Tamesis Issue 205
First of all some requests for help.
Linda Hill, who produced what a recent email described as ‘our wonderful website’ and who has been updating it ever since, has decided that she can no longer go on with the job. We’re enormously grateful to her for making it so good, but now of course we need to find someone else. David, our Chairman, says that he can keep it going by updating the events and concert listings and perhaps adding more photographs and back numbers of Tamesis, but I’m sure you will agree that he is already doing more than enough.
I’ve already asked once for a volunteer to replace Oliver St John as auditor, but nobody has offered so far. We have audited accounts for the December AGM, but after that we really have to find someone else. Hazel, our ex-Treasurer, tells me that her impression is that it isn’t a very arduous job. Please help!
Neil Edington tells me that he has two volunteers so far to organise tea and coffee at the John Milsom workshop. He would appreciate some more help, but no more applications please as the course is full.
The Greenwich exhibition is next month, and as usual TVEMF is hosting a stand for the forums and NEMA. This time we are being given space by Jeremy Burbidge of the Peacock Press (publisher of the NEMA Yearbook and the Recorder Magazine), who will be there with his tables full of sheet music. You may remember that he always occupies several tables just in front of the stage, and this will be a much better place for us than the platform was last year. As usual we shall need volunteers to look after the stand for short (or longer) periods, and it may be possible to provide a badge for free entry if you volunteer for a really long period. Unfortunately these are likely to be in short supply this year, but don’t let this put you off because the exhibition is really good value for money, with lots of free or extremely cheap concerts as well as all the instruments and music to try out. Please contact me if you can help (secretary @ tvemf.org).
Included with this issue is the form for the baroque chamber music day, and I’m hoping to see lots of you there. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’re wondering if the day is for you.
The Venetian Vespers event, directed by Jeffrey Skidmore, was very well attended and seemed to go quite well though the acoustics of the Magdalen College School hall were a little odd, with audibility being variable from point to point. However we were able to use the galleries for the final 14-part Magnificat by Gabrieli which I thought went pretty well considering the relatively short rehearsal time. David King in his review in this issue mentions the perennial question of whether we should devote more time to each piece so as to achieve concert standard or simply try out a number of pieces to explore the repertoire. Given the arbitrary collection of instruments and voices at a typical workshop I feel that we are unlikely to manage anything near to perfection, so tend to favour the latter approach but I know there are other views on this point. I don't recall any workshop when there was such a marked reluctance to stop when the conductor stopped beating. There were times when people continued for several bars which shows how little they can have been watching. On a positive note it was good to see several new members there enjoying themselves, especially those who were still of school age. It would be good to see more, so do encourage your children (or grandchildren) to come to our events. Apologies for failing to express any thanks to John Graham who organised the event with great efficiency.
There have been a number of comments on my mention in the August issue of the Thames Baroque Orchestra which, as I hadn’t been told at the time, runs workshops rather than giving concerts. I tried to be neutral and perhaps wrongly gave the impression we might be contemplating on-going subsidies. The consensus amongst the committee and those who write in is that we should not offer a subsidy but perhaps run some joint events. When we set the prices for workshops we aim to roughly break even, but we tend to be a bit conservative so have accumulated enough over our 20 years to be cushioned against a few failures should they occur. Sometime of course we do make a loss, but this is not the same as subsidising an event deliberately. It is hoped that the addition of TVEMF players would make it possible for a baroque orchestra workshop to break even, particularly as the proposed conductor, Theresa Caudle, is known to many TVEMF members as an excellent baroque violinist and course leader
I gather that the next event, Willaert with John Milsom, is fully booked so I look forward seeing many of you there.
I had greatly enjoyed Jeffrey Skidmore’s TVEMF Latin American event and had no hesitation in applying for his ‘Venetian Vespers’ which was held at Magdalen College School on 27th September. The day was advertised as the exploration of gems from the 17th century that would have been sung in St Mark’s, Venice. Finding my way into the school became the first hurdle of the day but once in the school the directions to the room were well signposted and a fine room it was too. There was more than enough space for the 80 or so participants, mainly singers but also a select group of instrumentalists.
We started in good time, aided by the space and by the excellent organisation of our conductor and John Graham. Having divided ourselves into two choirs and been issued with music we immediately began singing and playing. The first item was Giovanni Gabrieli’s Regina coeli for two six-part choirs. The music was magnificent as was all the music that we were to study and it was not overly demanding. The large choir was initially somewhat sluggish despite Jeffrey’s valiant efforts but the piece was finally mastered and we moved on to the second work, Cavalli’s Laudate pueri, which was for two four-part choirs. Unfortunately the Cavalli never really got off the ground and the idea of performing it at the final run-through at the end of the day had to be abandoned. It contained nothing intrinsically difficult but unfamiliar notation, changes of time, constant turning of pages, no bar lines, finding one’s own part in the score and so on just became too much. I think if we had had a little more time and the opportunity to take the music a little slower we might have succeeded. However we were introduced in this piece to the concept of ‘black notation’ whereby breves, semibreves and minims are filled in with black. Apparently, if I understand it correctly, this procedure is used to warn the singer that the rhythm has become complex. I do however wonder about its efficacy. A blackened minim looks just like a crotchet but is not a crotchet. This seems a recipe for disaster and fortunately the black notation in the Cavalli did not include minims though we experienced disaster regardless.
