UPDATE: Newer post includes 2nd half of this BBC Radio's Soul Music broadcast with Sarah Connolly, Jeremy Summerly, Alison Moyet and Philip Sheppard on Jeff Buckley's amazing interpretation here
BBC Radio 4's recent edition of 'Soul Music' which featured Dido's Lament turned out to be really special! It always gives me enormous encouragement (and pleasant surprise!) to hear top notch classical maestros admitting truths that most of their colleagues would consider heresy.
The program moved from a fairly conventional start covering thoughts from the mezzo soprano Sarah Connolly and the view of the conductor of the band at the Cenotaph for Remembrance Day.
Jeremy Summerly, the big boss of the Royal Academy of Music and a renowned conductor, issued the first challenges to conventional thinking about the approach to singing the piece. He asked how would anyone know how 17th Century singers would sound and then introduced Alison Moyet's version, praising her approach, the clarity of her timbre and the fact that every word is intelligible. For someone of Jeremy's stature in the classical world to say this is really something, especially as he stated that Purcell's masterpiece is 'the great tune of the 17th Century'.
The closing section of the programme introduced Philip Sheppard, cellist and now composer. He spoke about how he was invited along to be part of the supporting orchestra for Elvis Costello's Meltdown Festival in 1995. One of the pieces was to be Dido's Lament which would be sung by charismatic rock singer Jeff Buckley. Although Philip had never heard of Jeff Buckley before once he heard him singing it had a most profound effect on him:
He seemed to screw every ounce of meaning out of the words and physically he looked like he was wracked with pain and anguish as he was singing it. But what was coming out was beyond ethereal his voice had this quality where it meant so much more than when I had ever heard it before.As a result Philip had to admit:
But then when he sang it it seemed to be a Lament so much more and it really went beyond what I would consider to be classical music...and to date it's actually probably the greatest musical
experience of my life, in as much as it turned my world inside out.
I know NOTHING about music - at all!
Up to that point I was a musican who played through study rather than a musician who played through feel and now I have to say I seek out people to work with who do not necessarily read music who have their first sense is one of 'ear' rather than of 'technique'...Philip then goes on to say how this became a pivotal moment in his career which helped him to become a composer, enabling him to move away from being 'a player who just repeated other people's music'.
Jeff Buckley died in a tragic accident just two years later in 1997, sunsequently his version of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah' reached number one in the US Billboard charts and is considered by many to be the definitive version.
Now Philip thinks of Jeff nearly every day and is ever grateful for the effect of the encounter, even though he only met him for around half an hour...
Listening to this has changed me forever, too, thank you so much...