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Rising star Sean Shibe plays Walton on guitar

14 November, 2019 — By Michael White

Guitarist Sean Shibe teams with tenor Ben Johnson at Rosslyn Hill Chapel on Saturday. Photo: Kaupo Kikkas

Classical guitar player Sean Shibe has a concert in Hampstead Arts Festival on Saturday (November 16), shared with tenor Ben Johnson. And it’s an attractive programme.

Shibe is a rising star of his instrument: last year he won the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Young Artist Award. And he’s one of the relatively few classical guitarists I know who play with distinctive personality.

As for Ben Johnson (not to be confused with either the disgraced Canadian sprinter or the 17th-century English playwright), he’s well-known to audiences at Glyndebourne, ENO and other houses where he sings lead roles like Tamino in The Magic Flute and Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni. In other words, he’s a classic Mozart tenor – though for HAF he’s singing music that can be accompanied by guitar, which means folk songs, Schubert, and a not so well-known but enchanting cycle called Anon in Love by William Walton.

Walton lived in Hampstead for a while, in a cottage in an alleyway beside St Mary’s Catholic Church. I used to know Susana, the composer’s widow; and as she’d never seen this cottage (Walton lived in it before their marriage) I once took her there, assuming we’d just look at the exterior.

But being of a feisty disposition she not only rang the door-bell but marched in when it was answered by a young man who had clearly just got out of bed. I can recall him standing bleary-eyed as the formidable Susana told him everything he didn’t want to know right then about her husband and, on spotting a guitar across the room, demanded to know if he played Anon in Love.

Needless to say, he didn’t. And the shock of being caught up in the whirlwind that was Lady Walton no doubt meant he never would.

Sean Shibe happily does play the piece. And to discover why guitarists ought to, hear him on Saturday 16th, 7.30pm, Rosslyn Hill Chapel, NW3. Details: hampsteadartsfestival.com

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