The National Gallery

"The Fighting Temeraire" by J.M.W. Turner

I decided to take a peak into the National Gallery and see what they had to offer.  The place is pretty big and I didn’t have all day to spend perusing through the whole place.  The great thing about the Gallery is that it’s built in such a way where you can hop between rooms really easily or you can go through in a logical numerical order.  My main goal was to find works by J.M.W. Turner, who is, in my opinion, one of the greatest English painters.  Found him, but I also found some other works I had no idea were there:

Rembrandt – “Self-Portrait at age 34,” “Self-Portrait at age 63,” “Belshazzar’s Feast,” “An Elderly Man as St. Paul” (Life changing)

Seurat – “Bathers at Asnières,” “The Channel of Gravelines, Grand Fort-Phillip,” “Study for “Le Grande Jatte,”

Monet – “The Water-Lily Pond,” “Water-lilies” (one of many), “Water-Lilies, Setting Sun,” “The Thames below Westminster,”

Renoir – “The Skiff (La Yole),” “The Umbrellas,” “Gladioli in a Vase,”

Van Gogh – “Sunflowers,” “A Wheatfield, with Cypresses,” “Van Gogh’s Chair,”

Van Eyck – “The Arnolfini Portrait,”

"Rain, Steam, and Speed," by J.M.W. Turner

Constable – “The Hay Wain,”

And many, many other amazing works.  There were several times when I was saying to myself, “wait, that’s here.  HERE in London.  HERE right in front of my eyes.  Whoa.”  I went in there with a purpose, and then found myself completely swept up what the museum had to offer.  It’s a fantastic place, and the best part is that it’s FREE!

I want to go back just to enjoy the rest of what that place has to offer.  Also, they have “Madonna of the Rocks,” by da Vinci that they’ve taken out from display temporarily.  I’d like to see if it’s back on the wall before I leave.

Oxford + Cambridge = Oxbridge

Wow!  So much to cover and such a short period of time.  Let’s see if I can get to some of this.  First off, I’m rather surprised I even got to these universities in the first place.  It was such a blessing to go to each of these places and drink in what they have to offer.

First, Oxford – It wasn’t what I was expecting.  First, the entire university isn’t just one body, it’s divided into smaller colleges (St. John, Magdalen, New, Corpus Chrisi, Wadham, Kings, Queens, etc.) that have their own chapel, living quarters, halls, and studies.  Also, I was expecting it to be a campus set aside from the town, but I found just the opposite.  The university and the town are indivisibly woven into each other.  There’s a college here, and a college there with a number of shops between them.

I had the opportunity to sit in on rehearsal with the choir boys of New College.  It was remarkable.  8 to 12 year olds all together singing the treble part of whatever piece they were learning.  They knew what key the piece was written in and what key they were choosing to sing it in.  They knew which marks were editorial and how to tune certain intervals.  There’s nothing like this in America.  One of the highlights was hearing them rehearse “Lift Thine Eyes,” by Mendelssohn.  Unbelievable.

The highlight of the entire trip was being able to sing with one of the college choirs for an Evensong service.  We’ve got some really sweet hook ups into a lot of different colleges there (Thanks Ruth!).  I had the opportunity to sing with St. John’s College Choir.  We pretty much showed up and hour before the service, learned the program (including Anglican chant), and then started learning some of next week.  I was impressed that they all could sight-read so well.  It must have rubbed off or something because I started sight reading better!  Next to me was another bass named Rory who helped show me the ropes.  Without his help I would have been completely lost.  I was really glad that one of the pieces had the same words as a song we did in BYU Singers this year, and the other one was “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say,”  the same version we did with the combined choirs at BYU.  Way to take a load off my mind!

Between rehearsal and service we had tea in a common room.  It was a great way to get a bit of food, water and socializing in before singing.  An interesting part of the service was that before and after we went out to sing the service in the chapel, there was a prayer and a blessing.  It’s a part of the service you never get to see unless you’re apart of it.  And I guess, if you’re doing this week in and week out it becomes routine for you and might not be as novel as it is for us.  After the service we had a wee reception in the chapel and then dinner in the hall.  They sang a blessing (that was more like a Verdi opera chorus then the Tallis cannon we learned) and then ate.  We had a great time chatting with the students and learning what they do and why they choose to do it.  They really are a keen bunch.  I found them to be really open, warm and friendly.  Awesome people.

Next, Cambridge – We have only spent a day here so far (as opposed to three in Oxford), but already, it’s an engaging place and very attractive.  It’s much like Oxford in the sense that there are different college with the town woven in.  We got to walk around a bit and felt that the place was really bright and open with a really good feel about it.  We took a punting tour down the River with great guide and had a blast.  The punting tour essentially shows you nine of the colleges that sit on the river.  I found Cambridge to be a bit more bucolic then Oxford (which is always a plus in my book).

After our punting trip and our walk around the place, we went to rehearsal and Evensong with Trinity College Choir conducted by Stephen Layton (who conducts Polyphony).  It was a great choir with a really fantastic repertoire.  They sang the “Nunc Dimittis” by Arvo Pärt (LOVED IT), “O Vis Aeternitatis” by Frank Ferko (a new favorite) and a new unpublished piece by Stephen Paulus called “Little Elegy” (Uh-mazing).  They sounded really amazing, and are definitely up there on the list of choirs I need to get to know better (along with Tenebrae, Elora Festival Singers and The Holst Singers).

Sadly, we didn’t have much more time besides that.  On the way to Cambridge we found a US Memorial a few of the troops who died in the European Theater, many from the air force who were shot down over the sea.  It was a moving experience.  I really want to go back there.

