… highly impressive… Bagby captured the essence of an early medieval reading of the work… displayed a resonant voice and particularly fine text declamation. He also played a simple hand-held six string harp that provided a melodic and harmonic backdrop over which the epic unfolded…a soft but beautiful and effective sound.
Most remarkable from the evening was Bagby's expression and acting. Utilizing facial gestures, aspirants, vocal swoops, whispers, and an occasional thud, he successfully provided an intensity of sound and sight to underscore the vivid word pictures provided in the text…audience members [were kept] on the edge of their seats.
Kansas City Star, 01 March 2009
A Thrilling Musical Journey Back in Time
New York, The Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art
… the experience of hearing Benjamin Bagby perform Beowulf, the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, was absolutely unique… He drew us from our world of the written word back into the world of tribal society and Anglo-Saxon legend, when bards, called scops, told stories in song and speech to spellbound listeners, using only voice, gesture, and the simplest musical accompaniment.
And he did this at the Cloisters…What setting could have been more fitting?
Bagby’s uncanny ability to bring to life the characters and events of the story was so powerful that the written text seemed more like a distraction. It would seem that he had so few resources -- dressed in black, seated on a stool, strumming a six string lyre, and singing and reciting in a language that was utterly unintelligible to a 21st century English speaker. In fact, with his beautiful, deep baritone voice, his extraordinarily expressive face, the gestures of his one free hand, …he showed that he had resources aplenty.
To experience this mesmerizing performance for yourself, I strongly suggest that you visit Mr. Bagby’s website.
Arlene Judith Klotzko, www.ConcertoNet.com, 08 March 2009
From Benjamin Bagby’s performances of 'Beowulf' at the Edinburgh International Festival (August, 2007)
…but when Benjamin Bagby speaks it is as if a thousand years have disappeared. I was sceptical about the pleasures of hearing 100 minutes of this ancient epic told in the original Anglo-Saxon with English surtitles. But something odd happens as Bagby begins to speak, chewing on some words as if they are meat or gristle, launching others like mournful songs. Suddenly you are caught up in the hypnotic rhythms of the story.
…this evening is a triumphant demonstration of the power of storytelling and our deep-seated need to share stories.
Part of the evening's power is that it suggests the concerns and characteristics of humans have not changed all that much.
I can't help feeling that the tale would be much better enjoyed around a roaring fire in a pub, but Bagby nonetheless holds you gripped, and his story seems urgently alive.
Guardian Unlimited (Manchester), August 20, 2007
Benjamin Bagby is an extraordinary performer who provides an extraordinary evening's entertainment. Glazed in candlelight and accompanied by his six-string harp, he recreates the role of the scop, a mediaeval storyteller who could perform epics of up to six hours long or more for the entertainment of the town. The tale is told in its original guttural and rich sounds, and often Bagby breaks into a hybrid of song and recitation. The harp flutters around its six notes whipping up suspense and lulling pensively around the words, in an altogether entrancing combination. Aside from the feat which Bagby achieves in memorising the archaic rhythms and unfamiliar sounds of the language, he is a captivating storyteller who moulds each word like a carefully carved stone.
The British Theatre Guide (London), August, 2007
Yet the truth is that Bagby's performance repays close attention with such a rich series of echoes and resonances that it's impossible, by the end of the evening, to avoid the feeling that this is a vital, if ancient, piece of popular entertainment, rich in everyday wisdom, thrilling acts of violence, sensational narrative power, and the kind of flexible, shifting relationship between words and music associated today with genres such as rap and hip-hop.
… there's no escaping the sense that this great poem is one of the historic cornerstones of our culture, as rich as any of the other great myths in this year's Festival programme in its sense of humankind struggling for survival in a capricious or indifferent universe.
And Bagby's performance is not only a technical tour de force, but a shining labour of love for the great story it tells, and for the original sound of its telling.
