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Saturday, August 1, 2009

England Study Tour 1975 - 14

Here's my final post about this study tour organized by Bob Scandrett in 1975.

Unfortunately, my journal broke off here--I must have gotten tired or behind with posts, so took no more notes. Too bad, as what followed was certainly interesting and I don't have detailed memories of any of it (it's a distance of 34 years, after all!)--and the notes I made earlier in the tour have certainly kicked off other memories for me as well. However, I did write down what happened and what I attended:

July 5 - to Cambridge to hear the London Bach Choir under Willcocks doing some Bach motets and the Britten Hymn to St. Cecilia -- we would also have visited the various Colleges

July 6 - a communion service with a Haydn mass at St. Pauls and in the evening a performance with the New Philharmonia Orchestra and Riccardo Muti of the Verdi Stabat Mater and Te Deum, along with Mussourgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition

July 7 - last official day of the tour -- free during the day, party in the evening

July 8-12 -- went to stay with Roy and Chris Wales -- in that time made a trip to Cambridge to take in Evensong at King's and St. John's, plus hearing the Southend Festival Choir (Roy's old choir)

Once again, I have to thank Bob Scandrett for arranging such an amazing tour. It was truly an extraordinary experience and made a big impact on me as a musician and conductor. Many, many thanks!

Just to get a sense of what went into the planning and Bob's preparatory work for this, here are some excerpts from his letter to us from April 10, which began with a good part of the itinerary (although it still changed after that):
This already seems to me a very busy and exciting schedule. However, this is not all by any means. To quote Jill again, "Much of the itinerary in London is blank since at this time there are almost no definitive programmes and the various concert halls will not commit themselves even to printing their provisional programmes."

We have also yet to schedule our conferences with Louis and Eve Halsey, which will include a listen at his tape library, a session with John Elliot Gardiner, director of the Monteverdi Choir [unfortunately, this didn't happen], and probably a session with the composer John Gardiner. If Gemini opera is performing, we are invited. We have bad news from King's and St. John's, who are on vacation from June 8 until July 9 . . .

What do you think of some ballet performances? The Royal Ballet will be in session, as well as Sadler's Wells. Visiting are the Tokyo company which is classical and the Netherlands Dance Theatre, which is modern ballet, and often very controversial--I seem to recall they did the first all nudie production -- which sounds risky, at the very least!

We had some moments of anxiety with the Southlands, but all seems to be well now. Their invitation was not all that enthusiastic and I am sure we have Eve Halsey to thank totally for their eventual acceptance . . .

I would like to encourage those of you who have any recording by any of the people we will meet to let me know. I will be sending a discography of my own library out and will make some cassettes of these for those who would like to listen to them in advance. I am anxious that all of us are prepared to take part in discussion with these men. Gardiner and Norringthon are, for example, leading authorities on the performance practice of baroque music, particularly that of Schütz and Monteverdi. It is a curious coincidence that Gardiner is performing the Monteverdi Vespers at the Bath and Brighton Festivals, and Norrington at Aldeburgh and I believe later on the continent. With a little bit of preparation we should be able to find some interesting contrasts between their ideas. Norrington said in his letter, "You and your group will be welcome to visit my home at 14.30 on the 11 June to spend the afternoon in discussion. On the 12th you are free to attend rehearsals of Monteverdi's Vespers in the version I have based on the forces available at St. Mark's Venice . . . Perhaps these few days should give us an opportunity to know one another. If you think you need more time I might be able to manage another session on the tenth or the thirteenth . . . Just let me know exactly what you would like, and if the suggestions above suit you." I can't imagine a more cordial invitation, and I personally want to be ready to take advantage of his experience. Of course, the best way is to get acquainted with the music thoroughly. I think there are several recordings available, although I could not find one by either of them.

I have recently acquired several records by Norrington and his choir. All are on Argo [he then lists 6 recordings].

I was only able to locate on record of John Elliot Gardiner [Monteverdi and Gesualdo motets and madrigals].

Gardiner seems to belong more to the traditional, refined King's sound of choir, where Norrington seems to cultivate a more robust, individualistic sound, which is somehow more appropriate in my ears to Schütz than to Monteverdi. I was initially more impressed by Gardiner than Norrington, but in re-listening, my feelings are less strong.

There is a beautiful recording of Walton's Music for Choir recorded by Simon Preston and the choir of Christ Church College, Oxford. Preston is a world famous organist, but his work at Oxford is attracting much attention and seems to be rivaling King's as a prestige organization, particularly since Willcocks has left King's and has been replaced by Ledger . . . I have several recordings by Halsey: a recent one which he gave me last summer, not yet available here: motets by Monteverdi, Gabrieli and Schütz, with James Bowman, and would make an interesting comparison with Norrington and Gardiner. I think it is also instructive to compare these versions with those of [Wilhelm] Ehmann and [Gunter] Graulich [chief editor/owner of Carus Verlag], particularly the works of Schütz, which are somewhat different in concept, both in tone and dynamic vigor. I still am very partial to some of the Ehmann version, but Norrington gets closer than most (this incidentally is the view of Graulich, who knows Norrington) . . .

Now is also a good time to read travel books and study Gothic architecture in popular paperback versions.
You can tell a good bit about Bob's extraordinary mind in reading this--his is not a narrow knowledge or set of interests! Again, so many thanks for this opportunity.

England Study Tour 1975 - 13

Thursday, July 3
In the morning we had a rehearsal with Louis Halsey -- he is a charming man with some excellent ideas -- I enjoyed the morning and was stimulated to think again about the importance of text -- Halsey obviously knows a lot, but he still doesn't excite me -- his music-making is tasteful, but sometimes a bit dull, with no drama -- this is certainly an area where I, too, need improvement.

It seems to me to be one of the major problems of interpretation: how far to go in the direction of drama and excitement without distorting the form, structure, and balance of a piece -- how best to synthesize these elements - detail versus overall structure -- all are polarities that in a really good performance of a really good piece should disappear -- the details should make the overall form more obvious and vice-versa -- the impact of the total piece should first be felt, but individual details and beauties should not be sloughed over -- this is more than ever true in a piece like Bach's Mass in B Minor -- how do you do all the little things in such a way that people hear them and yet you don't lose a sense of the whole? So that the piece "pushes" from beginning to end logically and dramatically? How to sweep people along into another world for a short time??? All needs thinking about.

This evening: The Mousetrap, Agatha Christie's play in its 23rd year -- very enjoyable.

Friday, July 4
to a rehearsal at Tiffin School -- interesting -- musically very accomplished (kids their age don't do music anywhere near as difficult at home), but vocally very bad -- I think about what Neil could do, sound-wise, with a choir like this -- I'm sure he would astound people -- it's a different emphasis than we have at home [given what children's choirs in the US and Canada have done since that time, that's no longer true, of course--they do some astounding things and difficult music]

Evening: Neil Simon's Sunshine Boys -- not one of his better plays