Guy James reflects on our first concerts in the North of England, CD recording and performance at the SJSS Holy Week Festival 2017.
An early start heralded the beginning of our Spring projects, with me meeting Owain, Joseph, and the familiar rented 7-seater just outside Cambridge on Sunday morning. Engineering works on the Great Western Railway, a hasty U-turn and three hours of driving later saw more of us than we were expecting arriving together in the car in Monmouth for a concert as part of Wye Valley Music’s 2016/17 season. Our programme spanned the whole range of our repertoire, featuring several pieces that would be recorded later in the week! The church and Monmouthshire were stunning and we really enjoyed performing there and seeing some familiar faces in the audience, many of whom had travelled down from Herefordshire. Being one of the members of the group who suffers from standing at a normal height, I then found myself in the familiar position of being pressed up against Josh and our luggage in the back of the car for the drive back to Cambridge to begin our much-anticipated recording in the beautifully sunny Trinity College.
We were very happy to be recording some of our very favourite repertoire, that of the English Renaissance Masters. The whole group have grown up singing and loving the works of such composers as William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, John Sheppard and Orlando Gibbons and it was a real privilege to be able to work intensely on their music with Adrian Peacock and David Hinitt in Trinity College Chapel where we gave our first concert over three years ago. This work completed we headed off to further our first ever Spring Tour with a concert in Kingston Parish Church on one of the most beautiful days of the year, preceded by tea and croquet kindly provided by our very generous hosts.
The following days saw our tour continue, for the first time headed northwards! One of several highlights for me included working with the brilliant Blackburn Cathedral choristers on Allegri’s Miserere as part of a concert featuring highlights from our tour repertoire. The cathedral is a wonderful modern building, perfect for some of our more ethereal pieces and I particularly enjoyed performing Lukaszewski’s Recessit Pastor Noster alongside two of Bach’s Passiontide Chorales in the warm acoustic. The next day brought a further personal highlight, a day in Bolton alongside the energetic and inspiring Bolton Music Service, enjoying performances by many local amateur choirs and ensembles before a workshop with the gathered company and a short performance by ourselves. It was marvellous to see local live music making in such rude health and to see so many people brought together by music and performance supporting each other. Long may this ethos and such friendships flourish.
The next week we concluded our spring projects with a return to St John’s Smith Square for their inaugural Holy Week Festival alongside Tenebrae and several of our other favourite artists. Our concert featured several modern pieces including the London Premiere of Owain Park’s Sequence: ‘In Parenthesis’. Requiring the unusual forces of 5 voices and a narrator I have had the opportunity to listen to this piece several times in churches across England and it has quickly become one of my favourite pieces in our repertoire. It was a perfect conclusion to our spring projects to hear it performed in London for the first time alongside Thomas Tallis’s Lamentations of Jeremiah in a very moving exploration of loss and lament for Holy Week.
Josh Cooter writes about Arvo Pärt’s Passio
We were incredibly honoured to be asked to continue our connection with St John’s Smith Square to perform Arvo Part’s ‘Passio’ in the opening concert of London’s International A Cappella Choral Competition on the 25th June. We were thrilled that the composer himself was able to attend to see us perform the parts of Jesus, Pilate and the Evangelist quartet, with Owain conducting the soloists and instrumentalists alongside Stephen Layton and the Holst Singers in this remarkable setting of the Passion story. It truly was a very special evening for all involved!
Alexander Chance on our performance at Raynham Hall
Early in June we made a trip past Cambridge on to King’s Lynn, and thence into the depths of the gorgeous sun-soaked Norfolk countryside, to Raynham Hall. This is the home of Lord and Lady Townshend, who host an annual summer concert series in its stunning marble Great Hall. We had been invited to perform by the series’ musical advisor, Michael Chance.
After a delicious lunch, we had a chance to test and delight in the concert hall’s marvellous acoustic for several hours, before our important pre-concert ritual of garden cricket, featuring, in a testament to the depths of the Townshends’ cupboards, the rare luxury of actual stumps and bails.
The concert programme itself seemed a fitting one for a sultry May evening – Italian madrigals by Monteverdi and Gesualdo, as well as lesser-known but equally joyous works by their contemporaries Gastoldi, Anerio and Giovanelli. We sang to a greatly appreciative audience, who had travelled from all corners of this glorious and often under-visited county (where I lived with my family for ten years); the packed room did nothing to dampen the acoustic. We are immensely grateful to the Townshends for hosting us so warmly and generously, and we hope to return in the future.