Category Archives: plymouth

The Dream of Gerontius

For our next concert, the Plymouth Philharmonic Choir and Plymouth Symphony Orchestra join forces for a performance of Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, one of the biggest and most complex works in the concert repertoire.  We will be under the baton of the orchestra’s conductor Anne Kimber, and I’m much looking forward to it.

The performance is next Sunday, November 25th, at the Guildhall, Plymouth.  I think the work is sufficiently well known to need no introduction for music lovers, and I have no hesitation recommending it to readers in the area.

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Concert

Our next concert is a week tomorrow: Sunday July 1st at the Guildhall, Plymouth.  This concert presents three works, all of them new to me and one of them to all of us.  Overall an exciting programme of some lovely works, and firmly recommended to those readers within evening-out distance of Plymouth.

The least-novel and least-exciting work is Mendelssohn’s Hymn of Praise.  This is in a similar idiom to his much more famous oratorio Elijah, though less bloodthirsty (and less of an actual story).  The music is similarly lovely, and if you enjoy Elijah you’ll like this.  However, it’s not so well-written for singers, and is physically exhausting.

Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, Coleridge-Taylor’s setting of Longfellow’s epic poem, is a middling-level bucket-list work for me to sing in, and I’m thrilled to be doing it now.  This is a long poem in trochaic tetrameter, which has always seemed to me fiendishly difficult to set to music.  And though you couldn’t call the Ode to Joy in Beethoven’s 9th symphony boring, it is undoubtedly very four-square, pushed into that mould by the shoehorn of a rhythmically-similar but much shorter poem.  Yet there’s no hint of that in this piece: it flows effortlessly.  That Coleridge-Taylor’s creative imagination with such a rhythm outshines mine is of course unremarkable, but that he should do the same to Beethoven is indeed impressive!

Tonally it’s also interesting.  Premiered in 1898, it’s on the cusp of the 20th century.  There’s no hint of C20 dissonance, but the tonality is constantly on the move, and seems to me to carry hints of what was to come, both in the English Pastoral and the Verismo movements.  If you enjoy the gorgeous-yet-dramatic harmonic language of a Puccini opera or a Vaughan-Williams symphony, this foreshadows them both.

Finally, Bob Chilcott’s Dances of Time.  Published only in 2015, I had never heard of this until scores were handed out.  These five songs are pure pleasure.  And if you ever thought modern music can’t be easy both to sing and to listen to without being trite “crossover”, this is a perfect counterexample: gorgeous yet always fresh.  Though having said that, I think the virtue of brevity is essential to its appeal: it’s the perfect length for what it is.

Monteverdi Vespers

Our next concert is the Monteverdi Vespers, on Nov. 26th at the Guildhall, Plymouth.  This work, untypical of its own time as well as our own, makes an interesting change from our usual repertoire.  Simple individual lines and harmonies rooted firmly in renaissance polyphony, yet with complex (and sometimes fiendish to hold) interweaving textures, and a level of both vocal and orchestral flourishes and ornamentation that makes it arguably the first major work of the Baroque era.

I’m glad to be singing it, and I think it’ll be a good evening out for those in or near Plymouth.  Hope to see some of my readers there!

The Great B Minor

This Sunday, May 21st, we’re performing Bach’s B Minor Mass at the Guildhall, Plymouth.  This work needs no introduction, and I have no hesitation recommending it for readers who enjoy music and are within evening-out distance of Plymouth.

Tickets are cheaper in advance than on the door, so you might want to visit your favourite regular ticket vendor or google for online sales.

Minor curiosity: the edition we’re using was edited by Arthur Sullivan.  Yes, he of G&S, and an entirely different era and genre of music!   It’s also the Novello edition used in most performances in Britain.

Summer Concert

We have a summer concert coming up next Sunday (July 3rd) at the Guildhall, Plymouth.

This is a predominantly lightweight programme of modern music: some short pieces and two medium-length works.  As we started rehearsing, I thought that a set of madrigals, or even Beatles arrangements, would fit the programme nicely, though neither is included.

The two more substantial works are Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna and Rutter’s Feel the Spirit.  I can recommend both these works as well worth coming to hear.

Lauridsen is new to me.  My first reaction to the score of Lux Aeterna was, nice to do once, but nothing to write home about.  If theme and variations is a classical form, this could be kind-of described as chord and variations.  Since then it’s been growing on me: this is an interesting work (and I hope it’ll be wonderful to listen to), and some of what I first thought weaknesses actually do work and make sense as effects.  The text is Latin and religious, the orchestration sparing, the setting contemplative, and it comes as no surprise to find Lauridsen is contemporary with Tavener and Pärt.  The music also hints at older choral traditions, from plainchant to (possibly) eastern orthodox, though I’m not really competent to judge such things.

The Rutter is a set of seven well-known negro spirituals.  Like Tippett’s settings, these are for classical forces.  But compared to Tippett this is lighter, more playful.  Glorious tunes and lots of fun, and full of characteristic Rutter syncopations and cheeky modulations.  You’ll be whistling those tunes as you go home, but they’ll catch you out!

Passiontide

Our next concert in Plymouth is Bach’s St John’s Passion.  That’s at the Guildhall on Sunday, March 20th, and I have no hesitation recommending this wonderful work to readers in the area.

