Concert Review – a requiem for our time
Has been a challenging year for all due to the covid-19 pandemic; with musicians and artists unable to perform or engage in their craft. During March 2020, concerts came to a screeching halt, and music-making ceased.
But in a world that seemed to be devoid of hope, not all is lost. The arts sector has learnt to become much more innovative in their music-making approach, keeping the art alive for audiences. Concerts are probably reaching a far greater audience than the local concert hall, introducing even more people to the world of classical music.
One such innovator is the Acadamy of St Martin-in-the-fields, a London-based orchestra and voices. This year is the 60th anniversary since the ensemble was founded, and despite the pandemic, this has not stopped them from performing.
Recently, the ensemble performed the first in their five-part “reconnect” series, depicting different aspects of the pandemic and its impact. This first concert was designed to pay homage to lives lost during the covid-19 crisis, including one of their own orchestral musicians. Unlike a standard concert, the ensemble performed adhering to social distancing rules and also streamed their concert online.
The programme was an extremely well-thought-out mix of the old and new, featuring Pärt’s
Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten, Gurney Elizabethian song, Sleep and Faure’s requiem. All of these works are connected with the theme of death; Pärt’s
Cantus in Memoriam was written after the death of the English composer Benjamin Britten in 1976 as a homage to the great composer, while Gurney’s song is about living and thinking about life’s dreams despite circumstances. And no tribute for the death would be complete without a “requiem” a mass for the dead.
A lot of thought has gone into creating a unique programme and concert experience. Each item captured aspects not only of death in general but it is highly applicable for our current times.
The Cantus In Memorium begins the concert, paying tribute to someone the composer considered dinar to him. During these times, when loved ones are falling victim to the pandemic, we too should pay hostage to them, and this music enables us to take a quiet moment to do so.
Performed by the St Martin-in-the-fields ensemble, with the addition of bells, this quiet, meditative work sets the stage for what is to come. Calm and almost trance-like, I felt a sense of stillness, symbolic of the current lockdowns occurring all around us, like the pause button has been pressed on the world. The ensemble did a great job at performing this work despite social distancing; I did feel the bells were a little loud for my taste and interrupt the meditative quality established.
Following this was the song “sleep” sung by a baritone soloist. His rich voice was accompanied well by the ensemble despite social distancing. This song is a reminder to have dreams no matter the circumstances, and I felt the emotion of the song was conveyed well. I did notice some slight intonation problems in the second half. However, it wasn’t enough to detract from the piece.
The Faure requiem is one of the most-loved and well-known works of all time. This performance was exceptional, considering that the vocalists and ensemble were social distanced, creating many challenges from a conducting and intonation point of view. The untrained ear would not have noticed this impact, which is a credit to all performers involved. However, I did notice some delay at times, esspecially with the vocalists, with some passages ever so slightly out of sync. While this could apear annoying for the trained musician, I found it added to the performance. It is a credit to all the performers and the conductor considering the challenges of mental and psyical concentration involved from the musicians, the inability to perhaps see the conductor readily and the struggles in a large space. Knowing these challenges added to my feeling of awe and gratitude that in spite of circumstances, we are still able to bring music to audiences, bringing them comfort.
This concert is the first in a series of five, all focussing on different aspects of the current crisis including isolation, justice and restoration. The concerts can be viewed online for up to a month after the performance. Tickets can be purchassed from the st-martin-in-the-fields website. A highly-recomended series of concerts by a well-respected ensomble, experience the thrill of music in todays social distancing context. It is indeed possible to keep the music alive in spite of turbulent times.