Category Archives: plymouth
Our next concert is overdue a mention here. Sunday March 17th at the Guildhall, Plymouth. Programme is one of french romantic music: Fauré’s Requiem and Gounod’s Messe Solennelle de Sainte Cécile.
The Fauré is of course very familiar: it’s a regular in any choral singer’s repertoire, and on the radio and in concert programmes for those who just listen. The Gounod is less familiar (it’s new to me) but a lovely piece. It’s also very, very simple, and really only calls for a single rehearsal to prepare it. Should be a good concert for readers within evening-out distance of Plymouth.
A tale of fail
There is a longer tale behind this concert, which I’ve been meaning to blog about for a long time. A bizarre and rather sorry tale that has evolved even since I first should have blogged. So here goes ….
The Gounod is a last-minute substitution. We should have been performing a newly-commissioned work alongside the Fauré. Indeed, I assume the choice of such a familiar work was not least to give us plenty of rehearsal time for something new and perhaps challenging.
It started about two years ago, when a competition for the commission was announced. This caught my interest: I’ve composed a few trivial little pieces, and writing something substantial has been a pipe-dream since my teens. So I spent a good chunk of the summer of 2011 planning a masterwork, selecting poems as text, and composing an entry for the competition. In addition to the creative process, that involved organisation and due diligence: for example, checking copyright on the poems I planned to set (and dropping one of them), and checking the orchestral requirements for the Fauré to minimise the additional resources my work would demand.
The submission date was early autumn of 2011. I submitted my entry, including three completed movements (13 minutes music) of eleven planned. I did it for my own pleasure, with no expectation of actually winning the commission – which had been widely advertised in mainstream music fora nationally and internationally. I’d have been surprised and delighted to get it, but also very happy to find myself singing someone else’s work. May the best man or woman win!
Instead I was surprised and disappointed by what happened. Not only was I unsuccessful, so was everyone else. The goalposts moved, and instead of awarding the commission to one of the 54 entries, they instead commissioned an up-and-coming composer on the basis of his having won prestigious national awards. That was late autumn of 2011, with nearly a year from then to complete the work (as per the original timetable), and it was on hearing the competition result that I had originally intended to go public in this blog.
Fast-forward to November last year and the work duly arrives. Followed by another change of plan and another disappointment: the powers that be consider this work unsuitable, and we’re not going to perform it. Nor even see it, so I can’t offer any comment on whether I’d like it and/or consider it suitable.
Hence the Gounod, a substitution dictated by practical considerations like availability of scores at short notice more than for musical reasons. A lovely piece, but what a disappointment – twice!
Our next concert is on Sunday, December 2nd at the Guildhall, Plymouth. The programme comprises Elgar’s The Music Makers, Poulenc’s Gloria, and Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens.
The Elgar is new to me. As with a number of Elgar’s works, he has selected a weak text, but woven rich, complex, ever-changing music around it. It benefits from our conductor’s relentless attention to detail, and I’ve much enjoyed rehearsing it.
The two shorter works are not totally new, though it’s also the first time I’ve performed in the Poulenc. This mid-20th-century setting of the Gloria ranges from starkly beautiful to cheerfully playful and (in contrast to the subtlety of the Elgar) is always full of bright colours. It too has been a pleasure to rehearse!
The characteristically-bombastic Parry is of course a lesser work than the others, but will nevertheless appeal to anyone who likes this kind of last-night-of-the-proms thing.
I’m happy to recommend this concert to readers within evening-out distance of Plymouth. If you intend to come, note that tickets are cheaper in advance than on the door!
Our next concert is next Sunday, March 25th, at the Guildhall, Plymouth.
I usually recommend our concerts with a degree of enthusiasm to match the programme. I’m sorry to say that in this case I can only recommend half of the concert. One lovely work that’s well worth coming for, another that … isn’t.
The work I can enthusiastically recommend is Andrew Carter’s Benedicite. This is my first encounter with Carter’s music, and it’s been a delight! The work sets childishly simple religious words and has a certain aura of the nursery. But musically speaking it’s the deceptive simplicity of Peter and the Wolf or the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, with a directness built on foundations that are sometimes far from simple. Indeed, the complexity of the rhythms make this rather challenging to sing, most notably where different performers’ rhythms cut across each other. But to hear it you’d think it was all very simple and effortless, even when that little “waltz” tune is really in 5/4! And it’s easy to overlook the naffness of the words when the music is so evocative as, for example, the brittle coldness of “snow and ice”.
Unfortunately the other work is the longer, and frankly makes the Victorian hymns we used to suffer in school assembly sound positively inspiring by contrast. Karl Jenkins is surely the archetypal product of a music “industry” that decided it wanted a genre to call “classical” by virtue of using classical forces, but over which it could exercise intellectual property rights. Jenkins’s muzak (a requiem) is so dreary as to make an hour in B&Q seem preferable: at least there one might be inspired to buy something to improve ones home. Where there is a flicker of interest it’s utterly derivative: the first movement is the most interesting, but that’s because it’s drawn from the Fauré – echos of which recur later. Elsewhere Jenkins even manages to dumb down Lloyd Webber’s Pie Jesu.
Given two such contrasting works, I leave it to those readers within evening-out distance of Plymouth to decide whether to read this as a recommendation.
Our next concert is Bach’s WeihnachtsOratorium, to be performed next Sunday, November 27th at the Guildhall, Plymouth.
