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Macclesfield - Sunday 6th August

Hayley WestenraHayley Arrives

Hayley arrived over two hours late for her sound check, it having taken over five hours to drive up from London because of road works on the M6. She was there barely two hours before the performance. Then three hours of performance, interval, change of clothes and essential courtesies to key persons and a three-hour plus (hopefully no more) return car journey. For anyone that is a very long day. It was also hot and stuffy travelling up. The HWI crowd there discussed this wondering why Hayley hadn’t got a better equipped car, suddenly realising that a car’s air-conditioning would be no different in principle to that of an aircraft. Hayley couldn't travel to a show in an air-conditioned car, it would mess up her voice!

When she arrived I, as usual, was looking everywhere but in the right place. The problem with smoked glass windows is you cannot see in. Hayley was sitting in the front of the car and apparently waving enthusiastically with both hands at us as the car approached, passed on sufficiently slowly for us to realise Fiona and Ian were there too, also waving. We followed, expectantly, as it meandered round the grounds, suddenly passing a sign, ‘cast and crew only’, where we left it to follow its solo course, parking next to the portable loos [washrooms].

Being in on a sound check was a very interesting experience. Brought in by an assistant, Hayley appraised the stage, where provision had been made for them according to their usual format, doubtless due to specific directions Hayley’s team had given Gawsworth from the beginning. Then, once Hayley had indicated all was physically well, sound cables were finally positioned while Hayley had some quiet discussion with Ian at the piano. Fiona sorted out her microphone connection with her violin and checked the paying out and re-bundling of her cable, so she had the flexibility of movement she wanted in the space she needed.

Hayley did one or two short voice tests of light volume, requesting minor alterations periodically as she heard the effect of changes she requested, then she gave the sound team a half to three-quarter force concert piece. Now it was Fiona’s turn, then all three performers together. It was obvious from the first this was going to be an incredible evening. One knew, from the very first sound checks, they were in the hands of an excellent sound team.

While Ian and Fiona discussed details of their duet roles, Hayley was led behind the stage to have a look at the ‘best’ side of the house and doubtlessly have some of its history explained to her.

The Concert Starts

At this hour of the evening the lights were only marginally effective and our host needed his full voice to attract the audience’s attention that the evening’s entertainment was about to start. This was when he had advised that 175 people had been waiting at the gates BEFORE 2:00pm, A whole five and-a-half hours before the performance! It was not a question of them being there for Hayley. They were there to get the best possible seats for Hayley and to then enjoy their after-noon picnic and the grounds at their leisure. Many seats had been pre-allocated from the start. This is why I think there is something of a ‘theatre club’ for regulars and why it had been impossible for Hayley to accept any signings—there simply would have been too many making it too late a night for both her and her driver—a safety aspect that must come high on the list of hours worked.

Tim, the owner of Gawsworth Hall, gave a concise biography of Hayley and then she came on, to what was immediately obvious as the applause of an audience that really wanted her. She told us that while this event had been in her schedule for a long tome it was only recently she had any idea where Macclesfield was. She had been going further north on another trip and suddenly saw the sign ‘Macclesfield’. ‘Ah, so that’s where it is, I’ll remember that now I know.’ She said.

She then introduced her first song without saying its title. There was silence. Complete silence. This was an audience about to prove, as it did throughout the evening, that every single one of the 1,150 people filling that stand was at their most attentive. They settled quickly to total silence as they realised Hayley was about to sing.

She waited for that total stillness, as if herself making empathy with the whole world around her. I don‘t think Ian cued her at all with even a quiet opening note. It seemed as if she went straight a cappella into the opening phrase of Pokarekara Ana. Then Fiona and Ian gently eased in underneath her, as she herself added forte to the subsequent phrases and took the song we know so well along its journey of rising and falling phrases holding the world, as it seemed, spellbound, in such a night as this.

‘In such a night as this, when the sweet wind did kiss the trees and they did make no noise, in such a night Troilus methinks mounted the Troyan walls, and sighed his soul towards the Grecian tents, where Cressid lay that night.’ (Merchant of Venice Act V, Sc.1).

