Monday, February 13, 2012
Carver, Tallis and ghosts
We don't go to concerts often these days - we're as likely to be performing as listening, to be honest, and the late-night return, involving as it tends to an hour's wait for the last ferry or the long drive over the Rest, puts us off, rather, especially in winter. But on Saturday we made an exception, and the resulting evening was one that we both considered well worth the trail. It also achieved an interesting bringing-together of various elements in my life, and I hope to be able to convey something of this.
The concert was in the Kelvingrove Art Galleries, and I found out about it on Facebook and booked it online. In that simple sentence you have the beginning and end of a loop: I spent many a wet winter Saturday afternoon in childhood looking at the animals and the armour in the Art Galleries, now a very different place: to my recall the animal displays were all round where we sat as an audience, forming a sort of ghostly backdrop. And to get there we drove through Broomhill and Hyndland and over Gilmorehill. I found myself wishing I still had my parents living in Broomhill, remembering Hyndland for both my early childhood and the excitement of buying the tiny flat we lived in when we were first married, thinking of the strange thrill of being around the university on winter evenings, whether for pleasure or - occasionally - study. I reflected on how carelessly the young me had felt ownership of that whole area, without thought or fear, how I had walked the dark streets alone and heedless.
But the concert - ah, the concert. The Tallis Scholars were singing "our" music - Tallis, Allegri, Byrd, the incomparable Robert Carver. They sang it perfectly - the best choral singing we'd ever heard live. Of course we knew their excellence - we have several recordings, and that's why we went - but the live performance overwhelmed me with its wonderful creamy sound, the perfect intonation, the flawless phrasing, the ebb and flow and the heart-stopping wall of sound of the word "Jesus" when it came, over and over, throughout Carver's motet O Bone Jesu. For Allegri's Miserere, there was a group of singers - the ones whose part includes the magic high treble notes - somewhere in a gallery above us and to the left, so that when they sang I was suddenly aware of the vast emptiness of the rest of the building, lurking art-filled and ghostly while some thousand people gathered at its heart. So there we sat, packed, still and silent, raptly caught up in something beyond the human in the unforgettable shared experience that we would, in the end, all describe differently.
More memories, more ghosts. We too sang in the Art Galleries once, when we sang with The New Consort of Voices in the late 60s and early 70s. It was hard to get an audience for Byrd and Palestrina in those days, and the few people who listened did so as they drifted about the space during an afternoon organ/vocal recital. We tried to sing in the way that the Tallis Scholars do now, we sang the same music (from the same edition of Byrd, I noticed), and no-one took any notice except for Kenneth Elliott. We even sang Carver, so I feel I know the music from within. I don't get singing like that so often now, for we don't have enough contact with others who can do it - and it annoys me to think that I sing better now in what must be my vocal twilight than I did when I was young.
We fortified our bodies with a delightful early meal in Konaki. The whole evening was a delight. And I have to thank the very current medium of Facebook for unlocking it all.