Saturday night saw the final concert of the season for our local choir – the Ruddington and District Choral Society - but although it was the last concert of the year before the choir takes its summer break it was in every other sense a new beginning since the choir has had both a new musical director/conductor and a new accompanist/choral teacher to lead them. It was a “first” too because the choir were joined by a wonderful and skilful group of musicians – the Ruddington Chamber Ensemble who brought an exciting and new dimension to the concert; hopefully, this is a relationship that will develop further in future months. And finally it was a first since we had the services of four excellent young, local soloists: Grace Bale (Soprano), Katharine Chonara (Mezzo Soprano), Geoggrey Hickling (Tenor) and Ossian Huskinson (Bass) - these four young people were outstanding; again a relationship that it is hoped might develop further. My wife, Pat, has sung with the choir for many years and although I am not a singing member I do help out, as required, with writing the programme, numbering tickets, manning the door on concert nights and other similar “dogsbody” tasks! For this concert, however, I had a new and extra role – to take photographs so that the choir’s website could be up to date with the new personnel.
Because it was something of a new start for the choir the programme had been specially chosen to allow everyone to shine – pieces that are very much choral greats, favourites of singers, players and audiences alike. So in that sense the concert couldn’t really fail, but in actual fact it surpassed everyone’s wildest expectations – a splendid, joyful event where everyone went home, as predicted in the programme, with that real “feel good” feeling. There was universal agreement that the new men in charge, Paul Hayward and Michael Overbury, had injected not only new life and enthusiasm into the singers but had brought huge skills and talents to improve the quality of the singing and musicianship plus a new musical dimension which gave the performance a real buzz; the whole audience sat entranced throughout as the music poured forth from a choir, soloists and orchestra at the top of their respective games. As I sat watching and listening to the music unfolding before me one could almost feel the mutual engagement between the performers and the listeners so tangible was it - the performers at one with their audience, the listeners feeling almost a contributing part of what was unfolding before their very eyes and ears. And, as the final applause died away, it was so noticeable how many of the audience left the church asking when was the next concert, or approached Paul, Michael or choir members to congratulate them on their performance and to thank them for a wonderful evening; they, the audience hadn't just been to a good concert, they had been an important part of a wonderful musical event.
|Enjoying the rehearsal!|
But, of course, in the end, the music is the thing. Musicians and choirs may come and go but it is the music that provides their raison d’être and it is the music that concert goers go along to hear.
I don’t think that anyone who attended Saturday night’s concert would have had any reservations about the choice of programme; people knew what they were going to get – and they came to fill the church and to hear some of the greatest of works by the greatest of composers. As I mentioned above the programme was chosen to grab attention and to enable all to shine – and shine they did! Early on Saturday afternoon I had walked to St Peter’s Church here in Ruddington where the concert was to be held to take some photographs of the final rehearsal. As I quietly slipped in via the side door I was met with a wall of sound as the choir and orchestra gave life to mighty Credo from Haydn’s Nelson Mass – surely one of the world’s spine-tingling musical works; in short, the hairs on my neck stood bolt upright! And throughout the concert on Saturday evening I watched the whole audience sit almost on the edge of their seats, not only entertained but inspired and moved by the pieces: Antonio Vivaldi’s serene and mighty Gloria, George Frederick Handel’s beautiful and technically demanding Organ Concerto No 4 and, of course, the powerful and glorious Nelson Mass by Joseph Haydn. When a programme contains pieces and composers as well known as these it is perhaps not easy for a choir or orchestra to impress – after all, many of the audience will, like me, know these works well and have the works on CD performed by some of the world’s great musicians. Audiences will know what it should sound like when played at its best but as the audience left the Church on Saturday night their praise and happiness was obvious. I heard one member comment that the performance of the Vivaldi was better than the professional performance she had attended a week or two previously at a recognised concert venue. The lady was alone; congratulations were on everyone's lips - the rendering of these mighty works in St Peter’s on Saturday night bore comparison with any other that I have heard. It was not only a rewarding experience but a great achievement by those involved.
And as I sat there listening I thought of something that often goes through my mind when I attend any concert. Here we were, in little village in the middle of England enjoying things that had first been heard in far off places and by ears of far off times. We were experiencing something pretty close to what listeners in Venice experienced three centuries ago when Vivaldi’s Gloria was first performed. Similarly, when Michael Overbury played that marvellous Organ Concerto by Handel we were hearing just what 18th century London theatre goers heard. And when I crept into the church on Saturday afternoon, or sat in the concert on Saturday evening and was overawed by the power of Haydn’s Nelson Mass I was listening to what that great Admiral first heard in 1800 as he returned victorious from the Battle of the Nile having put a stop to Napoleon’s plans to dominate Europe. The music was linking me and the rest of the audience to our shared and mankind's past.