The Scotsman (Edinburgh), 21 Aug 2007
…It even took place in a kind of baronial hall, candlelit, and packed the night I was there with more people than I thought there were in the entire British Isles dying to listen to an hour of what is, essentially, foreign poetry.
They were in for a treat. Bagby brings the story of Beowulf’s slaying of the monster, Grendel, vividly alive, sometimes singing, sometimes declaiming, sometimes taking on the character of whoever is speaking. He’s a crack storyteller.
…a magical evening where poetry’s musicality resounds in a way few of us get to hear now.
The Sunday Times (London), 26 August 2007
Intrepid fans of 10th-century Anglo-Saxon verse braved Nordic temperatures Thursday night and nearly filled the Library of Congress's Coolidge Auditorium for an astounding recitation/performance of "Beowulf" by Benjamin Bagby. This unique artist is a medieval music scholar who teaches at the Sorbonne and founded the early music ensemble Sequentia.
With a translation projected directly behind him and a few spare lighting effects, a seated Bagby held his audience spellbound for 75 uninterrupted minutes with just his voice, face and a few gestures with one arm. He keened, growled, sang and emoted, all within the poem's precise metrics, constantly changing tone, pacing and character. The drunken challenge of Unferth was particularly droll, and the bloody combat with the monster Grendel was a tour de force.
An accomplishment of such magnitude and this specialized is not only unique, it is uncritiquable. This has been Bagby's lifework -- with a support system of scholars, linguists and coaches -- and those of us fortunate enough to experience it can only feel gratitude and awe at his achievement.
Robert Battey, The Washington Post, 17 February, 2007
Mr. Bagby comes as close to holding hundreds of people in a spell as ever a man has...When he has finished, you leave with the overwhelming impression that you know the anonymous poet who created "Beowulf" more than a dozen centuries ago, that you have felt the man's personality touch you. That is much too rare an experience in theater.
The New York Times
Bagby is an uninhibited interpreter and actor. His baritone is strong and expressive, his gestures simple and vivid. He's superb at creating characters ...Like Tolkien, Bagby revels in the blood and gore of the story; he conveys both its earthy humor and its mixture of majesty, mystery and faith. The performance is an extraordinary feat of scholarship, imagination, memory, musicianship and, most of all, story-telling ...He has a communicative power that transcends language.
The Boston Globe
What was incontrovertible about Bagby's performance was its ring of truth ...Old English has rarely seemed so alive ...in Beowulf,one could hardly doubt the numinous presence of Orpheus himself.
The Times (London)
Bagby's lusty performance was a revelation. The crowd...became totally engrossed in the vivid narrative. Bagby used silence and pause with telling theatrical effect, and he bit into the chewy Anglo-Saxon words as they were an elocutionist's feast ...a personal interpretation of depth, spontaneity and conviction.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer
It is an eerie thing to hear this ancient Anglo-Saxon poem that sounds so foreign and yet familiar ...a fluid mingling of vividly rendered direct speech and narration heightened by plain-song chant and haunting melodies.
The Sydney Morning Herald
...a thrilling event of an almost shamanistic power.
NRC Handelsblad (Rotterdam)
He used every facet of his voice, from a harsh whisper to a full-bellied shout in greeting, to touching on sea rhythms while creating accompanying wavelets on the lyre, to singing in a straight roar or a honey of a baritone ...performing in a language not one in the audience could understand, Bagby held the audience spellbound.
...a vivid demonstration of what has been lost in the process of becoming modern....Bagby, using a brilliant array of dramatic and rhetorical techniques, made it a dazzling experience. His performances should be recorded and made required listening...
The Washington Post
...he recounts his tale with a shaman's authority....the ring of authenticity is unmistakable.
The Vancouver Sun
The Milwaukee Sentinel
So vivid, so explicit in its dramatic gesture and power of representation, that the whole story could be easily understood.
The Jerusalem Post
The performance was riveting – so powerfully yet subtly drawn that it ought to be captured on video and be made required viewing for all students of English.
Historical Performance (NYC)