15 August 2012
Article from the Nelson Mail
Kiwi soprano star Madeleine Pierard is coming to Nelson to present a biographical work of astronomical proportions - Songs for Beatrice. Anna Pearson reports:
Beatrice Tinsley was a genius and a "force of nature", says the singer who will be channelling her memory in an upcoming concert at the Nelson School of Music.
Kiwi soprano Madeleine Pierard is on a 10-stop tour of the country as part of Chamber Music New Zealand's 2012 Kaleidoscopes season, and one of her pieces, Songs for Beatrice, honours the late astronomer.
Pierard is currently a Jette Parker Young Artist with the Royal Opera in Covent Garden in Britain.
New Zealand pianist Terence Dennis will perform alongside her at the Nelson School of Music this Saturday, in a concert also featuring Canteloube's Songs of the Auvergne, Berg's Seven Early Songs and arias from Bellini and Rossini.
Tinsley, who was born in England and grew up in New Zealand, was a Professor of Astronomy at Yale University, in the United States, when she died in 1981 aged 40. She was among the first to prove the universe is not in a fixed state, but infinitely expanding.
Songs for Beatrice, a collaboration between composer Ross Harris and poet Vincent O'Sullivan, was commissioned by Chamber Music New Zealand for Pierard's tour. It's the seventh collaboration between the pair.
"I wrote a group of poems in various registers that I hoped Ross would find musically useful. The name Beatrice, of course, has marvellous resonances, while her dealing with galaxies as a job and the tragedy of her early death spurred us both. It was also a way to celebrate and honour who she was and what she did," says O'Sullivan.
Harris says Tinsley was a pioneer who was famous in her field of scientific research, but was little known in New Zealand.
She played the cello and loved Bach, which is reflected in one of the pieces in Songs for Beatrice - True Romance.
Pierard says Tinsley was celebrated for her genius until she married a fellow lecturer and was no longer allowed to teach at the University of Canterbury, where they met, or in Texas in the United States.
"In the end, her astro-obsession and difficulty with these restrictions consumed her. She left her husband to lecture at Yale and suffered an untimely death from cancer only three years later," she says.
"She appears to have been someone who struggled between the mundanities of everyday life and her higher astronomical calling.
The pieces in Songs for Beatrice are "largely melodic and simple - the ponderings of what was originally a child fascination that became a lifelong pursuit".
Pierard says the last songs represent Tinsley disappearing into "the ether of space" at the end of her life.
Madeleine Pierard, Music New Zealand's 2012 Kaleidoscopes season, Nelson School of Music, 7.30pm this Saturday 18 August.