Since the last time I wrote a blog our world has seemingly turned upside down. No-one can have escaped the effects of the current outbreak of COVID-19, and whilst we are mindful of those who need help most we are also, as musicians, suffering in our own particular way. I won’t bore readers with the ins and outs of being a self-employed musician, but suffice to say we’ve had the rug pulled from under our feet in the most brutal fashion. I worry especially for many young singers starting out in a career of professional music-making who are only just making ends meet – trying to establish themselves as performers and teachers while living in rented accommodation in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
On at least one positive note, on 3 April we are releasing our latest recording of music by Gesualdo and Couperin. The Tenebrae Responsories by the former are pretty much unrivalled in the Renaissance era for their extreme harmonic twists and turns. Gesualdo shifts his music at the drop of a hat and on any given word if he feels like it. It’s music that keeps the listener constantly on the edge of his or her seat. It was hard work to record but extremely satisfying. We were joined by two former members of Tenebrae, sopranos Grace Davidson and Julia Doyle. Not only did all their old instinctive ensemble skills kick in immediately for the Gesualdo, but they were able to then display their wonderful talents as soloists in their own right by recording Couperin’s Leçons de Ténèbre, for which they were joined by the wonderful Jonathan Rees and Steven Devine on continuo. These are exquisite settings that allow the singer to luxuriate in long, floating melismas which come together in the final movement, culminating in some heart-wrenchingly beautiful music. We were to perform some of this music at our Holy Week Festival in April, but it will now have to wait until next year. You can pre-order the new album here.
Before dates started to fall out of the diary we did manage to put in a performance of Fauré’s Requiem in the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford. This gave us another wonderful opportunity to work with the splendid chamber orchestra Aurora, and a chance to hear the gorgeous playing of Elena Urioste in Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor. This was indeed a treat. Shortly after this the axe began to fall. Oslo was our first concert to be cancelled, swiftly followed by 4 concerts in Switzerland, Dublin and others in the UK, and then our own Holy Week festival was pulled. This is particularly gutting as our team – Alex, Esther, Bradley and Tom Herring (brought in each year to help specifically with the HWF) – have worked tirelessly in putting the festival together, collaborating closely with the team at St John’s Smith Square. I was supposed to be in Sweden for a week conducting the Swedish Radio Choir before heading directly to Japan to work with the fabulous Japan Choral Association. All off. It is heartening, however, to see some groups managing to find ways of getting their music out to the masses via live streaming and we too are working on ways of bringing a performance to an online audience as soon as possible. Watch this space.
One lovely benefit of losing all our work is that my wife and I are at home with our children for the next few weeks and months – my son’s own choir tour to the US was jettisoned too. The endless struggle to train our dog not to run off whilst out walking continues. We might even make a small dent in tidying up our garden… With some luck we will be over the worst of this in a few months and then we can look forward to providing audiences with wonderful music again and to saying hello in person to many of our friends and supporters.
Finally, in the face of all this anxiety I would like to register my personal thanks and gratitude not only to our singers, who have all reacted so graciously to a never-ending stream of bad news from us, but to our team in the office: Alex, Esther and Bradley. Together with our wonderful Board of Trustees, they have been working tirelessly to try and create some kind of positives from a situation none of them could reasonably have been prepared for. Daily Skype sessions with the team continue to be productive and, dare I say it, even fun, so thank you to everyone for staying positive, continuing to look forwards, and working for the day we can put this dreadful pandemic behind us all.