If Ye Love Me – Thomas Tallis

I would love to meet Thomas Tallis! He lived for some 80 years from approx 1505 to 1585. He spent 40 odd years as a gentleman of the Chapel Royal and served in one capacity or other under Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I. What stories he would have to tell of courtly intrigue, political machinations and religious bigotry. He managed to serve many masters and maintain his dignity. Elizabeth I granted him, along with William Byrd, a monopoly on printed music and music paper! He wrote some of the greatest music ever, ever conceived. Oh! and he appeared in Shakespeare in Love!

Luckily for us, much of his music survived (see monopoly on printed music above!). It was his colleague and friend William Byrd who said: “Since Singing is so good a thing, I wish all men would learn to sing.”

If you need a reason to learn to sing then here is one. Listen to If Ye Love Me and say no more…………

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Mozart – Missa Brevis K194 in D Major

What is it that creates and carries our memories? Our experiences, our history, what we read, what we are told and taught? Probably all of these things and much more. I am not interested, here, in any kind of scientific answer but in the sensation, that most of us have, that history leaves memories all around us. No more so than when we enter an ancient building.

I was lucky enough when I was studying in Hungary to visit Salzburg Cathedral with the Hungarian Choir, Ars Nova. We brought with us a new setting of the Mass by György Selmeczi which we were to perform for the very first time. This first performance was to take place in the context of the celebration of the mass at the cathedral. The very same cathedral building which first heard the Mozart settings including the Missa Brevis K194, Mozart’s first work to appear in print.

How could we avoid the comparisons? My abiding memory is of the choir room, down below the cathedral, grey stone walls and a piano which looked like it may well have been there in Mozart’s day. It was an overwhelming feeling, knowing that Mozart used to spend much of his time in this same room, preparing new music, facing similar challenges to those we were facing, wondering what a conservative congregation would make of this new music and in his case, what Archbishop Colloredo would have to say afterwards.

Archbishop Colleredo was a demanding employer and one of these demands was for brevity and clarity in music designed for liturgical use. It’s the age old argument between priest and musician. Simple and clear (audible even) expression of the text versus the exigencies of musical argument, form and expression. The resulting tension has created many a masterpiece and this is no exception.  Having to avoid expansive orchestral preludes, extended fugal writing and over repetition of text is not allowed to be a disadvantage, rather turned to advantage. Mozart may well have felt constrained and Colleredo may well not have been completely satisfied. Such is life! But we are left with great music which is practical in its application.

As to its ‘newness’, that is hard but not impossible to recreate. As ever our approach should be to recreate as if new, to try to understand the expectations and surprises found in the score, to put ourselves in the shoes of the congregation of the time without ever forgetting the experience of our modern audience. No one that I know of does this better than Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Listen, enjoy and wonder!

The Zêzere Arts choir will perform this great work in buildings which also store centuries of memories in their ancient and magnificent walls. If you think you might like to join us, click here, read more and get in touch!

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Handel Dixit Dominus – Venue and Fastest Fugue

One thing about running an event at the extraordinary Convento de Cristo in Tomar is that we are spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing venues for individual performances. It has taken a while to settle on a space for this year’s performance of Handel’s Dixit Dominus. Well the choice has been made. Those of you were here last year will remember it as the biggest of our three rehearsal rooms. It is the Capela-dos-Reis-Magos and this is what it looks like empty!

Capela dos Reis Magos, Convento de Cristo, Tomar, Portugal

Yep! It is going to be great. We have a really exciting team of people gathering for this performance.

Now, if you have been wondering about the title of the post … One of our singers sent me a message when applying saying ‘I love the Dixit Dominus, I hope you are going to take it good and fast!!!’ As it happens at about the same time I came accross this video of Michel Gorbot conducting. He is well known here in Portugal through his work with the Gulbenkian choirs. Check out the fugue at the end. Is this the fastest ever? Whatever about the pros and cons of a speed like this, I hope I have his daring when I am his age!

If it makes you want to come and have a go, rehearsals start on Aug. 11th with our performance being on the 16th, give me shout via our main website. If you find a faster recording of the final fugue, let me know!!

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Aer Lingus Puts On Extra Flights for the Zêzere Arts Festival

Well, yes I am joking, the flights are not actually for the Zêzere Arts Festival! But they do suit us really well. The price has been creeping up and these extra Saturday flights bring them back down to the sensible rates which were available until a month or so ago.

Irish choristers can now fly from Dublin to Lisbon in August – Saturday to Saturday for €229.  So, if you are thinking about our choral holiday or either of our chamber choir programmes, now would be a good time to pounce. Transport is provided from the airport and if you are thinking of singing the Mozart Requiem only, Zêzere Arts will include the extra night at the advertised price.

It’s always good to be able to pass on good news! Here is a reminder of our amazing venue for the Mozart Requiem: Read more about our choral programme here.

Claustro D. João III Convento de Cristo Tomar Portugal

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The Story of Jonas – Carissimi

I came across Carissimi’s Jonas a few years ago, having known and performed Jephte many times. Carissimi is one of those composers that undergraduates can easily think of as a one hit wonder. We all learn about the stunning word setting in Plorate Colles which brings Jephte to such a moving close. History lecturers with a syllabus covering centuries move quickly on to the next composer, era, genre or often all three. For many musicians, Carissimi remains the guy who wrote that amazing lament at the end of one of his oratorios, Jephte I think it was called. I believe he wrote a few others too! Depending on the amount of background reading there is a good chance Job and Jonas might come to mind. I often find myself wishing I had done more background ( I should say supplementary! ) listening given that we were music students, but in my defense I could point out that performances of works like these were pretty rare in those days.

