Before adopted Mancunian Rakhi Singh, along with accomplished producer Sebastian Gainsborough, AKA ‘Vessel’, bring their eagerly anticipated ‘Written in Fire’ work to the Royal Northern College of Music on May 7th, devotees of the pair should already have booked their ticket for the ground-breaking premier of this sophisticated composition, which is set to take place on April 11th at the ‘Kings Place’ venue in London.
It’s over 3 years since Singh and Gainsborough first started work on this experimental project that without doubt, will leave audiences across the country searching out the back-story to their inspirational creation.
In doing just that, I encountered the work of Leoš Janáček, the Czech composer responsible for ‘Intimate Letters’ for String Quartet. It’s this complicated composition that Singh and Gainsborough have absorbed, reimagined and exquisitely interpreted to create their own ‘Written in Fire’.
Rakhi Singh, who regularly wows audiences with her apparently effortless mastery of seemingly impossible compositions for violin, is candid in her experience of both the composer and the piece: “Janáček is like a punch in the face” she confirms with a certain amount of glee. “What on earth was he feeling to create that?” She goes on to explain: “Some of it is so difficult to play for 1st Violin.”
The work was born from an infatuation that Janáček had with a married woman, almost forty years his junior. The muse, an already married Kamila Stösslová – initially dismissive of Janacek’s love for her, never-the-less embarked on a ‘relationship’ with the composer, documented forensically in love letters between the pair, from 1917 – until his death in 1928.
Shrewd forward-planning from Stösslová ensured her letters were destroyed, but Janacek’s remain intact, archived at his former home in Brno.
So, what do Singh and Gainsborough hope to convey with ‘Written in Fire’? “Janáček should have a life now – and it does feel relevant to today”, Rakhi Singh explains.
It was obvious to Sebastian Gainsborough that the original work was all about how Janáček feels, but the muse – Kamila – is silent. “So maybe there’s a bit of Kamila in our piece – and she has a voice. It’s about this woman, but it’s all from his side. What did she feel about it [the relationship]? What was her take?” In examining Stösslová’s role, Singh and Gainsborough have been supremely successful in adding further layers of intensity to an already complex work.
Securing a residency at Suffolk’s Snape Maltings as part of their ‘Open Space’ programme allowed these collaborators from two very different musical worlds, the time and space to explore and build on their original idea. Singh: “We worked on it for two years, on and off – and it was finally premiered at Aldeburgh Festival in June 2018. The project has been asleep since June.”
While ‘Written in Fire” may have been snoozing, Singh and Gainsborough have not. I meet Rakhi Singh in a Manchester restaurant, hours after she has stepped off a plane following a period touring in Sweden with her violin. In between preparing for the London premier she is also as a director, working towards the next element of Manchester Collective’s hugely successful 18/19 season, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which opens at Newcastle’s Cobalt Studio’s on 25th April. Along with fellow director Adam Szabo, Singh and the extraordinary musicians who make up the Collective, have been bringing some of the most engaging chamber music to northern audiences, since the groups inception.
Vessel – as a solo artist, is also greatly in demand. His third album ‘Queen of Golden Dogs’, was released in November 2018 to critical acclaim. Another collaboration throughout the spring, also sees him working with Anouk de Clercq at Bozar – the Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels.
The Kings Place premier will also see the ‘Written in Fire’ duo join forces with Pedro Maia, who has previously created stunning film for a number of Vessel’s pieces – and for this particular work has designed abstract visuals that promises to further immerse concert-goers.
In the unlikely event Rakhi Singh ever opts for a career change, becoming a Life Coach would possibly be an ideal choice, because throughout our lunch she repeatedly dazzles me with honest, inspirational statements that are clearly not meant to impress, but just affirm how she approaches not just her music, but also her life: “If you believe there’s no limits – then there will be no limits” she tells me, before stating: “It’s a strange thing to start something from nothing – because you’ve got to put your money where your mouth is – from day one.”
And with Ms Singh’s stirring advice still ringing in my ears as I cross the Pennines on my journey home, being in the front row of Hall One at Kings Place on 11th April at 8pm – is my new priority.
London Premier tickets and information:
5th May – Royal Welsh College of Music, Cardiff
7th May – Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester
8th May – Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
March – 2019