The building and the music

image
I am at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester and today I gained an understanding about the music that is being presented. Yesterday I heard Evensong which featured music of Herbert Howells, whose early musical education took place at Gloucester Cathedral. Tonight’s Evensong was all music by Samuel Sebastian Wesley, a former organist-choirmaster of Gloucester. Tonight’s concert was almost all-Vaughan Williams, whose work, Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis, was commissioned and premiered at the 1910 Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester. In other words, most all the music we are hearing is music conceived for this building, the Gloucester Cathedral.

In a previous post, I mentioned the fan-vaulted ceiling and how it encourages the sound to grow. I was speaking to another concertgoer tonight and she said she had heard the Philharmonia orchestra, which is performing all week here, in a concert hall venue and they sounded different from the way they are sounding in Gloucester Cathedral. The sound of the orchestra and choir is absolutely fantastic in these Cathedral acoustics—which definitely has more reverberation than the typical concert hall. The reverberant acoustics provide a wonderful “cushion” on which to make music.

Rich Arenschieldt

Rich Arenschieldt

Tonight also there was a special reception in the “Whispering Gallery,” a large room above the nave of the cathedral, for the American Friends of the Three Choirs Festival. Organized by Rich Arenschieldt from Houston, TX, he wrote that his first Three Choirs Festival was twenty-five years ago and when he heard that first Evensong, he felt like he had “died and gone to heaven,” (sound familiar?) and has returned every year since.

Here’s what was written in their newly-published brochure: Why make the trip to the Three Choirs Festival? American attendees tell us they love three things about the Three Choirs Festival: the music, the space in which it’s performed and the communities where the festival resides. Musically, the festival offers audiences a sonically unique experience. Imagine hearing masterworks performed by the 250+ combined forces of the Three Cathedral Choirs of Gloucester, Worcester and Hereford, the 150-voice Three Choirs Festival Chorus, soloists and the Philharmonica Orchestra. American symphonic subscribers may hear music of this magnitude every few years—each summer the Three Choirs a Festival presents several of these concerts during one week. [How about every night!]

Tonight’s concert, titled “England’s Glory,” was enormously satisfying. For the most part, the music was very pastoral and peaceful. Every single piece ended quietly—and I felt that each work sent us on a journey to another place. In addition to the Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis, the program included Vaughan Williams’ The lark ascending and Dona nobis pacem, in addition to A Shropshire Lad by George Butterworth.

The morning took us to Stanway House and Fountain. It was owned by Tewkesbury Abbey for 800 years and then for 500 years by the Tracy family and their descendants, the Earls of Wemyss and March, who still live in the house.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted in Carl Crosier | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Died and gone to heaven!

Stile Antico takes its bows

Stile Antico takes its bows

I am loving the Three Choirs Festival

I am loving the Three Choirs Festival!

It is Day Three at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester and the music today was so incredibly beautiful and musically so perfect that I felt that I had died and gone to heaven! The first concert we attended was by Stile Antico, a 12-voice a capella vocal ensemble based in London whose voices were perfectly matched in timbre, yet whose singers were each soloists in their own right. Four of them belong to one family, and my traveling companion, Vreni Griffith, has known some of the girls since they were 10 years old, where she met them at Dartington summer choral schools. They presented a program called “Sacred or Profane?” in which sacred texts were used for secular tunes, e.g. L’homme armé for mass settings. We heard music by composers such as Dufay, Monteverdi, Clemens non Papa, Jannequin, Victoria, Taverner, Josquin and Lassus.

The fan vaulted ceiling at Gloucester

The fan vaulted ceiling at Gloucester

This group’s ensemble was impeccable, and although they seemingly sang without a conductor, they all looked at one another constantly, with only very subtle nonverbal cues.

I went to the 5:30 pm Choral Evensong which featured the music of Herbert Howells, whose early education took place here in Gloucester Cathedral. The combined men and boys choirs of Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester Cathedrals combined to create the most heavenly renditions of Howells’ St. Paul’s Service, with which I am very familiar and which the LCH choir had performed on several occasions with the St. Andrew’s Cathedral choir. Talk about soaring sopranos! I guess it is may be due to the fan vaulting here.

