Friday, June 21, 2013

There would be Wilbye

One of my favourite moments in the Cambridge calendar used to be Singing on the River.

In mid-June, after all the exams were over and everyone was letting off steam in "May Week", the audience assembled on the river bank on the Backs behind Trinity College and the University Chamber Choir would take to the waters on a raft lit by Chinese lanterns.

They'd sing a glorious selection of a cappella works. The programme varied, but there were two constants. One was Stanford's The Bluebird; the other, John Wilbye's madrigal Draw On, Sweet Night. This last ended the concert. By then it was around 10pm, or shortly after; overhead the midsummer stars were starting to glow (somehow, it was always clear); and at the conclusion the raft lifted anchor and drifted away downstream, the music fading with the lanterns into the darkness. Wilbye lived from 1574 to 1638 and published his two sets of madrigals in 1598 and 1608 - a total of 64 pieces - yet sometimes, with this one, I find myself thinking of Brahms, wondering if he had heard it too...

The former director of music at Trinity College, the brilliant, kind and exacting Richard Marlow, died last week aged 74. (He was chief examiner for my MusB, as it happens.) As a tribute, here is a film of Singing on the River's Wilbye conclusion from 2005.