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Nigel's Blog

Nigel’s Blog: March 2023

Posted on 23 March 2023

It’s been quite a while since I wrote a blog, but in fairness these last 8 months or so have been action-packed. Not all of it quite the kind of action I would have wished for, but life has been anything but dull.

As many of you will know, last summer I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. At first it was unclear whether the cancer had spread to anywhere else, and I endured several difficult weeks on tour with Tenebrae and on holiday with my family while we awaited more news. However, all things considered I’ve been incredibly fortunate throughout this chapter in my life, and in due course the scans showed that the cancer seemed to be localised. In early September the tumour was successfully removed by a wonderful surgeon called Dr Joshy, and I spent several weeks convalescing at home. I then received further positive news when the post-op biopsy re-confirmed that the cancer hadn’t spread. The weeks and months spent in recovery gave me plenty of time to reflect on many things that are sometimes taken for granted when I’m fully focussed on professional and family life. As well as the obvious things such as my wife Grace, our children and our dog Monty (!) being of utmost importance, I reaffirmed my love for music and for choral music in particular. I listened to lots of old Tenebrae recordings and spent a good deal of time thanking my lucky stars for the wonderful opportunities afforded me over the years. So many people – our first manager, Barbara Pollock, chief among them – were instrumental in getting Tenebrae off the ground 22 years ago, and so many gifted singers have been on this extraordinary journey with me. It’s especially heart-warming to hear feedback from many former Tenebrae singers who, on hearing the choir today, tell me how far we’ve come artistically and that the new team make it all sound so effortless!

In November the choir set off on tour to the US, and sadly I wasn’t well enough by then to embark on a long-haul flight. We were immensely grateful to Gabriel Crouch and Jamie Burton for stepping in to conduct at short notice, but nonetheless I found it hard to rehearse with the choir the day before they went. I knew they would have a great time with Gabs and Jamie, who are both exceptional musicians and inspirational directors, but sitting quietly at home knowing what was going on the other side of the Atlantic was difficult, weird and frustrating in equal measure. It made me realise just how much I love working with the singers, and how lucky I am to make music with them in so many spectacular settings. I missed the whole performing vibe and camaraderie terribly.

Gradually things improved, and I was physically back in gear for all the concerts in December – although by the time we’d done 14 concerts I was desperately in need of a good rest. Another 3 months later and freshly returned from a US tour last week, my recovery continues to go well but I’m having to learn to pace myself.

Particular highlights since the autumn include a performance of Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles in the magical setting of Mont Saint-Michel, and another one a few days later at St Martin-in-the-Fields. A standing ovation anywhere in the UK is always a memorable and rewarding experience! We made our first extended tour of the Netherlands (I very much hope it won’t be the last), and sang at the beautiful Teatro Municipale in Reggio Emilia, Italy, where I made my operatic debut back in 1985. This was followed by an amazing 3 days of sold-out concerts in the Fraumünster in Zurich (where I spent some time catching up with an old buddy, Chris Purves, who was there rehearsing Warner’s Siegfried), and 3 wonderful concerts with a sextet made up of our fantastic Associate Artists. Alongside all that we also recorded some wonderful new music by the composer Rebecca Dale, for which we were joined for the first time by the Philharmonia.

And of course there’s also our most recent tour of the US, where I can now add the Cathedral of St James in Seattle to my list of all-time favourite acoustics. Alongside the Basilica in St Louis and St Peter-in-Chains in Cincinnati, these have to be some of the finest venues Tenebrae has ever performed in anywhere in the world. I felt blessed to have the choir on such brilliant form for this tour, and to hear them in those venues was truly a privilege. Whilst I just about crawled over the finishing line after 6 concerts and 3 workshops, the singers were serene and faultless throughout and looked as fresh as a daisy – albeit Joey had a bit of extra colour in his cheeks thanks to a little too much San Diego sunshine! They sounded even better at the end of the trip than they did on the very first day of it all, and they were flipping marvellous right from the off.

We now look forward to our next recording project featuring 3 of Bach’s motets alongside music by Sir James MacMillan. The juxtaposition of Bach’s immaculately constructed music and MacMillan’s at times florid and folksong-inspired melodic lines, and his intensely powerful and dramatic settings of  Miserere and 3 Tenebrae Responsories, will hopefully prove to be a lively concert experience. We are looking forward to performing the programme in five different locations, starting with Dorchester-on-Thames and ending up at Snape Maltings, where the concert will be recorded live. No pressure then…

As so often before I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the singers, not just for their superb singing and musicianship but also for their kindness and huge shows of support last summer and especially in recent weeks. Of course massive thanks must go to Alex, Lizzy and Bradley who behind the scenes worked tirelessly to keep everything on track in what were extremely worrying and difficult times. They are quite simply the best and, as ever, impeccably supported by our brilliant Trustees. May I also take this opportunity to say a big thank you to so many people from all over the world who went to the trouble to be in touch last year to offer their support and well wishes when I really didn’t know how things were going to develop long term. I can now say with confidence that I am well and truly back, and looking forward to everything else that this year has to bring!