This work will need no introduction to Bach fans. For others, this exciting music shows Bach at his most joyous and exuberant. It is the very music that claimed the crown of all the best tunes for the Lutherans after two centuries dominated by the Great Enemy. If you’re within evening-out distance of Plymouth, this’ll be a good evening out!
For the benefit of one of my readers who tells me he doesn’t know it, here’s a taster from amongst those available on youtube. Different performers venue and occasion of course, but same music.
A world premiere and a 150-year-old masterpiece, this Sunday (June 26th) at the Guildhall, Plymouth.
There’s nothing quite like Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle, a lovely and startlingly unique piece, and the main work in our forthcoming concert. Perhaps it takes a septuagenarian Old Master – as Rossini was in 1863 – to have the confidence to write something quite so cheekily uncharacteristic of its time. It certainly shows the complete mastery of a lifetime’s experience, together with an creative imagination undulled by age!
Also on the programme is a world premiere of Clive Jenkins’s Gaudeamus in Coro. This is a prelude and fugue with a difference: complex jazz-inspired rhythms make for another unique piece – and a challenging sing!
Anyone within evening-out distance of Plymouth may wish to note that tickets are cheaper in advance than on the door. Details at the choir website.
It’s time to give a mention to next week’s concert. Sunday April 10th at the Guildhall, Plymouth. We’re performing Haydn and Mozart. Haydn’s Creation Mass, along with Mozart’s great C Minor mass.
Of the two works, the Mozart is the one that really turns me on. This mass was left unfinished at his death, but what we have is an exciting and glorious work. To my mind, it leaves his better-known Requiem sounding almost dull by comparison. I expect an important reason for the Requiem’s popularity is that it’s not just one of Mozart’s great works, but also a safe and straightforward choice for anything more than a basic church choir, whereas the Mass is rather more challenging.
If you’re within evening-out distance of Plymouth, this concert should be worth seeing!
A week today (or rather yesterday, looking at the clock – Sunday 28th to be clear), we’re performing an autumn concert at the Guildhall, Plymouth. I understand tickets have sold well and they may no longer be easy to find, but if you can get one it should be fun.
On the programme are two medium-sized works. Rutter’s Magnificat is light, tuneful, very bubbly, yet good music and with a deeper, darker side: a Schubert for our times, though obviously a lot more modern, and quite a bit more challenging to perform.
Then the big crowd-puller: Orff’s Carmina Burana should need no introduction: no matter if you’re completely unmusical, you’re sure to have encountered something from it somewhere in an advert, soundtrack, sound effect, or something. A very big and very distinctive sound, a collection of extremely bawdy mediæval poems that’d get us onto the sex offenders register if performed in English, and lots of fun. It’s many years since I last sung in it, but I still have fond memories of my first time as a young student, when I was just discovering some of the concepts in it with a soprano from the same choir.
Our next concert is Saturday week, June 26th. This one is, unusually, at Plymouth Cathedral. The programme is something of a pot-pourri, with works ranging from Haydn through to Walton. Should be an enjoyable evening if you’re in the area.
Worth noting from this programme is Elgar’s choral song cycle From the Bavarian Highlands, which is something of a little gem. I’m not always the greatest Elgar fan, but this is lots of fun, and evocative of its subject. Lovely music for a summer evening.
For the benefit of readers within evening-out distance of Plymouth, it’s time to mention our next concert, which is on Sunday March 21st at the Guildhall. This one is strictly classical, and couples an old favourite with a lesser-known work. They are, respectively, Mozart’s Requiem and Haydn’s Maria Theresa Mass.
I’m enjoying both works in rehearsal, but principally (because it’s new to me) the Haydn. I’m sure it’ll be a good evening out for music lovers. See you there
Britten and Goodall, next Sunday (Nov. 22nd) at the Guildhall, Plymouth.
For our next concert, we’re rehearsing Britten’s St.Nicholas and Goodall’s Eternal Light, and much enjoying both of these lovely works. Should be well worthwhile for music lovers within evening-out distance of Plymouth.
The Goodall is a new work first performed in 2008, when the Rambert Dance Company used it as the score for a new ballet. They toured with their own small orchestra, but invited local choirs to join them in each tour venue. A subset of the Plymouth Philharmonic, including me, sang with them in Plymouth and hugely enjoyed it. This is a modern work that is neither the challenging avant-garde of much of the 20th century, nor the vacuous junk commonly pushed by the so-called “music business” under a “classical” label just because it involves traditional instruments.
It can perhaps best be described as a non-traditional requiem. Like the Brahms, it is a consolation for the living more than a rite for the dead. Like the Britten, it blends the Latin requiem with English poems, though the similarity ends there. It’s a rather lighter work than either of those, but it’s also new and genuinely different. And if it hasn’t gone stale with me after a full week of performances and a year, it must be good!
Britten needs no introduction, but St.Nicholas may be less familiar: it was new to me when we started rehearsing. It’s a cantata (for want of a better description) that puts together a bit of history and a bunch of legends – some dramatised, some just sung – into a life of St Nicholas. The title role – the only Principal – was written for Peter Pears, and both adult and youth choruses take different semi-dramatic roles. Quite strikingly in terms of story (given that he is the saint and the hero) Nicholas himself comes across as a rather obnoxious prig. But that doesn’t detract from music, which is vintage Britten: glorious, exciting, always fresh.
 Another modern English comparison is Rutter, who I respect as a composer of light music that is real music and not trivia. I’ve enjoyed singing his requiem and magnificat (the latter more than once), but I think the Goodall has more power than those to sustain my interest.