In such a night as this a thousand people held themselves bonded as if but one person, in awe and admiration for a young woman of flaxen curls and delphinium blue eyes. She held them in such enchantment tears pricked at the eyelids for the beauty of the girl. The beauty of her voice, the beauty of the garden and the night, before a house whose walls had stood strongly against many a tempest and much turmoil, a century or so before Shakespeare had strut any stage. The beauty of each succeeding moment, everyone in that audience relished, fearing its mourning almost before the moment had given birth. It is like that, with Hayley Westenra, time flies so fast you are applauding the end of her concert before you have fully comprehended that it has begun. You savour it again and again in your memory wondering if it was ever real but merely a dream from which you do not wish to waken.

The dress she wore for this first half was the one I had previously had great difficulty in defining and the girls seemed as perplexed as I, until a lady in the audience defined it as ‘aqua’, as in ‘aquamarine’. I have to say it is not my idea of aquamarine but Hayley later confirmed in conversation with us that she was happy to call it ‘aqua. ‘Oh gosh, you guys, so concerned about the colour of my dress!’ ‘Well, we like to try and get things right when we post about you.’ She did confirm the crocheted ‘shawl’ was the dark-blue I had thought and not black.

A Little on Ian and Fiona

Fiona was wearing a ‘see-through’ long dress of deep mid-green over which she wore a knee-length dress of the same material, giving opacity above the knee. Her hair seemed longer and exquisitely fine, flowing luxuriantly about her as her head ducked and weaved patterns around the demands of her bowing.

This was an extraordinary performance across the board. It was superlative in every sense. The quality of the sound was excellent but there was something different about Fiona and Ian. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare gives Bottom the line, ‘Comparisons be odorous’. So, no comparisons then, but ever since I have been attending Hayley concerts there has nearly always been Ian. I have always respected Ian’s skill as an accompanist. Often, regretfully, by his absence when someone else has stood in.

The role of accompanist is a very difficult one. Effectively, it entails playing second fiddle with the skill of the first violinist but often without the plaudits or status in an audience’s eye that first violinist deserves. To be very good at your own instrument but to hide that skill in deference to the solo artiste is like the typographer laying out a page in printing. That everything on that page stands out in the correct sequence of importance with an overall look that fits the whole is a skill that should never be noticed, merely acknowledged that ‘the whole looks right’. So it is with the musical accompanist.

This evening, we had a change of programme with not only Fiona showing her skills as she usually does but Ian being an equal duettist with her. I don’t know if it was my position, gazing down on Ian’s hands so I could fully see, not just envisage by sound, the bravura of his playing. I can’t recall if they have played this piece before, is new to us/me, or if Fiona has enhanced Ian’s role from accompanist to duettist in a new arrangement.

I ask the question, ‘Is this indirectly to do with Hayley?’ To me, Ian has seemed to play accompanist to Hayley and to Fiona. We are well used to Fiona matching Hayley’s uniqueness of voice with her own virtuoso skills as a violinist so we have had a programme of two superb soloists, each mistress of their own instrument, each matching the other in competence and contrasting styles with Ian as accompanist to each in turn.

This evening, in my view, we had three soloists, performing as a trio in different combinations. The difference between eighteen months ago and tonight is Hayley. Eighteen months ago we saw a young girl developing. Hayley is still developing but as a maturing young woman who has experience under her belt from which derives increasing confidence and self-assurance. This enables both her accompanists to truly ‘let rip’ in their own right. This is what I feel happened this night. Rather than risk taking anything away from Hayley, which earlier might have been a possible danger, tonight it strengthened Hayley. Tonight, Hayley was not just an artiste well accompanied. This was a bravura performance from three virtuosi. It was a performance throughout of solid superlatives.

Back to Hayley

The conclusion of Pokarekare Ana engraved the hallmark of appreciation the whole night stamped on every piece. There was a momentary, total silence. An almost imperceptible pause but an important break between the last detectible sound departing her lips, a sound so quiet it might not be heard in the average room, but to this audience of over 1,000 it rang loud and clear, before the silence was squeezed out by a solid wall of assured, prolonged applause of warm appreciation. This was how the night was to progress.

