We have just enjoyed a busy weekend putting on our first-ever Epiphany concerts in Bristol and Salisbury! Both hometowns of group members, they were the perfect places to explore some exciting new repertoire for Epiphany alongside some more familiar favourites.
A very happy crew fuelling up with delicious vegetable soup and focaccia ahead of our rehearsal in Westbury-on-Trym.
As you can see, we were very generously looked after by Owain’s family in Bristol (including a gorgeous lasagna that I feel sure Joseph will remember with longing well into 2019) and we enjoyed a restful night before heading South East as a 3 car convoy to Salisbury. Stocked up with lunch and bag-fulls of tea, coffee and biscuits we entered the familiar Sarum St. Martin’s Church to see a glorious sunbeam illuming the incense from morning mass. We filmed a short video of a verse from Robert White’s ‘Christe, qui lux es et dies’ mid-rehearsal, in the most appropriate locus in which I have sung White’s bright homophony.
Memento nostri Domine
In gravi isto corpore,
Qui es defensor animae,
Adesto nobis Domine.
Remember us, O Lord,
Who bear the burden of this mortal form;
You who are the defender of the soul,
Be near us, O Lord.
The concert over, it was lovely to have a chance after both concerts to talk to our fans, followers and friends over mulled wine, nibbles and tea and coffee. Meeting with and hearing from our audiences has always been a big positive for the whole group. It lets us gauge and develop our craft from the perspective of the onlooker, many of them being musicians and performers themselves. I find that this to be very helpful as I find the nature of performance requires utter concentration, which can sometimes leave me with what I later discover to be a skewed perspective of elements like atmosphere and the passage of time. It was very pleasing to hear how many people had seen our Christmas videos, and to introduce and take pre-orders for our debut CD ‘English Motets’. It is due to be released on the 30th of March and includes Robert White’s ‘Christe, qui lux es et dies’ alongside some of our very favourite pieces.
Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that I was very excited for our first performances of ‘The Morning Star’ by Arvo Pärt on this tour. This we performed from the back of both churches as we processed through our concert’s narrative journey as 2 x 3 ‘wise’ men. ‘The Morning Star’ is a wonderful example of piece written in Pärt’s tintinabulli style, with voices sounding as tiny bell-chimes in a very sparse musical texture. It is the first piece by Arvo Pärt that the group has performed since working with the composer himself and the Holst Singers on his Passio. I certainly felt that that experience helped us to find the special sonority required in this much shorter work.
The programme was interspersed with Gregorian Mass Propers at Epiphany. While not the first time that we have used chant in concert, it provided a wonderful reminder of how effective it can be. We can use it as a way to introduce themes and also to maintain a reflective nature of the concert experience, while it also works as a musical ‘palette cleanser’, contrasting with the polyphony which we programme around it. Movement during chant passages enables us to experiment with different acoustics of the building without interfering with the flow of a concert and it provides individual singers short breaks in the programme. This can be a really important consideration, especially for concerts which lack natural intervals.
We shall be returning to the Bristol area as part of our Spring Tour on the 4th of April when we will be performing in All Saints Church in Clifton. I’m sure it won’t be too long until we return to Salisbury again either, especially after the fabulous dinner which the group enjoyed in the town following Sunday afternoon’s concert. All now safely back in London, we are looking forward to our next concert in Warwick on the 23rd of January, when we shall be performing a programme of Madrigals and Motets from Italy’s Golden Age in St. Mary’s Church at 7:30PM.