Few things invite mockery more than the image of a self-employed twentysomething sitting in an independent (sorry, artisanal) coffee shop in central London in the middle of the day, poached-eggs with avocado on toast at the ready, writing a blog post. This is me today...
Last weekend provided me with both fresh and revived experiences, spanning an eclectic range of music and company. In my previous post, I mentioned a concert for Remembrance, available to listen to here, in King's College, Cambridge with Stephen Cleobury and the BBC Singers. Having spent 3 years as a choral scholar under the scarcely-believable ceiling of this Gothic masterpiece, my heart is bound up in the building, and the rich musical tradition that is preserved within. The feeling upon my return was a far cry from the sinking one I once felt for a dark, cold Tuesday evensong that loomed large at the end of a day of bodged harmony & counterpoint exercises, stuttering supervisions and irregular essay-writers block. I was bouncing around the sun-bathed quads on Friday with an enthusiasm that had some of my colleagues wondering if I had been served something questionable in the College cafe. I had actually been in a heightened state of emotion all week rehearsing Parry's Songs of Farewell and Durufle's Requiem, two works that, for different reasons, drag me through the highs and lows of my own experiences, leaving very little unsuppressed.
It is the last of Parry's songs, Lord, let me know mine end, that has me in knots. Written as his own health deteriorated, the sense of personal turmoil is evident from the very beginning; the peculiar sonority of the opening first-inversion chord creating a turbulent instability that continues as the tonal centre remains ambiguous in the opening antiphonal exchanges. With the luxury of seven basses beneath the darkened perpendicular vault, this created a poignant atmosphere that held until the silence following the final phrase. Parry explores a variety of morbid emotions within the piece, paying close attention to the text as he does so; the violent cross-rhythmic imitation that characterises 'Take thy plague away from me, for I am even consumed by means of thy heavy hand' whips up a frenetic sense of arm-flailing despair that I can connect with on a deeply personal level having suffered (and, I should add, subsequently recovered) from the savage side-effects of chemotherapy last year.
Durufle's Requiem was introduced to me by my former Director of Music, John Scott, who died suddenly in August 2015. It was in a rehearsal for a similar concert at St Thomas Fifth Avenue in 2009 where John brought the visceral power of this piece to life, in a way that communicated not only his intense commitment & exacting standards but also his boyish delight in the music. Seemingly perturbed by the organ registration on the chord that precedes the choir entry at the day of judgement in the Libera me, John wouldn't let the rehearsal move on until he was satisfied with what he described as a 'suitably filthy racket'. He would have been blown over by the BBC Concert Orchestra's apocalyptic rendition of the corresponding moment in Friday's concert.
Sunday took me south to Lewes, Sussex, for a concert to support Nepalese students from impoverished backgrounds to train as doctors and nurses, who then return to serve their isolated mountain communities. I was delighted to be taking part in this, having witnessed these infrastructural issues in Nepal first-hand as a clueless 19-year-old, masquerading as an English teacher in the foothills of the Annapurna Range. My involvement was small, performing a short set of operatic arias and Songs with the excellent Ashley Beauchamp, who defied frostbite in the Himalayan conditions of the church to cover everything beautifully without dropping a stitch. We were treated to a masterclass in Baroque chamber music by Piers Adams, who, with his ensemble of Julia Bishop (Violin), Annette Isserlis (Viola) and Nicholas Houghton (Harpsichord), played with astonishing virtuosity and boundless character. Resplendent in leather jacket and tie-dyed shirt, while bopping to the dance-rhythms of Telemann's Recorder Suite in G minor, it's almost impossible to contemplate a slicker artist than Piers; a pleasure to have witnessed it as a fellow performer and an exceptionally generous gift to the charity, Doctors for Nepal.
Onwards to Christmas; everything gets a little hectic as the daylight decreases, starting with performances of Mendelssohn's Elijah and Haydn's Creation this weekend (25/26 Nov respectively). Quieter hours in which to write will almost certainly be spent watching the Ashes, so online updates might be limited!