Maxwell Davies’s Eight Songs for a Mad King at Wigmore Hall

British Afro-Caribbean experimental vocalist, movement artist and composer Elaine Mitchener will become the first woman in the UK to perform Sir Peter Maxwell Davies‘s 1969 music-theatre landmark Eight Songs for a Mad King during a late-night concert on Friday 26 May, 2023 at London’s Wigmore Hall.

Using exceptionally challenging vocal techniques and musical experimentation, Maxwell Davies creates a powerful and unsettling portrayal of King George III’s descent into madness, offering a poignant commentary on the human condition and the fragility of sanity. A landmark of experimental music-theatre, the 1969 world première of Eight Songs for a Mad King caused considerable controversy and cemented its composer’s reputation as an enfant terrible, pushing the performers to new extremes of musical technique and emotion.

Becoming only the second female vocalist to perform the iconic avant-garde work, Elaine Mitchener is accompanied by the chamber ensemble Apartment House and conductor Anton Lukoszevieze, all Wigmore Hall Associate Artists.

Speaking about the performance, Elaine Mitchener said,

“I had the privilege to speak to Max[well Davies] about my plans to perform Eight Songs for a Mad King before he very sadly passed away in 2016. Although originally written for a male voice, he was enthusiastic about me taking on the role and provided invaluable advice regarding an alternative vocal approach to the work. Of course, it is an enormous challenge for any singer but, as a woman I have the opportunity to reveal a fresh identity and open new perspectives on this unique and brilliant work which remains just as wildly radical today as ever.”

Eight Songs for a Mad King is scored for vocalist and ensemble of six instrumentalists with words written by the Australian novelist and poet Randolph Stow, incorporating sentences spoken by King George III.

Chamber ensemble Apartment House was formed in 1995 by the cellist and conductor Anton Lukoszevieze, and is a leading force in contemporary and experimental music. Alongside Eight Songs for a Mad King, it performs White on White for chamber ensemble by Albert M. Fine (1932-1987), an American composer, artist and poet whose cross-discipline work employed unconventional instrumental techniques and explored the intersections between music and visual art. He worked with prominent figures of the American avant-garde of the 1960s and 70s, including John Cage, Allan Ginsberg, Phillip Glass and George Maciunas.

Friday 26 May, 2023, 10pm
Wigmore Hall

Fine (1932-1987) White On White for chamber ensemble
Maxwell Davies (1934-2016) Eight Songs for a Mad King Op. 39

Elaine Mitchener mezzo-contralto
(Wigmore Hall Associate Artist)
Apartment House ensemble
(Wigmore Hall Associate Artist)
Anton Lukoszevieze leader

More info and tickets:

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