Saturday 26 July 2014

Genesis Sixteen – not just hanging out

Harry Christophers conducting Genesis Sixteen
Harry Christophers conducting Genesis Sixteen
This Saturday (19 July 2014) was The Sixteen's Sounds Sublime Festival – a daylong event showcasing the work of the Genesis Foundation involvement in the Sixteen's educational programme.

The Genesis Foundation was established in 2001 by John Studzinski and over the last 13 years has supported more than 100 young artists at the start of their careers. In collaboration with The Sixteen the foundation funds the Genesis Sixteen programme as well as commissioning compositions for the Genesis Sixteen choir to perform.

For the last three years this partnership has taken 22 young adults (aged 18-23) and moulded them into a professional choir. Over the year the singers attend two weeklong courses, and several weekends, during which they have tuition from conductors Harry Christophers and Eamonn Dougan. At the end of the final week the choir perform some of the work they have been exploring – this year at a lunchtime concert at St Martin in the Fields forming the central point of the Sounds Sublime Festival.

During the rest of the day past Genesis Sixteen members performed short concerts in St Martin's, and as pop-up events in the National Gallery. As part of the festival there were also several workshops for performers and teachers including a 'come and sing' taken by Dougan and the Fieri Consort (also ex-Genesis Sixteen).

I managed to catch the main concert (and its open rehearsal), as well as a few of the pop-up events, and some of the 'come and sing'.

The Genesis Sixteen concert included 'Five flower songs' by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) – the last of which 'Ballad of green broom' was touched upon in the open rehearsal where it was explained how the chorus singing 'green broom' was meant to invoke a guitar to accompany the song – hence the rolling of 'r's to mimic the sound of strumming.

During their recent foray into Polish music the Sixteen have recently recorded discovered (rediscovered) the music of Vincensius Bertholusius. Bertholusius was born in Murano in around 1550 but moved to Poland where he worked in the Polish court from 1595. From there he travelled to Denmark – and died in 1608 in Copenhagen. The work sung today was 'Osculatur me' a lovely cloud of renaissance motet that well worth listening to. The choir used lots of changes in dynamics to push it along and keep it interesting. In the rehearsal it was explained how the speed of the consonants can be used to alter the emotional impact of a work like this.

'Osculatur me' was paired with two other songs in praise of Mary: 'Salve regina' by Francis Poulenc (1899 -1963) and 'Gaude virgo' by Josquin des Prez (1450- 1521). The last choral piece was 'Kyrie from requiem' by Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880 -1968) – again a new composer to me. Pizzetti's use of individual vocal lines was striking – especially that of the lower parts. Clearly here was a composer who liked to make the most of all his singers – giving the altos some higher lines, and used lots of dynamic range for the group and individual lines.

Contained within this choral concert were several smaller groupings of five or six people which each sang a madrigal by the English 16th-17th century composers Thomas Weelkes (1576 -1623), William Byrd (1540-1623), and Michael East (1580–1648). This gave each the members of the ensemble a chance to show their individual voices and prepare us (possibly) for new groups that we may hope to see in the years to come.

Opera Bellas
Opera Bellas
Amongst the pop ups groups were The Temple Scholars who performed pieces from their upcoming tour including works by James MacMillan (1959) and 'Haec Dies' by Herbert Howells (1892-1983). Their blend of voices worked really well, despite (or perhaps because of) their differences in styles, producing a fine and expressive consort quality. Opera Bellas sang greatest hits of the opera including 'The Marriage of Figaro', 'Carmen' and 'Cosi fan tutte', underneath the portrait of Queen Charlotte, painted in 1789 by Sir Thomas Lawrence, who I am sure would have approved.

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