HANDWASHERS’ NEWSLETTER 30th May 2021

Thank you, all those who have signed the petition in support of amateur choirs but, if you haven’t already done so, here is another opportunity: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/586559  

CARLETON’S COLUMN 

4’33” was written in 1952 by the American avant-garde composer, John Cage. Scored for any instrument or combination of instruments, the score instructs the performers NOT to play during the entire duration of the three movement piece. This work became the epitome of Cage’s theory that any sounds constitute music.

John Cage (1912-1992)

Musicologists and philosophers have debated the whys and wherefores of this piece over the years and I do not propose to continue the debate here. However, in the present social climate, with so many choirs, including CCS, being effectively ‘silenced’ -albeit temporarily – the question has gone through my mind on more than one occasion what a world without music, in its more traditional sense, would be like.

I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions about John Cage but, for me, a world without Bach or Mozart, Brahms or Elgar, Richard Rogers or Gershwin, would be infinitely poorer. Music – in all its forms – is one of the greatest gifts known to humankind. Those of us involved with choirs know this to be true – even in 2021!  https://youtu.be/rDgHUj8sJaQ 

(Do listen to this carefully as Carleton intends to have us sing the themes next time we meet, always providing that Jenny can cope with the accompaniment. Ed.)

MAHLER’S 8th SYMPHONY Performance memories by Vic:

Mahler’s 8th symphony was written in the summer of 1906 at his villa in southern Austria. This was the last of Mahler’s works that was premiered in his lifetime. The work was critically acclaimed when he conducted the first performance with the Munich Philharmonic on 12 September 1910. The work follows two parts, the first part is based on the Latin text of a ninth century hymn for Pentecost, Veni Creator Spritus. Part 2 is a setting to the words from the closing scene of Goethe’s Faust. It is often called “Symphony of a Thousand” because it requires large orchestral and vocal forces.

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

We have sung the work four times now of which two were truly memorable. The first was with the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of the US conductor Michael Tilson Thomas. This was one of his final concerts in charge of the LSO and took place on Sunday 9th April 1995.

Michael Tilson Thomas (born 1944)

We had about 6 intensive rehearsals in the Bishopsgate venue used by the LSC before the “piano” rehearsal with the conductor which took place in Watford. During the latter all day rehearsal, at one of the breaks in rehearsal, I decided to see if I could speak to Tilson Thomas when he was on his own at the rostrum. I was aware that he had connections with San Francisco and as I had worked there for a while it gave me the introduction. We had a brief exchange about San Francisco and the Mahler Symphony. I asked him if we would kindly sign my copy of the Mahler score which he duly did with the words “best greeting to Vic”.

On the Sunday morning the 9th we were up early to do a morning rehearsal with the LSO at the Royal Albert Hall. This wasn’t the usual venue for the LSO but the size of the orchestra and choir required a larger venue than the Barbican Centre. Tilson Thomas interpretation featured, in particular, the final movement which starts off quietly and crescendos to a majestic ending. TT used the upper level of the Albert Hall to place some of the brass ensemble that used remote TV in order to keep in time with the rest of the orchestra who were some considerable distance away. The effect on the sound at the end of the work was spectacular. The press reviews in the Times, the Observer and Daily Telegraph were all very complimentary.

The second memorable performance was two years later on Sunday 21st December 1997. This was with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of the US conductor James Levine. At the rehearsal with James Levine he always wore a towel over his left shoulder. We weren’t sure why as we didn’t see him use it during the rehearsal. JL’s interpretation of the final movement was a little different to the TT one. The opening of the final movement is expected to be very quiet from the choir. JL took this to extreme by spending as least 20 minutes in getting the choir of about 500 to sing this part as quietly as possible. He kept going over it until the choir was almost whispering. The effect of this quietness was mesmeric. The review in The Times said, “Best of all was the hushed tone with which the massive choir began the closing hymn and the masterfully controlled build up to the work’s earth-shattering end”.

James Levine (1943-2021)

The final movement of the work is worth listening to as it is so stimulating and powerful: https://youtu.be/9WhNn6zxqVg

WHICH REMINDS Tim: Lorna and I were in the audience for a performance of Mahler 8 in Symphony Hall by the CBSO conducted by Andris Nelsons. The huge choir stretched around the circle level almost to our seats so that when Nelsons brought the choir to its feet with an extravagant gesture, I thought he included me and almost stood up. Since the singers next to us were sopranos, it was as well that I didn’t try to sing too! This is that very concert with Nelsons conducting. We were sitting above the camera: https://youtu.be/C5I55OA109w

. . . . and on a different scale and from a different era here is the Gloucestershire based Carducci Quartet enjoying Haydn: https://youtu.be/zJhnkjVSsTU

AND FINALLY . . .

Thank you, Catherine Walton for this:

https://www.classicfm.com/music-news/videos/orchestra-prank-sir-andrew-davis/