Tamesis Issue 194
Other people have reviewed the Beauchamp early music week, so I’ll just say that it was enormously enjoyable. The music was wonderful, and I’m so annoyed that a previous engagement means that I can’t do some of it again at Alan Lumsden’s workshop in October. Do go if you can.
I had to choose between sending Tamesis for printing a day early (which I’ve done) or rather late, because I’m off to the Oxford baroque week this afternoon for a week of intensive playing just as the hot weather has finally arrived. I hope I’ve already received all the information for this month. Don’t forget that there won’t be a September issue, and this is also a good moment to remind you that there isn’t usually one in December either. Forms for the baroque day and NEMA workshop in November and the December Christmas event will all be in the October issue, but make sure you’ve got the dates in your diary. There are still a few gaps in the schedule at the beginning of next year, so suggestions or offers to organise something will be gratefully received.
I enjoyed the Ambleside course (see my review elsewhere), and I gather that the Beauchamp course was also very good so my plans for next year are still fluid. One of the pieces we performed in the evening session was the 17-part Magnificat by Giovanni Gabrieli, which is the work on which the conjectural 33- part one is based. At the TVEMF workshop for that piece I played one of the relentlessly high top lines on the cornett but at Ambleside these parts were sung (with some evidence of strain) by a couple of brave sopranos. My challenge came in a different form: singing bass in a choir supported (if that is the right word) by three sackbuts and a curtal. It was no surprise that the director, Peter Syrus, said he couldn't hear the voices very well and my attempts to increase the volume left me slightly hoarse for a day or two!
There are some excellent workshops coming up and I look forward to sampling the Palestrina from the Beauchamp course with Alan Lumsden and to renewing my acquaintance with John Milsom.
NWEMF Summer School at Ambleside July 2007
Although this was the 25th NWEMF Summer School it was the first time that I had attended it. St. Martin's College is on a hilly site and comprises the curiously-named, "Scale How" building, with refectory and a few rooms, together with a number of locations such as the drama studio, the "Barn" and "Hill Top" (thankfully somewhat inaccurately named, but a brisk 5 minute's walk away up hill). A few signposts would have been useful but after studying the map a few times the mists in my understanding cleared. The same cannot be said of the rain which for most days was falling in plenty so that my elderly umbrella had to be pensioned off at the end of the week.
The timetable was easily the fullest of any course I know. After breakfast there were warm-ups, the one for singers being entertainingly led by Deborah Catterall. Then there was an hour and a half session for viols, recorders or, in my case, voices with the same tutor each day. Clive Walkley was the original course director and this was the last year at which he will be a tutor so I was fortunate to have the benefit of his tuition - imagine a musical Alan Benett. After coffee there were mixed consorts, at which I mostly sang as there was the usual shortage of low voices. Following lunch there was an optional session but as this was my chance to play the cornett I chose to do so. After tea there was usually a lecture-recital such as one on the broken consort, another on the life of a maestro de capilla and one drawing on a Scottish teenage lady's lute book given by Martin Eastwell and others. Then after a good supper we all trooped up to Hilltop to take part in polychoral music, or on one evening some dancing ably led by Elizabeth Dodd.
You might think that at this point we would all repair to the bar, and you would be right but at 10 p.m. our indefatigable course director, Roger Wilkes, led a group of more than 30 of us in singing till 11 p.m. The standard of sight- singing was excellent and we usually managed an acceptable performance on the second run of each piece, even though we were sitting in random order. This was one of the most satisfying aspects of the course, though it did mean being pretty tired by the time one got to bed. On the final evening there was a banquet for a total of 90, including a few spouses and partners. This was enlivened by a multitude of short pieces involving most of the course participants and culminating in a spoof version of "The Sound of Music" given by the "Young Singers" - a troop of girls under the direction of Deborah Catterall. This being Ambleside, there was then a three- hour madrigal session led by Roger, ending at 1 a.m.
