It’s that time again

The start of this week is an interesting period.  For just a few days, we MWC choristers can bask in the reflected glory of the recent concert, whilst also eagerly anticipating the start of rehearsals for the next concert.  It will not be long before the recent concert is past history, and the focus is very firmly on Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor.

My first judgement on any concert is how it sounds from my position in the middle of the front row.  It seemed that we had not committed any major errors.  So far, so good.  But it was also evident that there were a lot of terrific entries, bang on time and bang in tune, demanding the attention of the audience and heightening the spiritual charge of the music.

Secondly, Carlos declared it yet another fantastic concert by his favourite choir.  It is always good to have a satisfied conductor.

Then over drinks and nibbles so many audience members said that they enjoyed the concert immensely; that Bridget played exquisitely; that the Choir sang as well as ever, and that the soloists and the orchestra were an excellent match for the Choir.

So — it seems to have been a success from many points of view, and our warm glow of pride in a job well done is indeed justified.

And now — the Mozart Great Mass in C minor.  Another wonderfully inspiring piece of music.  It will be a privilege for us to sing this great music, especially under Carlos’ demanding yet appreciative direction.

Roll on Thursday!!

Do organists get dementia?

It may seem a strange question to ask – and a strange time to do so.

The whole Choir is in the midst of final preparations for an arduous and difficult concert, and this man goes on about organists and dementia.  What is he talking about?  Has he a touch of dementia himself?

Bear with me.

Yes, we should indeed be focusing on the music for the concert at this stage.  One week to go and just the orchestral rehearsal and the general rehearsal, and then we are on stage with a single opportunity to get everything right first time.  It’s a bit nerve-wracking.

Well, I was doing some practice yesterday, in between a few other things, but it seemed to me that some practice was top priority.  So the other things got left for the moment (who needs to insure and register a car, claim a refund on faulty mailed goods, do their tax return, weed the garden?) and the concert took over.

First Pergolesi.  There are some wonderful renditions on YouTube.  The one I chose had lots of gradual crescendos and diminuendos – very effective.  And great to sing along with, noting all Carlos’ markings, of course.

Then Vivaldi – the version I used was delightful with rich, sonorous soloists and a very responsive choir and orchestra.  Again, great for singing along with and re-winding every so often when what they did and what I did had not quite matched.

Then Bach.  I found a very ponderous version of “Wir setzen uns” sung by a Swedish choir.  Very slow, and ideal for singing along with.  Plenty of time to check the tuning of each note before moving on to the next one.  Perfect.

Job done.  And then – you know how YouTube suggests things it figures you might like to watch?  It did – a recording from Antwerp Cathedral of the same chorus but – played on a magnificent organ in a setting for organ by Widor.  Click here to watch it.

I’ll leave you to judge what you think of it, and perhaps more importantly what Bach may have thought if it.  Personally I think it does not quite fit the reflective mood of the original, which comes at a tragic moment in a complex narrative.

But what struck me most was the visuals.  There were some great shots of the organist.  What wonderful hand-eye – and foot – co-ordination!  There was no break, each hand continuously playing on one of the four manuals and moving seamlessly from one manual to another, the hands often crossing over each other; the feet working full-time to play the flowing bass line on the pedals; occasional snatches with one hand or the other to change the registration; and he still manages to find the time to turn the pages himself!  .

They say that hand-eye co-ordination activities – dancing, learning new sports and so-on are key to keeping the brain alert in old age.  Surely playing the organ is another such skill.

After seeing this, I reckon organists have a head start in the aging game.


Delight and disappointment

It is not often that I find myself humming music from a concert which I went to a week ago.  Mostly, the music I have experienced in the interim, either heard on the radio or sung for myself at Choir practice, takes over.

But last Friday proved to be an exception.  The Royal School of Church Music had held its annual conference here in Sydney and as its finale they put on a performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion in Sydney Town Hall.  Anne and I had mulled over going, decided against for a variety of reasons, and then were persuaded to go with friends.

The St Matthew Passion is never stunning or enjoyable.  The story it tells, of betrayal, mob rule, a cruel, agonizing death, and disruption amongst friends, hardly fits those adjectives.  But a good performance is deeply satisfying, both musically and emotionally.  And that is exactly what the RSCM delivered.

