Back to Bach

It was a bit of a coming down to earth last night.

Sunday’s wonderful concert had been euphoric.  We had sang to great acclaim.  We had sung gustily, majoring in style, bravura and panache.  The audience loved it – and so did we.

And then last night we began to study and sing JS Bach’s Magnificat, a work of intricate polyphony by a master of the art, many would say THE master of the art.  We were all at sixes and sevens.

It was down to earth with a massive thud.

And yet – in a few weeks’ time we will be wondering what all the fuss was about.   After some hard-working rehearsals, supplemented of course by study of the score with the practice CDs and the Dropbox based practice material at home, we will be singing the work of this great master with consummate ease and great confidence.

Carlos made two great observations last night.  He talked about the last concert being one adventure, and the forthcoming concert as another.  Adventures often start hesitatingly – who was it said that the most difficult step on a journey is the first? But then there is a huge sense of achievement when the mission of the adventure is accomplished.  And by the end of last night’s rehearsal we were already beginning to get to grips with the first two choruses, a sign of good things to come.

Carlos also said that we have to “change channels” from the last adventure to this one – from a channel embodying style and panache to one based on precision and perfection.  Again, we could feel that last night as we wound our way around the tricky runs and modulating keys of those first two choruses.

On a personal note, it was great to see some “old” faces again last night; and to catch up with people who for various reasons had dropped out of the Choir for the last concert.  It was also good to welcome some prospective new members – we hope that they get as much enjoyment out of singing with us as we “old-timers” do.

I think that’s it for this week, apart from apologising for the corny title.  I could not think of anything better – sorry!


An astonishing concert.

It is hard to know what to write about the Choir’s hugely successful concert yesterday afternoon at the Chapel.  After all the difficulties encountered during the preceding week, it was astonishing how everything came together to produce a concert which was evidently enjoyed enormously by the audience, and gave us in the Choir a huge sense of satisfaction.

Credit is due to many people for this success.

Firstly, to the orchestra, and especially to our wonderful Concertmaster, Catrina Hughes, for their stylish and graceful playing of the Serenade for Strings and the Schubert Mass.

Secondly, out two soloists were spot on, Ryan singing both tenor and bass solos with dignity and aplomb, and Naomi, standing in at very short notice for a voice-less Anita, thrilling us all with the warm tones of her beautiful voice.

It was a real coup to have Los Inkas join us, as they gave Misa Criolla a real sense of authenticity both musically and visually, in addition to adding some unexpected but very effective spontenaity from time to time.

Then we have to acknowledge Bethany’s tireless work at the piano both for the performance and in the extended rehearsal programme, sensing precisely when we needed support and when we could be left to our own devices.

And last, but by no means least, we salute the man who stands where the buck stops, our Conductor, Carlos.  He has been amazing once again in melding together musicians of all abilities, styles and levels of experience, to create an artistic event worthy of the highest praise.  And this time he has not only masterminded the whole concert ensemble, he has not only conducted us: he has not only accompanied us on the guitar, but he also sang very beautifully two of the solo parts.  He is a man of outstanding talent and character, and we cannot remind ourselves too often how fortunate we are to have him as our Conductor.

Tempting as it would be to rest on our laurels, we have to start preparing for the December concert next Thursday.  It will be very different – Bach, Handel and Christmas carols.

But then variety is the spice of life.


Magic in Darwin

ABC Classic FM reported the other day that the Australian city with the highest per capita attendance at classical music events is none other than that remote territorial outpost which many Australians have never visited, Darwin.  Then what a co-incidence when an article arrived in my in-box from Naomi – about classical music in Darwin.  It makes for delightful reading.

With two remarkably sweet grandkids in Darwin we go up there regularly and frequently.  I go for the family, of course, but have come to love the glorious sunsets, fish and chips on the beach, the relaxed, informal ambiance, the opportunity to escape Sydney’s cold weather (but then it is so hot, I am always happy to return).  I certainly do not go there expecting to hear any form of classical music.  So I was surprised when Michael, my son, greeted me with the news that on Saturday the Darwin Symphony Orchestra would be playing at the Convention Centre, in a program that included Shostakovich – one of my favourite composers.  John is not a Shostakovich fan and had the option of staying with the kids but even he could not resist the allure of Shostakovich in Darwin! 

