Tag Archives: Lassus

#EarBox: lunchtime concert at Studio 3 Gallery this Friday

The University Chamber Choir is busy preparing for its annual concert in the Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral on Friday 3 March, and as a curtain-raiser the choir will perform in the sonorous acoustic of Studio 3 Gallery this Friday lunchtime, 24 February.

Continuing the #EarBox series exploring the dialogue between  music and visual art, this Friday’s event will see the choir perform amidst the gallery’s latest exhibition, Soft Formalities. An exploration of line, form and colour in painting, tapestry and ceramics, the gallery will host an equally exploratory programme of choral music, ranging from the stark, haunting beauty of Tavener’s setting of William Blake’s The Lamb to an almost-minimalist dream awakening by Alec Roth; there’s also a tour de force Lithuanian folk-song for double choir by Vaclovas Augustinas, madrigals by Lassus, richly colourful pieces by Peter Warlock and Alexander Campkin, and more.

The concert is free to attend and starts at 1.10pm in the gallery in the Jarman Building; if you can’t make it in person, the concert will be live-streamed here.

Join the Chamber Choir either live or online, as it presents a concert exploring dreams, sleep, desire, dance and lullabies in the echoing space of Studio 3 Gallery this Friday. More details here.

Defeating the tyranny of the barline

I often find that notation gets in the way of music. Granted, it’s an evolved communicative system that works to impart information from composer to performer, but sometimes it actually runs slightly counter to what the music actually feels as though it wants to do.

Feeling chicken...This has become particularly apparent in recent rehearsals as the Chamber Choir works on Lassus’ Chi Chi Li Chi, a cacophony of bantam-banter in a late sixteenth-century chicken-shed, written well before the modern standard system of notation. Stepping deftly between different metres, full of rhythmic interplay, the notation actually works against the sense of flexibility and vitality which lurks at the heart of this outrageous piece. We’ve had to re-bar certain sections and write different stresses into the scores, in order to overcome the tyranny of regularity imposed by barlines.

It’s hard; as musicians, we’re so well-trained to observe bar-lines and time-signatures in our subservience to the printed score that we can find it difficult to ignore them, in order to allow the natural rhythmic language of a piece to come through. But, as I keep reminding the singers, notation is only a means to an end: the music lives not on the printed page, but in the moment of delivery, in the white-heat of off-the-page performance. Lots of work still to do, but it seems to be working. (Well, I’ll let you know after our all-day rehearsal this Saturday…).

Dashing Away with a cluckity-cluck

This year’s student conductor, Matt Bamford, reflects on recent rehearsals.

With only eight more weeks until our annual concert in the Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral, our programme is really beginning to come together and the ensemble sound develop.

Reflecting on our first two rehearsals after the Christmas break fills me with great excitement. It was really difficult to predict how the first rehearsal back would go, with the choir not having sung together as a full group since the University Carol Service at the beginning of December. On top of this, much of the Crypt repertoire had not been rehearsed since late November and so returning to it could have been like starting from scratch again.

Matt finish...

Matt finish…

The first piece that we looked at was Chilcott’s arrangement of Steal Away; a very colourful piece that is driven by supported breathing and the motion of the sustained pedal notes in the male parts. To this end, we began the warm-up by lying on the floor and doing some very long breathing exercises. The idea of lying down to do this is that it encourages you to breathe from your diaphragm and directly from there rather than your chest. The sound of the ensemble had stuck from before our long break, and the colourful chords really pierce the great acoustics of the Colyer-Fergusson hall where we rehearse.In complete contrast to the tranquil Steal Away we have also spent time rehearsing Rutter’s arrangement of Dashing Away with the Smoothing Iron and Lassus’s playful Rooster-Fight Chi Chi Li Chi. Dashing Away is deceptively difficult in terms of rhythm, and we spent much of last night pulling the first three verses apart making sure that each part had the confidence to attack each rhythmic phrase. After debate over whether to sing “Dash-ing” or “Da- shing” and making sure we don’t sing on the beat during syncopated sections, we began to bring the piece up to performance pace, which filled me with lots of excitement. It is such a playful piece!

We made more progress with Chi Chi Li Chi which can only be described as a piece like no other that I have performed before. Telling the story of a Rooster-Fight through singing and other vocal noises (come along to the Crypt and you will understand more…) is great fun, but also very challenging. There are constant meter changes and the opening section has a rather lethargic feel to it.

As we are now beginning to rely on the piano much less, we can begin to pull pieces apart and the choir are really growing in confidence. We have an all day workshop ahead of us, which will be another opportunity to bond as a choir and to develop the unique sound that we are already producing.

Eight weeks, and counting!

Matt Bamford

Beginnings, endings: and cake

It’s often said that the only parts of a concert programme an audience remembers are the start and the finish, and for a great concert, only the first and last pieces need to be good – anything that comes in the middle is forgotten. If this is true, then on the strength of last night’s rehearsal of pieces to open and close the programme, our concert in six weeks’ time is going to be brilliant.

