In 2013, Ruth was commissioned by Tring Chamber Music to write and perform a sequence of crucifixion poems to accompany Haydn’s string quartet Opus 51, Seven Last Words from the Cross.
These poems became the centre-piece of her T S Eliot Prize shortlisted poetry collection on harmony and the Middle East, Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth.
‘The magnificent central section about the crucifixion is an imaginative feat,’ said the Observer. ‘Wonderful, audacious, minutely crafted. Her command of register is masterly, moving from formal to conversational with graceful authority. Padel is a poetic Daniel Barenboim, determined to find common ground and arrive at some approximation of Middle Eastern harmony. The collection includes more than one poem describing a musical instrument, including the oud. The opening poem goes into sensual detail about the making of the instrument and is itself a mini-creation story.’
Ruth went on to perform these poems with the Endellion Quartet, at the Aspect Foundation and elsewhere. From 2015 she has worked with the Endellion Quartet in concerts combining her poems with music by Beethoven, Schubert and Tchaikovsky. This was the foundation of her 2020 collection, Beethoven Variations.
Read here her London Review Bookshop and how she came to write the book.
Listen here to a podcast of her event at the bookshop, Beethoven, the Poets’ Take, with Anthony Anaxagorou and Raymond Antrobus.
In 2014, Ruth was first Writer in Residence at Covent Garden. She attended rehearsals of a ‘Faustian package,’ a revival of Gounod’s Faust alongside two new operas on the Faust theme, and blogged about the behind-scenes process, from rehearsal to performance. She has also given pre-concert talks at Glyndebourne and presented a series of interval talks on Radio 3 called Close Encounters, in which she analysed each opera by focussing on one scene – such as ways in which Verdi flouted 19th-century convention in La Traviata, the war of the sexes in Cosi Fan Tutte, relations between ‘abandoned’ woman Ariadne and Bacchus, god of wine, in Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos – and sang an aria from the scene herself.
With the Endellion Quartet, rehearsing Beethoven, March 2020.
Reading with string quartet playing Haydn, in Little Gidding church, from ‘Seven Last Words’ in Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth, 2014