Sarah McKee describes her experience of Gloucester Cathedral's latest installation.
I have been talking in superlatives since visiting the incredible ‘Museum of the Moon’ in Gloucester cathedral.
This fabulous touring artwork by UK artist Luke Jerram has used detailed imagery from NASA of the lunar surface to create a perfect replica of the moon, lit from within and suspended from the ceiling. He describes the installation as “a fusion of lunar imagery, moonlight and surround sound composition”.
The stunning, seven-metre sphere takes your breath away as it hovers theatrically in the nave of our beautiful cathedral. Artistically lit, the whole effect is highly atmospheric. Visitors create their own silhouettes against the light of the moon or create pictures where they appear to be holding it in their hands. Or simply walk around and underneath, bathing in moonlight and music.
The extraordinary installation itself is only part of the picture though. The placement of this impressive replica in the magnificent context of the cathedral makes the experience truly inspiring. The Very Reverend Stephen Lake, Dean of Gloucester said “One of our hopes is that the Moon installation should help people think for a moment, to reflect on what it means to place a scale Moon, inside a cathedral. What does it mean to them?”
A friend of mine, made another observation: “I love how the children come in to see the moon, but just stop and stare when they see the beauty of the cathedral!”
There is no doubt that combining the grandeur and beauty of the cathedral with the ethereal moon installation provides a peaceful, spiritual and entirely unique experience.
My date for the evening was my 10 year old godson, Charlie, and we both loved this varied, confident and intimate concert.
The counter tenor solo was accomplished and the choirs first, bright, ringing chord set just the right tone for the rest of the piece. The real highlight for me was the baritone soloist. His elegant performance was an absolute joy.
I remember singing Haydn's classic Insane Et Vanae Curae as a treble in my church choir growing up. It's always a challenge to perform such a favourite piece - there's nowhere to hide! The choir was superb though, particularly the sopranos - it's a tough sing!
The six motets by Mendelssohn were another joy and I loved the differences between each one and how the choir beautifully captured the mood of each, really holding the interest of the audience. The strength of each individual voice part was really showcased during the fugal sections and the attention to detail was exquisite.
Salve Regina by Herbert Howells is another favourite piece of mine. Judging by this performance, it is also a favourite of the choir and indeed the conductor. Hope's fluid conducting brought the best out of the choir, particularly in the more expansive passages when everyone was singing their hearts out, producing a warm and vibrant sound.
The Tippett Five Negro Spirituals was the highlight of the concert for me. It was a really dramatic performance and every voice part had the chance to shine, particularly the altos and basses in Deep River. It was also a great opportunity to hear some of the wonderful voices from within the choir. Charlie loved this one too and was perched on the edge of his seat in rapt attention from the first gentle 'Steal Away' until the choir faded away to nothing at the end of Deep River.
The final piece, Parry's Blest Pair of Sirens was clearly another popular hit with the choir and made for an exhilarating ending to the concert. The complex choral writing was ably handled under Hope's confident direction, which clearly showed a real love of this piece.
Overall, this was a fantastic and varied programme of well loved music, delivered with passion and aplomb. And Charlie's verdict? 'That was awesome! I can't wait until I sing Nobody knows one day!' And I think that says it all...
On Saturday 12th October, our friends The Oriel Singers performed a beautiful programme of unaccompanied contemporary works in Pershore Abbey, to a highly appreciative audience. Their conductor Ben Sawyer tells us some more about the concert:
They took three German texts, ‘Abendlied’, ‘Morgen’ and ‘Ständchen’ (hence ‘Serenade’) and set them in three short, beautifully crafted works. Matthew was in attendance and was delighted at the result. These pieces are concise and highlight the German texts most effectively. Matthew said: ‘this was my first time setting words in German and this brought new and unexpected elements to my writing’.
If you do not know this mass, or indeed William’s music, do look him up. It is a sad story, as he was a busy working musician with a young family who became terminally ill and died in 2016 aged just 34. The album ‘Ablaze with Light’ was recorded in his memory by many of his friends and features a wonderful selection of his music. Around this mass, the choir had a chance to rekindle memories of the atmospheric concert given in the Three Choirs Festival by performing Roxanna Panufnik’s visceral and complex setting of ‘Child of Heaven’, words taken from the Rig Veda. Alongside this came a performance of another work written for the Oriel Singers, this time in memory of Michael Porter, ‘The Good Morrow’. This powerful work by Alissa Firsova was commissioned by Clare in Michael’s memory and was premiered in Malmesbury Abbey in June 2019. The other work to feature in the first half was Eric Whitacre’s ‘Sleep’. For me, this was a treat and the choir responded superbly giving a highly charged rendition of this favourite.
