Monday, 15 February 2021

Reconnecting with the most treasured elements of their lives as choristers: the Gesualdo Six's Lent Sessions

The Gesualdo Six
The Gesualdo Six

Easter is early this year; Wednesday (17 February 2021) is Ash Wednesday and then Lent will be upon us, and to commemorate the season the Gesualdo Six are beginning their Lent Sessions. This online series builds on the group's Advent Sessions. Both Advent and Lent are seasons which look forward to something with building excitement, and composers have been inspired to write so much music. The Gesualdo Six will be drawing on English composers such as Byrd and Tallis and Continental composers for their performances. 

All the members of the Gesualdo Six (Owain Park, Guy James, Andrew Leslie Cooper,  Joseph Wicks, Josh Cooter, Michael Craddock, Sam Mitchell) have experience singing in church choirs, and the Lent Sessions will bring together the things that the singers have missed doing, psalms, hymns, plainchant and more. They see the Lent Sessions as being a way to reconnect with the most treasured things from their life as a chorister. The sessions will be including hymns, and Owain Park points out to me that as professional singers they don't get to do many hymns. Each online event will be something of a hybrid between a service and a recital, generally following liturgical associations so that the Ash Wednesday performance will include Byrd's setting of Psalm 51, Miserere Mei, Obrecht's Pace Domine and other such works which use the set texts for the day, plus appropriate chant.

Owain Park sings at the Tower of London and the choir participates in a couple of services each year in the lovely Norman chapel in the White Tower. One of these is a service for Ash Wednesday when they perform the hymn, Lord Jesus think on me, an old hymn which RVW adapted. Owain describes it as atmospheric, and the hymn will be in their Ash Wednesday performance.

The repertoire for each event is not fully fixed yet, they are researching the music as they go along. Partly this is so that they can react to the response to the performances, but partly because the project came together quite late thanks to the current restrictions. The Ash Wednesday performance was recorded at the Church of St Bartholemew the Great in the City of London, and all the performances will be that church. Everything is being done in-house, the ensemble has its own equipment which enables them to be able to offer promoters a live-stream of the concerts. And as for the ensemble's Advent Sessions, they do their own editing of the resulting films.

The ensemble understands that not everyone is able to afford to pay for access to the season of performances, so whilst the full series online will be £20, some elements will be released free. The performances will mark the important dates in the season, Ash Wednesday, the Sundays in Lent and Holy Week, each performance will include motets, hymns and plainchant.

Full details of the Gesualdo Six's Lent Sessions from the ensemble's website.

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