Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Tamesis Issue 278
March 21st is Early Music Day and I’ve just typed seven concerts into the Concerts list! I do there will be a big enough audience for all these attractive offerings.
Many thanks to Richard Whitehouse for his review of the Keble College workshop. He was also the author of the anonymous review of the Biber workshop at Thaxted in the January issue. The review of the January David Allinson workshop has had to be held over until May.
I hope to be seeing many of you at the Eamonn Dougan workshop in April and at Peter Collier’s baroque chamber music day in May, but please read David Fletcher’s comment below about the corona virus.
Our event at the end of last Month as part of the Keble Early Music Festival attracted one of the largest turnouts ever: well over 90 participants. The logistics for such are large event are a challenge but it passed off safely and most people seem to have enjoyed themselves. See the review by Richard Whitehouse elsewhere in the magazine
As I write this, I'm worried that the prospective attendance at my Renaissance Day is looking less than adequate and it may have to be cancelled if there isn't a significant improvement. For some reason these events attract a disproportionate number of bass voices, so where are the rest of you? One year I was forced to have a session for just four basses, which they found rewarding but challenging. The situation is exacerbated by tenors who leave it late to book for our events, knowing that they will be accepted as they are always in short supply.
The Committee is monitoring the corona virus situation and has decided not to cancel anything at present. Please do not attend an event if you feel even slightly ill – just let us know as soon as possible and we will refund your fee. It would be advisable to check that the event is going ahead by looking at the Events page of the TVEMF website before travelling.
Venetian Polychoral Music by Giovanni Gabrieli directed by Benjamin Nicholas
Keble College Chapel, Saturday 22nd February, in association with Keble Early Music Festival
I confess I approached the Gabrieli workshop in the Victorian magnificence of Keble College Chapel with some apprehension. I have been to concerts there in the past and the experience tends to be that of a wall of sound coming from the performers. However this was not a concert but a workshop and we, all 90 plus, were gathered in the choir and the chancel, facing inwards, so it was possible, most of the time, to hear what other people were doing. Credit too to the director Benjamin Nicholas because his voice was clear and he’s obviously used to working with large groups of people in large resonant spaces. I think some people round the edges might have struggled to hear some of the time, but by and large his direction was clear as was his beat, and his managing of the flow of pieces and the timing of the day. These fairly basic things can make all the difference to the success of a workshop.
Another fundamental is the music and mention must be made of the considerable amount of work done by David Fletcher and Stephen Pegler to produce all the scores and parts needed for the day. Distributing this piece by piece inevitably takes time, but, for such a large number, it went as smoothly as could reasonably be expected. Turning to the music itself, it was all Gabrieli, as advertised, and all big, nothing less than 10 parts. Getting everyone seated for the first piece, Jubilate Deo a 10, took a while, but, as mentioned above, Ben is obviously used to this sort of thing and got everyone in place without too much fuss.
The piece itself is quite jolly, as you might imagine, but it starts with 8 bars of instrumental introduction, so the singers don’t start until bar 9. At this stage in the day, Ben omitted the introduction, which, I think, confused some people, but once we got into it, everything fell into place. It has a recurring triple section setting the words Jubilate Deo which moves things along nicely, although there is another triple section towards the end which changes from 3 2 to 6 4 every couple of bars, and this proved slightly more challenging! All in all this was a good piece to get us going, although in the run through of pieces at the end of the day, Ben did include the instrumental introduction, which was a bit of a shock to tired brains!
We then moved on to the four choir 16-part setting of Exaudi me Domine. Getting everyone into the new format inevitably took a bit of time, but we got there in the end. This is a rather dramatic text from the Requiem service and includes the phrase Quando caeli movendi sunt et terra several times. Gabrieli sets this using a syncopated crotchet, crotchet rest figure across all parts as they have it in turn. This would be challenging in a crystal clear acoustic but in Keble… Nevertheless I think we made good stab at it.
This was followed by a 14-part three choir setting of the Nunc Dimittis, and yes there was more shifting around of people, but we were getting good at it by then! This is a nicely flowing setting, with the choirs answering each other and coming together for words like omnium populorum. By this time we had got the measure of the acoustic and the layout, and I think we made a very nice sound (although I suspect it still sounded like a wall of noise half way down the chapel!).
Next came the 12-part setting of Plaudite omnis terra, still in three choirs so with very little moving around. This is another jolly piece, with lots of triple time Alleluias to enjoy and big tuttis on words like omnis terra and omnes gentes. Not much else to say about this except that it was fun!
Finally we tackled the 17-part setting of the Magnificat, back into four choirs. This gets its effect from blocks of sound from the choirs answering one another, with not a lot of complex counterpoint – so it was well suited to the chapel. Although tiredness was creeping in by now, we rose to the challenge once again and gave it the treatment it deserved.
For the final run through, we played the pieces in reverse order – for some (OK, for me) it was a bit of a challenge remembering which part we were on and where we were sitting for each piece. But we got there in the end and I think the results weren’t bad, considering the length of time we’d been singing and playing.
This workshop was part of Keble’ s Early Music Festival, and as well as the chapel, they had made a ‘green room’ available for registration, coffee, lunch seating etc. This was a useful space, although it was a couple of minutes’ walk from the chapel. We were lucky that the rain held off or it could have been a rather soggy day! Many thanks to them for their help with the event.
And a very big thank you to Victoria Helby for making it happen at all, and, of course, to Ben for leading us so expertly through this glorious music.
There are some lovely pictures of the day on the TVEMF Facebook page, including one bird’s eye view (actually from the organ loft) taken by Pippa Thynne, the Keble College Music Administrator. She arranged the workshop for us as well as moving enormous numbers of chairs on the day and needs special thanks too.
I sneaked out and took a few photos myself from the back of the chapel and wasn’t hit by a wall of sound, Richard. It sounded absolutely magnificent and I’m glad there was a small audience for the run-through. Victoria
Border Marches Early Music Forum Consort Scores Lending Library
Sue Russell has recently taken over stewardship of the BMEMF library of consort music, and she would be delighted to see it used more frequently. The index can be found on the BMEMF website www.bmemf.org.uk/borrowing-music.html and is divided into the following sections: Crumhorn tutors, Two instruments with continuo, Three instruments with continuo, Four instruments with continuo, Seven instruments with continuo, Three parts, Four parts, Five parts, Six parts and Eight parts. Sue is happy to send out material through the post.