Another excellent workshop on Saturday with the irrepressible Richard Wilberforce guiding us through some Spanish Renaissance vocal Villancicos. The manuscript from which these delights were taken is the Cancionera di Upsala. Any relief that we didn’t have to sing Swedish was quickly swamped by the realisation that summer holiday Spanish wasn’t a lot of help! However, although Richard spent some time going over rough pronounciation (more to get some sense of style and some consistency), he was much more concerned with bringing out the beauty of the music.
The Villancicos are a mixed lot; some sweetly longing for the lover who never turns up, much praise of the Virgin Mary, and in one case a stern warning against becoming a cuckold! All share a definite sense of the strong tune (usually from a popular song) and often a chorus with a strong beat crying out for a backing group of percussion and plucked strings. We were encouraged to sing keeping in mind “the sun beating on the back of our necks and the colour of red tomato that you only get in a very hot climate”.
Looking forward; Heironymus Praetorius in Loughborough (June) and French music for the Baroque band in Warwick (July).
A sad day at the AGM as we bade farewell to our retiring Chairman Mike Ashley, who has stepped down after 3 years in the Chair preceded by 9 years as Treasurer. Heather Holt will take on the role as Acting Chair. David Yates also retired from the role of Secretary after several years. Two new Committee members were elected. Details will be in the minutes which will be circulated to members as usual.
You’ve guessed it: sing Medieval music. A good turnout of around 50 singers enjoyed a fantastic workshop with Andrew Kirkman, bringing to life the delights of Josquin des Prez, Ockeghem, Dufay and Lionel Power.
This is tricky stuff: not written for our standard SATB choirs at all, and containing harmonies and rhythms that we don’t come across in the more familiar territory of later centuries. Andrew Kirkman’s approach was that we still needed to think of it as any other music and bring out the beauty of the lines rather than worrying too much about e.g. where the text underlay was “meant” to go.
The result was a day of fierce concentration and, in those heady moments when it all came together, heavenly music. Andrew expressed his appreciation for the high standard of MEMF sight-reading, although many of us were battling against some very non-standard ranges! It’s all a matter of having a go. Sight-reading/singing is the same as most musical skills in that it needs practising and a bit of risk-taking.
So if you fancy having a go at some more lesser-known repertoire, the next MEMF workshop is Monteverdi, The Sacred Dramatist. See the Events Diary for details.
We began the year with a wonderful Renaissance vocal workshop with David Allinson, which was so oversubscribed we had to start a waiting list. David was in excellent and witty form as usual, though sadly will not be available for further Workshops for over a year as he is writing a book. But of course we have other top class Tutors to tempt you – Andrew Kirkman comparing Josquin, Dufay and Ockeghem in the new(ish) Dome Building in Birmingham University in March; Justin Doyle delighting us with extracts from the sacred dramas by Monteverdi for singers and instrumentalists in April and Richard Wilberforce exploring Royal music of the Spanish Renaissance in May. We also have Baroque workshops in February -Muffat with Nicolette Moonen – and French Music with Steven Devine in July. How can you resist!
We look forward to Jeffrey Skidmore’s workshop on Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit on December 10th. Amazingly it will be 20 years to the month since Jeffrey did his first workshop with us on the same work!
The long planned Peerson project, Richard Rastall’s edition of Peerson’s Grave Chamber Musique, came to Birmingham in a very enjoyable workshop earlier this month. We were introduced to this long forgotten composer by Robert Hollingworth, rehearsing the singers, and Richard Boothby, rehearsing the viols, coming together at intervals throughout the day to perform this glorious music which deserves to be better known. Many of us came away with the CD that I Fagiolini and Fretwork recorded earlier this year.
Do look at the events page for next year’s line-up of inspiring Tutors!
Renaissance Fest in July was an excellent informal day with a long and delicious tea break! Members Sheila Koch and Jonathan Spencer organised the singers and viol players respectively and we sang and played some really lovely music.
The new season begins in September with Zielenski, the Gabrieli of Poland in Leamngton with Graham O’Reilly, followed in October with two days of the excellent Philip Thorby in Solihull. See the events diary for other treats.
Summer is nearly here and for the next three months we have something for everyone. In May David Hatcher will lead the Baroque Band, which is open to all players of Baroque pitched instruments and in June we have a Polychoral Tour of Europe (very topical) for recorders, voices and viols with Alison Kinder. In July, following on from the highly successful Madrigal Day last year, we have a Renaissance Fest for singers and viol players to make music together in large and small groups. During the afternoon we will be serving cake with strawberries and cream to celebrate Summer! Take your pick!
After a very well attended and interesting workshop on Gesualdo with Robert Hollingworth we look forward in February to Peter Leech, always a fascinating Tutor, sharing his research into some little known composers in 18th century Rome. In March we will be singing music by other little known Franco-Flemish composers active in Italy – Cipriano de Rore and Jacquet of Mantua – with Stephen Rice of Bristol University. Then in April renaissance instrumentalists and singers have a chance to explore some wonderful music by Johann Schein, perhaps a better known composer, with Peter Syrus. Hope you can come!
The most observant visitors to the MEMF site may have already noticed that there is a new page under “Events”. We are hoping to start posting more photos of events, an old tradition which should be easier to uphold in these days of digital everything. To have a peep at some pictures of the Messiah workshop follow this link.
If you have your own photos of workshops and would like to contribute, Facebook users are very welcome to upload on the MEMF Facebook page. Or you can email them to one of the Committee.
A good turnout for the (slightly experimental) Messiah workshop with Steve Davis on 5th December. We had quite a well balanced chorus and band, complete with 2 trumpets and 2 oboes plus our Chairman on the theorbo adding colour. A longer review will appear in the next Newsletter.
Although this is a familiar work to most, there are still a few of us who rarely get the chance to sing it. Steve Davis took us through the most popular choruses but also a selection of the lesser known items for variety. It’s just such lovely, well-crafted music to sing and play, so descriptive. Steve was an energetic and encouraging conductor.
The festive energy was enhanced by a break for mulled fruit punch and mince pies before a final run through.
I’m sure the attendees will agree this was a great start to the Christmas season. If you have suggestions for future, similar events, do let the committee know!
Baroque instrumentalists are invited to a workshop on 3rd October with Tutor Kate Fawcett, exploring music by Purcell, Blow and Scheidt and Philip Thorby makes a welcome return in November with a now familiar double act: a workshop on Saturday and Master Classes on Sunday. The workshop is on the music of Andrea Gabrieli, Giovanni’s uncle, who was organist and composer at St. Mark’s in Venice and whose music is considered to be more subtle and expansive than his nephew’s.Then in December everyone is welcome to sing or play in choruses from the Messiah. Bring your friends and family to join in – there will be punch and mince pies too!