Great Artists Series welcomes Nathan Gunn May 5

Music of Purcell, Britten, Argento, Quilter, Moore, Bell and Ives

Nathan Gunn. (Photo: Sandra Powers)

Henry Purcell was Restoration England’s greatest composer of vocal music. Yet Purcell’s written accompaniments consisted of only figured bass lines — a common 17th century practice — leaving musicians to improvise the rest.

In the mid-20th century, Benjamin Britten — widely considered Purcell’s successor for his skill in setting English words to music — crafted fresh arrangements, or “realizations” as Britten preferred to call them, for dozens of Purcell’s works.

At 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 5, internationally acclaimed baritone Nathan Gunn, accompanied by his wife, the celebrated pianist Julie Gunn, will highlight this Britten and Purcell musical collaboration-across-the-centuries in a performance at Washington University’s E. Desmond Lee Concert Hall.

The program, which also features works by Dominick Argento, Roger Quilter, Ben Moore, Iain Bell and Charles Ives, is presented by the Department of Music in Arts & Sciences as part of its inaugural Great Artists Series.


The performance will open with “Fairest Isle,” from Purcell’s opera “King Arthur,” and “If music be the food of love,” which takes its title from Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” Next come the elegiac “Mad Bess” and the devotional “Evening Hymn.”

Selections from Argento’s “Six Elizabethan Songs” are followed by works from Quilter and Moore. These include Quilter’s setting of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem “In The Highlands,” and Moore’s setting of “Lake Isle of Innisfree” by William Butler Yeats.

After intermission, the program will continue with Bell’s contemporary setting of the anonymous 17th century poem “Tom O’Bedlam” and four songs by Ives, including “In the Alley” and “Tom Sails Away.” The program will conclude with a selection of traditional Irish folk songs, arranged by Julie Gunn.

Nathan Gunn

Nathan Gunn. (Photo: M Sharkey Photography.)

Following his breakout performance in Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ 2002 production of Ambroise Thomas’ “Hamlet,” Gunn has emerged as a much sought-after baritone, praised by Opera News for his impressive arsenal of “robust legato climaxes, snarly macho lower notes and beautiful, floating upper tones.”

A frequent recitalist and distinguished concert performer, Gunn has appeared at major opera houses around the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Royal Opera House, Paris Opera, Bayerische Staatsoper, Glyndebourne Opera Festival, Theater an der Wien, Teatro Real in Madrid and the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie.

His recordings include: the title role in the Grammy-winning “Billy Budd” (2008) with Daniel Harding and the London Symphony Orchestra; the first complete recording of Rogers & Hammerstein’s “Allegro” (2009); and the Grammy-nominated “Peter Grimes” (2004) with Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra.

Tickets and schedule

Single tickets are $35, or $32 for seniors and Washington University faculty and staff, and $15 for students and children.

The performances will take place in the E. Desmond Lee Concert Hall of the 560 Music Center, located at 560 Trinity Ave., at the intersection with Delmar Boulevard. Tickets are available through the Edison Theater Box Office, 314-935-6543, or at

For more information, call 314-935-5566 or email


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