It seems that all the musicians in Durham are coming out to play this weekend – I have five concerts listed on here, ranging from solo organ to full symphony orchestra, and performers from amateur to international super-star.
Durham University Choral Society will give the first performance of “Christus: A Passiontide sequence”, a major new work written for them by Ben Rowarth, at a concert in Durham Cathedral on 15 March. I spoke to Ben, and to Mike Summers, Musical Director of DUCS, to find out more about it.
If I weren’t out of town this weekend, I’d definitely be going Durham Choral Society’s performance of Beethoven’s monumental Missa Solemnis in the cathedral tomorrow night. It’s a fantastic piece of music, and a really big sing – Beethoven didn’t write much for singers, but when he did, he certainly makes them work hard. I haven’t been able to hear Durham Choral Society since Mike Summers and Clare Wills took over as conductor and assistant conductor respectively – I always seem to end up being away – but I’ve heard that they’re sounding great. The orchestra are made up of …
Now that St Matthew Passion is over and done with, and the stirring-up has been done, it’s time to clear my head and start thinking about Christmas. We don’t have a Christmas concert of our own this year, because St Matthew came so late in November, although we are doing a small carol service in the chapel at Auckland Castle, so I do get to sing a bit of Christmas music. The upside of this though is that I am free to go to everyone else’s Christmas concerts instead, and there’s a good selection this year.
Naturally, this is a very biased preview, as not only am I singing in this, I’m also running the publicity and ticket sales campaign. But I’m also, honestly, extremely excited about the Durham Singers St Matthew Passion this weekend, and I believe everything that I’ve written for our official communications. I’ve been in paid jobs where I’ve had to talk up something really dull, but when I write things for Durham Singers, I can allow myself to be genuinely enthused. This is now me writing as myself, with my personal preview for the concert.
If you’ve been following my series of posts about the Venetian operas that ETO are bringing to Durham next week, you’ll remember I said that at the end of Agrippina everything ended happily. Well, not for long, because in terms of plot, Handel’s opera is just a prequel to Monteverdi’s Coronation of Poppea and this time, things get nasty.
The idea of helping scientists by listening to music appeals greatly, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow night’s Musicon concert by The Clerks. It’s called “Tales from Babel – Musical adventures in the Science of Hearing” and it looks at how we pick out voices and process information from a babble of sound.
It’s easy to think that we know the story of Jason – it’s a standard in every child’s book of Greek Myths, the hero who overcomes impossible challenges to claim the prize of the Golden Fleece, helped by the lovely witch-princess Medea who has conveniently fallen in love with him. There’s not much of this in Cavalli’s opera though – pretty much the only recognisable incident from the children’s books, Jason’s defeat of the monster that guards the fleece, is reduced to a minute or so of splendidly percussive strings (Combattimento), the quest a mere distraction to the far more …
Agrippina is one of those big characters in Roman history – sister of Caligula, niece and wife of Claudius and mother of Nero, she seems to have spent her life embroiled in scandal and notoriety. Given this subject matter though, and the baroque tendency to delight in excesses of all kinds, Handel’s Agrippina is remarkably restrained. Although the whole opera is about struggles for sex and power, all the shenanigans of the plot are undertaken with naive incompetence, and at the end everyone seems to get what they want without anyone even dying. There was no wrecks and no-body drownded.
Baroque opera has been a surprisingly recent discovery for me. It’s so obviously the sort of thing I would like — there’s an intoxicating mix of passion, bad behaviour, sex, tragedy, strong female characters, lots of semiquavers, and, sometimes, recorders — that I wonder what took me so long. There’s more of it about these days, which helps, but what’s really made a difference for me is the internet; I can listen to performances on Radio 3, watch streamed productions and explore things on Spotify. I’m getting quite a taste for it, but I’ve never seen any live performances,