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Iestyn Davies joins top U.S. orchestras & headlines major premieres in 2014-15

Iestyn Davies – a Gramophone 2014 Artist of the Year nominee – scored a second Gramophone Award in the Recital category this month, for his Wigmore Hall Live recording Arise, my muse. Now, following triumphs at the Metropolitan Opera, Kennedy Center, and Carnegie Hall last season, the countertenor returns to North America for a trio of major engagements in 2014-15. He makes his Cleveland Orchestra debut in Bach’s Mass in B minor, sings Handel’s Messiah with the New York Philharmonic, and joins the Toronto Symphony for the Canadian premiere of George Benjamin’s surprise hit opera, Written on Skin, with the composer himself on the podium. In Europe meanwhile, Davies stars opposite Mark Rylance in the Globe Theatre’s world premiere production of Farinelli and the King; presents the world, German, and Dutch premieres of Nico Muhly’s Sentences; and rejoins lutenist Thomas Dunford for a UK recital tour showcasing songs from their recent Dowland collection, The Art of Melancholy. The album’s release by Hyperion last season prompted a spate of positive press from such leading outlets as the New York Times, which stated: “The rarest thing in opera is a distinctive voice, and Iestyn Davies has one. It’s clear, full and plangent, with crisp diction and unassuming eloquence. 

For his first appearances with the legendary Cleveland Orchestra this fall, Davies sings Bach’s Mass in B minor with fellow soloists soprano Joélle Harvey, tenor Nicholas Phan, and bass Hanno Müller-Brachmann, under the leadership of music director Franz Welser-Möst (Oct 16 & 18). Bach’s profound masterpiece is one in which the countertenor has already made his mark; after a performance at London’s 2012 BBC Proms, the Telegraph reported:

Davies sang the Agnus Dei with such sublime, moving eloquence, it set the seal on an interpretation that had been conceived not only with the utmost care but with a depth of human feeling that was wholly enveloping.

In other Bach offerings this season, Davies looks forward to taking part in performances of the B-minor Mass with the Polyphony choir at London’s St John’s Smith Square (Dec 21 & 22), as well as singing in the St. Matthew Passion at the Royal Festival Hall (March 29) and Winchester Cathedral (March 21); rejoining Polyphony for the St. John Passion (April 3); performing cantatas with Arcangelo in Oxford and London (May 8 & 9); and collaborating with the English Concert and Harry Bicket on the long-running program “Bach at Christmas,” at London’s Spitalfields (Dec 1–11).

It is for further holiday concerts that Davies returns to the New York Philharmonic this December, to sing solo in the venerable orchestra’s popular annual performances of Handel’s Messiah in Avery Fisher Hall. Conducted by Gary Thor Wedow, these also feature soprano Camilla Tilling, tenor Michael Slattery, and baritone James Westman, with the support of the Westminster Symphony Choir (Dec 16–20). Davies is in high demand as a Messiah soloist on both sides of the Atlantic, and after an account with the Academy of Ancient Music at London’s Barbican Hall last year, The Guardian observed:

“Davies’s countertenor offered a subtle range of colors, his every note realized with tonal beauty. At the start of the second half, he received an award from the Critics’ Circle Music Section as an exceptional young vocalist; it could scarcely have been better timed.”

His five Lincoln Center concerts are bookended this season by additional performances of Handel’s festive oratorio with Germany’s Bayerischer Rundfunk Munich (Nov 29 & 30) and London’s Polyphony (Dec 23).

February brings the hotly anticipated world premiere presentation of Farinelli and the King, a new play about the famed 18th-century Italian castrato by Sam Wanamaker Award-winning playwright/composer Claire van Kampen. In the coveted title role, Davies will sing many of the arias first performed by Farinelli, starring opposite stage sensation Mark Rylance at London’s Globe Theatre, the recently reconstructed Elizabethan playhouse of which Rylance – who recently scored his third Tony Award in Twelfth Night on Broadway – formerly served as the inaugural Artistic Director (Feb 11–28). Davies previously tackled music composed for the castrato voice with “wonderful finesse and flawless tone” (Guardian, UK) on his Gramophone Award-winning Hyperion album Arias for Guadagni.