Things could only get better and indeed they did with Grandi’s Deus in adjutorium meum intende for two four-part choirs. We were getting used to the music and were preparing for our next page turn as soon as we started a new page. We subsequently adjourned for lunch which most of us ate whilst basking in beautiful early autumn sunshine. After lunch we worked on the most sumptuous piece of the day, a fourteen part Magnificat by Giovanni Gabrieli. This work was for three choirs and our performance consisted of one five-part choir of solo singer with four instrumentalists, another five-part choir of singers with instrumentalists and a four-part a cappella choir. The choir with singers and instrumentalists represented a choir of angels. By now the group had definitely gained in quality and we made a very reasonable stab at this splendid work. The improvement was such that Jeffrey was even able to move beyond the notes and work on pronunciation and word stress. Our final piece was Monteverdi’s Christe adoramus te, a comparatively simple but extremely beautiful work in five parts which we performed reasonably well once we had mastered the rhythms by speaking the words in time. In addition to the five main works we also had some very useful instruction on singing plainchant with particular emphasis on rhythmic values and in our final run-through, in front of a packed audience of three, we were able to include some plainchant as well as all the works we had studied save the Cavalli. The climax of this run-through was the Magnificat which we performed with the solo singer plus instrumentalists in the main hall and the two other choirs in the two galleries. The idea was to replicate the effect that would have been experienced by performers in St Mark’s. I can’t say our attempt represented TVEMF’s greatest achievement but we didn’t do at all badly. Jeffrey told us that there is always a problem in knowing whether to get through a lot of repertoire thereby inevitably sacrificing quality, or concentrating on a small amount of music and reaching a good standard. With up to fourteen parts in the music perhaps the former approach was necessary. Although their presence was extremely welcome the situation was complicated by the instrumentalists in as much as they probably found the music much easier than the singers. For the most part, they were playing from parts so didn’t have constant page turns followed by searching for their line and also they didn’t have to contend with words. The players might well have found the pace of the rehearsal too slow and the singers may have found it too quick. However despite all the problems I think the day was terrific and it was thrilling to have a chance to take part in such wonderful music. I am sure I am echoing the views of all when I say that I was exceedingly grateful to Jeffrey Skidmore for his patience and expert guidance and to John Graham and all those members of TVEMF who helped organise the event. I travelled home along the M40 on the Oxford Express in very elated spirits and what is more the sun was still shining so the lovely countryside I missed on the way up as it was shrouded in fog, was appreciated to the full.
CAMBRIDGE EARLY MUSIC SUMMER SCHOOLS
These two summer schools, each lasting a week, take place in Sydney Sussex College and are under the control of Selene Mills. The Parley of Instruments tutors the Baroque week and Philip Thorby and Friends the Renaissance week. Philip is the main player in each. I have taken part in one Baroque week but normally attend the Renaissance week since as a viol player and singer it suits my taste better.
This year the title was ‘The Triumphs of Maximilian’ and featured music mainly of Senfl. The supporting tutors were David Hatcher for viols, Jacob Heringman for lutes and Keith McGowan for winds of many and various kinds. In the past I have taken viol as my main instrument and benefited from the enthusiastic and inspiring teaching of David. This year I decided singing would be the number one. The courses begin with a public concert by a tutor, in this case Jacob, who introduced his audience to the most engaging performance of Senfl lute music. The course attracts singers and players from across the world, some who come annually from U.S.A and Holland especially to take part. The age range this year was spread wide and it was a joy for we more mature folk to work with young people starting out on a musical journey. The music was mostly unknown to the larger part of the course but Kathleen Berg, who had been introduced to the wonders of Senfl a year ago, brought with her the proofs of her book which she had been immediately inspired to write on his life and works.
The first session is always with each student’s first choice and personal tutor. Singing daily in the beautiful chapel of Sidney Sussex under the direction of Philip was exciting and demanding and he took the choir to heights which at first seemed hardly possible but which Philip always manages to achieve. The rest of the day was spent in viol playing or singing in varying groups, directed by the ever energetic and happy David or the quieter and calm Jacob and a final after dinner evening session together with Philip. The afternoons are free and as the college is right in the town the shops and sales require attention. During the week there was a concert by Philip and Friends again around the same brilliant composer whose music, by this time, we had all come to admire and enjoy. The course ended with a concert by students and tutors, which proved an exciting and satisfying finish. The week was not all work. On one evening we were taught a few simple Renaissance dances by David, who seems to have an endless supply of talents, accompanied by a wonderful collection of bagpipes and other winds. The final concert was followed by a riotous party with dancing to the tunes of David and his loud wind friends.
This course in not cheap, but you get what you pay for in expert, enthusiastic and first grade tutors, wonderful music, good food, satisfactory accommodation and a lot of friendship and fun. Some students take half board and make their own lunch or dinner which lessens the cost. Some bursaries are available. For my husband and me it is a good reason to return from Cyprus a little earlier than we might otherwise do. Selene and her husband, Nick as well as their assistant, Linda, work endlessly behind the scenes to achieve the smooth running of these courses. I shall be looking forward to seeing the plans for next year. You can look up their website or contact Selene Mills at CEM, Trinity College Cambridge CB2 ITQ.
Long-standing TVEMF member Jonathan Boswell is writing a book about Palestrina's music for today. He would love to exchange views with any members who have sung or listened to a lot of Palestrina's music, or have a special interest in it. To find out more and get in touch please visit http://www.jonathan-boswell.com - or telephone him on 0208-348-1688.