BBC Music Magazine
Heather Harper Born 1930 Soprano
In May 1962, Heather Harper received an urgent call from Benjamin Britten – with Galina Vishnevskaya barred from leaving the Soviet Union to take part in the rapidly approaching premiere of his War Requiem, the composer needed a soprano soloist, fast. Harper’s versatility, phenomenal sight-reading ability and a voice that baritone Dietrich Fischer-dieskau would later describe as ‘a triumphant silvery sound’ made her a perfect replacement. She would go on to become closely associated with the part, performing it 50 times in the next three years alone. Born in Belfast, Harper studied piano and singing at London’s Trinity College of Music before beginning her career with the Ambrosian Singers and the BBC Singers. Her opera career took off when she sang the part of Violetta in a TV production of
Verdi’s La traviata in 1956, and roles at major opera houses including Glyndebourne, Covent Garden and the New York Met soon followed. She recorded widely and sang at the BBC Proms no fewer than 65 times – the last of these, in Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music in 1994 was her last ever concert performance.
Jörg Demus Born 1928 Pianist
A pianist with an enviable solo career, Jörg Demus was also one of the world’s finest accompanists. He worked with many of the leading singers of his day, including the soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and the baritone Dietrich Fischer-dieskau. Born in Sankt Pölten, Austria into an artistic family, Demus began to learn the piano at the age of six. By 11, he had been given a place at the Vienna State Music Academy and in 1942 he made his debut – at the Vienna Musikverein. He was taught by Yves Nat during a stint in Paris, and studied with several other renowned pianists, including Walter Gieseking, Wilhelm Kempff and Arturo Benedetto Michelangeli. Starting with a tour to South America in 1951, Demus’s career often took him far afield, including to Japan and Australia. As a solo recitalist, his repertoire centred around German Classical and Romantic works, although he often played Bach, Debussy and Franck. He was a great lover of chamber music, and was interested in early pianos. In addition to the hundreds of recordings to his name, Demus published a book of essays and co-authored a book on Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas.
The soprano Charity ‘Sunshine’ Tillemann Dick (born 1983) forged a major career across the US despite suffering from idiopathic pulmonary hypertension and requiring two double lung transplants. Alongside performing roles such as Gilda in Rigoletto and Violetta in La traviata, she was an inspirational speaker and champion of organ donation and transplants.