All the performers, choirs, soloists and orchestral players, were excellent.  The conductor, David Hill, co-ordinated and inspired everyone not only to produce beautiful music, but to tell the story in all its glory and its agony.  Sitting just two rows from the stage, we could see his movements and facial expressions as if we were ourselves performers, making for an unusual degree of involvement in the proceedings.

For me, listening to the Passion was enhanced by its being sung in English.  Occasional jarring of language which does not quite match the music is more than compensated for by being able to follow the narrative.  No doubt David Hill has taken that approach over from his predecessor as conductor of the Bach Choir in London, Sir David Wilcox, whose annual Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday performances of the Passion at the  Royal Festival Hall are the stuff of musical legend.

The Passion is such a rich work of art that something new strikes you every time you hear it.  For me, this time, one thing I had not noticed before was the contrast between the two arias with violin obbligato accompaniment.  One is smooth and lilting, with the violinist’s movements seeming to align gently along with the music.  The other is strident and angry, with the violinist’s bow arm in particular making rapid jagged movements, somehow emphasizing the extreme pain represented in the music.

There was perhaps one disappointment.  The Town Hall was barely half full.  Perhaps due to a lack of publicity the word had not got around,  Such a shame, as it was a performance to remember.  Maybe our Publicity Officer, Kerry, who seems to have secured us a full house again in a few weeks’ time, might like to help them get a fuller audience for their next production.

A trio of tenors

Singing the Pergolesi Magnificat brings back a trio of memories for me.

They are all associated with friends who sing tenor.  Good tenors, I have to say, like my best man of fifty years ago, Chris, whose choir, as you may have seen a couple of weeks ago, has just sung almost exactly the programme which M W Choir will perform in a few weeks time.

And then there is Richard, with whom I both worked and sang for a while.  The more we MWC men have sung the Sucepit Israel from the Magnificat, the more it rings bells in my mind.   The penny has finally dropped.  Richard persuaded me to join him in a concert of duets, including Sucepit Israel, as part of an Arts Festival in the village where we used to live.  I do not do solos – but somehow a set of duets seemed OK.  It turned out to be quite nerve-wracking, but we had more compliments than complaints, so it cannot have been too bad.

And then that reminded me of Mark – a most wonderful first tenor in the choir in Salisbury.  He lived in an out of the way village with no public transport and he did not drive, despite the fact that he made a living from developing night-vision goggles for the military.  I happened to pass his door on my way to Salisbury, so I willingly took him there and back every week.  When re-audition time came, another nerve-wracking episode, I figured that the conductor would have to treat me leniently as, were he to dispense with my services, he would also loose that excellent and scarce resource, a quality first tenor.

Oh yes – I have just realized that should be a quartet, not a trio.  My younger brother, David, showed no interest in music as a youngster – he was a consummate sportsman, both cricket and soccer.  But when he moved to Cardiff (Wales, not New South Wales) and then retired, he somehow found himself in a Male Voice Choir – as a first tenor, eventually singing the high solos.  The choir must be quite good as it is called on to entertain VIP visitors to international rugby matches at Cardiff Arms Park.

So – it is quite something for me, as a lowly baritone, to have been associated with four top tenors! Quite a quartet!

Vivaldi, Pergolesi and Bach

It was great to be back at Choir last night – singing is one thing I really miss when Anne and I are travelling.  And I was reminded last night just how lovely is the whole of Vivaldi’s Gloria – not just the rather hackneyed first movement, but the whole piece.  It is wonderful to both to sing and to listen to.

A curious co-incidence happened on our travels.  My best man of fifty years ago and I do not get together very often, but we managed it on this trip – a delightful lunch in a Georgian house within the precincts of Ely Cathedral.  Chris is a really good singer, a rare and valuable first tenor, unlike my middling baritone, and he has sung with a number of prestigious choirs in his time, including the City of Birmingham Choir under Simon Rattle.

Chris now sings with the Stamford Choral Society.  We always compare singing notes when we meet up and this time was no different.  I asked him what SCS were singing at the moment, and he replied that they were starting a summer break, but that they had had a concert the previous week.  So then I asked what they had sung.  The reply was the Vivaldi Gloria, the Pergolesi Magnificat and some Bach motets.  “Snap!” I retorted, especially when one of the motets turned out to be “Jesu, joy of man’s desiring.”

It would be good to have Chris join MWC for this next concert – I did invite him but, as he pointed out, he would hardly be home from one rehearsal before it was time to set off for the next!