Working on Jephte over the years I always found myself thinking how much I would like to investigate the other works. My chance came last year when I intended to do Jonas at the Zêzere Arts Festival 2012. Practical issues got in the way and Jephte filled the gap. I still remember, though, the bass singing and the first double chorus early in this recording which re-inspired me.

Carissimi’s music comes at a time when clarity of expression and audibility of text were considered of the utmost importance. The thing is that in the hands of a great composer, drama and musical expression cannot be kept down. The style may be somewhat austere but Carissimi provides an under-current of powerful emotional expression wonderfully brought out in this recording. I am hugely looking forward to directing this work in such an extraordinary venue this summer. Enjoy! and if you enjoy it enough you could think about coming to Tomar in August to sing it with us in the Convento de Cristo.

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Sir Colin Davis – A Personal Memory

I won’t be the only musician feeling sad at the news announced by the LSO yesterday evening. Sir Colin Davis passed away at the age of 85 after a mesmerizing life of achievement and contribution to music. Like so many of the great conductors he was still studying, learning and experimenting right up to the very end. The news was announced with a real sense of loss and affection that is not surprising. I didn’t know him personally but I do have personal memories, like many, I suspect, which he wouldn’t have known about.

Sir Colin Davis

I have an old, old vinyl recording of two Haydn symphonies which he made in Amsterdam. I remember the first time I heard it. I remember the sense of fun and joy and humanity. I remember I could never put it on without listening to both sides, both symphonies. I remember and still get when I play it, the sheer strength of personality with no egotistic damage to the music, quite the reverse.

But that is not the personal memory. I was a young teacher on the staff of the City of London School when Sir Colin’s son was a student there, already an excellent violinist. Sir Colin came to work with the school orchestra, so I engineered a break in my schedule and slipped into the back of the hall. When I arrived Sir Colin was down on his knees in the viola section, pleading with the players to ‘sing’ their line more expressively. Not the first violins, not the cellos. The violas, who must sometimes feel as if the conductor barely knows they exist. Down on his knees singing from his heart to a school orchestra. If any of us needed more proof that ‘it matters’ then maybe we should have been thinking about another career.

I have chosen this video of the 2000 Proms performance of the Berlioz Grandes messe des morts. The performance drew together young performers from the Paris Conservatoire and the Guildhall in London. We sang it as RCM students in the Albert Hall in the 80′s, combining with students from the RAM. It seems an appropriate requiem for a man who championed the music of Berlioz and who gave so much of his time to the development of young musicians.

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Strings Masterclass with Lopes-Graça String Quartet

Zêzere Arts is delighted to announce a new element to the 2013 festival. We will run a masterclass for advanced string players as part of our 2013 summer course. Players will study individually and in chamber groups as well as form the core of the Zêzere Arts Festival Orchestra for performances of operas, orchestral and  choral works. There will be chamber music and ensemble performances during the festival and players will take a full part in the atmosphere of the festival. The opportunity to work and perform with solo and choral singers, spend time with other dedicated string players and study with a team of top professional musicians makes this a very special summer course.

The string masterclasses will be led by the Lopes-Graça string quartet joined by double bass player, Adriano Aguiar.  There will be individual, chamber music and ensemble classes and a popular daily relaxation workshop.

Lopes-Graça String Quartet

The Zêzere Arts Festival takes place during the first to weeks of August. (3rd – 17th). There is the option to attend for one week only or for the full two weeks. The location is stunning and you are promised a friendly and positive atmosphere in which to develop your playing and enjoy quality music making. For more details and to apply click here.

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Festival Chorus at the Convento de Cristo

It is an exciting day for us at Zêzere Arts.  Today we announce the formation of a festival chorus as part of this year’s Festival of Opera, Song and Singing.  Singers are offered the amazing opportunity to spend a week  living and performing in the Convento de Cristo in Tomar.  It is made possible with the support of the Convento de Cristo and the government of Portugal.

Charola - Convento de Cristo - Tomar

The famous eight-sided Charola in the Convento de Cristo

It is the stuff of dreams.  The Convento de Cristo in Tomar is one of the most spectacular buildings you will ever visit.  It was the centre of activity of the Knights Templar at the height of their power in Portugal.  The whole region is influenced by Templar history.  Within the walls of the castle and convent it is easy to imagine yourself back to those times.

If you are reading this, it is probably because you love to sing.  Most of us who love to sing the great music of the past also love to be able sense the people who first sang and heard it.  Years ago I sang a new mass setting at Salzburg Cathedral.  When we arrived we were shown down to the choir room to rehearse.  My over-riding sensation was that I was in a room Mozart would have rehearsed in.  That sensation lasted as we went up to perform, heightened by the fact that on this occasion we were singing new music, just as Mozart’s singers would have been.

If you are free to come to Portugal for a week in August you can stay at the Convento and spend your days rehearsing and performing.  Oh! and enjoying sunshine and good food!

You will sing in the final concert of the Zêzere Arts Festival and give a formal concert at the Convento.  But there is more to this.  Our brief includes the ‘animation of the space’ with musical events throughout the week.  The building is full of nooks and crannies and cloisters and balconies ripe to surprise the passing tourists with live music as they visit this great place of history.  You don’t come here just as a member of another large chorus.  You come here to form a group of musicians whose job is bring music to life in the building.  You will be encouraged and helped to form smaller groups to give informal performances.

The region will be alive over the course of the festival, with the company rehearsing and performing 3 operas and various other concerts.  The festival chorus will work closely with the festival company and there will be many opportunities to sing together.

All the more formal information is on our Festival Chorus page, programming, prices, accommodation etc.  I hope this whets your vocal appetite.  I can’t wait!  It has been a long time in the planning and we only just made it for this year.  We would love you to be in the first Zêzere Arts Festival Chorus.  Send me in your thoughts, ideas and questions……….

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