The atmosphere at Ambleside is friendly, as are the tutors, who as well as those named earlier included Philip Gruar (flute and recorder), Jonathan Morgan (flute, recorder and sackbut), Peter Syrus (voice) and Margaret Westlake (viol and other instruments). If you like to be kept busy, and especially if you can sing, then this is the course for you.
Beauchamp House Early Music Week 2007
It was with some trepidation that I set off on 22 July for Beauchamp House. It was two days after the “great rains”, and Beauchamp House is only about 3 miles west of Gloucester – albeit with a small hill between it and the Severn. As it was, we were very, very lucky. Beauchamp House gets its water from the Forest of Dean area, so we weren’t affected by the flooding of the water treatment plant (though there were a couple of false alarms) and we only had one very short power cut. The catering team at Beauchamp worked miracles, producing imaginative vegetarian menus on one day early in the week when it was difficult to get supplies.
Several participants had rather more adventurous journeys than they’d expected; I was one of the last to get round the Gloucester ring road, and some of the later arrivals had to detour via Ross-on-Wye. Voltage reductions meant dim and sometimes flickering lights. And (despite the Beauchamp tradition of warm and sunny weather during the summer school week) it just went on raining, which was not much fun for those who were camping. But hearing about the problems faced by some of the staff (flooded houses, people stranded, no tap water at home) put our own small problems into perspective, and reminded us how lucky we were.
Not that we needed reminding that we were lucky – the music (this year’s theme was Palestrina and his contemporaries) was wonderful, and the tutors (Alan Lumsden and Philip Thorby, supported by Clifford Bartlett tutoring keyboard players on continuo) as illuminating as ever. Alan had burnt the midnight oil yet again to produce editions of music suitable for the balance of singers and players on this year’s course – lots of large scale (8, 12, and even 16 part pieces) for voices and the excellent brass, wind, and string players who have become regulars, plus others that were equally suitable for choir and continuo alone. Every morning Philip cajoled and encouraged the singers to find the complex patterns in music that looked very simple on the page – 5- beat patterns in Palestrina’s 8 part Stabat Mater, and the overlapping and interrupting phrases in the 12 part setting of the same text by Anerio (or maybe Palestrina - scholars are apparently still arguing), while Clifford persuaded the keyboard players that when you are providing the continuo, “less is more” is a good rule, and Alan (I am told!) was licking the instrumentalists into shape.
It must be something like 12 or 13 years since I last went to the Beauchamp summer school, but by the end of the 2007 week I was kicking myself for leaving it so long. Of course it isn’t luxurious like, say, West Dean – but then it is nothing like as expensive either, and the food was as excellent (and generous!) as ever, despite all the difficulties the catering team faced this year. The things I liked best (and still do) about the Beauchamp week are the combination of a relaxed atmosphere (the option of camping makes it possible for participants to bring their families, and several do) and intensive and concentrated music; the mixture of long-standing regulars and new faces; the size (not so many people that you get lost); the exploration of new repertoire (Alan Lumsden always seems to come up trumps here!) and the chance (as a singer) to work with a team of really good instrumentalists (it is alleged that the players were similarly appreciative of the choir this year!) and of course the superb tutors – who need no introduction to TVEMF members.
Next year’s early music week at Beauchamp is likely to be 20-26 July.
Beauchamp House, Churcham, Gloucester
Early Music Week 22-28 July 2007
Palestrina and his contemporaries
Disastrous floods in river-torn Gloucestershire formed a sombre background to this event. At one point it looked as if cuts in power and water would dictate an early finish (as nothing compared with the awful things many people in Gloucester and the Severn Valley were going through). In the event some forty of us were lucky to be able to complete a formidable, hard-working and enjoyable programme right through to the end.
