Masters student and violinist Jon-Mark Grussenmeyer reviews the recent Cathedral concert.
After rehearsing with Sue into the late hours of countless Thursdays, performance day was finally upon us. It promised to be a busy day, not least because my family had flown in from New Jersey to watch the concert.
My father kindly offered to drive me from my flat to the pre-concert rehearsal, at which we were supposed to arrive by 10:45. He promptly made a wrong turn at one of the roundabouts, though thankfully he was, at least, still driving on the wrong—I mean left—side of the road. By the time we pulled into town, I was nearly late. Knowing the English fondness for punctuality, and fearing being skewed by Sue’s angry baton, I sprinted into the Cathedral only to find that half of the orchestra had yet to arrive!
As a postgraduate student of Mediaeval Studies, I am often in the Cathedral, usually examining tombs and other objects related to long-dead people, but filling such a building with beautiful music was completely new to me. To sit and play in the vast nave, the gothic vaulting soaring far above our heads, sunlight piercing the leaded windows in dusty golden shafts, was, for me, an unforgettable experience.
After practicing for a while, we were allowed a brief respite, during which my stand partner and I rushed to purchase the coffee and muffins that would keep us alive for the rest of the afternoon. Of course, as we ate, poor Miriam was then subjected to a mini-lecture on the finer points of the Great Cloister’s architecture, which was only halted when we heard the rest of the orchestra tuning inside.
The second half of the rehearsal went quite well for the orchestra. Several times, the combination of such beautiful harmonies and stunning setting was so powerful that it brought tears to my eyes. Then, the beautiful shafts of sunlight began to shift until they shone directly in my face whenever I attempted to look up at Sue, so teary eyes necessarily remained an integral part of the rehearsal.
Rehearsal at an end, I ate a late lunch and wandered around town with my family. As evening wore on, we repaired back to my parents’ room in the Falstaff Hotel, where I changed into my dinner jacket and then walked back to the Cathedral, violin in hand. The only mishap en route was a ‘gentleman’ who attempted to lay hands on my dinner jacket whilst babbling something unintelligible, though I rid myself of him with a fierce look and a few well-chosen words.
We set up our instruments in the shadowy Cathedral Crypt, one of my favourite places in all of Canterbury, and waited for the concert to begin. As 7:30 rolled around, the chorus marched out to take their places on the enormous risers that seemed to reach as high as the quire’s rood screen, and we took our seats and tuned our instruments. I was stunned by the number of people filling the Nave, including the Lord Mayor, who was sitting across from me in the front row with his impressive chain of office. We certainly ought to have chains of office in the States. Finally, Sue, Jeremy, and the soloists emerged to thunderous applause, and the concert took off in the whirlwind of Haydn’s interpretation of Chaos. I am glad that I had time to appreciate my surroundings whilst playing during the rehearsal, for I had little time to notice anything but the notes, the baton, and Jeremy’s bow as I shifted into my intense concert mode. As I am on the front edge of the orchestra, I found it amply necessary to concentrate; in the complete view of the audience, I have to at least appear to know what I’m doing.
As with any performance I have ever completed, orchestral or theatrical, the concert seemed to fly by at breakneck speed, and suddenly, after weeks and weeks of tiring rehearsals, the orchestra and chorus were belting out the last magnificent strains of the Creation. As the echoes of our final chord lingered among the high-flung columns and the audience filled the nave with applause, I gazed up at that splendid Cathedral and at my fellow musicians, trying to etch the moment into my memory. Though I shall take many amazing memories back with me to New Jersey when my time here is over, the memory of this concert numbers among the very best.