The queue for Evensong

The queue for Evensong

The video view of Evensong

The video view of Evensong

I was thinking to myself that Carl Crosier would have absolutely loved being here and hearing this ethereal music performed so gloriously. I wonder why we never came to this festival before on one of our many trips across the pond. I do remember Edith Ho’s comment that Carl and John Scott (from St. Thomas New York) are conducting heavenly choirs who never sing flat or sharp! Believe me, these choirs’ intonation was right on the money — heaven on earth! We also sang the hymn, MICHAEL, which was written by Howells.

Even though I queued up a half hour before Evensong, I didn’t get there early enough to sit in the nave, and had to sit in the side chapel to watch the back of people’s heads on a video monitor! I will know better for tomorrow’s evensong. I was a little irritated that people talked during the organist’s prelude. I guess it is a common problem all over the world.

Sir Willard Wood on the right

Sir Willard Wood on the right

In the evening we sat in the very front row and felt like we were right in the middle of the Three Choirs Festival Chorus and Orchestra as they performed Mendelssohn’s Elijah. Now you may know that I’m not really a Mendelssohn fan, but this performance was so thrilling and so brilliant that at the moment I thought I was hearing the greatest musical work ever written! The chorus, orchestra and soloists were all outstanding, especially world-class bass-baritone Sir Willard White who was not even ten feet away from us. What a voice!

We sat next to a couple from Ann Arbor, MI, Priscilla and Jim  Carlson, and look forward to seeing them at tomorrow’s reception for the American Friends of the Three Choirs Festival, to which we were invited.

There was a special guest at tonight’s concert, none other than HRH Prince Charles! We were all asked to stand in silence as he entered and exited the hall. Unfortunately we did not get to see him, and only heard his footsteps. He came by himself, plus some security personnel—no Camilla. When he first entered, everyone sang the British national anthem, God save the Queen (except for those of us who did not know the words!) Even the orchestra played from memory!

 

 

Posted in Carl Crosier, Katherine Crosier | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bath Abbey

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Since we had not booked any concerts at the Three Choirs Festival today, we took a day trip to the city of Bath. After yesterday’s opening service there have been six scheduled concerts plus a lecture, so I know we have missed out but sometimes you have got to give yourself a break! I must confess that I am getting a teeny bit anxious to be home again after so many days on the road.

The Klais organ at the Bath Abbey

The Klais organ at the Bath Abbey

See all the video screens?

See all the video screens?

Bath is a World Heritage city known for its hot springs and Roman baths. One sign I saw called Bath the “most elegant city in England.” But you must know me by now—I am pretty much focused on finding cathedrals and pipe organs! When we entered the Abbey at Bath, we heard an organist practicing and there was a view of the organ console on several video screens placed around the church. This afternoon’s evensong was cancelled to be replaced by an organ recital by Peter King, so I assume that was whom we heard practicing.

There was a lovely exhibition of calligraphy and needlework displayed around the side of the building and I tried to photograph some of them but unfortunately the glare limited me to only taking a few shots.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The elegant Pump a Room

The elegant Pump Room

After the Abbey visit we really treated ourselves by having afternoon tea at The Pump Room, considered to be the most magnificent and most elegant restaurant in a city that considers itself to be “the most elegant in England,” according to one sign I saw. Having afternoon tea is considered the most quintessentially British custom and we were happy to indulge ourselves!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Posted in Katherine Crosier | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who can match the Brits?