One thing that I noticed with both choral experiences is that most of the what choirs ever do is church music.  Literature specifically written with a church service in mind.  They see very little secular repertoire, if any at all.  I found that very peculiar to me since I find myself about half and half with the sacred and secular lit.  I can’t see myself giving up either.  Then again, with so much focus on church music, they know it all and have a vast amount of it.

Sorry for the long delay and hope I can write more soon.  Just having a blast here!  I highly recommend it.

An Evening with Harry Christophers and The Sixteen

What an incredible evening!  We took a boat to Greenwich and got to attend a rehearsal and performance of The Sixteen and Harry Christophers.  The first thing I was struck by during rehearsal was how well run the whole organization is and how friendly and close everyone is with each other.  Before the rehearsal, Dr. Staheli was talking with Mr. Christophers who offered to talk to us and answer any of our questions.  Whoa.

I have to say, I’ve know this ensemble for quite a while (love them) but I always found it a little weird that Harry Christophers would make his name so prominent with the name of the ensemble.  I wondered if if was some sort of weird ego/power thing.  But in reality, it’s just the opposite: he’s extremely warm, generous and gracious.

He talked to us a bit about the repertoire (which was so personal and engaging – go here for the record).  And then took questions.  I asked him how he chooses music to program a concert.  Among other things he talked about not programing more than 30 minutes of 16th Century music at a time.  As wonderful as it is, more than 30 minutes seems to wear out modern listeners.  Point well taken.

Between rehearsal and concert I was able to have dinner with one of the members of The Sixteen.  He had sung previous with the BBC Singers and the Tallis Scholars (turns out more professional singers float about in multiple choirs throughout the city).  After floating around different professional choirs, he settled on The Sixteen because of Harry Christophers and the environment that he sets up in his rehearsals.  He described it as a tight-knit group that are great friends.

Greenwich

The evening’s performance was great.  Some of my favorites were “Haec Dies” by Byrd, “Media vita in morte sumus” (a 20 minute work) by Sheppard, and “Miserere nostri” by Tallis.  At the end was a piece by Byrd called “Infelix ego,” that was a very personal setting of a person fearing persecution for the sake of their faith.  Again, I was surprised how I never lost interest like during The Tallis Scholars.  It was all a riveting experience from beginning to end.

The whole evening was incredible for me, and just another reminder about how spiritual an excellent choral performance is.  Singing in tune really does something to your soul.

And of course, at this point, we all began to compare and contrast The Tallis Scholars with The Sixteen, but I feel you can’t really do that very easily.  They’re too different ensembles, with two different musical ideals, going about it in two different ways.  Even though they sing similar repertoire (although The Sixteen has flexibility to venture into different repertoire), it’s like apples and oranges.  I love both ensembles a lot, but for different reasons.  Both are outstanding, and worthy of great praise.

Last Night: The Tallis Scholars

Last night, I had the opportunity to attend a concert of The Tallis Scholars.  To be honest, I’d never really heard of them till this past year.  Now I’m wondering, “How in the world did I ever get on without this choir?”

Anyway.  We all make our way down to Cadogan Hall just off of Sloane Square, which is a church that’s been converted into a concert hall.  As a hall, it was beautiful, but had an acoustic that was dryer than the space I was expected.  For a concert hall, it was great, but with Renaissance, especially sacred Renaissance, you expect it in a large, wetter space.

Palestrina

Their program was a whole night of Italian composers from the high Renaissance, some familiar, other completely new.  I also must admit, sometimes, with a long string of early music, I start to get a wee bit bored.  I was worried that I would start to get bored out of my mind.

When they walked on stage, there was this palpable energy in the room.  Peter Philips walked on stage.  After the applause, he gave the downbeat for Surge Illuminare by Palestrina.  It completely took my breathe away.  The boldness of the sound with great balance and almost perfect intonation.  The work is a real zinger.  I was riveted the rest of the evening.

They went on to sing the Pope Marcellus Mass by Palestrina, along with other words by Croce, Gabrieli, Phinot & Festa.  One highlight (out of an incredible night) would have been the “Quam pulchra es” by Festa.  Such a tender and beautiful piece for upper voices.  It really was incredible.  I can hardly express what it was really like.  I never felt a single moment of boredom.

St. Paul's Cathedral

After giving them a standing ovation (very rare for me) they sang an encore by de Lassus for Epiphany that I’d never heard of.  It was quite the piece, so I’ll need to find out what it was.

Today, after Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral, I had the opportunity to just get on a bus and go down Fleet street to Charing Cross then on to Trafalgar Square then over to Piccadilly Circus.  What a great city!  I LOVE this town!  I went into HMV and bought four CDs for £25.  It was a steal.

Tomorrow night we’ll be with the Harry Christopher and The Sixteen.  We’ll get to sit on a rehearsal and maybe even ask a question or two.

Composing is officially on hold (mainly ’cause I can’t find a piano to use).

. . . and I’m in London

It’s kinda difficult to blog when I’ve been all over the place this past week.  After my trip to Missouri, I got on another plane to London (while going through Iceland, gotta get back there someday).  I’ve had virtually no jet lag since getting here.  I made this transition really well.

We took some walking tours around London and saw a concert at St. Martins-in-the-Fields.  This morning we went to a sung Eucharist at Westminster Abbey.  Wow!  They sang the “Mass in G” by Vaughn-Williams and “I Sat Down” by Edward Bairstow.  The last piece was incredible.  While walking in we saw the graves of Sir Edward Elgar, Sir Charles Sanford, Sir William Walton, Herbert Howells, and Ralph Vaughn-Williams.  There right next to the grave of Sir Isaac Newton.  Flip!

More will come later, including pictures.  Until then, Happy Mother’s Day mum!