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.
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.