Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Horizon Ensemble - Chamber Music on a Summer's Evening

This Sunday, 25 July, The Horizon Ensemble will be at Howgills - 42 South View, Letchworth - for a concert of music by Beethoven, Mozart, Finzi, Glinka, Faure, and others. The concert begins at 7.30 p.m. and is in aid of Saint Katherine's Church, Ickleford, building fund.

The Horizon Ensemble consists of Katie Canell on clarinet, Mary Cotes on piano, and me on bassoon. At this concert we're introducing two new pieces for us, a Duo by Beethoven for clarinet and bassoon. This is a delightful three movement work, which has the additional benefit of giving the pianist a break! And I'm playing a setting of a beautiful Faure song, Après un rêve.

If you're near Letchworth, do come, it would be great to see you!

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Private Passions and tender music

This morning I was visiting Vale Community Church's Sunday Brunch. This is an event which takes place twice a month and provides 'opportunities to make new friends and explore the Christian faith'. It's an exciting initiative for all ages and proving an effective way of being church.

On the way back I listened to Private Passions on Radio 3. Whenever I look ahead to the coming week on tv and radio, I always check out who Michael Berkeley's guest is, and this week it was a repeat of a programme with Nick Clegg.

Private Passions is a 'Desert Island Discs'-style programme, though much more substantial in terms of the music played and discussed. It has considerable depth without being stuffy or elitist and I would rate it as consistently very good and sometimes extraordinary. I could point you to pieces of music that I heard for the first time on this programme.

What I heard today was particularly interesting in the light of the position Nick Clegg now finds himself in. And this is a man who understands the arts, music in particular, and has a great love for them.

He spoke of the Mozart Laudate Dominum, sung by Kiri te Kanawa, as 'tender', and after listening to this Michael Berkeley commented that of the hundreds of guests on Private Passions, the weighting was towards music that elicits tears rather than joy. He then picked up on Nick Clegg's use of 'tenderness' and made a connection with 'the fragility of the human condition' and our sense of 'impermanence', which produces a longing and a yearning. This expresses for me something of my understanding of the essence of music.

In 'Chasing Frances', the book I posted on a week ago, Chase Falcon says, 'The object of all great art is beauty, and it makes us nostalgic for God.  Whether we consider ourselves people of faith or not, art arouses in us what Pope John Paul called a "universal desire for redemption".'  And 'Art or beauty is not the destination; it is a signpost pointing towards our desired destination.'

And CS Lewis, in The Weight of Glory, writes, 'The books of the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through was a longing … For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.'

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Ordination of Dan Foster

Today was the ordination of Dan Foster and his induction as Minister of Howlands Baptist Church, Welwyn Garden City, where he's served as a minister in training for the last three years during his time at theological college.

Dan is an accomplished professional jazz saxophonist, and his call is to bi-vocational ministry, working four days for the church and the rest as a musician. This seems to me an excellent arrangement, continuing to engage with and connect both worlds.

Ordinations are always special, and today was no exception, but a high-point was Dan and the pianist Peter James, from his group Kairos, playing an improvised arrangement of 'Dear Lord and Father of Mankind'.

Check out Kairos, who have a number of CDs and are available for gigs - I recommend them enthusiastically. This is a group which doesn't settle into the familiar groove; they make a sound I haven't encountered elsewhere in the Christian sub-culture.

Friday, 16 July 2010

The wonderful Baroness Floella Benjamin

We had a memorable day at Jonathan's Graduation Ceremony at Exeter University. As a proud parent I was looking forward to it, but expected it to be something of an assembly-line-event with all of the graduates receiving a quick hand-shake and certificate. It was anything but!

This was due largely to the presence of the wonderful Chancellor, Baroness Floella Benjamin. The ceremony began with the entrance of the University dignitaries and professors with the Chancellor the last person to appear. And what an appearance! There was such a sense of theatre as she literally graced the steps to her seat, before dramatically turning to address the congregation. What followed was an inspiring, motivational speech - more like a sermon - where she oozed presence. There were even three points, all beginning with 'c' - consideration, contentment and confidence.