Having said that, there is one thing wrong.  We’re to perform in English using the new Novello edition.  It’s a new translation, and in a couple of places the words are a very poor fit to the music.  It comes with some bullshit about aiming to sound like the original German, so for example we’d have similar vowel sounds and hence vocal colour on important notes.  That’s pure nonsense: it does no such thing.  Furthermore, it’s not really a new translation: in places it’s identical to the old, and in others it’s much closer to the old translation than either is to the German text.  I can only conclude that the sole reason for the “new” translation is to assert copyright on a score that would otherwise soon be out of it.  Which begs the question: who are the bigger cultural vandals: ISIS or Novello?

Also on the subject of seasonal music, I sang in another easter concert yesterday.  I didn’t blog about it because I was recruited for it at the last moment, and wasn’t clear on the details in advance.  The easter music included Stainer’s Crucifixion and Vaughan Williams’s five mystical songs.  A nice little event in a nice village church.

Concert

Our next concert is Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah, which we’re performing at the Guildhall, Plymouth on Sunday, December 6th.

This work tells the biblical story of the prophet Elijah, a tale of extreme violence, opening with a genocide and featuring a classic massacre in the middle, as well as a euphemistically-violent ending.  Elijah himself is surely the greatest of all role models for, among others, the bloodiest of modern Islamic terrorists  (indeed, everything we know about Bin Laden echoes Elijah’s story).  For added cognitive dissonance, the bloody tales are interlaced with gentle and serene proclamations of God’s goodness and boundless mercy: war was peace long before Orwell and Newspeak!

As for the music, Mendelssohn was of course one of the master tunesmiths of all time.  There’s a lot that’s lovely, scenes that are quite exciting, and a fair few tunes that listeners will find familiar.  Set for soloists, a substantial chorus and middling-sized orchestra.  I think I can recommend it to readers within evening-out distance of Plymouth.

Light Show

The new bridge across the estuary has re-opened.  And being our northern-hemisphere season of gloom, I first crossed it in darkness.

I should explain.  This new bridge was once a railway bridge, and has now been resurrected for cyclists and pedestrians.  It’s just north of Laira Bridge, a busy main road bridge and the lowest crossing point on the Plym estuary: both bridges were built where the estuary narrows somewhat.  The new bridge opened about six months ago in the season of daylight, but then closed a couple of months later for further works on the Eastern end.

I had thought they were extending that along course of the old railway as far as the Plymstock bypass, which would’ve saved me as a cyclist from having to move out into the right hand lane of the dual carriageway to turn right off it – in both directions.  But no, they built a new bridge across The Ride (a road), but then it goes no further: a fence blocks off the line of the track.  Before the works, access to the bridge was from The Ride.  Now, after them, access is still from The Ride.  Since The Ride is neither big nor busy, there’s no advantage to being able to come down on the far side.

Anyway, coming to it at night, I see it’s all lit up.  Not as in regular streetlights, but on the outside.  A show of coloured lights that move gradually through the spectrum like a screensaver.  There is a view from the approach, although it comes out better on camera from the Saltram side – as I discovered the following evening when I returned on foot with the ‘phone to take some snaps.

saltram-viewThat actually looks more impressive in the picture than in real life, where viewpoints like this one are few and far between.  The best view other than from on the water (or mudflats at low tide) must be from the road bridge, where its effect is sadly lessened by traffic and street lighting.

But all those coloured lights are on the outside of the bridge, and so scarcely visible from on the bridge itself, where strips of harsh (tending to painful) white LED lights dominate.  Especially where the bridge is straight.  The ‘photos actually look rather better than the reality:

bridge-1bridge-2bridge-3

Concert

Our next concert is next Sunday (July 5th), when we’re performing Händel’s Israel in Egypt at the Guildhall, Plymouth.

This is a mature, full-length oratorio on a biblical theme. In parts it is similar to the more famous Messiah (and a few numbers are musically very similar between the two works). In other respects it’s different, and one fundamental difference is that this work uses full antiphonal double chorus. We’ll be split across right/left sides of the stage to deliver the effect.

The subject matter is truly biblical. None of the cuddly, merciful God of Constantine (let alone the modern Church of England), but a vindictive warmonger to make the Islamic State look like a holiday camp. This God doesn’t just indulge in holocaust-scale genocide, he glories in it. Much of the music is correspondingly dark, though there are also some gorgeous interludes.

Also of musical/historic interest, this is a very old edition we’re using. In fact the editor was no less than Felix Mendelssohn. Though better-known as a great composer in his own right, Mendelssohn was right in the vanguard of the revival of the Baroque, so this score is living history!

If you like oratorio, you’ll enjoy this concert.

Verdi Requiem

A week today – Sunday March 22nd – we’re performing the Verdi Requiem at the Guildhall, Plymouth.

This is of course a big work, often described as operatic.  It is deservedly one of the most popular in the choral-orchestral repertoire, and ideally suited to a big orchestra and chorus such as the Plymouth Philharmonic.  Even the non-musical will surely have encountered highlights of it, notably the Dies Irae which is an archetype for terrifying music.  Yet despite all that it’s an easy sing, and – not least – we basses get more than our usual share of the best lines!

This is one of those concerts that is going to be tremendously exciting for performers and audience alike, and I have no hesitation recommending it to readers within evening-out distance of Plymouth.