Friday, 13 July 2012

Bliss Tenors - then and now


In the ‘home coming’ concert of 22nd September, when The Beatitudes will be performed in Coventry Cathedral for the first time – despite having been written specifically for its Consecration in 1962, the magnificent voice of Welsh born Andrew Kennedy, will be Tenor.

Andrew studied at King's College, Cambridge and the Royal College of Music in London and was a member of the Young Artists Programme at the Royal Opera House. He has appeared on the stages of ENO, the Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne and La Scala in performances of repertoire from Mozart to Britten.

In concert he has performed Finzi’s Intimations of Immortality with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and Elgar’s Spirit of England at the Last Night of the BBC Proms in 2007. Equally passionate about song repertoire, Andrew gives numerous recitals in Europe and the UK and appears regularly with the pianists Julius Drake, Roger Vignoles, Iain Burnside and Malcolm Martineau.

His numerous prizes and awards include the 2005 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Rosenblatt Recital Prize. He is a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award winner and won the prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society Young Artists' Award in 2006. He was also a member of BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists Scheme.

Operatic roles include Tamino (above) The Magic Flute (English National Opera); Flute A Midsummer Night's Dream (Royal Opera Covent Garden); Jaquino Fidelio (Glyndebourne Festival); Ferrando Così fan tutte (Glyndebourne Touring Opera); Nemorino L'elisir d'amore (Opera North); Tom Rakewell The Rake's Progress (La Monnaie and Opéra de Lyon, released on DVD); Vere Billy Budd (his Houston Grand Opera debut), Tito La Clemenza di Tito (Opéra de Lyon), Shepherd Tristan und Isolde (Glyndebourne Festival), his La Scala debut of Tom Rakewell, Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni (Opera National de Lyon), Peter Quint in The Turn of the Screw  (Houston Grand Opera), Belmonte Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Welsh National Opera), Flamand Capriccio (Grange Park Opera), Male Chorus in The Rape of Lucretia for Den Norske Opera and Max in Der Freischütz for Opera Comique, Paris under Sir John Eliot Gardiner.

Equally passionate about song repertoire, Andrew gives numerous recitals in Europe and the UK and appears regularly with the pianists Julius Drake, Roger Vignoles Iain Burnside and Malcolm Martineau.

When asked in a recent interview about the balance between his operatic roles and his growing solo performances, Andrew said: “I truly believe that both are essential for a healthy technique. I adore opera, of course, but songs help me find new colours in opera, and I love the intellectual challenge.”

Of Andrew it was said:  “Kennedy allows the music to speak for itself by offering direct, unfussy vocalism, preferring to leave a few rough edges in his singing rather than polishing away every hint of individuality. Unlike many current singers who strive for homogeneity, Kennedy seems to trust the composer and simply sings the music on the page, restricting histrionic interjections to a minimum and allowing his voice to flow freely”.

His fast growing discography includes four solo albums (‘Strauss Songs’ with Roger Vignoles for Hyperion; ‘On Wenlock Edge’ with the Dante Quartet/Simon Crawford Philips for Signum Classics; ‘The Dark Pastoral’ with Julius Drake and Simon Russell Beale for Altara Classics and ‘The Curlew’ with Simon Lepper for Landor Records) and two shared recital discs (‘On Buying A Horse’ and a recording of Liszt songs both with Iain Burnside for Signum Classics). Andrew has recently released his first orchestral album of Gluck, Berlioz and Mozart arias for Signum Classics.


Richard Lewis CBE (born Thomas Thomas, later changing his name to Richard Lewis by deed poll) was born in Manchester of Welsh parents in 1914 (died 1990).

A talented draughtsman and painter. A scholarship was offered to him at the local art school, but it was music he wanted.

During all these years he studied singing with a local singing teacher and conductor, TW Evans, who had a choir. Richard's father, Thomas, was a member. Soon Richard was showing that he had a remarkable soprano voice, acquiring a reputation in and around Manchester, even earning a few shillings to help the family budget.

He was invited to a BBC audition but just before leaving to record in London his voice broke. His teacher said 'no more singing'. These would be years of frustration. He longed above all to be a tenor, emulating his heroes of that time, Richard Tauber and Beniamino Gigli.

The day came when he could try his voice. He was a tenor, more excitingly, a fine one. He began to sing again, acquiring a reputation locally. But would this be enough? When he was twenty-five (after nine years waiting) he was offered a scholarship to study full-time at the Manchester School of Music (now the Royal Northern).

But fate had not finished with him yet. Hardly a month had passed when the Second World War broke out and Richard was drafted into and spent five years in the Royal Signals.

Even here he had a bit of good luck. His commanding officer, a woman (Mary Kirkby), heard him sing and decided he would be more use as a British army ambassador. Consequently, Richard was flown out to sing, with just one stipulation - that he wore army uniform (above).

Demobbed and with a Grant to the Royal Academy of Music, he was still Thomas Thomas. On advice to change, he took his hero Richard Tauber's first name, and his mother's maiden name of Lewis. So Richard Lewis was finally born.

Benjamin Britten was at that time forming his "English Opera Group".  Peter Pears was his first tenor. A second tenor was needed. Lewis was taken on after auditioning, opening at Glyndebourne with 'The Rape of Lucretia' in 1947.

But he would also play second fiddle to pears and had to move on. Glyndebourne became his musical home for over thirty years and was always his favourite opera house, he was free to learn his craft, work with the finest conductors such as Vittorio Gui, John Pritchard, Raymond Leppard, Fritz Busch and producers such as Carl Ebert, Peter Hall, and Günther Rennart.

His reputation was soon established.

Left - Richard Lewis as Tamino in Die Zauberflöte

Among the first works he performed was Mozart's 'Idomeneo', a role he practically made his own, ideal for the darker sound in his lyric tenor voice.

Of all the Idomeneo productions over the years, the original with Sena Jurinac, Birgett Niilson and Leopold Simeneau, produced by Carl Ebert, stands out as one of Glyndebourne's finest. Later Lewis sang the role, near the end of his career, with Luciano Pavarotti at Glyndebourne and later in Geneva.

Other fine productions, legendary in Glyndebourne's history - 'Cosi fan tutte'- Stravinsky's 'Rakes Progress' with Richard singing the first British stage performance at Glyndebourne - Beethoven's 'Fidelio' (Opera Magazine thought 'Lewis was one of the finest Florestans they had heard' - Strauss' Ariadne' - 'Don Giovanni' with Geraint Evans, Jurinac, Sutherland, Freni - Monteverdi's 'L'Incoronazione di Poppea' - 'Il Returna d'Ullise' with Janet Baker (later with Von Stade). This would be his last role with the company, as the old shepherd. So might have begun a fine 'character role' career, but illness made it impossible.

In 1963 he was made Commander of the British Empire.

He became a favourite with twentieth century composers creating several important new roles. His musicianship and a photographic memory gave him the ability to learn difficult music quickly, plus he had a knack of making it sound easy. Tippet favoured him and would have no one else.

Lewis auditioned to Malcolm Sargent after the war, showing the musicianship that would be become legendary. Sargent, firing a tenor who had been engaged to sing Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis", asked a London agent if there was a tenor who could sing it. Yes, he had.  Lewis, never having seen the score, far less sung it, looked at it in the train to Liverpool, sang it to Sargent, and was engaged. So began an artistic association that would last for his whole career.

Little wonder this was the voice Bliss chose for The Beatitudes.

For more information read on...

(Short code to Coventry Cathedral website)

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
    The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.