Sunday, 18 March 2007

Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus

I received a comment asking about the tent that appeared on the Cathedral Piazza last Wednesday. This was a security measure; the tent contained airport-type body scanners and space for bag searches, because of the concert that took place in the Cathedral that evening - The Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus performing Verdi's Requiem - or more specifically because of the presence of HRH Prince Charles at the concert. His presence required a huge amount of security, including closing the Cathedral for a while before the Concert. Photographs (c) Marcin Mazur.

We stage at most two large concerts like this per year, and two smaller. While the fee we earn is very necessary for our finances, the disruption is immense. The Cathedral is not, and cannot be, a concert hall, and performers do not have the freedom they expect in terms of rehearseal time, facilities, and staging the event. We have to transfer Masses to the Cathedral Hall while rehearsals are taking place, erect staging and set up ticketing, and find changing rooms for soloists and conductors. However, the setting is memorable, the venue is popular, and it is good to bring many people to the Cathedral who otherwise would not know if it.

This concert was particularly well publicised, even before it was known that a royal guest would be attending. The conductor was Ricardo Muti, for whom I had to vacate my office!

The London Times review was ecstatic:

Can there be a more awesome setting for Verdi's Requiem - the most flamboyant melodrama in the canon of sacred choral masterpieces - than the great Neo-Byzantine nave of Westminster Cathedral? The thwacks of the drum ricocheted around the arches like thunderclaps. The trumpets of the Dies Irae - placed high in the galleries - really did sound like a piercing summons from heaven. True, the reverberant acoustics tended to blur the fast polyphonies of the Sanctus and Libera Me. But the same ambience magically lifted and sustained the pianissimo choral moments - at the opening for instance - seemingly to infinity in the recesses of the vast, dark roof.

This was an auspicious night: a gala concert to mark the 50th anniversary of the Philharmonia Chorus, performed to a packed audience and the Prince of Wales (hence, presumably, the extraordinary body-scanning and bag-searching operation, mounted by dozens of police, that delayed the start by 20 minutes).

If there's one piece that Muti does with supreme drama, it's this. His pacing was impeccable, his control magisterial. And even in these larger-than-life circumstances he managed to elict tenderness in the more intimate moments.


Anonymous said...

Even when hearing Verdi's "Dies Irae" in normal circumstances--recording or broadcast--the sheer ferociousness of the music and text is enough to "scare the hell out of me." I can only imagine what the effect must have been to have heard those trumpets blasting from the "high galleries" while looking up into "the recesses of the vast, dark roof."

Monsignor, does the Cathedral perform Gabrieli with choirs placed in all corners of the building as was done in St Mark's, Venice?

Mark Langham said...

Last Christmas, at Midnight Mass, we performed a Venetian programme, with trumpets in the Galleries, and lots of Monteverdi and Gabrieli. It was splendid! Later in the year, the Choir will perform the Monteverdi Vespers, and will doubtless make good use of the space of the Cathedral for instrumentalists.

Anonymous said...

I was there for the concert: marvellous.

It is amazing to discover the number of people who didn't even know of the Cathedral's existence. There were three people whom I had to inform that the cathedral was not Westminster Abbey! However, they were all impressed by the building - if not the temperature.

Anonymous said...

and I believe that Verdi was a non believer!