Wigmore Hall: Ability & Disability

Helena Juntunen (soprano) &  Eveliina Kytömäki (piano)

Schumann, Strauss, Thomas Adès and Sibelius

Last night’s recital was memorable for two reasons. There were some haunting and beautiful songs – some beautifully sung by Helena Juntunen and geogously accompanied on the piano by Eveliina Kytömäki.

The second reason was less artistic – there was a severely disabled man in the concert with his carer and they were asked to leave. But unforunately they didn’t leave before some of the audience had spoken their minds rather too freely for good taste. It left more than a nasy taste in my mouth. It made me ashamed. and as this happened on the very day Paralympic Team GB had been in a parade around London. hearing a man shouting at a mentally disabled citizen “shut him up and get him out of here” only served to point up how very little slack we will really cut the severely disabled when it gets in the way of enjoyment of our pleasures.

Moreover frankly I did not think the managment aquitted itself with much dignity in dealing with the unfortunate situation. It was indeed my suggestion to call an early interval which saved the poor man from being frog-marched form the auditorium.

Even then the interval was cruelly announced as the result of his disruption – as if it was entirely the man’s fault. I really think those who run entertainment spaces open to the general public might be better trained to meet such a situation. What is more I feel our disabled fellow citizens deserve at least to be treated sensitively.

The audience barracking was led by one individual. It was tasteless and I think the gentleman in question might also have been asked to leave. Clearly the singer nor pianist could not have performed in the context of the man’s disruption and his outbursts became worse once the audience became involved. Both performers – unable to concentrate – inevitably had to withdraw half-way through the Strauss song cycle.

When the soprano returned to the stage to a mighty cheer she undid the good she had done up to then by making a poor vocal joke at the expense of the man in question. It demonstrated admirably that the ability to sing and the talent to play do not necessarily imply emotional intelligence any more than disability or lack of communications skills implies a man or woman has no ordinary emotional feelings.

The lieder was lovely and none more so than the Sibelius songs which were a true revelation. Spring is Here and the song From Hebrew Melodies were stunning. sibelius’ favourite song ended the concert. It is entitled Var det en drom – did I dream. It’s haunting. I found myself asking myself the same question as the end of the concert.

Helena Juntunen has a big voice – lovely clear soprano though perhaps lacking in a lyric quality that might have added something particularly to the Schumann and Strauss songs. She sang the Thomas Ades song based on a poem by Tennessee Williams with emphatic wit and wry humour.

But at the end of the night as I left the little Italian restaurant just up the road from the Wigmore Hall I was left perplexed by the problem of finding a fitting space in public to share music with our disabled fellow citizens.

I cannot believe we cannot do better than we did last night. And even if we can’t I cannot believe we shouldn’t damn well try.



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