The opening service, Three Choirs Festival

The opening service, Three Choirs Festival



Today marked the opening service of the 289th Three Choirs Festival, and I could not help but think the Brits do it best—the pomp, the pageantry and the sheer grandeur of it all. In many ways it was like the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, with the entrance procession lasting 20 minutes!  As we walked to the cathedral from our hotel, we could hear the change ringing:

Here was the sequence of events as listed in the program:

11:10 am. The civic procession enters by way of the south porch. The brass ensemble plays

Festival Fanfare -James D’Angelo

11:20 am. Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Gloucestershire and the High Sheriff of Gloucestershire are received at the south porch and escorted to their seats by the Dean. The brass ensemble plays

Salvum fac populum -Charles-Marie Widor

11:25 am. The procession of the visiting clergy enters through the west cloister door. The brass ensemble plays

The Earl of Oxford’s March -William Byrd

11:28 am. The organ is played as the Bishop of Gloucester’s procession enters

11:30 am. When all are in their places, the brass ensemble plays

Civic Fanfare -Edward Elgar

Then the cathedral choir and the festival chorus sang the National Anthem (God save our gracious Queen), I think in the key of B-flat, making a high G as the highest note. No wonder they did not have the audience sing along!

image

Four from Honolulu: Tim Carney, Vreni Griffith, myself, and Douglas Hall.

What a fantastic opening! I don’t think I have ever seen so many colorful costumes, copes and mitres in such a grand procession before. It was like watching a royal coronation or some other grand state occasion, with the large brass ensemble lending an air of festivity and celebration. The rest of the service contained hymns, anthems, readings, prayers and a sermon that contained much humor. The choral music included the Centennial Te Deum of William Walton and Gerald Finzi’s God has gone up with a triumphant shout.

You see, it has been 289 years since the choirs of Gloucester, Worcester and Hereford Cathedrals came together every year to have a week-long, grand music festival. Here is a short video clip of the final postlude:

In the afternoon, Vreni and I took the train to Worcester Cathedral and stayed for Evensong, which was sung by an American choir from St. Philip in the Hills, Tucson, AZ. Just last night Vreni heard Evensong at Bristol Cathedral with a visiting choir from Hartford, CT. And remember that I heard the Valencia High School choir in Notre Dame. Isn’t it ironic that we come all the way to England to hear American choirs because the English choirs are on holiday!

Continue reading

Posted in Katherine Crosier | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Unexpected visit to Wells

My charming bed-and-breakfast is located in the English countryside!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I left the Barcelona hotel shortly after breakfast for a flight to Bristol, England, en route to the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester. After spending every single night in a hotel for the last four weeks (!), I decided to make a booking at a bed and breakfast. When our tour leader, Pilar, heard my plans, she suggested I take a taxi there, thinking it might be in the countryside. When I arrived at the airport, I phoned the B&B with the thought of asking them how I should get there from the airport. No answer, so I went ahead and booked a taxi.

When I arrived, there was no one here and all the doors were locked. I stood around for about 20 minutes when two men drove up. They turned out to be schoolteachers from Germany on a one week vacation, booked at the same B&B. After we all waited around for another 15 minutes, one of them suggested we go visit Wells Cathedral until the official check-in time of 4:00 pm.

Wells Cathedral

Wells Cathedral

Now, I know what you are thinking—that it would be foolish for me to get into a car with strangers. I can just imagine my family would be worried sick about me. But I did it, and we spent a wonderful afternoon at Wells Cathedral, about a half-hour away. The men, Helmut and Manfred, are from Bremen—the same city as the founders of the Lutheran Church of Honolulu. I gave them one of my business cards—the one with the Beckerath nameplate, showing its home as Hamburg, not far from Bremen. They said they are coming to Hawaii for a vacation in two years.

imageI bought a pictorial book about the organs and organists of Wells Cathedral and learned that the first organ was installed in 1343. Several instruments followed, and the present organ contains pipe work by Henry Willis from 1857. Most recently the firm of Harrison and Harrison rebuilt the present organ in 1973-1974.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My taxi will call for me at 6 am tomorrow, so I had better finish this up. I will take the train to Gloucester where I will spend the next week. Guess who I will meet there?! Tim Carney and Doug Hall from the Hawaii Masterworks Chorus and my long-time traveling companion, Vreni Griffith.

