Just six days ago, we received this notice:
Dear Ticket Holder,
We are delighted to announce that we will be welcoming His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales to the performance of Dream of Gerontius on the evening of Tuesday 25 July.
As President of the Three Choirs Festival since 2001, Prince Charles’ picture was on the very first page of our program booklet, along with a welcome letter.
Since I came to the Three Choirs Festival held last year in Gloucester, I knew the drill: We in the audience had to be in our seats by 7:30 pm. We were given some instructions by someone on the Cathedral staff, then everyone was asked to stand and applaud the Prince upon his entry. Except for the cellos, all in the orchestra stood as they played the National Anthem, “God save the Queen.” The words were displayed on the video screens around the sides of the Cathedral, and people sang lustily. (However, I couldn’t see the screen from the second row where I had a ticket tonight.) At the end of the first half as well as at the end of the concert, we again stood and waited for Prince Charles and his entourage to exit the building.
Unfortunately, when everyone stood up and looked back, I’m too short to see over their heads and couldn’t see a thing. My friends Joe Hansen and Rick Cicinelli, though, got seats in row 19 and were 5 rows away from him. But Rich Arenschieldt, head of the American Friends of the Three Choirs, was in the very same row!
Tonight was the first time I had ever heard Elgar’s “The Dream of Gerontius.” It is a favorite of British audiences—and after hearing the concert, my reaction was:
Wow. Just wow!
I heartily recommend a light-hearted article with humorous photographs (!) on ClassicFM.com titled, “A guide to why Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius is the most epic choral stupendousness.” In short, it’s a massive poem about life, death and the meaning of life through the character of Gerontius, which means “old man.” Elgar’s setting of this 900-line poem by John, Cardinal Newman is equally massive, calling for a huge orchestra, choir, three soloists and organ. There were parts of the piece that were so loud that I was sure my eardrums were going to burst. But then again, there were incredibly sweet and soft passages that made you strain to listen.
I think the part that spoke to me was right at the beginning when the assistants are singing the Kyrie, and the litany begins:
All apostles, all evangelists, pray for him
All holy disciples of the Lord, pray for him
All holy innocents, pray for him.
All holy martyrs, all holy confessors,
All holy hermits, all holy virgins,
All ye saints of God, pray for him,
—I was imagining that that was how my husband Carl was greeted by the angels when he went to heaven.
As the final chord died away, conductor Martyn Brabbins held his hands up for such a long time, as though praying, leaving a long moment of silence only broken when someone coughed.
In the end, it is music which touches your heart.
I definitely would like to hear this work again.