Hebrides Ensemble: Kurtag - Kafka Fragments

Hebrides Ensemble: Kurtag – Kafka Fragments

Elizabeth Watts

Work based on Kafka’s diaries and letters with Soprano Elizabeth Watts

One of Britain’s hottest new singing talents, whether in opera or on the concert platform, 31-year-old soprano Elizabeth Watts (pictured) joins leading chamber music group Hebrides Ensemble for Kafka Fragmente by György Kurtág, an extraordinary masterpiece of the 20th century. Almost an hour in length, the piece is made up of tiny fragments of texts from Kafka’s diaries and letters. The Hungarian composer’s genius for aphoristic, terse writing is well known, and nowhere more so than in Fragmente.

The 40 short movements for voice and violin are, says Watts, ‘eclectic, mysterious and very beautiful in places, even though they are atonal. It’s almost impossibly difficult. At one point, the score’s instruction is to sing “nein! nein!” at the highest pitch you can manage. It depends on which day it is, but it could be a top G.’ At the other end, Watts has to sing an E below middle C, the lowest note in her range.

Never performed in Scotland before, the settings might be just a few seconds long, or a few minutes. ‘It’s very intense,’ says Watts, ‘and all about the inner psyche but not necessarily abstract. Some of Kafka’s writing seems abstract, but it also has a fundamental meaning.’ One example is ‘someone tugged on my coat and I shook it off’. ‘That’s actually very picturesque in Kurtag’s music,’ says Watts. She likens the piece to a modern art installation. ‘Everyone has the common experience of psychological exploration but everyone takes something different away.’ For Watts, whose undergraduate degree was a first in archaeology, studying music with the intensity demanded by Fragmente is testing her too. ‘It may sound a little like pseuds corner, but being locked away for hours working on this music is teaching me things about myself I don’t think I’d have known otherwise.’

The Arches, Glasgow, Tue 31 May; Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Wed 1 Jun

Kafka Fragments: An introduction

Music at Paxton

Top quality international chamber music in the beautiful surroundings of Paxton House, an 18th century Palladian Country House near Berwick.

Paxton House and Country Park, Berwick-upon-Tweed

Thu 16 Jul 2020

Times & prices vary / 0131 473 2000

Fri 17 Jul 2020

Times & prices vary / 0131 473 2000

Sat 18 Jul 2020

Times & prices vary / 0131 473 2000

…and 8 more dates until 26 Jul 2020

Hebrides Ensemble

Schubert’s Trio in E flat with Alexander Janiczek on violin, Will Conway on cello and pianist Philip Moore.

Hebrides Ensemble: Schumann, Janáček, Kurtág

The contemporary classical ensemble performs the Scottish premiere of György Kurtág's Kafka Fragmente along with Schumann's Liederkreis Op. 39 movement 7 and Janáček's The Kreutzer Sonata, in the arrangement for piano trio by Kroeber. Featuring Alexander Janiczek, violin and Elizabeth Watts, soprano.

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