Dutch dash!

IMG_1651Last week, Mrs O’G and I were able to take a little time out and travelled to Amsterdam for a short ‘city-break’ where we were able to indulge our love of great food, cycling and (interior furniture) design. The city is stunningly beautiful and unlike many other capitals, is relatively compact and extremely laid-back. The city has so much more to offer than the sex and drugs for which it is infamous. And 2013 is a particularly bumper year too as the city celebrates several anniversaries; particularly 400 years of their canals, the re-opening of the Rijksmuseum and the 40th anniversary of Van Gough Musem to name but a few.

IMG_1638Although the Rijksmuseum and Van Gough Museum were closed due to extensive refurbishment (and will both re-open as part of these celebrations later in the year), we were struck by just how much other culture is available. Away from the large national galleries and concert venues are hundreds of quirky and unexpected experiences to be had. What was more refreshing was the lack of embarrassment in promoting this culture either. There was no hint of elitism, or any perception that this could ever be possible. Art seems to be for all who want to consume it, in whatever capacity. The dutch are proud of their heritage (as are most nations), but also recognise that the present is just as important. While history is preserved, this is not used as an obstacle in allowing the city (or the arts) to progress and adapt to changing times, tastes and fashions. There is also a spirit of adventurousness that is so lacking (in the arts particularly) in this country; there seemed little sense of a project having to make a financial return, but rather a mentality of being allowed the space to take risks for art’s sake.

IMG_1725Although we did not experience any live music while there, I imagine this excitement and spirit of adventure is evident in all art forms including music. A random-sample look at some local groups’ websites shows some very innovative and daring programming – particularly in the juxtaposition of early and contemporary music (and not the sort you plug just to get bums-on-seats) – as well as the public and private financial support offered. I do hope to be able to experience this sense of adventure from a performers point of view sometime in the future – hopefully I can find a way into the Dutch music scene!

Holiday over, it’s time to get back to work. The schedule for the Minster Choir is accelerating towards Easter. This year, as well as the build up to the wonderful music of Holy Week and Easter Day itself, we will also be performing Bach’s St John Passion for the first time in a long while. The soloists have recently been announced as:

  • John Mark Ainsley – Evangelist
  • Iestyn Davies – counter tenor
  • Judith Cunnold – soprano
  • Neil Griffiths – tenor
  • Benedict Nelson – Pilate
  • Roland Wood – Christus/bass

Further details can be found here.

The Ebor Singers also have a busy month as Easter approaches. They will be performing a Passiontide programme in the Minster’s sublime Chapter House on the 20th of March, and their now traditional performance of Stainer’s Crucifixion will take place on the 27th. They will also be participating in a hand-full of Lenten Compline services. Further details can be found here.

2013-Conductus-222x-01In April, John Potter and I will be performing the two-voice Conductus programme as part of the Cambridge Festival of the Voice. This will take place in the Emmanuel United Reform Church on the 13th and will feature similar repertoire to our YEMF appearance last year, as well as some new material from the forthcoming second disk. They will also be showing Mick Lynch‘s film which accompanies the programme, and John will be giving a pre-concert talk about the whole project. It should be an action packed weekend!

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The red light syndrome

This week, the Minster Choir have been braving the cold, snowy York evenings to record their forthcoming Regent Records release. This experience led me to think about the art of recording and the psychology of being a performer in this situation.

While we are always striving to achieve the highest levels of communication with our audience, the very nature of the art means that each is only a moment in time never to be repeated in the same way again. A recording on the other hand preserves a single performance for all eternity, which will inevitably be judged and benchmarked. It is this thought that inhibits performers as they enter the studio. When the red light goes on, the noise is being captured no matter the quality. Of course modern recording techniques mean that recordings are rarely single performances, rather a patchwork of the best bits captured. But still the anxiety remains.

I have found recently however that this thinking can be turned on its head. Rather than being a daunting experience where tension is caused for fear of a bad take, the recording environment can be a space of freedom and experimentation. The ability to retake indefinitely (within the limits of the session) makes the whole experience more comfortable. One begins to relax and perform without inhibitions, and the result is a confident and exciting recording – one which may even inform subsequent live performances.

The lynchpin in any successful recording is always the producer. A great producer knows the capabilities and limits of their performer and encourages them to achieve their very best performance in front of an imagined audience of the future, within the inevitable time constraints imposed when recording. Their expert ears offer practical ways in which the performance can be enhanced, and their instant feedback offers immediate food for thought and often new insight into the music – sometimes to the extent that one feels as though they have been through an intense coaching session. The producer also has the unenviable task of editing the numerous takes together to create one patchwork performance; their impartiality a great asset.

All that remains now is to hear the first edit of this learning experience before its release into the wild.