Friday 19 April 2013

Courtauld Community Choir returns

Following on from the success of the Courtauld Community Choir's performance at one of the Courtauld Gallery Lates during the Peter Lely exhibition (see my article) the suggestion arose to organise another event during one of the evening events for the Picasso exhibition, Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901 (which runs until the 27 May 2013). Both singers and staff seemed to be enthusiastic, but quite what the choir should sing took longer to settle. Finally we assembled at 5pm on Thursday 17 April 2013 to rehearse Poulenc's Salve Regina for performance at 7pm in the gallery that evening. Arrangements for the choir's performance had become more complex owing to the great success of the Piccasso exhibition, so that all on-line tickets for the evening event had sold out before Easter and Courtauld Gallery staff were expecting a full house for our performance.

We met in a seminar room, smaller but more convenable that the lecture theatre we had met in for the November performance. There was a choir of 14, with two basses, two tenors, four altos and six sopranos, a mixture of Courtauld staff and singing friends, a mixture of familiar faces and new faces with people realising that they knew each other from another circumstance. Again we were conducted by Joseph Timmons, who started off by telling us that we had a lot of time to rehearse the piece, but a lot of work to do.

Indeed, it felt very different singing Poulenc's 1941 motet to the John Blow which we had performed before, but Joe kept a calm manner, seemingly with no worries and gave us much encouragement and enthusiasm. As a conductor, Joe is apt to come out with memorable phrases such as 'Imagine you hate me', or 'Go to where the heat is'. Poulenc's piece has its tricky corners and we needed all of our 80 minutes rehearsal to get things together. As we left, Joe stayed behind to rehearse his own performance of Reynaldo Hahn songs with  guitar accompaniment.

Security logistics meant that we had to be escorted round by a member of staff, and logistics necessitated leaving big bags in the seminar room (and consequently being escorted back after the performance). As anyone who knows the Courtauld Gallery and Institute, this of course involved a remarkable number of steps!

Our performance too place in one of the first floor rooms, to allow sufficient space for audience and choir. We sang in front of a large Guardi with a clutch of Tintoretto sketches nearby, but also an assemblage of large and rather serious 18th century men frowning down at us for singing music which was not only French, but verging on the frivolous and Roman Catholic to boot. Though one of my fellow singers thought that perhaps the 18th century gentlemen might have secretly enjoyed the performance.

We did indeed have a big, and enthusiastic audience. Inevitably the performance was not without incident but went off well and was very warmly received. Afterwards a number of people commented that it had been quite a short piece, and that we should have sung it twice. One unplanned for event was vibrations from the soprano's high notes setting of the alarms in the room - an inevitable problem when singing amidst a collection of such fine old pictures.

Elsewhere on this blog:

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