David Ransom our Friends Coordinator and former Chairman extraordinaire has for a long time been creating really interesting Concert Programmes for our events with fascinating information about Composers and the pieces themselves. You might like to have a read from excerpts of some past programmes for information and hopefully inspiration to attend some of our concerts in the future!
Few will disagree with the proposition that Mendelssohn’s Elijah is one of the great oratorio triumvirate including Handel’s Messiah and Haydn’s The Creation, and yet in the forty-five years of our existence we have never performed it!
The Old Testament story of Elijah resonated deeply with Mendelssohn and was the obvious choice for a new oratorio. He appreciated Elijah’s role in the evolution of the Jewish faith, and how Elijah met with God on Mount Sinai, significant as where Moses received the Torah, and undertook to return the dispersed Jewish tribes to Israel.
Part 1 begins with solemn chords that will later convey the word of God. The overture paints a fearsome picture of the effect on the Jews of the drought prophesied by Elijah. Angels arrive to urge Elijah to perform a miracle and reform the people. In their desperation they have resorted to worshipping Baal, ancient God of lightning, thunder and rain. Elijah goes to the home of Zarepath to recall her dead son’s soul. Mired in grief, she is more than sceptical and bluntly says, “What have I to do with thee, O man of God?” When Mendelssohn wrote the expressive soprano part of the widow, he had in mind his adoring and adored friend the ‘Swedish Nightingale’, Jenny Lind. When the now proven Elijah returns to the people the people reject him as a troublemaker. He calls down a consuming fire from the heavens, which convinces everyone to turn again to God. They launch prayers for rain, bringing only a little cloud at first and then finally, the longed for waters that “lavish the thirsty land”, a downward rush of musical scales.
After further trials Elijah returns to Israel, his spirit refreshed and faith restored. A fiery chariot drawn by fiery horses comes in a whirlwind and takes Elijah into the heavens. The last aria, “Then shall the righteous shine forth”, and the final two choruses, based on the last chapters of Malachi and Isisah, “But the Lord from the north hath raised one” and “And then shall your light break forth” anticipate the Messiah’s coming.
You join us for the first concert of our forty fourth season in which we aim to transport you to Russia. Trying to understand modern Russia is somewhat unsettling, but the wonderful musical heritage of that country continues to engage and delight us.
Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninov (1873-1943) was a pianist, composer and conductor of the late Romantic period, some of whose works are among the most popular in the classical repertoire. Born into a musical family Rachmaninov took up the piano at the age of four. He graduated from the Moscow Conservatory in 1892 having already composed several piano and orchestral pieces. In 1897, following negative critical reaction to his Symphony No.1 he entered a four-year depression and composed little until successful therapy allowed him to complete his enthusiastically received Piano Concerto No.2 in 1901. Following the Russian Revolution Rachmaninov and his family left Russia and in 1918 settled in the United States. With his main source of income coming from piano and conducting performances, demanding tour schedules led to a reduction in his time for composition so between 1918 and 1943 he completed just six major works. Failing health led to his relocation to Beverly Hills, California, and one month before his death he was granted American citizenship.
The Vigil is a traditional Russian Orthodox service celebrated before feast days or on Saturday evenings. In the early church and right through to today in Russian monasteries the All Night Vigil proper begins at sunset on Saturday evening with Vespers and continues throughout the night almost without interruption until Matins and Prime at dawn the following morning. However in local churches the service occupies about two hours on a Saturday evening.
Rachmaninov wrote his Vigil in two short weeks in early 1915. Not a churchgoer himself, he nevertheless felt the need to contribute to his nation’s spiritual life in music. Before undertaking the work he studied the various streams of traditional chant and consulted authorities on church liturgy and music. The resulting work made a profound impression at its premiere in wartime Moscow in March 1915, and remained in demand until the anti-religious Bolshevik revolution in 1917. Although it was performed less frequently during the soviet era, nowadays it is as popular as ever.
One of the defining features of the Vigil is that the bass singers are required to sing some very low notes. Its first performance was in Moscow in 1915 and Rachmaninov records a conversation he had with the conductor “After I played a passage Danilin shook his head saying ‘Now where on earth are we to find such basses? They are as rare as asparagus at Christmas!’ Nevertheless he did find them. I know the voices of my countrymen, and I well knew what demands I could make on Russian basses!” Our own achieved this task valiantly on the day
Zimbe! is the phenomenon which has rocked the choral world since its premiere in 2008, cementing Alexander L’Estrange’s reputation as one of the UK’s most popular choral composers of the 21st Century. Within its first four years Zimbe! had received 150 performances worldwide, including in the USA, Canada, Australia, and Kenya, and its popularity with choirs and audiences alike continues to grow. The key to the success of this 40-minute cantata is three-fold: first, it is the genius combination of adult SATB choir, unison children’s choir, and five-piece band; secondly it is the fusion of two distinct musical styles, in this case African song and jazz; and thirdly, it is that the piece works equally well with choral societies, cathedral choirs and school choirs, encouraging an amalgamation of different singing groups within one locality, in a spirit of community singing from which folk music arose.
