Showing posts with label VOCES8. Show all posts
Showing posts with label VOCES8. Show all posts

Monday, December 09, 2013

"Sacred space" syndrome

Or...an afternoon at St Mary's, Perivale. 

We used to hear a fair bit about the concept of a "sacred space": a place that builds up an atmosphere over years, decades, centuries - and that transmits this special energy to people who enter it and breathe it in.

I well remember reading a particularly beautiful book by lutenist Anthony Rooley which went into this idea in some depth and discussed the question of what it adds to musical performance. The short answer was "a lot". The epitome of this sacred space, if I remember right, was Dartington Hall.

In recent years - at least since the financial crash - the notion of something sacred has become inordinately tied to associations with fundamentalism (in many forms) and the question of experiencing something perhaps "psychic" or "esoteric" has become somehow old-hat new-age.

Fortunately for us, though, these matters don't cease to exist just because we stop taking notice of them.

In the past week, I've encountered two manifestations of sacred-space energy in musical performance. One was at St Bartholemew the Great - probably the most beautiful church in London, part of which dates back to 1123. Last week Peters Edition held its Christmas concert in there, candle-lit and featuring a cappella contemporary choral pieces from Britain and the Baltics, performed by the choirs VOCES8 and Lumina. Such composers featured as Morten Lauridsen, Vytautas Miskinis (from Lithuania), Eriks Ešenvalds (from Latvia), Alexander Levine (Russian-born British resident), our own Roxanna Panufnik and a fine organ piece by Judith Bingham. Anyone who thinks that beauty in music is dead should have been there. Some of the pieces were breathtaking in their use of original harmonic language and sonic imagination that - especially in the case of Ešenvalds's The Long Road - could stretch our consciousness out towards the most unexpected of developments, blending tradition with absolute originality. In the audience, it was magic.

Then yesterday Viv McLean and I went to perform Alicia's Gift at St Mary's, Perivale, and got more than we bargained for. Pictured above, Viv warming up...

St Mary's is a tiny 12th-century wooden church tucked away behind a west London golf course and the A40 just north of Ealing. For the past few years Hugh Mather - a retired medic and devoted pianist himself - has been running a concert series here. The place seats about 80 and admission is free; the audience can give a donation at the end if they wish. It's small, white, wooden-beamed, with 15th-century brasses in the floor stones protected by a carpet; and the platform area is currently dominated by a small but excellent Yamaha and a large and lovely Christmas tree. It is a comfortable, intimate space for a performance; speaking without a microphone is no worry, and the exchange between us in the cosiness of the space made unifying the two mediums of words and music remarkably easy.

But then, sitting close to the piano while Viv played Rhapsody in Blue, I noticed something extraordinary taking place. It is hard to describe, but I think some might call it "grace". It's a feeling of being suspended within the flow of time and space and breathing something lighter and purer than oxygen. A form of happiness, perhaps. Joy in its purest form: motionless and light and lacking in any worldly element. It resembles the state of a very good meditation session, yet it's spontaneous, not striven for;  something that lands on you, and you accept it because it feels so astonishing. And it is definitely to do with the space, because I've only experienced anything like it a few times before, and always in places that contain deep resonances and/or long-rooted dedications. Jerusalem, Lincoln Cathedral, that kind of place. And, yes, St Bartholemew the Great.

I told Hugh about this impression and he remarks that prayers have been said in that church for 800 years, "around 30 generations in which people have assembled there in good times and bad, and the accumulated spirituality soaked into the walls".

Incidentally, I'm supposedly an atheist. You can be as cynical as you like, but that doesn't change the fact that these things happen sometimes.

Anyway, the audience seemed to love the concert, we had a completely adorable day and it was lovely to finish the show and be greeted, heading off stage, with a nice cup of steaming hot tea.






Sunday, February 03, 2013

Valentine, plus brief Vale



I'm pushing off for a week to work on my new novel, which needs this before it can go out into the big wide world. So I'll leave you with a Valentine's Day gift recommendation. Love Abide, a brand-new CD of choral pieces by Roxanna Panufnik, is not only pink and sunbursty in aspect, but also contains some truly gorgeous music.

Roxanna, in case you haven't come across her work before, is the daughter of Sir Andrzej Panufnik and was a student of Hans Werner Henze at the Royal Academy. She has developed a distinctive musical language drawing on bitonality and world music of many traditions and her choral music is in especially great demand. Love Abide is the latest in her series of idealistic multifaith projects, in this case bringing together settings of sacred love poetry from traditions Christian, Jewish, Zen, Sufi, etc: "Be certain in the religion of Love there are no believers or unbelievers. Love embraces all" - Rumi.

The CD is out this month on Warner Classics and there's more info here at the project's designated website.


The artist Mischa Giancovich has produced beautiful animations for two of the tracks. Above, the Zen Love Song, sung by VOCES8 with Kiku Day (jinashi-shakuhachi), conducted by Barnaby Smith.

Have a good week.