LemonWith the Advent antiphons having worked so well in the concert last term, the February programme will open with a piece of plainchant for Matins and finish with one for Compline. Rehearsals resumed last night with the first of these, which will lead into the unfurling, evocative  colours of Barnum’s Dawn; the latter piece is really beginning to find its feet, and the aleatoric concluding section with the sopranos and altos each dwelling on a single, separate note evoking the hue of sunrise, is developing nicely. The plainchant takes some getting used to – reading off four staves rather than the latter tradition of five and working out where the Latin inflection leads certainly focuses the mind…

The main focus of last night was the two Italian Giants of the programme, Lassus’ O Sonno and Monteverdi’s Ecco mormorar l’onde. Two contrasting Renaissance pieces here, each challenging in their own way. Our main intent with the Monteverdi is to revel in the rich polyphonic writing – the piece has the lines weaving and tumbling over one another in its depiction of the murmuring waves, rustling foliage and gentle breezes – until the closing, homophonic section, which should then come as a relief.

Two English pieces followed, a piece new to the group in Dowland’s Awake, Sweet Love, and a revisiting of Vaughan Williams’ Rest. The key to the latter is maintaining a firm grasp of the dynamic range, and ensuring the full range of contrasting contrasts is explored.

Moving between standard and mixed formation, we concluded with the final work, our surprise encore, about which I can’t reveal too much here, except to say it’s an arrangement I’ve written of a pop tune that has the explore indulging its jazzier, do-wop style, in total contrast to everything else we’ll be singing. Persuading the group to adopt a more American swing-style approach proved no problem at all, and there was some swaying, finger-clicking and sugary harmonies with which to finish the concert.

The secret of all good rehearsals is planning, focus, and cake, it seems. During the half-way break, Emma brought forth a box of lemon cakes she had prepared for everyone – I’m not sure if there’s an accredited baking module as part of her degree, but she’s studying Drama, so you never know – which proved extremely popular. No wonder the second half of the rehearsal went so well, everyone’s blood-sugar levels were probably re-stocked. What’s for next week, then ?

A new Dawn, a new day: the new Chamber Choir

And rising, phoenix-like, from the ashes of last year’s Chamber Choir is the new ensemble, which met tonight for the first time.

First meetings are always tentative, with new members suddenly thrown into the fray alongside returning singers from the previous year. It’s difficult to sing confidently amongst strangers, especially when grappling with new pieces to sight-read and sometimes different languages in which to sing, in an unfamiliar venue on a campus at which you might only have arrived a few weeks previously.

And the group rose to the occasion splendidly.

After some tricksy warm-ups from Steph Richardson, this year’s student conductor, it was straight to work, looking at four pieces for the Crypt Concert in February of next year. First up, Dawn by the American composer Eric Barnum, a Whitacre-esque meditation on the rising day. We followed this with Vaughan Williams’ Sweet Day, a mock-Elisabethan part-song.

A sojourn in Italy next, with Lassus’ Tutto lo di, a deft villanelle which trips through various metric values, full of life and vigour. Some might consider not introducing the challenge of singing in a foreign language at a first rehearsal – all those tricky vowel-shapes and the minefield of pronunciation – but the group rose to the challenge with spirit.

We finished by looking at some genuine Whitacre,  Sleep, his profound and beautiful piece to a poem by Charles Anthony Silvestri. Some astonishing chords here, with consonant sonorities supporting semitone clashes that give a real piquancy to the music, some rich colours and breath-taking sonorities – we’ve begun building certain passages chord-by-chord, and the choir have taken to it straight away.

All in all, a terrific first rehearsal: well done to all the choir for their work, to Steph for leading the group through the warm-up exercises: more next week. It’s time to start getting excited about the year ahead…

Hail, Bright Cecilians!

Cecilian Choir logoThe Cecilian Choir drew its first breath this week, launching into its programme of repertoire for the year and beginning with Tallis and Lassus.

Lassus’ Adoramus te, Christe is a very strange little motet: it moves harmonically into places where, tonally, the ear is expecting something else, and voice-parts occasionally introduce flats that steer the harmony into unusual corners. All of which makes for challenging sight-reading, but to which the choir rose with aplomb.

Tallis’ popular If Ye Love Me offers the opportunity for the singers to relish consonants and vowel-shapes, particularly on the words ‘love’ and ‘commandments.’

The choir has grown in size since last year, and we’ve changed the rehearsal layout and the space we occupy in Eliot College Hall, which allows a greater resonance; there was a point in the rehearsal at which the choir finished the Tallis anthem, and the final chord of F major suddenly rose into the roof and filled the entire hall: and the intonation was perfect as well.

A great start to the year, with lots more repertoire to look forward to, plus a few seasonal surprises. Stay tuned…