 

Posted in Katherine Crosier | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Pilgrimage to Montserrat

The Basilica at Montserrat

The Basilica at Montserrat

This morning, our bus journeyed to the Benedictine Abbey of Santa Maria de Montserrat, located about an hour north of Barcelona. We stopped at the foot of the high mountain and took a cable car ride to the top, affording us spectacular views of the vista below, in spite of hazy conditions.

The first thing we did was line up to see the Black Madonna, a wooden statue about 3 feet high encased in glass. Here is what I found out about it:

According to Catholic tradition, the statue of the Black Virgin of Montserrat was carved by St. Luke around 50 AD and brought to Spain. It was later hidden from the Moors in a cave (Santa Cova, the Holy Grotto), where it was rediscovered in 880 AD. According to the legend of the discovery, which was first recorded in the 13th century, the statue was discovered by shepherds. They saw a bright light and heard heavenly music that eventually led them to the grotto and the statue.

The organ in the basilica

The organ in the basilica

After a brief tour of the surroundings we were given several hours to explore on our own. Several in our group hiked up to the cross on a mountain across from the abbey and others made it to the very top of the mountain. But I and three others decided to attend mass in the basilica. Unfortunately the boys choir is on vacation, but we did hear the monks sing accompanied by the organ.

As I told one of my companions, even though I do not understand a word of Spanish, I was still able to figure out where we were in the service: the psalm, the lesson, the Sanctus, the Lord’s Prayer, the Peace, etc. It is what causes wonder and amazement at the Church Universal; no matter where you are in the world, and attend a Christian mass, the service is the same. No matter whether you are in Japan, or Germany, or here in Spain, the order of the service is identical, and is just in another language.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We got to ride the train.

We got to ride the train.

In mid afternoon, we boarded the bus and drove to the cava wine country where we had a most delightful tour of how they make Spain’s sparkling wine. It began with a movie presentation, then we rode around the vineyards in a small choo-choo train. We then went into the museum to see the old ways of pressing the grapes, then descended 117 steps below to the cellars (17 meters below ground). We then boarded another small train down below and it reminded everyone of a ride at Disneyland–like a roller coaster! Round and round through the narrow lanes of the cellar, which totaled 35 km altogether! Our guide, Pilar, had told us to expect a surprise that would bring us back to our childhood!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Of course, the end of the tour was a wine-tasting, and I had several sips.

Here is a short video I took of the roller coaster ride in the wine cellar!

Posted in Katherine Crosier | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

I could have spent DAYS …

The rear wall

The rear wall

I could have spent DAYS at the Basilica Sagrada Família here in Barcelona, and even more days at the Sagrada Família shop! It is the most visited tourist attraction in Spain, with more than 3 million visitors per year. Designed by Antoni Gaudi in 1885, it has been in a state of construction for 130 years. However, as our guide Alberto told us, many of those years were years of procrastination, where nothing got done. But now, the noise of construction is constant and normal. He said when he first started doing tours thirty years ago, there was no nave, no nave ceiling, only just a façade. But now, after doing many tours here with the construction much further along, he felt like a real estate agent! Someone on our tour asked, “But who is paying for all this construction?” Alberto laughed and said, “You are! through your entrance tickets!”

The small pipe organ behind the altar

The small pipe organ behind the altar

The exterior of the building is part structure and part sculpture, and the interior is very contemporary, both in the stained glass and the 18 bell towers designed to look like a forest of trees. The concept of making the interior contemporary is not without controversy, but we are, after all, living in the 21st century, not the 19th century.

There is only a very small pipe organ which is behind the altar, and Alberto said it was only 400 pipes, and unusual for its placement. Normally, the pipe organ would be in the back, along the long axis.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This is what the basilica looked like in 1908— basically just a façade. It has come a LONG way since then.

The basilica in 1908

The basilica in 1908

Since the basilica is not yet finished the dress code is more relaxed. Tomorrow, though, when we visit the monastery, we can have no bare shoulders, and shorts must be at knee level or below. Sometime I would like to revisit Spain when it is not so hot. Daytime temperatures are in the high nineties—luckily our hotel is air-conditioned, but that doesn’t help when we are walking around.