One of the most celebrated additions to the operatic canon in recent years is George Benjamin’s multiple award-winning Written on Skin (2012), a compelling story of lust and murder in medieval France that the Financial Times calls the “century’s most successful new opera.” Written on Skin served as the vehicle for Davies’s debuts at the Opéra Comique and the Munich and Vienna Festivals, at which he starred to widespread acclaim as the ill-fated Boy. Now the countertenor reprises his “ethereal, sonorous, and illuminating” portrayal (Die Presse, Vienna) for the searing work’s Canadian premiere, which sees him reunite with original cast members soprano Barbara Hannigan as Agnès and baritone Christopher Purves as the sinister Protector. Under the composer’s leadership, they will be joined by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for a concert performance that marks one of the season’s most highly anticipated events (March 7).

Davies also revisits leading roles in three Baroque operas in 2014-15. He sings David in a new production of Handel’s Saul at England’s Glyndebourne Festival Opera (June 8–Aug 29), where he proved “incomparable” (Independent) in the title role of Handel’s Rinaldo this past summer; stars as Timante in Gluck’s Demofonte with Il Complesso Barocco at Austria’s Theater an der Wien (Nov 23); and, in concert with the Academy of Ancient Music at London’s Barbican Hall, reprises Ottone in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea (Oct 4), the signature role with which he first made his breakthrough debut.

The countertenor’s other upcoming European highlights include performances in London, Amsterdam, and Cologne with the Britten Sinfonia (June 6–21). Spanning more than four centuries, his program combines works by Dowland, Vivaldi, and Britten with the world premiere of Sentences, a new commission from Nico Muhly, with whom Davies enjoys a longstanding musical partnership; it was he who premiered Muhly’s Old Bones during a residency at London’s Wigmore Hall that was filmed for TV broadcast, before giving the work’s first American performances last season. Davies looks forward to juxtaposing Old Bones with songs by Dowland and other masters of the English Renaissance on a duo recital tour of the UK with his friend and frequent collaborator, lutenist Thomas Dunford (Feb 14–March 13).

Last season saw the release of The Art of Melancholy, the album of Dowland lute songs that Davies recorded with Dunford for Hyperion. The San Franscisco Gate pronounced the collection “ripe, affecting and utterly beautiful,” and the accompanying North American recital tour, which took Davies and Dunford to Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall, Washington’s Kennedy Center, Berkeley’s CAL Performances, and multiple dates in Canada, scored similar raves. The Washington Post proclaimed their DC appearance “an immaculate and affecting concert,” and continued:

“Davies possesses one of the most refined and lucent countertenor voices, with flawless intonation, ease and beauty across its range and not even a hint of shrillness. With his love of text, intelligent phrasing, and clean but not overdone English diction, Davies is a natural match for the English Renaissance lute-song repertory, and Dunford, who has a similarly delicate approach to his instrument, matched him phrase for phrase. In repertory that is so soft, requiring careful listening, the two musicians held the audience spellbound.”

In honor of last year’s Britten centennial, Davies also took on his first leading role at the Metropolitan Opera, as Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream last season. As the New York Times observed:

“The young cast was as good as any the Met has fielded for Britten in years, led by Iestyn Davies, calmly commanding as Oberon, king of the fairies. The punishing role mostly lacks the impressive high notes that are a countertenor’s stock in trade. But Mr. Davies is fearsomely eloquent and velvety in the middle and low parts of his voice, and his hushed aria ‘I know a bank’ seemed as natural as speaking.”

