challenges and shifts of parenthood. The poems also convey how precarious life can be and also loss and miscarriage in an utterly devastating way.

(l-r) Helen Grime, composer; Ruby Hughes, soprano; Riona Benson, poet.

How does your song cycle compare to other similarly-themed works by men, like Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder?

Kindertotenlieder is an incredibly sad and even bleak work. Although my cycle touches on death, it is focussed on new life and the joy and huge shift which can come with new parenthood. I think this juxtaposition makes the work quite different. These poems are also told from a woman’s perspective.

What do you hope listeners will take away from this premiere performance of your work?

I hope that the intensity of the poems and my response to them will transport the listener and make a lasting impression.


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