L’Estrange formed his band The Call Me Al Quintet to play for the first performance of Zimbe! The group has since played for many of the performances, often with the composer himself on piano or double bass. Zimbe! is full of the energy and rhythmic drive which have become synonymous with L’Estrange’s choral works, leaving the singers elated and the audience uplifted. Choirs with little or no experience of performing non-classical styles cannot fail to get into the groove with a band of top professional jazz musicians supporting them.
A concert in three parts. After an Orchestral Faure Pavane, The Polenc Gloria was then performed followed by Puccini’s Messe Di Gloria
Gloria was premiered on 21 January 1961 in the USA by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. It is one of Poulenc’s most celebrated works and was commissioned by the Koussevitsky Foundation in honour of Sergei Koussevitzky and his wife Natalia, after whom the foundation was named. It is a quirky composition with, in parts, emphasis placed on what seems to be the wrong syllable of words and because of its jaunty nature it was thought by many, when first performed, to be irreligious. Nowadays Poulenc’s reputation and the fact that the piece is full of melody, drama, and sensuousness Gloria has become accepted as a classic of its kind.
Part two of our concert is devoted to the performance of a single work by one of the world’s best loved and most famous composers. Giacomo Puccini was born in Lucca, Italy to a family of prodigious musicians. The Puccini family had provided the Maestro di Capella in Lucca church, the Cattedrale di San Martino for over 140 years, and Giacomo was destined to continue the tradition, but his father died when he was only six and the line of succession was broken. Nevertheless Giacomo sang in the cathedral choir and the work we are to perform tonight was composed by him at the age of eighteen as a graduation exercise and it was first performed in Lucca Church on July 12 1880 when he was a mere twenty one years of age. Puccini went on to establish himself as one of the foremost Italian opera composers – perhaps second only to Verdi. His life could easily have featured in one of his operas. It was never plain sailing. Around 1880 he started living with Elvira Gemignani, a married woman and to escape the inevitable scandal he left Lucca. Following the death of Elvira’s husband, the couple married. In 1890 Puccini and Elvira’s son, Antonio was born and the family moved first to Milan, then later to Torre del Lago, a tiny fishing village on Lake Massaciuccoli, where they lived until 1921….
There are people who do not like Baroque Music, and obviously they are entitled to their view! This concert aims to challenge that prejudice by glorifying the very best of baroque music. Musically, the baroque style began around 1600 in Italy, and spread to most of Europe until around 1730-50 encompassing composers such as Monterverdi and Schutz, to Corelli, Vivaldi and J.S. Bach, Pergolesi and Handel. The music of the period reflected a burgeoning sense of stability within European society establishing the use of even temperament – consistent spacing between notes on the scale – and an approach to writing music in which a song or piece is written in a particular key. This created lines of music which ‘feel’ right and which are resolved in a satisfyingly ‘normal’ and harmonious manner. That sense of natural order to be found in Baroque music is one of the reasons it was, and still is, so satisfying…
….Antonio Vivaldi, born in Venice in 1678, lived through both the Venetian state’s prosperity and its dissolute decline. From very humble beginnings he succeeded in being ordained as a priest, probably as a result of becoming famous as a precociously talented fiddle player. He became known as the Red Priest, after the colour of his hair, but there is some doubt about his commitment to the office. He was, and some say he probably contrived to be, excused from having to say Mass on medical grounds, but whatever that condition was it did not prevent him from pursuing a very active musical life in church, concerts, and opera. Much of his choral output including his Gloria resulted from his 35 years employment at Venice’s Pio Ospedale della Pietà.(Devout Hospital of Mercy). The Pietà originated as a shelter and school for mainly female orphans, many of whom were illegitimate, and as girls, the unwanted offspring of a degenerate Venetian nobility. Although he enjoyed a somewhat crusty relationship with governors of the Pietà, being sacked and re-engaged at least once, Vivaldi was able to compose and teach the music needed for weekly Sunday public concerts presented by the students, and thanks to its quality the school developed a reputation for such educational excellence that wealthy citizens began sending their daughters there too.