Fiona and Ian Again

As in the past having introduced her accompanists and then sung another few songs, Hayley left the stage and Fiona introduced her first pairing with Ian, Turkish Fantasie, one of her own compositions about which she gave some brief background as to the emotions she was feeling at the time she was composing.

I cannot recall if it was here, or between the two pieces with which she and Ian concluded the first half of the evening but she, unfazed by the need, explained that it was some time since she had last had to tune her violin on stage! An understandable need in an open air performance when the damp night air (following a couple of short bursts of rain) must have played havoc with her strings. The audience were unperturbed. If anything, I think as intrigued as I had been earlier when sitting in on their sound check.

Sorted, Fiona set too with a will, kicking off her shoes as she swayed to her music’s rhythm, a tune of her own she had dedicated to Martin and Mary, two people she had met in Ireland and given her a fantastic experience. An even stronger applause greeted her and Ian’s contribution to this closing of the first half.

It was apparent Ian was unhappy with the piano because, fairly soon after he had left the stage, the piano tuner came on and spent the next fifteen to twenty minutes struggling with what seemed like a recalcitrant note in the upper octave.

The half-hour interval ran into thee-quarters-of-an-hour by the time the audience was properly settled, but there was no rush, this was a laid-back affair and time was not seemingly of the essence.

After the Interval

For the second half the darkness had gathered sufficiently for the lights to be effective. Showers of electric icicles hung down from the stage canvas and lay, haphazardly thrown in the bushes. This was a magic to which I was accustomed. I have performed Shakespeare in such surroundings as these. Been in a production where a thirteen years old Juliet and fifteen years old Romeo played to such a 1200 audience, a year or two before Zeffirelli achieved this on film. The stands formed as  a ‘V’, for otherwise voices without microphones could not have carried across a sixty-foot deep stage, 120 feet wide, flanked by a pair of giant Lebanon cedars and backed by a deep woodland, with a one hundred yard glade down its centre. On such nights (unlike this night when we had cloudy skies) we’d cut the lights to play the balcony and tomb scenes in pure moonlight, every night for a week. On such nights a fox might run across the stage (fortunately NOT chased by a pack of hounds) and an owl might hoot and momentarily swoop up the glade.

On this night the reigns of the two Elizabeths, First and Second, seemed melded into the one moment of all time. Eliot expresses it superbly in the opening section titled ‘Burnt Norton’ of his Four Quartets.

‘Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened,
Into the rose garden…’

Before the rose garden on this green sward, that has remained little changed over five centuries the second part started with two selections from Fiona one being ‘Dark eyes’ or otherwise known in the Russian as (I think!) 'Otchi Tchornya'. The other was ‘Far Away’, another of her compositions. In the first, she unhesitatingly kicked off her shoes and really let herself go.

In the very early days of my acquaintance with Fiona I had been critical of her ‘abandoned gyrations’. Now, she gave us a disciplined, controlled expression of the pent-up physical energy within her creativity. This added power to her expression, as is so often the case, when raw emotion is channelled in a disciplined way. Power, constrained by control, is often more dramatic than undisciplined free-ranging movement. She was like a leopard straining at its leash.

In both her opening pieces to the second half Fiona played with a gay abandon I have not seen before and it was a joy to watch Ian’s fingers thunder up and down the keyboard duetting equally with her rather than accompanying her. This tour de force brought them one of the finest rounds of applause I have ever known in a Hayley concert. The applause was so prolonged Hayley delayed her return to the stage and it was Fiona and Ian who encouraged Hayley back on stage, when it has been so often the other way round, that Hayley has wanted the audience to appreciate her soul mates more fully.

Allowed to complete their natural impetus, seeing Hayley encouraged onstage by the two applauded artistes, audience appreciation for them quickly translated into the same strength of warm applause for Hayley’s re-appearance in her own right. This is why I say the extraordinarily strong performance from both Ian and Fiona strengthens, does not weaken, Hayley. This trio performs superbly together in a variety of combinations and the whole was a stupendous evening.

