Héloïse Werner is a multi-faceted musician who rose through the ranks of the classical music world both as a soloist and as a member of The Hermes Experiment, a quartet specializing in contemporary repertoire.
The French-born, London-based artist is becoming well-known in musical circles for his lively, virtuoso performance style – and his unfailing passion for highly stimulating contemporary music. Often performing her own works as a singer, Werner is set to record her debut album this year, pairing her own music with tracks from Josephine Stephenson, Elaine Mitchener, Nico muhly and Oliver Leith, as well as a selection of works by Georges Aperghis 14 Recitations.
In 2019, Werner premiered his solo opera The other side of the sea at Kings Place as part of the Venus Unwrapped season, which celebrated the work of female songwriters.
The opera, written in collaboration with writer and librettist Octavia Bright, focused on themes of language, memory and identity. We recently spoke to Octavia Bright and Héloise Werner for BBC Music MagazinePodcast Music to my ears.
While in confinement, Werner created ‘Coronasolfege’, a series consisting of 37 pieces, one of which was written for organist Anna Lapwood. Another was recorded by The Gesualdo Six on their 2021 album, Hope this finds you well in these strange times, vol. 3.
In these unconventional pieces, Werner uses his own body to create complex rhythms. Explaining the process on her website, she writes: “I imagined a simple 30-second composition where my eyes, teeth, voice and hands each go in different but repeated rhythms: crooked eyes, teeth in eighth notes, the voice in triplets and hands in sixteenth notes.I filmed it, posted it on Twitter and Coronasolfege was born.
During confinement, Héloïse gave us her theater, comedy and podcast recommendations.
Where did she study?
Werner studied choir at Clare College, Cambridge, where she studied composition, before pursuing a master’s degree at the Trinity Laban Conservatory of Music and Dance.
When growing up in France, Werner studied cello at the Maurice Ravel Conservatory and was a member of the Maîtrise de Radio France as a singer.
Shortly after graduating from Trinity, Werner appeared at the 2016 BBC Proms as one of two vocal soloists performing alongside the Multi-Story Orchestra in Steve Reich. Music for large ensemble. The performance took place at the Bold Tendencies Car Park in Peckham.
Who is the Hermès experience?
Héloïse Werner is co-director and member of the contemporary quartet The Hermes Experiment, in which she performs as soprano alongside clarinetist Oliver Pashley, harpist Anne Denholm and double bassist Marianne Schofield. The ensemble was founded in 2013 after graduating from the University of Cambridge, where Werner was a choral researcher.
The ensemble was shortlisted for the RPS Young Artists Award 2019. “The instrument mix sounds totally crazy but it works because we have all the fundamentals”, Anne Denholm said BBC Music Magazine. “There is bass, harmony and then two melodic instruments. It was an incredible journey of discovery. We have worked with over 40 composers. We commission, make our own arrangements of existing works and also do live improvisation that is completely free. ‘ Denholm was HRH the Prince of Wales’ Official Harpist from 2015 to 2019.
Together, the Hermes experience has made it possible to launch more than 50 new orders. In 2020, the first album of the group, Here we are, was released on the Delphian label, to which Werner is now also signed as a solo artist.
A subsequent Hermes Experiment album is planned for October 22, 2021. Title Song, the album brings together songs specially commissioned for the ensemble by composers such as Philip Venables and Ayanna Witter-Johnson. These will be interwoven with new arrangements of works by Strozzi, Clara Schumann and Lili Boulanger.
Werner recently worked with fellow multi-talented musician, violist-fiddler Lawrence Power, as part of his Lockdown Commands series. She wrote Mixed sentences, a piece exploring identity and language in performance – a common thread running through many of his works. Werner is bilingual, with English being her second language, which she only learned after leaving school – you wouldn’t know, of course. Werner is more fluent in English than most native speakers.
“I created two worlds, first the familiar, in which Lawrence plays the viola,” Werner told Fiona Maddocks in the October 2021 issue of BBC Music Magazine. “The text of this section is taken from Rimbaud’s Illuminations. Then the music moves to a strange and supernatural place. Here, Lawrence plays the violin, in fact his second language.
You can see Héloïse Werner and Lawrence Power play Mixed sentences below, filmed at Peckham Asylum.
In addition to his collaborations with The Hermes Experiment, Werner also worked with bassoonist Amy Harman, who will appear on Werner’s debut album. Werner wrote Like words in duet for voice and bassoon. ‘Amy is amazing at playing the bassoon like she is singing. It’s so close to the human voice… ”she told Fiona Maddocks in the October 2021 issue of BBC Music Magazine.
Image credit: James Cheadle
Read our interview with Héloïse Werner in the October issue of BBC Music Magazine, on sale now.