 

Posted in Carl Crosier | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Barcelona Cathedral

After an early wake-up call at 5:00 am, I met our tour group downstairs where we were handed a takeaway breakfast and headed for the airport. We were told that because of the latest terror attacks, getting through security would take extra long. What was strange was that our group of 16 only had a single ticket, and Air France made sure we kept together as a group and checked our luggage in a block. I did manage to fall down the escalator because I did not know how to steer two pieces of luggage (my large suitcase plus my rolling backpack), but I was not hurt except for my really sore legs. Remember my 396 step climb on Sunday? I am REALLY feeling it today!

imageAfter we checked into our hotel, I went out exploring and immediately found the beautiful Barcelona Cathedral. (The locals pronounce it “Bar-the-lona“) The cathedral was constructed from the 13th to 15th centuries, with the principal work done in the 14th century. I don’t think I have ever seen so much gold in a church before!

There was an elevator to the tower which was not all that high, but it did offer a nice view of the city of Barcelona. Boy, it was sure windy, but it offered a respite from the heat below.

At the top of the Barcelona Cathedral

At the top of the Barcelona Cathedral


image imageGuess what I found? Yes, something I have found in many churches here—a donation box to raise funds for renovation of the organ! It seems to be a worldwide problem.

Here are some other pictures I took inside the church.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I saw a poster advertising a concert tonight at 7:00 by the St. Paul’s School of York at a nearby church, Església de Santa Maria del Pi. I walked into the church about 6:00 and heard the choir practicing Ave verum corpus by William Byrd. In these resonant acoustics, the high school choir just soared. However it turned out that the concert did not begin until 7:45 and then it began with the school’s wind orchestra. In these super reverberant acoustics, I am afraid the sounds all mushed together creating mass dissonances. The choir finally came on and sang a mass by Lassus and a contemporary setting of “The Lord is my Shepherd.”

image

They took a break and didn’t seem too organized, so I finally went to dinner about 8:30 pm and ordered a seafood paella.

We will have a sightseeing tour tomorrow morning.

Posted in Carl Crosier | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The American Cathedral

I did not return from Bourges to my Paris hotel until nearly midnight, so I had a leisurely morning trying to repack my suitcase. We leave for Barcelona at 5:30 am tomorrow!

Andrew Dewar

Andrew Dewar

This afternoon I met Andrew Dewar, organist, at the American Cathedral of Paris, also known as The Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity. The building has existed since the 1830s and the present structure was consecrated on November 25, 1886, Thanksgiving Day.

The first thing I showed Andrew after our meeting was the picture on my iPad of Nathan Laube and myself with the Bourges Cathedral in the background. You see, Nathan was artist in residence here at the American Cathedral for three years! In fact, he was here a month ago to play for the wedding of the music director, Zachary Ullery (who is now on vacation).

imageAndrew spent quite some time showing me the organ, and which stops were original. I really enjoyed listening to the beautiful flute and string stops by Cavaillé-Coll.  Clay Logue sent me this description of the instrument: The Cathedral’s Grandes Orgues, built in 1887 by the prestigious French firm Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, was inaugurated on October 5, 1887, by Alexandre Guilmant. It has been suggested that Marcel Dupré is the person most responsible for the evolution of the instrument, which is still one of the largest in Paris: it was Dupré who acted as consultant, first in 1922, again in 1930, then again in the 1950s, with Maurice Duruflé. The latest restoration was completed in 1993 by the organ firm of Bernard Dargassies with the generous support of the Paulé Foundation and other Cathedral members. The organ was re-dedicated on February 21, 1993, and re-inaugurated on May 18, 1993, by Marie-Madeleine Duruflé, and on May 30, 1993, by Marilyn Keiser.