Like Hayley, Fiona had opened up more in explaining the background to how and why she composed her music, while Hayley, who has been gradually opening up more over time with her audience chat really excelled herself tonight. She looked back as to when she had first sung some of the songs she was singing tonight and felt she was getting old, much to the audience’s amusement and several reassuring shouts that she wasn’t. She seemed genuinely surprised, even amazed that so much had happened to her in so brief a time that one wondered if she really had been rushing here and there with such speed she truly had not noticed all that she has achieved. Hayley, please ensure you take time ‘to be’ amidst your hurly burly and savour each moment to its full ripeness.

A not unknown Hayley consideration was to respond to a pre-show request. ‘Is there anyone called ‘Hannah’ here?’ She asked. Understandably, as it seemed to be a quite young person, shyness delayed a response. ‘Is that your mother sitting next to you?’ It was. ‘She asked me to sing this song for you. It’s quite appropriate, really, as is it is a lullaby a mother sings to her child.

All too soon, Hayley then launched into what, with great cries of disappointment, we learned was to be her last song that night, Hine e Hine. We, the audience, prevailed and after much pressure of persistent applause, including some feet stamping, she returned for the Schubert version of Ave Maria.

Used to such events, but not for some while, I thought of all such past moments and the words of Prospero’s speech in The Tempest came to my mind’s eye as a fitting description of our parting. From my recollection we played with the ending so that Prospero’s speech in Act IV Scene 1 concluded our performance, which seemed a more fitting end then Shakespeare’s original text. It offended the purists but I have always maintained that Shakespeare should be interpreted, not blindly followed.

‘Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.’

After the Show

Yet, for us HWI friends, a little personal magic was still to come.

Whiling time under a spreading chestnut tree supporting a temporary floodlight, while the departing aged and inform were collected by their various transports. Someone commented that car lights were moving in our direction across the blackness of the far field. The chances were, it contained Hayley.

‘She may well be in a hurry to get back to London, but seeing us—and I’ll bet she will be looking out for us (she knew we were there as she had seen us when she arrived)—she’ll at least wind down the window and wave.

She didn’t! The window was already fully down by the time the car drew abreast of us and immediately stopped.

‘Hi guys’.

‘We guess you’re in a hurry.’

‘’Fraid so, it took us over five hours to get here!’

‘Let’s hope you have a better trip back, we won’t delay you. Just wanted to tell you what a superb night it was. Oh, can we introduce someone who hasn’t met you, please?’

This was Wendy, the others had seen Hayley last at Newmarket, if not also previously.

Due shaking of hands through the open car window and ‘hi, nice to meet you.’

We assured her it was a superb evening.

‘Oh wasn’t it magical? Really lovely place. Wasn’t it a wonderful setting? She, of course, was referring to everything around her, the place to us, at this stage, being totally incidental.

‘YOU  were superb. Right across the board, it was a superbly presented well balanced wholeness of top quality from all of you.’

‘Did you hear that guys, that means you?’ Hayley turns to ensure Fiona and Ian in the seats behind her heard they were included in the superlatives handing out ceremony.

A little more banter and we knew she had to go so we stepped aside. For a moment, because of its angle, the car looked as if it was heading straight for the wall.

‘Try the gap between.’

Window wound down again and a half-turned Hayley head enquired, ‘What was that?’

‘Try the gap between the walls, it might be easier.’

A giggle, a humorously dismissive wave of her hand and Hayley’s return journey to London had commenced, amidst a chorus of ‘safe journey’ that, we hoped, would only take just over three hours this time!

So, the sadness of another Hayley evening brought to its conclusion had been alleviated by the passing banter of interchange with none other than the girl herself. As her car drove slowly down the drive, picking its way delicately around the still departing audience, heading for their cars in the further car park, we followed slowly behind, delaying our own departures from one another. We did not want the magic to end. I felt as dissipated as I used to feel when a show had closed and once more my time was my own, no longer bounded by rehearsal or performance demands.

The Water Is Wide
Ave Maria
Scarborough Fair
Amazing Grace
Mummers Dance
Bridal Ballad
Mists Of Islay
May It Be
In Trutina
Hine E Hine
Ave Maria

Peter Such


source : hwi
credits : review by andrew fenning
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