The second half began with a first outing for The Oriels of Jaakko Mäntyjärvi’s ‘Four Shakespeare Songs’. These pieces have bags of character and I look forward to a repeat performance of them next May as part of the Winchcombe Festival. There followed the new works by Coleridge, and the concert concluded with three lighter pieces about love and singing. - Ben Sawyer, Conductor
You can find out more information about the Oriel Singers, including their up and coming concerts here.
At the start of this season we welcomed Hayley (soprano) and Tom (counter tenor) as they joined the St Cecilia Singers. Here they tell us a little about their experience of joining the choir.
"Everyone is friendly and welcoming, even the audition - when one felt nervous - was great because they put me at my ease. I have been involved with music all my life since graduating from Italia Conti in London and joined opera companies to the BBC NCW, smaller ensembles including a trio and local chamber choirs and I felt ready for this new challenge.”
"At first I was hesitant as I have had such a long break from singing and didn’t think I was ready for such a high calibre! Once I finally plucked up the courage to audition I was happy that I did.
"The choir has brought back all of my memories and I’m like a duck to water. I feel very welcome in the St Cecilia singers and I believe that I have made the right choice. After singing with a few choirs around Gloucestershire I feel that I have found my perfect fit. I am extremely excited for our upcoming concert and my future with the singers!”
Hayley and Tom are already making an impact in the choir and we're really happy they came to join us. If you're interested in auditioning for the St Cecilia Singers, then please do get in touch.
In conversation with Jonathan Hope
As the choir starts rehearsing for its next concert – ‘For the Joy of Singing’ – we caught up with Musical Director Jonathan Hope to talk about how he chose the programme and what this concert means to the choir.
So this is a concert of the choir’s favourite pieces. How did that work?
I asked the singers to nominate the ‘desert island’ pieces that they would like to sing. With such a clued up choir, I guess I should have anticipated that it would be a long list – there were over 100 pieces! The choir chose some absolutely wonderful music, my job was to curate that into a programme that both singers and audience would enjoy.
Some of their choices were conventional. Some were… the opposite! They ranged from tiny, perfect pieces like If ye love me to a SATB arrangement of Bohemian Rhapsody…
Curating these pieces sounds like a difficult job. How did you whittle them down?
It was difficult in some ways, but absolutely joyous in others. It was quite liberating knowing that whatever I chose, there would be someone in the choir who really wanted to sing it. It was also really affirming to see so many pieces that we had performed recently – it showed that the choir was enjoying the repertoire I’d chosen before, even though I really challenge them sometimes! We want to keep moving forward though, so I decided not to choose any music that we have done before as a choir.
It was challenging to make a coherent programme out of such a wide range of music, so I looked for patterns or pieces that went together, while having some contrast and diversity of style.
What’s the highlight piece for you?
It's very difficult to choose. Obviously, Tippett is always fantastic to perform. He was a 20th century, enlightened, radical, forward-thinking pacifist who was always challenging the status quo. That’s the sort of stuff the St Cecilia Singers really enjoy getting their teeth into, and our audiences want to hear.
The Mendelssohn was also a clear choice for me because of his connection with Queen Victoria who was born 200 years ago this year.
I think if I’m honest though, my favourite piece in the programme is Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens. It’s a real cathedral classic and I love the through composition. It's a triumphant amalgamation of fantastic words and music. There's also a personal meaning for me, as it was one of the first pieces I played on a commercial recording, so it’s a bit of a landmark. That’s what I love most about this concert – for every piece we’re singing, there’s someone in the choir for whom it has special meaning.
What are your ambitions for future concerts?
Well the rest of the season is looking pretty exciting. Our Christmas concert is always a highlight – not just for the choir but for the cathedral community and our loyal audiences. I’m told that our annual concert marks the start of Christmas for many in Gloucester and that makes me very proud.
It would be impossible not to get excited about our March world premiere of Neil Cox’s Requiem Canticles which was commissioned for our 70th Anniversary.
Looking further ahead though, I’d like to do more orchestral concerts and we have some potential cathedral visits in mind.
Now here’s the question we’ve all been dying to ask… When are you going to do some more arrangements for the choir?
When the occasion arises! I love lighthearted music at a summer soiree, so maybe next season. Perhaps that could be the next challenge I put to the choir...?
Come to the choir’s concert at Toddington on 19th October and hear Jonathan’s curated progamme of the St Cecilia Singers’ favourite pieces. Tickets are free with a retiring collection.