The 31st Good Friday performance
On Good Friday, Bath Camerata once again performed at Wells Cathedral – the 31st year that the choir has been part of the cathedral’s Good Friday observance. This year was very special as we were singing first-performances of works which we had commissioned from three of the most pre-eminent contemporary British composers: Will Todd, Owain Park and Roderick Williams.
The theme for the concert was “Renewal” and alongside these new compositions the programme included pieces by two more contemporary composers, Cecilia McDowall’s Standing As I Do Before God and Tarik O’Regan’s Threshold Of Night as well as two pieces by the 19th century composer, Josef Rheinberger.
There was a dramatic start to the programme. Our conductor, Ben, facing the audience in silence, consulted his pocket-watch and at the appointed time sounded a blast on his World War 1 replica trench whistle. That signal was picked-up by others placed around the cathedral and Roddy William’s composition Everyone Sang, a setting of a poem by Siegfried Sassoon, was under way. A long glissando began in the choir, interspersed with speaking and shouts out of which chaos a single sung note emerged. Roddy Williams employs some very rich harmonies and the piece which started in chaos, ended in tranquillity with the words “the singing will never be done.”
The next of the new compositions to feature in the programme was Owain Park’s Vinea Mea Electa. The words were particularly appropriate for Good Friday. “How is the sweetness of the vineyard turned to bitterness – that you should crucify me and choose Barrabas?” The sinuous lines of the theme and intricate interweaving of the rhythms paint a picture of the vine branches. And although there is anguish in the question the piece ends by reasserting God’s longing for his vine to flourish.
Will Todd’s – Songs of Renewal formed the most substantial of the new compositions. It comprised a suite of three pieces. Me Renovare – renew me – are the only words in the first movement in which rhythm is the main focus. The primal sound of the open chords in the singing was accompanied by chest thumps and stamping. The middle movement, Return Again – sets the words of an Andrew Motion poem and combined another sinuous melody with passages of chanted chords. The third movement, Chorale, reiterates the renewal theme with the words, “renew me, transform me, let me bring light.”
Singing a programme which contained so much contemporary music was a big challenge, but one which the choir really warmed to as we became more familiar with the music. Likewise, performing a number of different pieces in different styles adds to the challenge and requires immense concentration. We had rehearsed hard for this concert and it payed off. For me the end result was extremely rewarding and the concert must count as the best I have experienced in my eight years with the choir. The audience certainly enjoyed it and the applause rang round the cathedral for some time.
Bath Camerata are planning to make a recording this summer which will include the three new commissions, the Cecilia McDowall, the Tarik O’Regan and works by Jonathan Dove, Judith Weir and Huw Watkins. This concert built a great foundation for that project. I can’t wait to get to grips with it.
Andrew King (Tenor)