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We at Solomon’s Knot are longing to get back to the Suffolk air this weekend. We had four days of it earlier in April, and it was just what we needed to supercharge our lungs with the amount of oxygen required to sing J.S. Bach’s extremely long phrases (not helped by the fact that he didn’t like to write rests in between them).
Our time on that Open Space residency (and the one before it with just singers back in February) was in preparation for our concert as part of the Aldeburgh Music Easter Weekend this Sunday at 3pm in Orford Church, Suffolk. The time was incredibly valuable in terms of honing our collective awareness, and putting in the kind of preparation that our chamber music approach requires. We could discuss and agree on interpretation, practise tricky points of coordination, and solidify social bonds in the pub in Thorpeness!
Bach in particular poses challenges to ensemble and balance. In the first chorus of ‘Der Himmel lacht’ BWV 31, he switches instantly from Allegro to Adagio, with the music seemingly in full flow, to illustrate the text, “he who has chosen the grave as his resting place.” Moments like this require a precise interpretation of the tempo relationship, and plenty of rehearsal in order to coordinate it.
The programme is tailored to the day on which we are performing, as three of the pieces were specifically written for Easter – J.S. Bach’s cantatas ‘Christ lag in Todesbanden’ BWV 4 and ‘Der Himmel lacht’ BWV 31, and Johann Kuhnau’s ‘Wenn ihr fröhlich seid an euren Festen’ (see the title of this article for a broad translation). This work interprets Christ’s victory over death very literally as a military victory over a deadly adversary, and the fanfare deployment of four trumpets and timpani as well as five-part string and vocal groups is truly rousing. We frame the concert with Kuhnau’s very moving passiontide motet, ‘Tristis est anima mea’, and it’s reworking by Bach, with a more generally moralising German text, ‘Der Gerechte kommt um.’ The general trajectory of the concert should be one from darkness into light, whilst also drawing the connections between Bach and his immediate predecessor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig.
There are some tickets still available for Sunday, and we very much look forward to taking our audience back to the Easter Sunday atmosphere of Leipzig around 300 years ago.
We are very excited to announce the first fruits of our Open Space Aldeburgh Music residencies: a concert in Orford Church at 3pm on Easter Sunday, entitled 'The Leipzig Connection'. The programme features Easter cantatas by J.S. Bach and his predecessor as Thomaskantor in Leipzig, Johann Kuhnau. The music varies from focusing on the death of Christ ('Christ lag in Todesbanden' BWV 4), to the full glory of Easter, with trumpets blazing and drums throbbing (Kuhnau's 'Wenn ihr fröhlich seid an euren Festen').
Solomon's Knot will assume its largest formation in recent times, with 10 singers and 19 instrumentalists. The singers will perform from memory, and the concert should have a similar impact to the recent chamber Christmas Oratorio.
Tickets are selling fast, though there are some left, available here.
We're really looking forward to seeing you there.
We’re very excited to start this year with new relationships with two academic institutions, as well as continuing to build on our previous ones.
This Wednesday we return to the Prendergast schools in Lewisham with another workshop focusing on vocal music – this time we’ll be looking deeply into the chorus from Messiah, ‘And the glory of the Lord’, which is a GCSE set work. One of Solomon’s Knot’s main aims is to brings vocal music closer to people, and there will be eight of us there to sing it with the students and really see how Handel put it together.
A few weeks ago we were in residence at Goldsmith’s College to perform a lecture-concert at the symposium “Safeguarding the Intangible: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Music and Heritage” in collaboration with Naomi Matsumoto, a musicologist with whom we have been working over the last few years with a view to mounting a staged production of the anonymous ‘dramma burlesco’, Lo spedale. More on that anon...
Finally, this Friday we shall be performing the musical sections of a very interesting piece, a Jesuit drama from 1698 Vienna called Mulier fortis, which describes the life and death of the 16th-century Japanese Jesuit martyr Gracia Hosokawa, as part of the conference ‘Changing Hearts: Performing Jesuit Emotions between Europe, Asia, and the Americas’, which is being organised by the University of Western Australia, and hosted by Trinity College, Cambridge. The singers of Solomon’s Knot will assume such roles as Fury, Cruelty, Regret, Adversity and Constancy. Pretty much what we have to deal with on a daily basis then!
