We had a wonderful trip to Oslo two weeks ago for our first concert in Norway. We sang in the beautiful Trinity church in the centre of the city and were delighted when we walked in to realise it is blessed with one of the finest acoustics for choral music we’ve come across in a long time; perfect for our programme of music by Renaissance masters such as Lobo, Victoria, Allegri and Padilla, followed by selections of our award-winning recording of music by Brahms and Bruckner and a couple of little gems by Max Reger for good measure. The Festival promoter called us on the Monday morning excited to announce the headline of the main concert review as ‘Phenomonal. Simply phenomenal!’ We can’t really ask for anything better than that!
We’re well in to spring and the run up to our Holy Week Festival at St John’s Smith Square and we’re welcoming some of the finest British professional choirs, vocal ensembles and some of our best amateur choirs too for what I hope will prove to be a very rewarding and emotional experience. My debut performance with the BBC Singers kicks things off on Palm Sunday with a beautiful programme of selected choral works by composers old and new; stunning works from some of the greatest early English composers Byrd, Gibbons, Weelkes and Blow all contrasting with the wonderfully rich and romantic music of Bruckner and Rheinberger. There is also music from some of the finest choral composers over the last 100 years such as Poulenc, Esenvalds and the iconic Arvo Párt. No other group can embrace all these different styles with as much panache as the BBC Singers and I’m very much looking forward to working with them for the first time after 25 years when I sang with them as a soloist in Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms – in the days when none other than Sarah Connolly (now a Patron of Tenebrae) was in the alto section of the choir! The New London Singers with Ivor Setterfield close things for this year and will bring their customary finesse and enthusiasm to the Festival representing the very best of amateur choral music in London.
Tenebrae will be at the centre of things for the Holy Week Festival with the sensational Max Baillie playing Bach’s Partita No.2 in D minor which so dramatically launches us into Faure’s Requiem on the Wednesday evening (we are tearing down the M4 the previous day to perform the same programme in the beautiful church of St George’s, Bristol). We will also sing the Offices of Tenebrae late on the evenings of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Whilst there are highlights galore from a wide variety of brilliant artists it’s these liturgical events that are at the very heart of the Holy Week Festival and probably what I’m looking forward to most. Singing some of the most beautiful and intensely atmospheric music for the very reason it was composed will be an emotional experience and give even greater poignancy to works such as Allegri’s Miserere, Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories and the Lamentations of Jeremiah, all of which will be enveloped in dramatic readings from the Christian church and Gregorian plainchant. These will all be performed by candlelight alone and I do hope people will not be put off by the late start time of 10pm. If I had my way we’d be starting even later but I know people have homes to go to… Maybe next year.
Once this is all over and we have celebrated the Resurrection and enjoyed our first alcoholic drink in 7 weeks (or whatever else it was one might have given up for Lent) on Easter Day we turn our attentions to our next concert which is a performance of our Hymn of Heavenly Beauty programme in the stunning Sherborne Abbey. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve sung in this glorious place but it never fails to leave me with my jaw on the floor – it’s one of those venues where it seems as if it’s the perfect place to hear Tenebrae. We’ll be on the move all around the building as we sing some the finest works of John Tavener and other giants of the choral world such as Holst, Harris and Whitacre. I always leave Sherborne muttering to myself “I’d really like to live here and work in this Abbey every day…” I can’t get there soon enough.