Details of Iestyn Davies’s upcoming engagements are provided below, and more information is available at the artist’s web site:




Iestyn Davies: engagements 2014-15


Oct 4

London, UK

Barbican Hall

Academy of Ancient Music / Richard Egarr, director & harpsichord

MONTEVERDI: L’incoronazione di Poppea (Ottone)


Oct 16 & 18

Cleveland, OH

Cleveland Orchestra

BACH: Mass in B minor


Nov 23

Vienna, Austria

Theater an der Wien

Il Complesso Barocco / Alan Curtis

GLUCK: Demofonte in concert (Timante)


Nov 29 & 30

Munich, Germany

Bayerischer Rundfunk Munich / Peter Dijkstra

HANDEL: Messiah


Dec 1–11

London, UK

Christchurch Spitalfields

The English Concert / Harry Bicket

“Bach at Christmas”

BACH: “Bereite dich Zion,” “Schliesse mein Herze” from Christmas Oratorio

WASSENAER: Concerto Armonico No. 8 in E-flat

BUXTEHUDE: Jubilate Domino

LOCATELLI: Concerto Grosso Op. 1, No. 8

BACH: “Vergnügte Ruh” from Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust


Dec 16–20

New York, NY

Lincoln Center (Avery Fisher Hall)

New York Philharmonic Orchestra / Gary Thor Wedow

HANDEL: Messiah


Dec 21–23

London, UK (St John’s Smith Square)


Dec 21 & 22: BACH: Mass in B minor

Dec 23: HANDEL: Messiah


Jan 15

Valletta, Malta

Teatru Manoel

Valletta International Baroque Festival

The Kings Consort

HANDEL: Concert Arias


Feb 11–28

London, UK

Shakespeare’s Globe

Claire van Kampen: Farinelli and the King (Farinelli; world premiere)


Feb 14–March 13

UK recital tour with Thomas Dunford, lute

JOHNSON: “Have you seen the bright lily grow?”; “Care-charming sleep”; “From the Famous Peak of Derby”

DANYEL: “Grief, keep within”; “Why canst thou not, as others do?”; “Can doleful notes?”

CAMPION: “Never weather-beaten sail”


DOWLAND: “Come again, sweet love doth now invite”; “In darkness let me dwell”; “Can she excuse my wrongs”; “Flow, my tears, fall from your springs”; “Now, oh now I needs must part”

Feb 14: Saffron Walden, England

March 12: Cardiff, Wales

March 13: Surrey, England (Yehudi Menuhin School)


March 7

Toronto, ON (Roy Thomson Hall)

Toronto Symphony Orchestra / George Benjamin

GEORGE BENJAMIN: Written on Skin


March 21

Winchester, UK

Winchester Cathedral

Waynflete Singers; Southern Sinfonia / Sir Roger Norrington

BACH: St. Matthew Passion


March 29

London, UK

Royal Festival Hall

Bach Choir / David Hill

BACH: St. Matthew Passion


April 3

London, UK

St John’s, Smith Square

Polyphony / Stephen Layton

BACH: St. John Passion


May 8

Oxford, UK

Sheldonian Theater


BACH: Widerstehe doch der Sünde

BACH: “Schlummert ein” from Ich habe genug

BACH: “Vergnügte Ruh” from Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust


May 9

London, UK

Shakespeare’s Globe (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)

Arcangelo / Jonathan Cohen

BACH: Ich habe genug


May 23 & 24

Carcassonne, France

Queille Festival

May 23: Recital with Julius Drake, piano

May 24: Recital with Thomas Dunford, lute


June 6–21: tour with Britten Sinfonia

NICO MUHLY: Sentences (world premiere of new commission)

DOWLAND: “If my complaints could passions move”
BRITTEN: Lachrymae
VIVALDI: Stabat Mater

June 6: London (Barbican, St Denis)

June 20: Amsterdam

June 21: Cologne


June 8–Aug 29

Sussex, UK

Glyndebourne Festival Opera

HANDEL: Saul (David)


June 28

East Kent, UK

Stour Festival

Recital with Thomas Dunford, lute

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© 21C Media Group, September 2014

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