Wednesday 31 August 2005

New Season Looms

We might be just back from the holidays and the sun is, for once, blazing outside but the new season is looming ahead. I have already been busy with the time-tables for the auditions for my choir, London Concord Singers; over the next 2 weeks the entire choir is being re-auditioned. Given that quite a number of members have been having voice lessons, its probably a good idea that our musical director listens to us all again. It makes me feel that I ought to have a course of lessons again, but I know that I just won't make the time to do the practice in between lessons and it this that makes them worthwhile.

Tonight we have a choir committee meeting to put the finishing touches to the forthcoming season and confirm general details. We will also be trying to work out where we go on tour next year. This year's trip to Strasbourg was such a success that we have engendered high expectations of next year.

Recent CD review

Stephen Hartke's fascinating piece, Tituli, setting inscriptions from Roman stone fragments, sung by the Hilliard Ensemble, here on MusicWeb.

Tuesday 30 August 2005

Edington Diary

We arrived at the Edington Festival of Music within the Liturgy on Thursday, in time to catch the evening’s Sequence of Music and Readings. The Festival as based around a daily sequence of services at the 13th century Priory Church in Edington, Wiltshire. There are 3 choirs, a choir of men and boys (directed by Robert Quinney) a mixed voice consort (directed by Jeremy Summerley) and a schola(directed by Robert Carwood); the schola only ever sings plainchant. The day starts with Matins then there is a morning service (Choral Matins or Solemn Eucharist), an evening service (Choral Evensong, Solemn Eucharist or a Sequence of Music and Readings) and the day closes with Compline by Candlelight – a wonderful way to close the day.

The Festival has a unique atmosphere partly because of this round of services. But also because the Festival format allows the performance of music which is more elaborate than would be possible every day. The choir members are drawn from Cathedral and College choirs and attain a very high standard, considering that they have not sung together before. Entry to all the services is free, you just contribute to the collection. You have to arrive an hour early if you want to get a decent seat; which means that the service is preceded by your eaves dropping on whichever choir is rehearsing in the church at that time.

Thursday Evening’s sequence was memorable for the performance, by the consort, of Tippett’s Negro Spirituals from A Child of Our Time; the soprano soloist gave a lovely performance despite being heavily pregnant. As a concert piece I find the spirituals very moving, but they are rendered even more so when performed in context. The evening started with a stunning motet, Verbum caro factum est by John Sheppard.

Friday morning’s service was choral matins: the consort sang the 3 canticles from Byrd’s Great Service. It was wonderful to hear these substantial settings in context of a service, but they are very long and this is only possible in such a festival setting. The choir of men and boys contributed Elgar’s lovely The Spirit of the Lord from The Apostles.

The Friday evening service was Solemn Eucharist with the setting being Josef Rheinberger’s Mass in E Flat for unaccompanied double choir. This was quite a find and given Rheinberger’s dates (1839 – 1901), was full blooded Romantic music. I am not sure it was quite suitable for a choir of men and boys, but they gave it a brave shot and I was pleased to have heard it.

Saturday morning’s service was another Solemn Eucharist, the setting this time being Palestrina’s Missa Brevis sung by the consort. This is a mass that we sing at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Cadogan Street, Chelsea and it was lovely to hear it sung so beautifully here.

Saturday evening was another Sequence; but this was a very special service. This week is the 50th Festival (the first took place in 1956) so the congregation contained a great many ex-members - the Festival Companion listed all of the participants over the years and a great many well known names seem to have performed there either as children or young adults. Both the men and boys and the consort joined together to perform Bach’s Jesu, mein Freude and the consort were joined by ex-members for a truly memorable performance of Tallis’s Spem in Alium, sung 1 voice to a part with the choirs distributed round the church in a circle, Jeremy Summerly directing from the middle of the nave. The opening alto solo was taken by Robin Blaze and the choir included Andrew Carwood, Robert Quinney and Julian Thomas (the present festival director). We were sitting quite close to choirs 5 and 6 (situated in front of the West Door), but the result was still stunning as the sound approached and receded. After that, we needed the quietness of Compline to calm down.

Finally, Sunday morning’s Solemn Eucharist was the last service of the Festival. Mozart’s Spaur Messe received a lively performance from the choir of men and boys, the consort sang two Russian Orthodox pieces (by Nikolai Kedrov the Elder and by Tchaikovsky). Finally, all choirs gathered together to sing Robert Parsons’s Ave Maria

So now life returns to normal and all we can do is wait for next year’s Festival.

Tuesday 23 August 2005

Moments with Weber

We were listening to the repeat of the Prom yesterday afternoon and it included the overture to Weber's Die Freischütz which rather took me back. In the 1970's I played in the Grimsby and Cleethorpes Youth Orchestra and after I went to university used to try and attend their concerts. At one of these, the orchestra were celebrating the retirement of Arthur Morley, the Horn tutor. He was not someone I knew very well, but his elder sisters had been at school with my aunt so that within our family he was referred to as Young Arthur Morley, even though middle-aged!

