LIFEM | 13-16 November 2024 — Subscribe for more news

LIFEM23 Q&A: Jane Chapman

LIFEM23 Q&A: Jane Chapman

Ahead of her Gala Recital for LIFEM23, we spoke to ground-breaking harpsichord player Jane Chapman about creating a programme that explores music from four centuries, collaborating with dancers, visual artists and composers, and harpsichords!

LIFEM: You’ve been described by the Independent on Sunday as “Britain’s most progressive harpsichordist”.  What do you think they meant by this?

Jane Chapman: My interest in music has always been very eclectic encompassing jazz, Indian, contemporary as well as music traditionally associated with the harpsichord. I’m certainly not unique in this as most people have wide ranging passions. I have however been lucky enough to bring these together and combine artistic and creative ideas in such a way that the harpsichord becomes an instrument with many faces full of infinite possibilities. Collaborating with visual artists and dancers, maybe incorporating electronics or instruments such as the electric guitar, gives the instrument another dimension whilst still maintaining its integrity and intrinsic qualities. I’m also keen to explore unusual repertoire from earlier times and present it in innovative ways. This opportunity to put together a programme really embracing the Baroque and a new work by Roxanna Panufnik is very creative. 

LIFEM: You will be performing a new work by Roxanna Panufnik, commissioned by LIFEM.  You have premiered many works for the harpsichord.  Has it been any different this time and how have you two worked together on this piece?

Jane Chapman: Roxanna has been a great composer to collaborate with as she’s so open. There is a sense that she is also listening to you as a musician as well as exploring her own musical ideas. She wants her performers to be involved and feel part of the procedure which is a rare quality. 

LIFEM: What should we expect from the new work?

Jane Chapman: We have many interests in common. ‘Pavana Lachrymae - John Dowland, set by Byrd’, became the starting point. This Dowland song has inspired composers from the Renaissance to the present day. It will be known to many in the audience so there will be points of connection there - some familiarity and recognition. We are both very interested in music from other cultures and Roxanna picked up on my recording of the Oriental Miscellany which is the first transcription of Indian music in Western notation published in 1789. These songs were arranged by another William Bird! Roxanna incorporates fast running passages sometimes similar to Byrds own textures but using Indian scale patterns or modes such as Purvi and Bhairavi, extending and incorporating them into her own musical language. This really creates a new flavour without disrupting the coherence of the work, adding flashes of excitement and virtuosity. She also hints at 19th century romanticism combined with the grandeur of the high Baroque and the tender delicacy of an earlier time, all in her own musical voice of course. The piece has great depth and contrast exploring the instrument to the full, taking us on a vivid and enlightening adventure.

LIFEM: Do you have any plans to perform it in the future?

Jane Chapman: We plan to make a recording very soon and I feel that it would fit well into any baroque or contemporary programme, complimenting and challenging on its own terms.

LIFEM: You will be performing on a new instrument from Bizzi Harpsichords and I understand that you recently went to Northern Italy to view the instrument.  How was the trip?

Jane Chapman: Villa Bossi is the most beautiful place near the Lakes not far from Milan (pics available). I was made very welcome and enjoyed seeing the Bizzi workshop.  

LIFEM: Tell us about this new instrument.  Have you made any special requests?

Jane Chapman: The instrument is a copy of a double manual French Taskin harpsichord from the 18th century and is glorious. It’s possibly to play very grand music using the full registration available creating a rich full tone, as well as creating sense of intimacy using one keyboard and set of strings. I asked for the buff stop (which makes the harpsichord sound more harp-like) to be made sweeter so as not to lose the singing quality. I also wanted to play the 4’ by itself which is a set of strings sounding an octave higher creating a delicate light glistening tone sometimes likened to a music box. I find that making the most of an instrument like this and all that it has to offer similar to being a painter with a palate full of different colours. Variety of sound helps to give character and contrast to the music making us listen harder or more closely.  

LIFEM: You tried the instrument in Italy.  Do you think the climate in South London will change how the instrument plays and sounds?

Jane Chapman: Hopefully everything will work well - there was plenty of rain when I visited Villa Bossi!

LIFEM: What are the plans for the instrument after your performance?

Jane Chapman: I think it will be available to buy from The Early Music Shop.

LIFEM: What is your process for putting together a programme and how long does it normally take?  Are you influenced by the venue, the audience, context? Has the new instrument influenced or changed your programme?

Jane Chapman: It was wonderful to be given carte blanche to create a gala concert. The instrument was my starting point but I felt that even though this is a mid 18th century harpsichord I also wanted to explore earlier repertoire. It’s always possible to make musical connections especially with form such as dance - the basis of the suite by Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre and movements from F. Couperin’s 8th Order, the Chacone of Purcell and even Byrd’s ‘La Volta’ share links, and then the more improvisatory style of Bach’s daring Chromatic fantasy and his predecessors Froberger and Frescobladi. The full on music by Royer and Babell’s transcriptions from Handel’s opera Rinaldo opens up the world of theatre, and then the humour of Rameau’s ‘La Poule’ and the evocative Hindustani Airs. There’s a lot here which I hope everyone will enjoy - it’s certainly music I like to play. Roxanna’s ‘Tears, flow no more’ draws it all together. I always have a sense of responsibility towards the audience, and hope that they should find as much pleasure in it as I do. I spent quite some time thinking it through and then playing one piece after another and getting the right feel.   

LIFEM: What other projects and performances do you have planned?

Jane Chapman: I shall be performing new works involving multi harpsichords and computer-controlled hyperorgan In Amsterdam at the Prix Annelie de Man in December and adjudicating at a competition for contemporary harpsichordists. It’s great to see a new talented generation coming through playing with real conviction and commissioning their own pieces. I’m also working on a book for Vision Edition drawing together a series of articles and interviews by players and composers on contemporary music for harpsichord - the latest creative thoughts and inspired artistic output.

Jane's recital takes place on Thursday 9th November in St Michael & All Angels, Blackheath. Click here to buy tickets