Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

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Midnight cycling

Thu Apr 9 2009

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As our tour this far has not included much time for sight-seeing, we took the opportunity on Tuesday night after the concert, in the form ofbikes cycling around Paris. In Paris they have a brilliant city bike network system; the city is sprinkled with racks of bikes, for people to hire at any time of day for any amount of time. Our nocturnal cycling team consisted of three flute players; myself, Katy Bircher and Brinley Yare, countered by organist James Johnstone, who possibly has more notes to play in the Matthew Passion than all us flutes put together.

As our concert in Poissy did not finish until close to midnight, and it took another hour to get back to our hotel in Paris, it was already past 1am when we started our bike ride. First I was a bit sceptical about this cycling idea, not least because I felt the strong pull of gravity towards my bed after a very long day and concert. Fortunately it is impossible to feel sleepy in the fresh night air. We rented bikes right opposite our hotel for one euro each! It took us a while to figure out how the ticket machine worked, but after that, using the bikes was very straight-forward, though they were not exactly fancy racing bikes.  It was magical whizzing through Paris at night time, and it felt almost unreal passing the big sights in hardly any traffic. We all were feeling quite euphoric; it was like time had stopped and we had the whole of Paris to ourselves! First we wanted to cycle on the Champs Elysées to experience a little patch of the Tour de France route – this was a bit of a pilgrimage for passionate bike racers Katy and James. (Brinley and I cycle in London too, but only as a way to get from one place to another.) I was a little terrified at the Place de la Concorde, as the traffic there seems always so fast and chaotic at day time, but now I can say I have cycled there and I am still alive. From there we cycled along the river and stopped to admire the buildings and water works at the Louvre – there was not a single person at that time of night! Then we carried on to Notre Dame, not a single tourist there either. Paris is the city of thousands of sculptures, which seemed to come to life in the night, living their own lives and guarding the city. Night time cycling makes one realise how close things really are to each other, and how much the day-time traffic slows one down.  We arrived back to the hotel past 3am; not surprisingly I had no trouble falling asleep!

Soile Pylkkönen, flute

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  • I was at the Thursday evening concert at Royal Festival Hall. I expected to miss the large(r) forces, at least for the chorus. I was NOT prepared for the performance of my lifetime.

    OK– I DID miss the boychoir ripieno in the first chorus– a bit. I soon forgot about them, as I was swept away by this perfect jewel of a performance. The instrumental playing was of a par with fine chamber music–which, in a way, this is, from our 21st century perspective. It was the commitment of the singers, however which transported me (I admit prejudice, as a singer myself).
    This was an almost perfectly unified performance, in every sense of the word, from technical unity of details (diction, expressive affects) but also unity of interpretation. It is interesting to note that a conductor, who is supposed to BRING this unified artistic interpretation to a concert work, was absent. Instead, the piece was DIRECTED, much like a drama is directed by, well– a director. But in an age of performance when the conductor rushes in for a piano rehearsal, shouts list-minute directions at the chorus, has 2 orchestra rehearsals and a General–this was a finely-cultivated interpretation, will all participants on board.

    Mark Padmore was a brilliant Evangelist, and I believe, the leader of this project. We’ve come to expect this level of deeply felt and thought-out artistry from Mr. Padmore. We’ve also come to expect this from Roderick Williams, and yet it was Williams who exceeded even our high expectation. As Christus, he was a riveting dramatic presence who would have communicated this piece to the deaf. His natural stage presence is a great communicative advantage in a work like this.
    Then, he opens his mouth. Throughout the evening I couldn’t make up my mind which was more spectacular: his brilliant artistry or his near-perfect vocal technique. I dare say in print that Williams expressive abilities rival those of Fischer-Discau, and Williams has the advantage (with deepest respects to the great baritone) of a better natural instrument.
    It is not only his natural vocal gifts, however; it is indeed a voice of clarity, of a warm and slender quality, devoid of shake rattle and roll, but it is also a vocal technique which simply reeks of health. Williams voice sounds free, supple and amazingly even throughout his range. In hearing him, one is tempted to file him away as a “lyric”, middleweight voice, until one notices that his voice is heard over almost everyone, singers and instruments, lending his warm colour to the entire ensemble. I found myself wondering just which Fach WOULD I place his voice; then I found myself wondering who his voice teacher was/is, or if Williams himself teaches. I am not sure why this baritone is not more famous; I’m sure that is about to change.

    Along with Padmore and Williams, the other singers were hardly a hair’s breadth behind, especially the warm mezzo and emotive qualities of Christianne Stotijn– not to devote a paragraph to each singer is a disservice.

    On top of all that was the instrumental ensemble, handling tempermental period instruments with seeming ease– capricious gut strings, pieces of plumbing ( is that an oboe d’more or da caccia?) all generating a warm, glowing sound, filling the hall.
    I do hope that a CD is in the works. This was the performance of the year.

    Thank you for the experience.
    Bill Noce

    Bill Noce Sun Apr 12 2009