For the concert GCDYO had brought back many of his ex-pupils. Jonty Harrison had written a piece for a ridiculous number of horns, 4 horn players played the Schumman Konzertstuck for 4 horns and Orchestra and Arthur himself had produced a lovely piece called Moments with Weber for a rather large no. of horns and orchestra. A magical evening.

We were listening using Broadband rather then the Radio. Radio 3 reception here in Brixton is pretty poor so its a joy to be able to get a good signal view my trusty PC. Though it is rather un-nerving that the Internet programme is not quite in synch. with the radio, so you can't have both on at the same time in different parts of the house.

Tonight we'll not be listening to the radio we'll be there for Julius Caesar, our first prom. of the season.

Friday 19 August 2005

Ancestral Voices

I'm currently listening to a disc of Grieg for review (the complete music for Peer Gynt), which reminded me that his family was Scottish - his grandfather, I think, was a Scotsman called Greig, who settled in Norway. Funny that, if that hadn't happened would the young Edward Greig have still been a talented composer?

Which reminds me again, of the programme notes in this year's Grange Park Opera programme book. In an article about Donizetti, the writer asserted that Donizetti's Grandfather had been a Scotsman called Izett who had taken an Italian wife and Italianised his name. Is this true, it sounds so far fetched. I must pop to the library and see if they have a Donizetti biography!

Wednesday 17 August 2005

Lost in Translation

I am currently putting finishing touches to the 3 motets which I originally wrote in manuscript, without aid of computer or keyboard, whilst away. One is the Introit for the 5th Sunday in Lent, Judica Me and the other 2 are an antiphon and a responsory for Palm Sunday. Having written the first in English and the latter 2 in Latin (because I did not have translations to hand) I am now in the process of creating the parallel versions so that each motet exists in English and Latin. This is a tricky process, rather akin to writing crosswords. Sometimes things fall out beautifully, but at other times there is such a mis-match between English and Latin that a major re-write is called for. I want each version to flow naturally without seeming like a translation, so there is much fiddling about with stresses; trying not to lose the main elements of the motet. In one passage in Judica me, when Latinising the English I have had to be at great pains to preserve the triplet/duplet opposition in one passage, when the Latin lent itself more to simple duplets with no triplets.

I am also becoming horribly aware that I have been rather inconsistent in my English version, lurching between modern-ish English and King James-esque. In one of the Palm Sunday pieces, I have just noticed that I use Blessed is he that cometh, but stick to you, rather than thou. I can see that much tidying up will be required.

I've taken a quick look at my Liber (which I brought home from Church after the Tridentine Mass on Saturday) and once through Holy Week, I will have a substantial part of Volume 2 done. The problem is that Tempus Paschale goes on rather a long time afterwards. I can see me missing my Autumn deadline for the completion of this Volume of Tempus per Annum. Ho-hum.

Recent CD review

My review of Volume 10 of Schnabel's Beethoven Society recordings has hit Music Web here.

Its a disc for those who want explore beyond the Sonatas and is illuminated by Schnabels intention to treat all the music with great seriousness, even the smaller pieces.

Tuesday 16 August 2005

All quiet

The Tridentine Mass at St. Mary's went well, we had a choir of 16 which was brilliant - it was a mixture of regular choir members and extras. Apart from that, we are pretty quiet on the musical front at the moment. We normally take advantage of the summer to wind down our musical activities and the big project at the moment is decorating.

Mind you, we have just submitted an Arts Council Grant Application for one of the concerts we're planning next year, so fingers crossed on that one.

Sunday 14 August 2005


I recently did an email interview with the Irish composer, Ian Wilson, who is the featured composer in this year's Presteigne Festival. Doing an interview by email can be a little stilted as you are denied the ability to ask any follow up questions, or to encourage someone to expand on an answer. But in this case Ian was wonderfully fluent in his answers to my questions, so the interview expands nicely on thoughts about composing and recent works. It is published in Music and Vision.

Unfortunately we'll miss the Festival itself. We're on holiday the week of the Festival (25th to 30th August) and will be at the Eddington Festival of Music and Liturgy, which takes place in the lovely 13th Century Priory Church at Eddington in Wiltshire. More on this festival anon.

Friday 12 August 2005

Tridentine Mass

Tomorrow, I'm singing at the the Tridentine Mass at St. Mary's Church, Cadogan Street. St. Mary's is the Roman Catholic Church where I sing at Latin mass on Sundays. This mass is according to the modern, Latin rite but once a year we do a mass according to the older Tridentine Rite. This is the format of service which was standard up until the reorganisations after the 2nd Vatican Council. More information is available at the website of the Latin Mass Society.

The major difference between this older form and the modern mass is that the older form is more elaborate and the priest is by and large inaudible, standing with his back to the congregation. The result is that more emphasis is placed on the choir and we usually have a substantial amount of plainchant to sing in addition to the mass setting. This year, I think we are doing Palestrina's Aeterna Christi Munera mass, a regular in our repertoire but one of my favourites. I think it was the first Palestrina mass that I ever sang at St. Mary's, and probably my first Palestrina mass ever.

