Lucy and Debussy in Brighton

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Lucy Parham and Simon Russell Beale will take to the stage at Theatre Royal Brighton for one night only on Wednesday, February 22 to perform Rêverie: The Life And Loves Of Claude Debussy.

Scripted by Lucy, Rêverie evokes Debussy’s complex emotional life through a personal and revealing journal, illustrated by a sequence of his most famous and atmospheric solo piano works.

Simon Russell Beale will narrate. Former BBC Young Musician of the Year winner, Lucy is the piano soloist. There will be a Q&A with Lucy and Simon following the performance.

The piece is the latest in Lucy’s series of composer portraits.

“I have just fallen into this in a way,” says Lucy. “I suppose for a long time I was juggling a lot of different things, and these shows just seem to have a good formula. I love doing them, and I am pretty sure that the actors do too, and they are good for festivals. They are all weighted in favour of the music, maybe 70-30 music to words, but I always feel, when I am sitting at my piano, that I am in the presence of the composer himself. I take letters and diaries, and 90 per cent of it is in the composer’s own words. But getting the beginning is the worst part. I look at all the books and I think to myself ‘This is never going to happen!’, and then something interesting springs out from the letters, and you are off.

“Chopin was the hardest in a way. He wrote lots of letters, but he didn’t write letters that were... well, interesting is maybe the wrong word.

“He didn’t write fascinating letters. It was like ‘I walked into town and bought some oranges’, and there is not a lot you can do with that. But with Clara Schumann, the letters were just a real gift.

“But there needs to be a balance. You can’t have a lot of speech. You need enough so that people can get into the music, but not too much so that they think ‘Is she ever going to start playing again!’ But for the Debussy, the great thing is that some of the pieces really do have their own story. For instance, with the Debussy, you have Golliwogs Cakewalk. He wrote it for his daughter, and he absolutely adored her. He wrote this children’s suite with the Cakewalk as one of the pieces, and he wrote it for her because he knew how much she loved her gollywog. There is an amusing letter to her talking about it.

“I think Debussy was a very difficult man, but his allure for the women was extraordinary given that he was not exactly the Brad Pitt of his time! He was rather gruff and short-tempered. He had long periods of depression. I wouldn’t have thought he was the most fun person to be around. He got bored of women very quickly and needed to move on. But he was a big hit with the ladies. It was the power of the composer that made him interesting, I suppose!

“But there are some funny moments in it too. There are moments when you think ‘Surely he can’t have any more women!’ and then along comes another couple!”

“What was interesting was that Debussy didn’t think of himself as an impressionist. It was a term he hated.

“He said he didn’t know what it meant. He used sound in the same way that Monet used colour, but he still refused to be called an impressionist.”

In fact, he was highly specific: “It is like you have got to have all these colours at your disposal, but it is not just one blue. It is like 85 blues!”

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