I was fortunate to have been able to go to two stunning concerts within the past week. An opportunity to see John Eliot Gardiner lead his Monteverdi Choir in Orfeo last Tuesday at the Kennedy Center and then on Sunday a chance to hear the Choir of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London in concert at Washington National Cathedral with their conductor Andrew Carwood. In both cases it was clear that the conductors were taskmasters who elicited the best from their singers. Music performed at that level doesn’t happen without a fanatical attention to detail and hours upon hours of work. But the listener wouldn’t necessarily have been aware of all that. What we did experience was music that in other hands might have been stuffy and boring, but in these concerts was colorful and passionate. There was an ease of music-making that belied its difficulty, and the music was moving – literally! Dancing, real (Orfeo) or implied (the Tallis and Byrd of St. Paul’s program), was an important part of the listening experience.
My purpose isn’t really to write concert reviews though. It simply occurred to me after hearing these choirs that early music, such as the Monteverdi (1567-1643), Tallis (c.1505-1585) and Byrd (c. 1540-1623) I had just heard, is like another language. Or perhaps better described as a dialect of that other language we call music. Hearing people speak in another language, we often can understand the essence of what is being communicated – anger, joy, humor, concern, fear. I was hearing great musicians communicate all those things, because they spoke the language of early music fluently. It was inspiring.
Distilling my thoughts one step further, I believe communicating passion for that which you feel intense emotion and for that which compels you to action, is the highest goal. I felt fortunate to have two reminders of that this past week.
How could I resist sharing this with you…the Danish ensemble Per Passione (!) performing Tallis’ If ye love me.