Remembrance, Brahms & Squirrelgate

November 15, 2017

Four years have passed since I last committed any extended thoughts to paper (paper?!) in the public domain; a stint as Sport Editor of the student newspaper briefly threatening to derail my already fragile undergraduate degree. At the time it seemed an attractive career choice, the idea of bouncing between various sports venues shooting my mouth off; however just days into an 8-month round-the-world trip, I was missing singing more than I could have ever imagined. This, coupled with a diffidence to express any opinions or feelings in a social-media centric world increasingly devoid of context and dependent on the human desire for instant gratification, led me away from journalism and into the equally Darwinian environs of freelance music. By writing occasionally here, I mean only to open a window into my experiences beyond where and when I'm going to be singing next.


It was with some wistfulness that I sat in a hotel room in Herne, Germany last weekend to see that my colleagues in Westminster Cathedral Choir were marking Remembrance Sunday with two of my favourite pieces of Brahms; Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen and Geistliches Lied. One of my pals poked Facebook-fun at me for delighting in the fastidiously-composed counterpoint in the latter (for interested parties, an immaculate double-canon at the ninth for the most part), likening my appreciation of the soaring final Amen to an Alan Partridge monologue; a light-hearted jibe, but one that has left me concerned that my prose draws comparison to his most recent publication, Nomad. Any reader who wishes to reassure me is welcome to do so...!


At this time of year, Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem is never far from the top of my iPod playlist, and during a period of downtime on tour my attention was drawn to a particularly beguiling bootleg recording of the 5th movement, performed in the English translation by St Paul's Cathedral Choir in 1977 under Barry Rose. The treble soloist on the recording, available on Youtube here, is Robert Eaton, who was tragically killed 24 years later in the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. The images that accompany the recording add a haunting quality to Robert Eaton's beautiful voice; while a cathedral chorister may not be able to convey the same depth of pathos as an emotionally mature, trained soprano soloist, this recording elicited an emotional response in me that is alien to my YouTube procrastinations (usually reserved exclusively for Pakistani fast-bowling montages and the greatest rants of Malcolm Tucker), and matched only in my memory by Elizabeth Watts' performance at the Three Choirs Festival in 2011. Somewhere in a cabinet at St Paul's Cathedral School, my name is engraved on a football trophy donated by his family in Robert's honour. They have continued to commemorate his life by setting up this foundation, that raises money to promote the societal benefits of playing football in underprivileged Latino communities in New York City.


Talk of remembrance music brings me to this week, and a particularly special concert in King's College Chapel, Cambridge. It's been an enormous pleasure to be re-united with my former Director of Music, Stephen Cleobury, for this programme with the BBC Singers. Stephen's appetite for hard-work is inspiring, and his approach to Durufle's Requiem and Parry's exquisite Songs of Farewell has allowed us to transcend the soporific surrounds of Maida Vale Studios, with their lack of natural light, early winter chill and canteen squirrel infestation. We are joined by the BBC Concert Orchestra in Henry Wood Hall tomorrow before heading to King's for the concert on Friday. I'll spend the best part of the morning catching up with friends before throwing everything I've got at the concert. Thank goodness I have a day off on Saturday! 




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