Magazine article The Spectator

Music: Perfect Harmony

Magazine article The Spectator

Music: Perfect Harmony

Article excerpt

Credit: Peter Phillips

To curate a festival these days is to put oneself in the firing line. There is every chance that all one will earn is the charge of stirring up apathy. It is a risk; and there will be no knowing how it has gone until it is much too late to withdraw gracefully. In the recently concluded first edition of the London International A Cappella Choral Competition, held at St John's Smith Square, it could have gone either way. What will stick in my mind is how the wind got behind it round about day three, so that by the end a packed house could go mad at a Spanish victory.

My original idea had been to help give St John's some new profile in this era of Milton Courts and Cadogan Halls and, quite separately, to hand some leading choirs and vocal ensembles the chance to sing in London, which is notorious for being the most difficult capital in the world in which to land a paid singing gig, let alone attract an audience. The vibrancy of British choral life means that we do not have much time for foreign ensemble singing. General interest in choral music anyway still lags so far behind interest in orchestral repertoires that for most people a good English choir, preferably a cathedral or collegiate one, is about as far as they will go with this repertoire. To pay a group from abroad to give a choral concert is a lonely way to throw money down the drain.

I wanted to do something about this, and so started a competition for unaccompanied choral singing. And the strange upshot was that, although four of the 11 choirs in the competition were home-grown, they struggled to make their way to the final round. This caused a lot of comment. There was no doubt that the UK groups had superlative techniques -- all that chorister training was on instant display -- but when it came to inhabiting the notes, the British fluency with sight-reading seemed counterproductive. The danger is obvious: we read off the score so quickly that our singers' minds start to wander too early in the rehearsal process. By the third time through a new piece they will be asking why it is necessary to do it again. They have mastered the notes, the sound is beautiful, what more is necessary but to leave interpretation to the spur of the moment in the show itself?

Sometimes this works -- it is very much the method I employ professionally -- but if the spur is not glimpsed, all one is left with are pretty noises, reliable but empty. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.