"the level of stamina, commitment, memory and focus seemed almost miraculous"
Above is a taster of last year's performance of 'a chamber Messiah' in London. It was received very warmly by both audience and performers (see the quotes above), and this year we've decided to apply the principle to Bach's seasonal masterpiece, the Christmas Oratorio (cantatas I, III, V & VI). There are two concerts: in St John's Smith Square, London on 3rd December (tickets here) and Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge on 5th December (tickets here). It would be wonderful to see a big audience at both events. More details on our Next Concert page.
Our last concert, on 11 July at the Fringe in the Fen festival in Cambridgeshire, UK, was very warmly received. The festival was in aid of Macmillan Cancer Research, aiming to raise over £25,000.
The programme consisted of music of life, love, death, 'death', heaven and hell from 17th-century Italy and France, by Landi, Enzina, Monteverdi, Merula, Martín Codax and the perennial 'anonymous', for three singers (mezzo Kate Symonds, tenor Zachary Wilder, and bass Jonathan Sells) and kaleidoscopic continuo band. For more details and example tracks click here.
The title above was Brian Hick's parting shot in his review of the second of our performances of 'a chamber Messiah', in St John's Smith Square last year. You can read the full review here.
Mr Hick was taken in by the directness of the performance, with the singers performing the piece entirely from memory, as well as the very 'live' experience resulting from the lack of a conductor.
We were told more than once that the performance resulted in a rare intensity of delivery and focus of message, in the words of Mr Hicks, 'stripping away the religiosity to reveal the spiritual heart of the work'. It's this directness of communication in vocal music that is one of our central aims.
Another of those tenets is that the performers enjoy themselves, something seen all too little in London and which translates infectiously to an audience. Judging from the response from some of the performers, who get through multiple Messiahs in a single season, we achieved that too: "by far the most stimulating Messiah of my season!", "it was a very special and moving performance that I will remember for a long time to come", "it was the most exciting performance of the piece I have ever done, and certainly the most rewarding".
We were also very happy that children from the Klevis Kola Foundation were able to join us for the rehearsal and concert, and explore the exotic world of historical instruments in the break.
The chamber Messiah will be back on the menu at some point, but probably not next December, although our audience is growing nicely. We're thinking of something new to challenge you with!
Solomon's Knot warms up for another 'chamber Messiah' December - reduced to the mad-max II (working title!)
We've had plenty of time to think about it, and here it is: last year's rave success 'chamber Messiah' (check the new entry under Our Projects: Handel Oratorios) returns to St John's Smith Square on Saturday 8th December ('sensational' 'remarkable' 'sublime' 'superb' 'fantastic' 'the highlight of my Christmas' 'magical' 'delightful' to mention just a few responses) PLUS an extra date in Trinity College Cambridge's magnificent 16th-century Chapel on November 29th.
The orchestra has already been fixed and will be led by Julia Kuhn, and the singers are Clare Lloyd, Zoe Brown, Michal Czerniawski, Kate Symonds-Joy, Thomas Herford, Tim Dickinson, Jonny and Julian. Another great line-up, and this time we're going to be asking to singers to leave their copies behind - it was too easy last time!
Book early to avoid disappointment: here for Cambridge, here for London.
In the mean time we have a private fundraising event in London in September, and should be able to announce 2013 dates fairly soon. Enjoy what's left of the summer - see you at the end of the year!
Happy new year from the Solomons' several cities. Presently, we're even more scattered than usual: Jonny's in Zurich, James is in Lille, Peter's upped the ante by heading out to San Diego. And Julian's still in South Norwood. But Diderot praised the 'lucidité du sédentaire', doing the tour of the 'univers sur notre parquet', so yar boo sucks to airmiles. Last weekend we had a very exciting round of phone calls and meetings, on the back of which we're going to have some new dates and programmes to announce in the coming months. Watch this space - and browse the project tabs, quite a few new audio clips have been quietly posted in the last week or so.
We're still basking, forgive us, a "chamber" Messiah was all we dared hope for. Many thanks to the superb team of musicians who created such a memorable occasion on the night - and to our wildly appreciative and generous audience who were heard to whoop, yea so soon as at the end of Part the First, which is unprecedented in our experience. We would also like to thank Dr Ruth Smith and Oliver Soden for their thoroughly entertaining introduction to MESSIAH in the pre-concert talk. Ruth is now a friend of long standing who has consistently provided us with her support and advice; it was good, finally, to get to put her and her deep knowledge on show as part of the Solomon circus. As is our way, we're already consulting over dates for 2012 - watch this space, though perhaps wait until after Christmas... here's wishing all our supporters, friends and musicians a very merry one.