I have just come from a performance of Hector Berlioz’ Grande Messe des morts, and I was being helped to my seat in row F, and the usher said to me, “it is going to be very loud. Are you going to be okay here? Let me know if you want to change your seat!” Don’t say I wasn’t forewarned!
According to the program, “the vast scale of the Grande Messe des morts, written in 1837, means that it is rarely performed anywhere, and even more rarely at the Three Choirs Festival, where it had to wait until 1966 for its first appearance.
“A very large orchestra is demanded, with four additional brass groups placed at the four corners of the choral forces. The full strength of these resources is reserved for only a few notorious passages. The hair-raising impact of multi-directional brass in the Dies irae is the more noticeable against the work’s overall restraint.”
I think what impressed me is the Three Choirs Festival Chorus’ stamina for this whole week! They have to sing a big work every single night for seven nights in a row! Here is the schedule of large works:
Saturday: Parry, Jerusalem; Elgar, The Kingdom
Monday: Mendelssohn, Elijah
Tuesday: Vaughan Williams, Dona nobis pacem
Wednesday: Berlioz, Grande Messe des morts
Thursday: Mozart, Requiem
Friday: Orff, Carmina Burana
Saturday: Mahler, Symphony of a Thousand
The man sitting next to me said he has a friend in the chorus and every single person must audition every year. Rehearsals start in April in the three towns (Gloucester, Worcester and Hereford) and everyone comes together the week before the festival. To learn all this music is amazing; to perform it all in one week is absolutely insane! But they have been doing it for 300 years, so I guess they still get plenty of people who want to participate. Let me tell you, the tessitura of the sopranos has been in the stratosphere, and I can’t believe the dedication, commitment and talent of these choristers.
I did want you to know that besides all the major concerts during the evenings, there are about 50 additional daytime concerts, plus evensong every afternoon at the Three Choirs Festival. This morning, though, we chose to take the bus to Tewkesbury and Cheltenham to look at the churches and flowers there.
Just going to the fourteen concerts/evensongs I signed up for is fatiguing in itself and challenging my stamina. If you can believe this, the man sitting next to me tonight kept falling asleep (in spite of the decibel level!) and kept leaning against me. Several times during the quiet portions he was even snoring!