What I’m thinking and what I’m doing.
When I’m learning a big new piece of music, I listen to it obsessively, so that the whole sense of it sinks into my subconscious. I can’t play the piano beyond picking out chords so slowly that by the time I’ve found the next one, I’ve forgotten what the progression sounded like, so I rely on recordings to get the bigger picture, and to have something to sing along to when I’m practising really hard bits. Sometimes, I can think I have my part perfectly sorted, only to discover at choir practice that there’s something going on elsewhere to throw me off course, or, equally dangerous, that another part has something so amazing that I get distracted by listening to them. Read more
Last week I listened to Elgar’s first symphony, as performed by the Berlin Staatskapelle and Daniel Barenboim at the BBC. There had been a lot of chatter on my Twitter feed about this performance, and about how Elgar is undeservedly underrated as a composer of European symphonies, so I thought I’d better try conquering my own prejudices and give it another go. I hadn’t heard it since attending a performance by the local symphony orchestra in Krasnoyarsk during my Siberian exile in 1993 – so much for all the people who say that Elgar isn’t performed enough outside Britain, although it was probably the overwhelming homesickness that it induced on that occasion that helped to cement my own preconceptions about Elgar’s Englishness. Anyway, I tried. I heard what was clearly an excellent performance, and I completely grasped what everyone said about Elgar’s abilities as a symphonist, but I still didn’t enjoy it much, and I spent the rest of the day feeling a bit grumpy and guilty about this.
A couple of weeks ago, we had our first taste at working on the Vespers with Robert Hollingworth, and I came home with my brain melting out of my ears and, above all, a sense of what the early music specialists, conductors, singers and instrumentalists, have to do when they perform this music. For every note, and every word, I had to remember and do what I’d been told about tuning, rhythm, pronunciation, and the placing of words, all whilst sight-reading in a slightly unfamiliar musical idiom.
I had to leave last year’s choir AGM early because of childcare requirements, but I didn’t really expect to be missing anything much. So I was very surprised later that evening when a friend messaged me to say that our baroque concert for 2017 would be Monteverdi Vespers with Robert Hollingworth of I Fagiolini conducting. It’s probably a good thing I wasn’t at the meeting, as it meant I was able to do all my excited bouncing in the privacy of my own living room. It turned out to be even better than that first report – not only would Robert be conducting, but we’d also have his ensemble I Fagiolini as soloists, with the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble playing. Read more
More ornaments than my grandma’s mantelpiece
Ever since I went back to having recorder lessons four years ago, my teacher has dangled French baroque music in front of me, as a treat to come and a few weeks ago, I was finally let loose in this strange new world. The French repertoire for recorder isn’t so well-known as that of England, Germany or Italy: there are no big solo pieces to compare with Vivaldi’s concertos, the Brandenburgs or the sonatas by Handel or Telemann, but the flexibility of baroque instrumentation means that there are plenty of sonatas and dance suites that work just as well on recorder as on oboe, flute or violin, and I began with a Hotteterre suite, the second from the Pièces pour la flûte traversiere, livre II, Op.5 (originally in C minor but transposed to E minor for recorder).
Obviously learning one Hotteterre suite doesn’t make me in the least bit qualified to contribute anything meaningful about French baroque style, but I thought I’d write a bit about what I’ve learnt and discovered so far – and if it’s remotely helpful to any other newcomers, then that’s good. Read more
Romanas Kudriašovas and Olaf Bär in the Samling Masterclass. (c) Mark Pinder www.markpinder.eu
Until yesterday, I had assumed that public masterclasses were only really for people who are themselves serious students. If I’d ever had the chance to go to a recorder masterclass, I’d have been there like a shot, but singing masterclasses? No, surely not for the likes of me, I thought. But, then I was invited to the Samling Artist masterclass at Sage Gateshead this weekend, so I decided to give it a go. Just to make sure, I went with my friend Liz, who is a proper solo singer, working for a diploma, reasoning that if it was all beyond me, at least she would probably benefit.
I wasn’t entirely truthful when I wrote the Durham Singers publicity blurb for Rachmaninov Vespers. I wrote about the sensory effect of Rachmaninov’s choral writing; how the music evokes the sights, sounds and smells of the Russian church – but the truth is that it’s not the ecclesiastical smell of candlewax and incense that’s been filling my nose during rehearsals, but the distinctive warm and dusty smell of the Moscow’s secular cathedral – its metro. Read more
The Durham Singers are performing Rachmaninov’s setting of the music for the Russian Easter Vigil on 26th March 2016 (tickets here!) and to help my fellow singers to get to grips with the text, I’m compiling a list of a few key words, that might help to act as signposts: I’ll probably add to it as we work through the text, particularly when I spot some of Rachmaninov’s really good bits of word-painting. Read more
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the complex relationship between music and science, mainly because of a rather unusual Durham Singers concert coming up in November. The concert is all about music and light, and comes at the end of a public workshop on the science of light, put on by physicists from Durham University, so as well as giving me the chance to sing some really awesome music, it neatly brings all sorts of bits of my life together (which is why I’ve pinched one of my husband’s images for this blog post), so I wanted to try to pin down some of the thoughts that have been buzzing round my head.
My non-singing friends may have been baffled by some of my facebook and twitter updates over the last couple of days about something called Spem. There was mounting fear, which I attempted to alleviate by poor puns, and then later on Saturday, triumph and ecstasy. The cause of all this fuss? A piece of music for unaccompanied voices, lasting about 10 minutes, and composed in 1570 for Queen Elizabeth I by Thomas Tallis. Oh and it’s in forty parts. Yes, forty different parts, divided into eight choirs of five, weaving together, waves of sound building up and subsiding, from the single alto of the first note, right up to all forty parts ringing out together in a mass of glorious sound. Read more