Handwashers’ Newsletter 30th August 2020

BACH ON THE NORTH DOWNS Jennifer May recalls:

Warwick playing Bach on a mountain reminded me of a walk taken many moons ago on the North Downs Way. 

I was with a group of teachers from a nearby school, and I walked for a while alongside a very self-opinionated young man who talked much about his musical knowledge.   Amongst many other things he told me he could sing all the Brandenberg Concertos to his home recordings.   When I hinted that I also had a music background, and knew the concertos well, he got very excited and suggested we sing one of them together on the walk.   Thereupon he started singing.   At the beginning I managed to add a few worthwhile harmonies, but I could not keep up either musically or physically particularly as we were walking uphill at the time.   Anyway, I obviously failed the test as he walked on purposefully ahead of me and his singing faded into the distance.

What a relief to be able to walk at my own pace, imagining the music in my head alongside enjoying the surrounding views silently. I have no memory of what my other fellow walkers thought of our efforts!   

(Here are the Brandenburg Concertos played on period instruments by the Freidburger Barockorchester:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uw2dlZ8V4-0

After despatching last week’s Newsletter I spotted this video of Warwick playing ‘Bach at the Border’:

https://business.facebook.com/cheltcoffeeconcerts/videos/1044946632589146/UzpfSTc3MDkwOTI4MzA1MzE2ODoyMDY3MjQyMzUzNDE5ODQ4/ Ed.)


In May last year, Lorna and I were at Symphony Hall for a concert including Mieczysław Weinburg’s Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

The conductor was CBSO MD, born in Vilnius, Lithuania, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and the solo violinist, born in Chișinău, Moldavia, Patricia Kopatchinskaja. (Bet you can’t read that lot out loud after a couple of drinks!)

We had bumped into Laurence Kempton, one of Warwick’s top violinists, who has played for CCS, and he told us he was there to see ‘some wacky violin playing’.

Mirga led Patricia on to the platform and, as the applause subsided, we noticed that Patricia was taking off her shoes. Not to be left out, Mirga grinned and kicked off hers as well. We soon learned about ‘wacky violin playing’. Patricia reflected the mood of the music, not only in her playing and facial expression, but in her body language and movement about the stage. At one point, where the music suggested aggression, she made to attack the orchestra leader with apparent venom; at others she was all sweetness and light. After tumultuous applause both ladies replaced their footware before leaving for the interval.

We couldn’t trace a video of Kopatchinskaja playing these pieces but do join her, bare footed of course, in enjoying the less aggressive Mendelssohn Violin Concerto: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znxAhfYSmvc

And here, less wacky, but with equal feeling, is the afore-mentioned Lawrence Kempton playing Elgar’s beautiful Chanson de Matin. You might recognise the accompanist! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkQMVDL6dIE

BERNSTEIN MASS Vic and Sue Gilks introduce us to another seldom performed work:

The Mass was commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy in honour and memory of the late President John. F. Kennedy. The first public performance was at the John. F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The John F Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, Washington DC

The work itself is regarded as a ‘theatre piece for singers, players and dancers. The cast is usually made up of about 40 players, a full classical orchestra, a strolling street band, quadraphonic tape recordings, a dance group and two choirs. There is a mixture of standard orchestral writing, electronic instrumental orchestration rock band sounds, miscellaneous percussion instruments, soloists, pop singers, glorious choral writing.

Bernstein wanted audiences “to be knocked off their guard and into a new way of thinking whatever religious feelings or beliefs they brought with them into the theatre. Once they could feel, then and only then could they understand the need for the spiritual life to guide, to help to see them through”.

Initially, the Catholic Church did not approve of the work but years later changed their thinking and the Mass was performed in the Vatican City to great acclaim.

This music was one of the most demanding of works that we have ever had the privilege of singing. When we went to the first rehearsal in London we wondered what had hit us. The intricate styles, rhythms and dissonance as well as keeping with the soloists and orchestra was very demanding. The nature of the music and its drama kept everyone very focussed and one really did feel part of the whole performance.

We performed the Mass in the Queen Elizabeth Hall which is not the biggest music venue for such a large number of performers (our choir numbers were about 60 or so). The stage was, to say the least cramped, and it was hard to see the conductor sometimes. The sound with the electronics was almost overwhelming and deafening. One didn’t need hearing aids on. The Celebrant was Alan Titus who features on the recording by Bernstein himself.

It is one of the most stunning works of musical drama that we have been involved in and it has lived long in the memory. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RL96d80DJRI


Another from Chris B: