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This Friday I am taking part in a lunchtime concert of cantatas and sonatas by composers of the German baroque. I am singing De profundis clamavi & Mein herz ist bereit by Nicolaus Bruhns and Salve coelestis pater & O Jesu dulcissime by Franz Tunder. There will be other music by Buxtehude. I’m am joining the Sweelinck Ensemble, Martin Knizia’s baroque ensemble who are visiting London for this concert and for a repeat performance at the Saxon Shore Early Music Festival the following evening (image above).
My second Mozart Requiem in as many weeks was at the popular central London venue of St. Martin in the Fields. Dietrich Begthe has been running the London Octave for almost 30 years and I was very happy to be invited to sing as the bass soloist for their Requiem performance alongside some familiar colleagues.
Yesterday I took part in the first performance of new music for Advent. Thomas Hyde’s set of O Antiphons were commissioned by the church of St. Paul’s Knightsbridge for performance by the choir and on the organ – and for the purposes of dancing.
This was a very different project to other new music performances that I have done inside a church. Not only did the performance include three dedicated dancers, choreographed by Hubert Essakow but the principal performer, Clare McCaldin and the rest of the creative team recorded a series of videos from the start of the project’s inception to try and chart the process of bringing this work to fruition.
In the event, the performance was relayed onto a screen above the choir screen. This was a good idea, given that the dance took place on the dais in front of the screen and so, as is usual, it would have been difficult for those in the congregation to see.
In addition to the performance, the parish rector Fr Alan Gyle spoke either side of the music. He examined the Antiphon texts and the wider issue of Advent. He also talked about the nature of art in church, and the benefits of being open to it even in the face of incomprehension.
As a performer, it was tricky to really assess the impression or effectiveness of the performance in the immediate aftermath of the post-service reception. My own impression was that Thomas Hyde’s music is really good and the ideas explored exhaustively in each (very different) movement were substantial not only for choreography but also for simple reflection.
Last night I took part in the first full performance of Timothy Hamilton’s Requiem. The concert, which included many pieces of familiar choral music in the first half, was given at the church of St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate near the Old Bailey. Timothy conducted and I was singing with his specially convened choir, Cantoribus.
This week begins a run of performances of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny at English National Opera. I am singing in the extra chorus. There are a lot of us: Calixto Bieito’s production casts the belligerent masses as nationalists at the inception of the Spanish civil war. This powerful, sprawling opera will run until the beginning of December before it goes across to the Metropolitan Opera House, as it is a co-production.
On Sunday I am taking part in a performance of a Bach cantata (BWV 80, ‘Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott’) in Bach Vespers with Music-at-Hill. This will be an unusual event in an otherwise familiar series as it is the first performance under a new director. The format remains the same to those who are familiar with this cantata within Lutheran liturgy. In future, the series may be opened up to include core works by composers other than Bach. Consequently the series is being re-worked as ‘Bach Choral Vespers’. Admission on 25 October at 1830 is free with a retiring collection.
This month I am involved in the opening production of ENO’s 2015-16 season, Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. Dimitri Tcherniakov’s updated conceit has Shostakovich’s modernist fairy-mare set in a health and safety-compliant warehouse. We in the chorus populate the space as worker ants, be it at the beck and call of the state or some private entrepreneur. Shostakovich’s conundrum is that disaster befalls the individual trying to follow their own impulse, whatever its moral equivalence. The company orchestra are on their greatest form to date with the new Musical Director Mark Wigglesworth. And I get to ride a fork lift truck.
It’s a grey, wet day in this final week of July here in London. This is nothing more than the capricious English weather toying with us during the Summer of course. Yet it might be said to reflect the sentiment of a group of musicians about to meet at St. Mary-at-hill church in the City of London.
That’s because this evening threatens to be the final in a series of Bach cantata performances within the liturgy of Lutheran Vespers that has been ongoing since the 1980s. Martin Knizia, the current director of the group (the Sweelinck Ensemble) who also holds the position of cantor of St. Anne’s Lutheran church in London is leaving to take up a position in Berlin. Martin has been the administrative and artistic force behind the series of so-called Bach Vespers, as his predecessor Peter Lea-Cox was before him, so his stepping down brings the series (under the umbrella of Music-at-hill, formerly the St. Anne’s Music Society) to a practical halt.
I’ve had the good fortune to have been invited to sing with Martin’s Sweelinck Ensemble more often than not over the past 10 years. Our work has included performances of the St. John Passion and the B Minor Mass, as well as memorable outings of the prima inter pares of Bach solo cantatas, BWV 82, Ich habe genug: one meant walking to St. Anne & St. Agnes, Gresham Street to perform through heavy overnight snow; more recently, we performed the cantata in order to raise funds to try and keep the series going in the face of increased costs and dwindling support in November last year. In addition Martin has unearthed all manner of fine music by Bach and his contemporaries, which we have performed at appropriate moments in the series.
Of course, the miserable weather might well be said to resonate with the cantata we are about to perform in valediction of Martin. BWV 131, Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir is particularly morose even by Lutheran standards of self-abasement. The inexorable trudge of the Bass arioso wonders whether they’ll be anyone left after God has decided who’s worth saving.
BWV 131 and other music by Bach, Buxtehude and Schütz is performed within the Lutheran service of Vespers this evening at 6.30pm. Entrance is free and there is a retiring collection.
At the weekend I took part in a unique performance. The Bart’s Academic Festival Chorus and Orchestra meet to rehearse and perform in the hospital on the edge of the City from which they take their name. One of their activities involves single rehearsal-runs of operas or excerpts of operas and it was on this basis that I joined a handful of my colleagues to sing through the second Act of Wagner’s Siegfried. I was singing Fafner, the petulant giant who has been crippled by covetousness of the Ring of the opera’s cycle-title and can only sing tritones (almost). The performance in the remarkable Great Hall of Bart’s Hospital (above) was conducted by John Lumley.