And what a program! Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances, A piece called ‘Wolf Totem’ by Tan Dun of the film ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’ fame and after the interval another Borodin piece, ‘In the Steppes of Central Asia’ and to cap it all, Shostakovich’s ninth Symphony.  You could not wish for a more satisfying, coherent yet varied and balanced program.  My mind was racing with the images of galloping horses, marching armies, the ecstasies of victory, the agony of defeat.  Loud, boisterous, full orchestra outbursts, followed by sweet, soft flute melodies.  All this performed by an amateur, unpaid orchestra, conducted by its dynamic, Darwin-resident artistic director, Matthew Wood and performed in the elegant, acoustically pleasing Darwin Convention Centre. 

Was going to a concert in the Darwin Convention Centre different to going to the Sydney Opera House?  Yes, it was.  Getting there and parking was more relaxed.  I wondered whether people would show up in thongs and stubbies, the regular Darwin attire, but saw none.  The audience was as elegant and appreciative as it is here.  There were some quaint touches: one violist plays with my son in the ‘Anula Primary School Dads’ Band’; the piccolo player doubles up as my granddaughter’s piano teacher.  The resident tuba player was sick and replaced by Russell Torrance, my favourite ABC Classic FM presenter.  And the cello section leader was wearing shining, bright red stilettos.  And as if to complement her shoes, the black covered music was framed with matching red background.  They didn’t only sound great.  They looked great too.  A truly enjoyable, albeit unexpected, evening.


A great night’s music

What a great rehearsal last night!

Somehow all the hard work put in over the past however many weeks came good.  The contrasting pieces all came together into a fabulous evening’s music making.  The Schubert sounded graceful; the Ramirez was lively and engaging, and the songs were great fun to sing with all the contrary rhythms competing with each other.

Some concerts come together gradually.  This one has struggled over the past few weeks so it was especially gratifying last night when everything seemed to suddenly come together as if by magic.

Of course we all know that if there is any magic, it comes from Carlos, ably assisted by Bethany.  Bethany has been a wonderful accompanist for us, and we owe her a huge “Thank you” for her support this session.  And we owe, as always, a huge “Thank you” to Carlos for sharing his consummate musicianship with us during rehearsals.  We are very privileged to have a musician of his calibre as our conductor.

And part of last night’s magic was having the orchestra and the instrumentalists, Los Incas, with us for the first time.  The Ramirez in particular sounded so good with their backing.

So we are well set for another great performance on Sunday.

The Magic of Monteverdi

I hesitate to say it, but it was all Anne’s fault.  I had set aside Tuesday evening to go through the Schubert and Ramirez, not to mention the South American songs, so as to be fully on top of them for last evening’s rehearsal.  Then Anne switched on ABC Classic FM.  It was impossible to do anything other than list to the sublime music which poured forth for two hours, non-stop and without an interval.  Hence a few slip-ups last night, such as forgetting to sing the bass entry at the end of Anitia’s first solo!

The music was the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610, performed by Pygmalion, a French ensemble of just 42 voices including soloists, recorded in the Royal Albert Hall in London as one of this year’s Proms.

It was stunning!  The music is sublime, full of movement and contrast.  One moment it is quietly devotional, the next moment it is loud and declamatory.  There are solo items and plainchant, single choir and double choir sections, rich polyphony and intricate counterpoint, all accompanied by an ensemble which can at times be merely supportive, and at times full of show-stopping bravado.

Anne had heard the trailer for the concert earlier in the day, in which the background of the music and the setting for the performance were described.  It sounded intriguing.  This was apparently a piece designed to show off all Monteverdi’s skills to potential patrons at a time when he wanted to move from a provincial town to a prestigious city where his true ambitions could be realised.  And the performance in the RAH was to use the huge oval space to best effect, with singers placed both on the stage and around the high-level gallery.  All with a modest size of choir and a conductor who is no more than 32 years old!

Well, as I said above, it was stunning.  The singing was superb – technically faultless and full of colour, light and shade.  And somehow it was apparent when a section was being sung from up in the gallery – don’t ask me how the BBC sound engineers managed to record it so, but they did.

Strange to relate, I then found a copy of the score in my bookcase, all marked up as though I had sung it myself.  I have no recollection of the event.  It must have been around thirty years ago when I sang with the Salisbury Music Society, but they have recently done away with their interesting and informative website and settled on a rather sparse Facebook presence; in doing so the archive of past performances has disappeared, so I am none the wiser.

How can I have possibly have sung such wonderful music and not have remembered it?  I am at a loss.  But all is not lost.  On Friday September 15th at 11am and at 7pm, it is to be performed by St Mary’s Cathedral Choir and the Song Company in St Mary’s Cathedral.

It could be well worth making the trip across the Harbour for such an event!

Click here for more information about the performances on September 15th.