England’s Orpheus

The SFEMS 2018–19 concert season concludes on Sunday, May 19, with a special performance by acclaimed countertenor Iestyn Davies joined by the brilliant young lutenist Thomas Dunford, dubbed the “Eric Clapton of the lute” (BBC Music Magazine). Together they will perform songs by John Dowland, Henry Purcell and George Frideric Handel, three composers who during and after their lifetimes were likened to the mythical Orpheus. The program will include works for lute by Dowland, Marin Marais, and Robert de Visée, plus movements from Bach’s cello suites.

Davies, one of England’s greatest living countertenors, has been honored many times over with two Gramophone Awards, a Grammy, a Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award, a Critics’ Circle Award and an Olivier Award nomination. In 2017, he was inducted into the Order of the British Empire for his services to music. Though his career has flourished largely in Europe, Davies has performed several operatic stints at the New York City Opera, the Metropolitan Opera, Houston Grand Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and Carnegie Hall. Most recently, he performed on Broadway as the singing voice of Farinelli in Farinelli and the King with Mark Rylance.

Born in Paris in 1988, Dunford’s career took off after playing the role of the lutenist in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at the Comédie Française. Since then, he has traveled the world with marquee performances at Carnegie Hall and the Frick Collection, Wigmore Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Vancouver Recital Society, Cal Performances, the Banff Center, the Palau de la Musica, in addition to solo or ensemble appearances in the prestigious European festivals including Ambronay, Arc La Bataille, Bozar, La Chaise-Dieu, Nantes, Saintes, Utrecht and many others.

His first solo CD, Lachrimae, receieved the Caecilia Prize of 2013, prompting BBC Magazine to call name the “Eric Clapton of the lute.” His second CD, Labirinto d’Amore, with mezzo-soprano Anna Reinhold, was awarded the “Choc” from Classica magazine. In addition to these CDs, Dunford is much in demand as a studio artist, recording on dozens of albums with artists including Davies, La Cappella Mediterranea, Clematis Ensemble, La Fenice, La Serenissima, Les Arts Florissants, Pygmalion, Monica Huggett, Julien Léonard, Nicola Benedetti, and Jean-Michel Fumas, among many others.

The special Davies-Dunford concert will take place at 4:00 p.m., Sunday, May 19, in Berkeley’s First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way. Individual tickets, $15 to $45, are available for online at sfems.org, by phone at 510-528-1725, or by email at tickets@sfems.org. Tickets also may be purchased at the door, starting 45 minutes before the concert.

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Written by Jonathan Harris