Tonight we are basing our concert on the trumpet. What is it about the trumpet that makes it so appealing? Is it its versatility? Or, is it its capacity to inspire some pretty powerful emotions? It appears to be capable of creating fear and terror one minute (just listen to the introduction to the Dies Ire in the Verdi Requiem); homespun nostalgia (as in Eddie Calvert’s Cherry Blossom Pink & Apple Blossom White); or stirring patriotic fervour (as in Rule Britannia). One minute it’s tearing down the walls of Jericho and the next it can be tender and sweet when played in a love song. In the hands of a great player it can apparently do anything. In Crispian Steele-Perkins we are particularly fortunate to have one of the country’s finest trumpeters to talk to us about this wonderful instrument and to demonstrate the art and versatility of sound that an accomplished player can achieve…
…I was glad has been the opening Coronation Anthem accompanying the Monarch’s arrival at the service in Westminster Abbey since the days of Charles 1, but the epic 1902 composition by Hubert Parry which starts our concert tonight has now – rather like Handel’s Zadok the Priest – become a very favoured setting, and likely to be heard at all future coronations. On such occasions the opening of the work is preceded by a massive fanfare of trumpets – at the Queen’s Coronation played by the trumpeters of the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall. It has a central section, which we will not be performing tonight in which, traditionally, the scholars of Westminster School greet the monarch with the acclamation Vivat Rex or Regina. At the coronation of King Edward VII the then organist at Westminster Abbey and Director of Music for the coronation Sir Frederick Bridge, who had once ordered all the choirboys in the Abbey Choir to be beaten following a poor performance at Evensong, made a complete mess of I was Glad. He began the piece too soon, finishing it – in all its glory – before the King had even entered the building. Fortunately for him the organist broke the stunned silence with an extemporisation on the work and held the fort until Bridge was obliged to perform the piece again. How the beaten choristers must have felt the joy of schadenfreude!…
…The musical gifts of Fauré had no sooner become apparent than he was sent, at the age of nine, to the Ecole Niedermeyer in Paris; and at no cost to his family, for Louis Niedermeyer had been so impressed by the child’s talent that he waived all fees. It is highly probable that had the young Fauré been trained at the Paris Conservatoire (where he later taught, and still later became Director) his musical style would have been differently conditioned. The Ecole Niedermeyer was primarily geared to the training of church musicians, so that the young Fauré was brought up in a musical environment permeated by the old musical traditions of the French church. After graduating from the Ecole in 1865, Fauré earned a modest living as an organist and teacher. He became successful as a composer in his middle age, and by his final years Fauré was recognised in France as the leading French composer of his day.
In 1885 Fauré’s father died; his mother followed her husband to the grave two and a half years later. It was between these two bereavements that Fauré wrote his requiem. The slightly archaic style of some of Fauré’s best loved songs owes much to this early training and immersion in French religious music, and it is certainly the clue to the basic musical thinking behind his requiem. It was first performed at the Madeleine in 1888. It was also performed at Fauré’s own funeral service in 1924, reaching London only in 1936, nearly half a century after it was composed, despite the earnest efforts of Fauré’s friend Elgar to arrange a London or Three Choirs Festival performance in Fauré’s own lifetime.
…Brahms’s was born in 1833 in the port of Hamburg in northern Germany. His father was a freelance brass player, playing in pubs and with the local band. Brahms started to study the piano at the age of seven and eventually began playing professionally in restaurants and theatres. Some of his biographers contend that a musically prodigious Brahms was ‘put to work’ in these establishments, which were little more than sea-port brothels, and what he saw – and may have experienced as a good-looking and innocent young man – may have marked him for life. In 1853, Brahms was touring Germany as the accompanist for a Hungarian violinist, when he met the day’s leading violinist, Joseph Joachim. Joachim encouraged Brahms to introduce himself to the celebrated composer Robert Schumann, which he did, arriving unannounced at the composer’s house in Dusseldorf in September 1853. He made an immediate impression on both Robert and his wife Clara – herself a former child prodigy and very accomplished singer and pianist – and he stayed with them for several weeks and became a very close family friend…
…Morten Johannes Lauridsen was born in Colfax, Washington State, USA in February 1943. He developed a love for music from his mother who played the piano and sang to him. At the age of eight he started playing the piano followed a few years later by the trumpet. He began to study English and History at Whitman College in Washington State unsure of his call to a life in music, but during his first summer vacation he worked as a Forest Service fire-fighter and lookout on an isolated tower near Mt. St. Helens where he contemplated his future deciding ‘he really did belong in music’, though as yet unsure in what capacity. After another year at Whitman College, where he took ‘every music class he could lay his hands on’, he transferred to the University of Southern California, to study advanced composition. He is now considered to be America’s greatest living composer of choral music….
We begin with excerpts from two oratorios by Handel. On 11 April 1981 in Ipswich and repeated on May 16th in Eye Merlin Channon conducted us in the first performance of his own exclusively researched and printed edition of the Occasional Oratorio by Handel, and on 12 June 1999, also under his baton we gave the first performance of a completely new edition of Judas Maccabaeus, on this occasion edited by our Founder/Conductor for music publisher Novello. The 1981 rendition is particularly memorable because it may well have been one of the first performances in the UK since the work was composed in 1746.
Handel was born in 1685, the same year as J.S.Bach at the beginning of the period known as the Age of Enlightenment – a period when attempts to reform European society were pursued using reason and science to challenge ideas grounded solely in tradition and faith. Scientific thought, scepticism, and intellectual debate were encouraged; superstition and intolerance were opposed, with the Catholic Church a favourite target. Handel and Bach were both Lutherans, perhaps the progenitors of so-called enlightened thinking, and their protestant conviction never left them. In the two Handel works in this section of our concert, religious alignment and conviction both had a major part to play…