The graduates were then presented. And no-one got anything as ordinary as a hand-shake. She embraced, hugged, kissed, caressed the graduates, speaking at length to each of them. What enthralled me was the manner in which she greeted everyone appropriately, with total attentiveness, huge warmth and elegance.

There were some final words to the graduates, which, taken at face value, might have been over the top, yet were spoken with such pride and affection, and communicated with the gorgeous smile, the wide open, sparkling eyes, and the elegant hand gestures.

I guess I've been a fan for more years than I care to remember, but today I became a fan for life! It made what would have been a special day whatever, very special. Thank you Floella.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Chasing Francis

Three years ago I read a book by Ian Morgan Cron, Chasing Francis. It takes the form of a novel which charts the loss of faith of a minister of a seemingly successful church, and the spiritual journey that ensues. This involves a trip to Italy to visit his uncle who is a Franciscan priest, where he encounters the teachings of Francis of Assisi and connects with a more ancient way. In the process he regains his faith but not as he knew it.

It is a delightful, imaginative, insightful read, and I made copious notes as I read it.

Why mention it now? Well, yesterday I saw this commendation by Rowan Williams, 'I've now read it twice and found it equally compelling both times. It's a challenging, disarming, and delightful book, and the vision behind it is a serious one. It's a remarkable book'. The Archbishop of Canterbury was speaking at a Fresh Expressions Conference, and he drew out the five principles the book emphasises for the church: transcendence, community, beauty, dignity and meaning, which are well worth pondering.

These are some of the great quotes that I took three years ago:
'The Christian subculture overpromises and underdelivers.'
'In sacred places, something gets done to you that you’ve been unable to do for yourself.'
'The Bible is the story of how God gets back what was always his in the first place. People are looking for a story that can explain the way the world is. I think they’re open to being romanced by the glory of the painting.' 
'All ministry begins at the ragged edges of our own pain.'
'Sometimes God’s presence is most strongly felt in his absence.'
'Finzi’s [an English composer of the last century] Ecologue is lyrical and haunting; it surfaces all the unfulfilled desires of your life.
'I am always brought to tears when I hear a marvellous performance followed by a standing ovation. I feel that at the climax of our cheering, we cross a boundary and unwittingly begin applauding some other reality, a performer we know is there but who cannot be seen. We want to thank Beauty itself.'
'The church is realizing that there is an awareness of God sleeping in the basement of the postmodern imagination and they have to awaken it. The arts can do this. All beauty is subversive; it flies under the radar of people’s critical filters and points them to God.'

Saturday, 3 July 2010

The Sixteen at Christ the Cornerstone

A great evening at Christ the Cornerstone, Milton Keynes, with a performance by The Sixteen of Thomas Tallis, William Byrd and John Sheppard. This was part of their nationwide Choral Pilgrimage Tour, twenty-six venues, most of which are historic churches.

Tallis, Byrd and Sheppard, all Catholics, held appointments at the Chapel Royal and needed to be supremely adaptable to the changing circumstances: Henry VIII was succeeded first by his Protestant son Edward VI, then by his fervently Catholic daughter Mary, and finally by her half-sister Elizabeth I.  Although a more moderate form of Protestantism was established in her reign, it was no small thing to express their devotion to the Catholic faith through the glorious music they composed.

A nice touch: when the Church of Christ the Cornerstone, the first ecumenical city centre church, was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on Friday 13 March 1992, Basil Hume, was the first Roman Catholic Cardinal to preach before the reigning monarch in over 400 years.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Dancing in the Dark

I watched this on The Rest is Noise and it blew me away. The music won't be everyone's cup of tea but I thought the effect was stunning and beautiful. Augustin Hadelich plays the 'Rhapsodie' from Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Sonata for Solo Violin. Watch on full screen.