When I set about programming these recitals, the only thing that I was sure of was that I wanted to explore Winter Words again. The question then became where to go from there? The answer came in the final song of Britten's cycle, Thomas Hardy asks, " 'Ere nescience shall be reaffirmed – how long?" That idea of the cycle of life really struck me – we begin our lives in a state of innocent, naïve, vulnerable, and blissful ignorance only to have that clean slate marred by the grit, pain, and emotional chaos of experience. Life continues on, each experience carrying us forward to the next step on our circuitous paths, much like a never ending spiral. When it seemingly ends, the cycle begins completely anew – or so we assume, as none of us living really know what lies beyond that final step that is death.
In each of the songs in the cycle, in one way or another, that dichotomy of innocence versus experience is explored, with increasing intensity as the cycle progresses. There is a keen awareness in each of the songs of the transitory nature of uncorrupted innocence, oftentimes with the narrator focusing on the children or a child that is blissfully unaware of the growing pains that are to come. Somehow, I hear a sense of envy – sometimes slight, other times overt – in these observations that feel like one is looking back at times. It is a kind of coveting of happiness and bliss lost through mistakes and discoveries made, that becomes most present in the last, anguished cries of "How long? How long?" in the final song.