At the American Cathedral console

At the American Cathedral console

Then Andrew left, leaving me to try out the organ in front of two people from my tour who came to listen to me. All I can say is that my work is cut out for me when I return home! I felt like a rust bucket with my fingers not feeling attached to my body. Somehow I got through about 6 or 7 pieces. Unfortunately, though, the organ is in bad shape and is in need of another restoration, having uneven voicing, dead notes, and frequent ciphers. Guess who is on the organ restoration committee? Nathan Laube! Andrew said the project will cost about 4 million euros, yikes!

He also told me that one of the American Cathedral’s parishioners is actress Olivia deHavilland, who just celebrated her 100th birthday!

In spite of my rusty fingers, it still felt good to play, and I will look forward to being home in about two weeks.

 

Posted in Katherine Crosier | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The height of insanity

Nathan Laube: “Would you like to go up to the bell tower?”
Kathy: “Sure, why not!”

I made it to the top!

I made it to the top!

Little did I know that after Nathan led me up all the steps to the organ loft at the Cathedral of St. Étienne in Bourges, that was only HALFWAY up to the bell tower. It was not until I climbed ALL the way up, and ALL the way down that I saw a sign saying that you had to be in good physical shape. There were 396 STEPS up (!) and 396 STEPS down and of course, going down was a piece of cake but going up—not so much! (I know I will be sore tomorrow!) But, oh, the view was simply spectacular and just priceless on this clear, clear day.

The magnificent cathedral in Bourges.

The magnificent cathedral in Bourges.

Let me share what Nathan wrote on his Facebook wall about this magnificent cathedral, which was built starting in the 11th century and finished in the 13th:

The super high nave

The super high nave

It goes without saying that it’s an interesting time to be in France right now, but I couldn’t be happier that I’m here to make music in some magnificent spaces. Our hearts are broken, but Is there any better therapy than making and sharing music? The next six weeks will take me all over Europe in the course of some 19 recitals in 6 countries, and it’s hard to imagine a more jaw-dropping place to begin this tour than at Bourges Cathedral. As far as Gothic goes, it doesn’t really get much better than this, even if it is a rather idiosyncratic take on the typical French models. It has no transepts, its facade features 5 mammoth portals (a particular feature that was mirrored in St. John the Divine in NYC several hundred years later!), and the interior is divided with two circulating aisles and an incredible double ambulatory, resulting in a staggering 5-layer pyramidal elevation. One has the impression that there’s no possible way that those seemingly pencil-thin columns could support such a lofty vault. They do – and they’re not so thin (probably 7-8 feet in diameter)!

The program was:

Rameau: Overture to “Les Indes Galantes” (trans. Rechsteiner)
Froberger: Fantasie sopra Ut Re Mi Fa Sol La
Muffat: Toccata Septima

Muhly: The Rev’d Mustard His Installation Prelude
Preston: Uppon La Mi Re

Boëly: Fantasie et Fugue, Op. 18
Widor: Mystique (from Trois Nouvelles Pieces, Op. 87)
Duruflé: Suite pour Orgue, Op. 5

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We took a selfie.

We took a selfie.

Nathan’s recital was part of the XXXI Les Très Riches Heures de L’Orgue en Berry series and his magnificent playing matched the magnificence of the building. I was so impressed with how he brought out so many colors of the organ, matching perfectly with all the many brilliant stained glass windows of the Cathedral. It was a real aural kaleidoscope, displaying so many nuances of sound, and yet the instrument only has 77 ranks. The organ sounded comfortably full, but did not blast. It goes without saying that his playing just gets better and better—and the 400-500 people in the audience gave him a standing ovation.

Our dinner in Bourges.

Our dinner in Bourges.

After the concert we went to a small reception, in which everyone was speaking French, of course. I was only able to catch bits and pieces of the conversation, but after all, it has been 48 years since I lived in France and my vocabulary is almost completely shot. I am amazed that I remember anything at all now that I’m in my (ahem) golden years! Hey, I’m glad that I have not gotten lost so far, and that my extremely rusty French has gotten me around!

We went out to a nearby restaurant and Nathan was good enough to walk me all the way back to the train station. Thanks for a great day, Nathan!

Posted in Carl Crosier | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment