‘ONE SHILLING’ LOVELY MEMORY OF IMPRESSIVE MYRA HESS
By Margaret Sutherlin; Posted on: 01/31/13 in ChicagoMusic.org
Sitting under the Tiffany glass dome in the Chicago Cultural Center on Tuesday evening, it was hard to remember we were in fact an audience in Chicago, and not at the National Gallery of London listening to pianist Myra Hess.
As a part of the 35th anniversary of the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts in Chicago, the International Music Foundation sponsored the U.S premiere of Admission: One Shilling.
Originally conceived and written by Hess’s great-nephew Nigel Hess, the play retells the story of the lunchtime concerts Myra Hess organized daily at the National Gallery in London during World War II. On stage as Hess’s musical voice was Inna Faliks, who grew up on the North Shore, and hit television show Downton Abbey star Lesley Nicol, Hess’s historical voice.
Faliks performance was so subtlely impressive. Marked from the first moment she walked out on stage, to her final bow, her performance was so graceful and effortless. She is one of the few pianists I have known who can command such attention with her quietly powerful performance.
It was clear to me through her poised and beautiful performance that Faliks understood Dame Myra Hess well, and that the production held particularly special meaning for her. Not only because she grew up performing in the Chicago series, but because she also so deeply is attuned to and appreciates art forms that interact, evidenced by her award-winning Music/Words series that combines poetry and music.
Lesley Nicol, fondly known to many of us as Mrs. Patmore from Downton Abbey, couldn’t have been more delightful as Myra’s historical persona. Nicol’s overall warmth just entering the room and the great bits of wry humor of the play itself, were perfect to capture audience attention right away and retell not just Myra’s story from the Blitz, but London’s story too.
One of the things I most enjoyed from Nicol was her ability to simply connect so well with the music, and with Inna. Nicol’s experience from the stage (she played Rosie in the West End production of Mamma Mia, among other performances) made her a particularly good choice to connect with the production. The musical voice and the historical voice blended so seamlessly that time was easily forgotten during the performance and suddenly we’d reached the end of the war, Myra’s famous concerts, and the enchanting Admission: One Shilling.
After leaving, another writer and I were discussing how lovely the evening was, and how we wished that the performance wasn’t just for one night. The story of Myra Hess is not all that well known, but timeless and validating for the world we live in now, and I hoped more people could have encountered it. When things were falling apart at the seams, Hess knew music brought people together in a way that nothing else could. It’s a lesson that holds as much relevance in the nearly 75 years after World War II as it did then.