Last weekend I was involved in the second of this year’s Bach Vespers performances with the City Bach Collective. We were performing cantata BWV 166 ‘Wo gehest du hin?’, a succinct cantata with standout alto and tenor arias – and a special soprano chorale melody movement suspended over tumbling strings.
In addition we sang music by Schütz; we’d like to do more of this important predecessor of Bach’s in future. For the time being Bach Vespers continues to be held at St. Mary-at-Hill church in the City.
Photo: St. Paul’s Twitter
Just under a week ago I took part in a performance of J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion at St. Paul’s Cathedral. As befits a building of this scale, the enlarged Cathedral choir were joined by the Cathedral’s Chorus for the choruses. The soprano arias were performed by boy choristers, and the ensemble was directed by Simon Johnson.
Last week I took part in a performance of the St. Matthew (or ‘Great’) Passion put on by the Schola Cantorum of the London Oratory. The performance was given with boy trebles form the Schola singing not only the upper lines in the choruses but also the soprano and alto arias and ariosos, a serendipitous arrangement only ten days following the death of Nikolaus Harnoncourt who had pioneered this in his recordings of the Bach Cantatas for Teldec. You can see photos from the concert here.
I was delighted to perform in my first Mozart Requiem as bass soloist for a long time last weekend. I was performing at the church of St Margaret, Lee, with the Blackheath Choir and St Paul’s Sinfonia under the direction of Patricia Williams.
I have begun the new year with a new concern. Following the departure of the Sweelinck Ensemble’s Martin Knizia in July last year, there has been some uncertainty regarding the Bach Vespers series at St Anne’s Lutheran Church. I and my colleagues who are now familiar with the event has returned at the invitation of the church to perform Bach Vespers once again under the title of our reformed ensemble, the City Bach Collective. With the great legacy of the work of both Peter Lea-Cox and Martin Knizia behind us and the mutual experience of the majority of the dozen-strong core ensemble, continuing the work of the group seemed the right thing to do. The City Bach Collective will perform without a dedicated director, with the leader, Hazel Brooks directing from the principal violin chair.
The first service of 2016 was cantata BWV 81 and the middle movement of cantata BWV 82a, Ich habe genug, for soprano and recorder. In addition we performed music by Scheidt and Schütz. It was a successful evening and we are encouraged that the Collective has the talent, tenacity and ambition to go on to do more Bach in the City of London throughout 2016 and beyond.
Without a doubt one of the most extravagant opera productions I have been involved in and it’s still ‘only’ a concert performance: Unsuk Chin’s 2007 opera Alice In Wonderland has just been performed in America and has been brought here to the Barbican for a one-off outing with the BBC. I am appearing with the BBC Singers as the chorus, dressed variously as businessmen, huntsmen and jurors.
The last few days of music rehearsals have given us a taste of Unsuk Chin’s texturally opulent score. Yesterday’s technical rehearsal revealed the ambition of Netia Jones’ staging. In the middle of this maelstrom of imagination, design and technical adventure there is a first-rate cast performing (by any standards) difficult music with elan and tremendous wit. The performance will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 11 July.
Philharmonia Voices in Irinia Brown’s staging of L’Enfant et les Sortileges, Photo via Philharmonia
Tonight I’m taking part in a special event as part of the Philharmonia’s City of Light: Paris 1900-1950 series at the Royal Festival Hall. I will be singing as, variously, a shepherd, a tree, a frog and a mathematically-challenged child in a semi-staged performance of Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortileges. We have spent an intense rehearsal period working with choreographer Quinny Sacks (as well as Aidan Oliver, the chorus master of Philharmonia Voices) to offer appropriate movement in this short one-act music drama. The technology is available to make even a simple staging seem rather sophisticated – although we also have a sequence involving simple paper hats held on with elastic.
The music is glorious and, with Chloé Briot perfectly cast as the petulant but ultimately repentant child, a special evening is promised. The Philharmonia are conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.
This evening I was involved in the first Bach vespers of 2015 at St. Mary-at-hill. I joined the Sweelinck Ensemble for the familiar cantata-within-the-Lutheran-service, though there is a novelty with the new year as St. Anne’s Music Society has re-named itself as Music-at-hill, to reflect its new home on Lovat Lane.
We performed cantata BWV 111, ‘Was mein Gott will, das g’scheh allzeit’ which has a funny, off-kilter Bass aria with continuo. We also performed music by Schein and Zelenka. I have now been performing with the Sweelinck Ensemble under the direction of Martin Knizia (pictured with me, above) for ten years, a valued music-making partnership which continues to pursue the highest standards.
Last night I took part in a pair (high demand) of concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in which the programme was exclusive of all but a single composer. Danny Elfman’s music has been used consistently by director Tim Burton in his films since the 1980s. Consequently there is a great canon of work from a quarter century of utterly unique filmmaking. The concerts presented excerpts from many of these scores with the London Concert Orchestra and the Maida Vale Singers (with whom I was singing) under the baton of John Mauceri. In addition, a remarkable – and unusually supple! – violinist, Sandy Cameron and the composer himself took to the stage, the latter making a hugely popular and thoroughly entertaining turn ‘as Jack Skellington’.
This evening I am taking part in a performance of Debussy’s only complete opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, at the Royal Festival Hall (as part of the City of Light: Paris 1900-1950 series). The Philharmonia and Philharmonia Voices are being conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen in this unique work which is being semi-staged in the concert hall. I am singing in Aidan Oliver’s chorus, tucked just behind the Royal Box as part of a chorale of distant sailors. Later I also have a walk-on role as a beggar, where I am required to walk onto the side of the stage wearing a mask (pictured), stand and then walk off again. Wish me luck…
In fact, the mask is a useful metaphor for my experience of this performance: the sailors’ chorus in Act 1 lasts for a single page of vocal score after which the chorus can only go home – as we’re not in the hall we can’t ‘stay’ to listen to the rest of the concert. The experience of the performance may seem rather arm’s length, veiled and mysterious, like the nature of the opera itself.