On Monday, violinist Fenella Humphreys will be giving her first live performance since before the lockdown – and she’s pretty excited about it.
The concert at St Mary’s Church, Henley, is part of the Chiltern Arts Autumn Weekend and features the world premiere of Fenella’s own reworking of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.
“There’s no way to describe how much I’ve missed playing to real people!” she says.
“At the start of lockdown, I started doing livestreamed concerts from my living room, and audiences who would normally have bought concert tickets generously donated instead to my Paypal.
“It was so good to feel I was still able to connect to others through music, and that people wanted to engage with it, even if it wasn’t quite the normal concert experience. I carried on the series until August.
“Since then I have been giving online performances for a number of concert series, but the Chiltern Arts concert in Henley will be my first performance since March with a live audience.”
Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons was originally written for string orchestra and continuo, but in Vivaldi Four Seasons Reimagined Fenella has rescored the work for violin, accordion, double bass and percussion. What inspired this recreation?
“I was rehearsing Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons about three years ago when I found my mind wandering, imagining how it would sound with extra instruments. I imagined different percussion instruments adding to the birdsong in Spring and Summer, bringing out the gunshots in Autumn, and so on.
“I couldn’t let go of the sounds I’d heard in my head in that rehearsal, and I started thinking what the perfect group of instruments would be to create a small, chamber version that could remain true to Vivaldi’s original music but bring a new perspective through the different sounds.
“In Vivaldi’s time it was totally normal to rearrange music for whatever instruments were available, and this arrangement is made with absolute love and respect for his score.”
Fenella is joined by Ben Griffiths (double bass), Iñigo Mikeleiz Berrade (accordion) and George Barton (percussion).
“Ben Griffiths is an old friend who I’ve performed with a fair bit over the years, including both Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Max Richter’s Four Seasons Recomposed,” she says.
“Our original accordionist has been forced to pull out of this performance due to Covid. Iñigo Mikeleiz Berrade, who has taken his place, is an incredible player, and I’m really excited to perform with him for the first time.
“George Barton is someone whose playing I’ve loved for a while now, but despite being a wannabe drummer I seldom have the opportunity to work closely in chamber music with percussion. This programme seemed like the perfect chance to get to work together.”
Fenella has commissioned three new works to be premiered alongside her own piece – Adrian Sutton’s Sap and Sinews, which moves from Spring to Summer; Bethan Morgan-Williams’s Demeter’s Cry, which bridges Autumn and Winter; and Cheryl Frances-Head’s Sun Stands Still, a bridge between Autumn and Winter.
“I love working with living composers,” Fenella enthuses. “It’s always exciting to see a new piece of music created and to be part of that journey.
“Cheryl and Adrian have become good friends since writing for the first project I commissioned. Adrian is best known for his theatre work, including his scores for the National Theatre Productions War Horse, Curious Incident and Coram Boy.
“Cheryl has written concert music for pretty much everyone, including premieres at the Proms, and has been BBC Radio 3’s Composer of the Week.
“I love their music and immediately asked them to be part of this.
“Bethan is a fantastic young composer whose music was introduced to me last year, and I felt she would add a really different world to this incredibly varied evening of music.”
Like many professional musicians, Fenella grew up in a musical household, with both parents being music lovers. She took up the violin at the age of six, going on to the Purcell School on a scholarship just four years later.
“I was lucky to have some really great violin teachers, and also to play in Ealing’s fantastic youth orchestra,” she says. “I also had great support from my parents, even though I know it meant they went without a lot as I was growing up.”
Since then, Fenella has established an international career as soloist and chamber musician, performing in some of the world’s most prestigious venues. What have been some of the highlights?
“The start of this year was one of the biggest highlights, recording an album of Sibelius’s solo works with BBC NOW, one of my favourite orchestras.
“It was also a massive honour in 2018 to receive BBC Music Magazine’s Instrumental Award.
“There have been so many concerts I’ll never forget, from primary school halls to famous concert halls, with a lot of random venues in between, including the Cutty Sark, Spanish caves and an ancient water cistern in Istanbul, for example.
“But at the end of the day, so many of the best memories come from a really great audience rather than the building they were in.”
Now, with the concert coming up in Henley and her diary for 2021 beginning to fill up, she is looking ahead with optimism.
“I have three new albums due for release in 2021, which is exciting, especially because Covid can’t stop them!” she laughs.
“A lot of 2020’s plans will hopefully happen next year instead, but at the moment I’m trying to learn to be patient and accept each day as it comes.”
Vivaldi Four Seasons Reimagined: Fenella Humphreys and Friends is at St Mary’s Church, Henley, on Monday October 5 at 6pm.