On 9 June Mark Padmore and Ana Manastireanu performed Tansy Davies’ Destroying Beauty at the opening gala recital of the 2023 Leeds Lieder festival. The 3-minute song, for high voice and piano, sets an excerpt from Romantic poet John Clare’s autobiographical prose sketches from the 1820s. The passage captures the fragile beauty of the Northamptonshire landscape, as well as suggesting a fearful intimation of its eventual destruction. Their programme also included Benjamin Britten’s 1969 settings of Scottish poet William Soutar Who Are These Children?, which Padmore also performed at Wigmore Hall with Julius Drake on 27 May.
Padmore gave the US premiere of Destroying Beauty at San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre in March 2022 with Ethan Iverson. The song was premiered by Claire Booth and Andrew Ball at Kings Place in 2009, who recorded it for the NMC songbook.
The tenor previously created the role of the Man in Davies’ chamber opera Cave (2017-18), alongside experimental vocalist Elaine Mitchener who took the role of the Voice and the Man’s absent daughter Hannah. Like Destroying Beauty, the 60-minute piece explores themes of ecological and environmental collapse. It premiered in an atmospheric staging in the post-industrial space of London’s Printworks, directed by Lucy Bailey, with Geoffrey Paterson conducting the London Sinfonietta.
Elaine Mitchener also showcased Davies’ song output this March at MaerzMusik in Berlin with a performance of The rule is love for contralto and chamber ensemble. Davies’ 2019 settings of Sylvia Wynter and John Berger draw on various extended vocal techniques, including free chanting, improvised muttering and melodic decoration, and unpitched and whispered sounds. It appeared as part of Mitchener’s On Being Human as Praxis, an hour-long show incorporating choreography devised by Mitchener and Dam Van Huynh that explores the intersection of identity with race, geography, history, and empire.