Thursday 11 August 2005

Strasbourg Diary (2)

Sunday morning we were singing at the Cathedral, at the 11.00am mass. There was a mass at 9.30am, a rather elaborate one with much incense and music sung by the Cathedral's Schola Gregoriana. Whilst this mass was going on, we rehearsed in a side chapel with rather variable results; frequently it was difficult for us due to the noise of the Grande Orgue and, according to friends in the congregation, at quiet moments in the service the congregation could hear us. Not an ideal situation.

There was confusion also about what we were to sing at the service. This was all resolved, with us singing a Gradual (Bruckner's Os Justi), a communion motet (Byrd's Ego sum panis vivus) and the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus/Benedictus and Agnus Dei of the Mass (Harant's Missa super Mater Dolorosi, quite substantial programme. Unfortunatly, due to time constraints we had to drop my motet, which was a shame.

We sang from the choir stall in the 19th century Chancel, raised high above the nave over the crypt. We had a good view of the altar (luckily) but not much of a view of the congregation, who in their turn could not see us very well. The service unfolded without mishap and we sang rather well. Though opinions from our friends in the congregation were varied as different people had differing attitudes to the sound quality in the nave; the choir were amplified and so the congregation heard a mixture of amplified sound and the natural sound of the choir - very odd.

Afterwards everyone went sightseeing and relaxing. We drove out to the European Parliament buildings. Finally on Sunday evening we had a group meal at the restaurant L'Alsace a Table.

Monday was a long day for us, a drive back all the way from Strasbourg to London. All we have to do now is plan next year's trip.

Tuesday 9 August 2005

Strasbourg Diary (1)

We chose to drive to Strasbourg, so though were were away for over 4 days, half of this was spent speeding across England and France, listening to CD’s in the car (a 30 year old Alfa Sud). There’s too much background noise to hear music properly but it gives you a good opportunity to re-acquaint yourself with old favourites. 2 discs stand out, David Wulfstan’s astonishing version of Spem in Alium, transposed up so that the 1st soprano part is in the stratosphere and Kent Nagano’s account of the first version of Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, complete with spoken text and all of the music for the play. Sumi Jo plays Zerbinetta and in this version the role is even more difficult than in the revised version, Jo copes with great aplomb and style.

Being as the trip to Strasbourg was a choral trip (with my regular choir, London Concord Singers), there was much eating and drinking involved. We spent Friday evening in conviviality with the rest of the choir, sitting by the river under a huge tree, drinking local wine.

Saturday was spent exploring Strasbourg, I’d been before so we did things like visiting the flea market (none of the fleas appealed) and looking at the astrological clock.

Rehearsal was at 6pm, but seemed to clash with a rehearsal for a Christening (I didn’t know you had to rehearse christenings, we didn’t do so in my day). Still, St. Thomas’s Church (Protestant) is a lovely space and the resonant acoustic was very generous. Though slightly smaller than the group who gave the programme at our London concert, we managed a fine account of the programme (Harant, Rihards Dubra, Saint-Saens, Schicht, Vagn Holmboe, Kodaly, Gorecki, Bruckner, Marenzio). The church was full (we handed out over 150 programmes) and the audience very appreciative, particularly of the French pieces. Needless to say we all ended up sitting under a tree (a different one to Friday), by the river drinking local wine and eating croque monsieur.

Recent CD review

My review of the disc of Gavin Bryars's Laude has just appeared on Music Web internation, it is a lovely disc of some fascinatingly beautiful music.

Thursday 4 August 2005

Whilst I'm away ....

We start the long drive to Strasbourg tonight, so I'll be off line. Whilst I'm away Music and Vision will be publishing my review of the recent re-issue of the Barenboim Ring, in 5 parts, so do check the site.

Tuesday 2 August 2005

Strasbourg bound..

So, last night was the final rehearsal and on Friday, London Concord Singers will be travelling to Strasbourg for the weekend. We're doing 2 appearances. First St. Thomas's Church, 8.30pm on Saturday doing our Musical Tour of the EU programme, then mass at the Cathedral a 11.00am on Sunday. Final arrangements have been made, last minute hitches with my credit-card company over paying the choir's hotel bill have been sorted out so all we have to do is hope the weather is kind and that we have an audience!.

Monday 1 August 2005

News from Away

Whilst away for the weekend we were sans PC, sans email and sans internet, which is always rather refreshing if a little frustrating at times. At least I did remember to take some music paper with me and sketched out a group of motets without the aid of computer or piano. When writing music, I invariably fall back on using a piano or Finale software to try out sounds, melodies and harmonious. But it is always good to kick away the crutch and I was quite please at how quickly and easily I managed the musical sketches. I have only just started transcribing them, so will report back on how satisfactory they are.

We caught up on a couple of BBC Proms on the BBC 3 television channel. We can't get it at home, but my Dad has a Freeview box. I enjoy watching the odd concert, but am I the only person for whom the TV presentation does little to enhance the aural experience. I can manage to live with the odd bit of hyperactive camera-work, but I found the spoken contributions and instant reviews of what we'd just heard profoundly annoying. And I certainly don't want to hear interval interviews with the performers hot (and sweaty) from their triumph. Or is this just me being an old grouch.

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