Jo Kirkbride about his forthcoming performances of Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ. Despite a career dedicated to Berlioz’s music the tour with Britten Sinfonia will be the first time he has conducted L’enfance du Christ, so it is a wonderful opportunity for him to embrace this unique work, as he remarks;
‘I can’t even remember ever hearing it live – since it is very rarely done. Of course I’ve studied it, and thought about it, and I think I have an old recording of it... I’ve been thinking about L’enfance du Christ for many months and letting it marinate inside me.’
Berlioz had been criticized by the French press for his style of composition. At a concert in 1850 Berlioz presented a short choral work entitled L’adieu des bergiers (The Shepherds Farwell) under the name of a ficitional composer – the critics adored it and this confirmed to Berlioz that it was his name and not his music that the critics were biased against. Emboldened with this knowledge he continued the work and it was finally completed in 1854.
Sir Mark says “Everyone thought that this was Berlioz finally learning how to write music but that is so short-sighted of them. What’s fascinating for me is that he conceived the work as a series of pictures, and that he then went about finding a sound-world for them. There is a deliberately judged archaic quality to the music that needs a great sensitivity and yet it must never be sentimental, it must never be filled with a false emotion. Everyone must trust the intimate, honest, direct quality in it.”
When talking about the drama and colour of L’enfance du Christ Sir Mark commented; ‘I am always reminded of those Renaissance painters who painted a series of smaller pictures which would be adjoined by their colours – I see this piece very much like that. Each particular scene has its own timbre. It is not a rich, twentieth-century sound but rather more restrained with little vibrato in the voices and instruments. One has to make the drama of the words live without being too respectful – you need to give it full blood. Thinking about this and getting to grips with this is something that I adore.’
Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ will be performed in London at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on Thursday 8 December, West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge (sold out) on Friday 9 December and Brighton Dome on Saturday 10 December.
This blog post uses extracts from the programme note for L'enfance du Christ by Jo Kirkbride which will be available online from Thursday 1 December.