For understandable reasons the Palestrina element of the course had a limited focus: polychoral works with a lot of vertical, chordal homophony, and some tonal/harmonic ‘advances’. Also up front were narrative, ‘pictorial’ themes of exultation or sorrow, chiefly O Magnum Mysterium, Quem vident pastores ? and the marvellous Stabat Mater a 8 (plus some of his more workaday pieces). In a way this particular focus, reducing contrasts between Palestrina and other composers selected for much the same reasons, was a pity. It obscured a stated aim of the course: to try to ‘tell the difference’. For Palestrina’s more numerous, distinctive and arguably inspiring contributions to musical art and aesthetic enjoyment (not to mention liturgy and spirituality) tend to lie elsewhere.
However, this limitation was far outweighed in other ways. We worked on some superb music by Victoria, Byrd and Marenzio (though I didn’t much like the latter’s too thickly textured and block-chordal Super flumina Babylonis). Rewarding surprises came from De Monte and De Wert, while other items, including by Anerio and the Modenese composer Vecchi, provided rousing, lighter or sunnier fare. A few more male singers (bass as well as tenor) would have helped; also complete rather than single-choir vocal scores, for better grasp of text and music as a whole. An impressive range of instrumental skills was hugely enriching (violins, viols, cornets, sackbuts, curtals, continuo). A high point came for me when many of them performed separate ‘choral’ sections. A climactic presentation of the Palestrina Stabat Mater proved one of my most ‘transporting’ experiences ever.
Plaudits to Clifford Bartlett for his distinguished continuo roles; to Alan Lumsden for genial hospitality and invigorating conducting; and to Philip Thorby for indefatigable, tingling energy and intricate phrase-by-phrase instruction strikingly and often pungently or amusingly conveyed. Other good things included the compact space for eating, drinking and socialising as well as music making, a nice family spirit, and high quality catering. It’s not surprising that this long established event continues to attract such enthusiastic, versatile support.
Wayne Plummer has put his account of the 2007 Beauchamp week, complete with photos and videos, on the web. Do have a look at it if you can.
Events with a purpose
So far this year, I have been involved in two early music events which have ended up with a formal performance, in the first case to a paying audience, in the second to a congregation celebrating solemn mass.
· The first was run by EEMF and directed by Philip Thorby in Norwich, being a workshop on Claudio Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 in which I played the cornett and sang. · The second was run by our very own TVEMF, directed by Michael Procter in Kilburn, being a workshop on Lobo's Missa Elizabeth & Zacchariae in which I only sang.
Both workshops were full two-day weekend events with the performance on the Sunday. Working towards a public performance demands extra effort, concentration and, in some cases, patience from participants... and of course, more hard work from the musical directors... after all, they will be seen out in front of us as we perform and will want us to perform at our best!
This also means that directors of such courses need to be more selective in the participants they accept onto the course - the forces have to be appropriate for a public performance of the work in question. In some cases this can mean that the overall number of participants must be limited which means that each individual participant must bear a larger proportion of the total cost. So... these courses cost more and are harder work than more informal one day events... why bother?! Well, for me, the answer is simple - I get much more enjoyment out of them - and also a great sense of fulfilment. In both of these courses I think that the musical results achieved were more than satisfactory. Both directors seemed genuinely pleased with the results achieved... and the most important people, our audiences, likewise.
There's something important going on in this type of course which members of early music fora might easily forget... the audience may not be familiar with the sort of music that we all know and love and may actually get a lot more out of the performance than we might imagine.
I was particularly impressed by the first paragraph on the back of the programme handed out by EEMF at their event which began: "The Eastern Early Music Forum exists in the East Anglian area to promote interest in medieval, renaissance and baroque music, roughly of the time of Bach and before; ..." (emphasis mine). This highlights this outreach function of their forum and I would like to see TVEMF adopting a goal like this and staging more public performances. By no means am I suggesting that the one-day, informal workshop's days are numbered! They too are splendid fun and can also be most rewarding.
Finally, I would like to thank the organisers of the two events mentioned above - both weekends rank right at the top of my list of most rewarding musical efforts to date! Thanks!