These great works and thousands of others like them, are an historical bridge that links us to times past – to the feelings, ideals and events of those past ages. And it isn’t just great classical music that does this: I can sit and listen, as I sometimes do, to (say) the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, or Bob Dylan and be immediately transported back to my college days in the 60s. I can listen to Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly or the Everley Brothers, as I did the other evening while Pat cooked tea, and be back reliving my misspent teenage years to the Rock and Roll of the late 50s. Or, I can listen to enjoy one of my CDs of Gilbert & Sullivan and in an instant be back to the age of Queen Victoria and Dickensian England; such is the power of music to transport us to another world and another time and hear what those of those far off days heard and loved and to perhaps understand more fully our history and mankind’s dreams, ideals and aspirations.
|Looking serious? Everyone gets their instructions on how|
to behave on the night!
When Michael Overbury sat and performed Handel’s Organ Concerto No 4 (Opus 4) in F Major he was doing exactly what Handel himself did when it was first performed in 1735 – namely, entertaining the audience with a musical interlude between the main parts of the concert. The two main works on Saturday night were the Gloria and the Nelson Mass and when Handel performed his Organ Concerto it was as an interval piece at one of his great oratorios. Handel’s Organ Concertos do not have a religious spirit but were intended to captivate and entertain the general public who had come to hear his Oratorio. They were music for the ordinary man and woman – easy to grasp, melodic and exciting at the same time. The six Opus 4 Concerti were all written between 1735 and 1736 and performed at the newly opened theatre of John Rich in Covent Garden. The Concerto No. 4 in F Major was completed by Handel on March 25th 1735 and performed by him during the performance of Athalia on April 1st 1735. This was “interlude music” for the pleasure and enjoyment of the audience and one member of the audience, Mrs Pendarves, clearly enjoyed it. She wrote at the time: “....Mr Handel’s playing on the organ .....was the finest thing I ever heard in my life”.
|Have we got the "X Factor"......Yes, we have!|
|Inside the Esterhazy Palace where Nelson heard his Mass|
And finally to the Nelson Mass – another of the true choral “greats”. Joseph Haydn wrote his Mass, as most of his other works, whilst employed by Prince Esterhazy at the magnificent Palace of Esterhazy in Hungary – part of the mighty Austro-Hungarian Holy Roman Empire. The Prince was one of Europe’s great men and his palace one of the great cultural centres of 18th century Europe. Haydn was required to produce a new mass each year for the name-day of Princess Esterhazy and in 1798 he composed his Mass in D Minor – the Missa in Angustsiis (A Mass for Troubled Times).
Joseph Haydn - "Papa" Haydn. He gained this sobriquet
because he is often seen as the father of the modern
symphony and, in his time, was much loved by
those who played for him - he was their "father figure"
|The great sea captain|
|And Lady Hamilton, his "friend"!|
The route included Vienna, and from there Nelson and the Hamiltons visited Prince Esterhazy at Eisenstadt and so met Haydn in 1800. To mark the visit of the famous Admiral, Haydn’s D Minor Mass which had assumed the name Nelson Mass, was performed for the illustrious guests and to celebrate the great victory that had temporarily, at least, thwarted Napoleon’s plans. From that moment the “nickname” stuck – the D Minor Mass would be forever the Nelson Mass. During the visit Nelson and Haydn apparently become close friends and accounts tell that Nelson gave Haydn a gold watch captured during the battle, whilst in return Haydn gave Nelson the pen that he had used to compose a cantata to Lady Hamilton.
The Nelson Mass is the longest mass that Haydn produced and is not only one of the world's great choral works but one of the most listenable to and most performed. Its exciting and dramatic music sweep the performers and listeners along – it certainly did that on Saturday night! Hear the Gloria, the Credo or the Agnus Dei and one can be in no doubt about the ability of great music to influence men and to speak of great power, great ideals and great deeds; it is the sort of music to make one feel very small in the magnificence of the universe and indeed of God’s creation - a theme that Haydn explored in another great work, his mighty oratorio The Creation. As I listened on Saturday night, I pictured in my mind’s eye the brilliant palace of Esterhazy, the gathered, glittering political, military and cultural elite of Europe, the great Admiral and his mistress, “Papa” Haydn, now an old man nearing the end of an illustrious career, conducting the assembled performers and all of them hearing exactly what I was hearing in St Peter’s Church two centuries later. A gateway and bridge to an understanding of our shared past to be sure.
|Didn't we do well! Acknowledging the applause.|