Brett Dean: new orchestral song cycle In spe contra spem
The London Philharmonic Orchestra presents the world premiere on 26 April of Brett Dean’s new work commissioned as the culmination of the composer’s residency with the orchestra. This dramatic scena for two sopranos and orchestra, conducted by Edward Gardner, explores the confrontation between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots.
Brett Dean’s residency with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, running since 2020, reaches its culmination with a major new work for two sopranos and orchestra, In spe contra spem. The world premiere of the 25-minute score at the Royal Festival Hall in London on 26 April features the LPO, sopranos Emma Bell and Elsa Dreisig and the orchestra’s Principal Conductor Edward Gardner. The work was commissioned by the London Philharmonic Orchestra with the generous support of the Boltini Trust, and was supported by Cockayne - Grants for the Arts, a donor advised fund held at The London Community Foundation. The premiere will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 16 May and available for 30 days on BBC Sounds.
The title In spe contra spem comes from the final letter of Mary Queen of Scots to Queen Elizabeth I, written two months before Mary’s execution on 8 February 1587, in which she puts her trust in Christ: “He has not disappointed my expectation, having given me courage and force in spe contra spem (in hoping against hope) to endure the unjust calumnies, accusations, and contumelies of those who have no jurisdiction over me…” The letter ends “From Fotheringay, this 19th of Dec., 1586. Your sister and cousin, and wrongfully your prisoner, Mary, the Queen.”
Brett Dean and librettist Matthew Jocelyn describe how the work aims for “a sense of historical authenticity through a libretto which allows both queens to tell their own version of events using the royal protagonists’ original words, assembled from countless letters, documents and speeches… It assumes the form of contrasting and competing viewpoints, firstly alternating between them, later increasingly interwoven. The melding of the two soprano voices with orchestra reveals not only points of vehement disagreement and disavowal but also aspects of sympathy and consolation.”
“For Elizabeth, the burdensome decision of whether or not to sign Mary’s death warrant is depicted through much hand-wringing, despair and heartfelt ‘if only’ hypotheticals. For Mary, despite the sorrow and humiliation of her long imprisonment, there is a growing acceptance of death, accompanied by the solace of her faith in Christ’s unending love.”
> Read the full programme note
In addition to his ongoing LPO residency, the 22/23 season has seen Brett Dean in Helsinki as featured composer with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, who presented four concerts with Dean’s music in October. Other highlights this season have included first performances of his evolution cantata In This Brief Moment with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the NDR Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, the world premiere of his new orchestral work Nocturnes and Night Rides by the Bavarian State Orchestra under Vladimir Jurowski, and the Australian and US premieres of his Beethoven-inspired Piano Concerto by soloist Jonathan Biss in Melbourne and Saint Paul.
Brett Dean’s acclaimed opera Hamlet receives its first staging at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, opening on 26 June. Neil Armfield's much-travelled production, seen at Glyndebourne, the Adelaide Festival and the Metropolitan Opera in New York, features a cast including Allan Clayton in the title role, Caroline Wettergreen, John Tomlinson and Sophie Koch, with Vladimir Jurowski again in the pit.
> Further information on Work: In spe contra spem
Photo: Bettina Stoess