Two weeks ago I was invited to attend a very special concert in the Cadogan Hall. At the time it did not seem such an unusual thing to do – but who knows when I will ever go to a concert again? Not just me, in fact. Am I being over dramatic? Who knows? We are in such a state of flux – things change from moment to moment and it’s a bit hard to keep up. Keep calm and carry on? Keep calm and self-isolate? Worry yourself silly and carry on?
Anyway, I went to the concert and wanted to thank the person who had invited me – the Headmaster of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School where I had been a foundation governor for several years. I immediately went to shake his hand, big grin on my face that I had found him. I wasn’t quite prepared for the look of consternation on his face as he took my paw in his, but as he was very complimentary otherwise I decided not to worry too much. Ah, those were the days when we could still do such things. Enter crowded places, greet each other and sit and listen to wonderful music.
But in order to be perfectly comfortable for the concert I had left my coat in the cloakrom – the civilised thing to do, I thought. I exchanged my faux fur for a plastic tag which I put away very carefully and proceeded to enjoy myself.
The concert itself was amazing
I had a brilliant seat right in the middle of the fifth row, so I could perfectly see the Christmas cardlike choir boys’ little cherubic faces as they made lovely round o’s as they sang. Their beautiful raspberry coloured cassocks with white ruffs made them look like a delicious bowl of fruit. They were behind the professional chamber orchestra, which was enhanced in particular by a schoolboy cellist, who played so confidently with them. I believe there were other schoolboys in the orchestra too, but he made a significant mark.
And the music. I really did not know what to expect, but I should have known it would be good. The programme started with a bit of Zadok the Priest – incredibly joyful and uplifting, and brought back a particularly old memory from when I was at university: a friend who was doing an MA in Lancaster, and with no known propensity or talent for singing, had invited a group of us to go from Sheffield to hear him sing Handel’s jolliest tunes. We went, we suffered the endless journey by train, the cold, the hunger (no time to eat before) and the uncomfortable seats. But the music was stupendous and all was forgiven. That was over forty years ago and I had not heard it since. So to be greeted with this was heartwarming.
Then a piece of Bach caressed into life by the violins and cellos. Apart from listening to the music, it was a joy to watch the orchestra – the synchronicity and the smiles on their faces just made me want to smile back. Then a wonderful Ave Maria followed by an amazing first performance of Ave Maris Stella composed by Roderick Williams.
This is a piece of music that does exactly what it says on the tin (You can tell I’m not a music critic). Hail, Star of the Sea. You could almost smell the saltiness of the waves, see the light in the sky, feel the wetness of the water as the music built up into an almost Brittenesque crescendo. I loved it and wanted more.
Then we had some Tosca performed very well by some old boys of the school. Unfortunately it left me quite cold but the ex-governor sitting next to me was absolutely entranced by it, so what do I know?
The the first part of the performance was rounded off by two choirs singing together: a lot of Old Boys and the present Schola. An Old Boy, Alex Knox, was a charming compere to the first part.
The interval was a very crowded and convivial affair. The whole of the Cadogan Hall foyer, which is enormous, becomes a great big bar. I was pleased because I recognised quite a lot of people, though not necessarily through connections with the school. One person, in fact, was someone who had no connections with CVMS but was the ex-headmaster of its arch-rival – the school which my son attended all those years ago. It was illuminating to have a chat with him after such an epoch.
But then came the best bit. It was as if the concert had been designed with me in mind. A resounding bit of Elgar to start off with and then the most rabbity extendng/diminishing dream-like riff on Alice in Wonderland. I loved it – I hadn’t heard this piece by Elfman before but I had to find it on you-tube and listen to it allover again as soon as I got home! It transported me straight back to the pleasures of the book.
All this was an eclectic lead-up to the poetry of George Herbert, the Five Mystical Songs set to music by Vaughan Williams and sung by Roderick Williams, (he who composed the Ave Maris Stella.) His voice is incredibly warm, and his diction so precise and meaningful. The third piece – Love bade me welcome, again reminded me of university and the poetry course. I remember staying up all night to write an essay about Gerard Manley Hopkins and George Herbert. Both poets completely inspired me and it was the only essay I ever actually enjoyed writing. Luckily my tutor enjoyed it too – and hearing this verse set to music was tremendous.
As you can probably tell I really enjoyed this concert – much more than I actually expected to, in fact. So I set off to go home feeling almost inebriated with joy (nothing to do with the glass of white wine in the interval, I can assure you). I went to collect my coat – and then the search began. Not for my coat, you understand, but for the ticket. I had to wait until EVERYBODY had left before the nice cloakroom attendants would hand it over to me. Meanwhile I had emptied my handbag and carrier bag, shaken out my umbrella and did everything embarrassing in order to find the tag. With no success whatsoever. Until today. In my purse. Tucked away so I could find it easily!
It is now in an envelope ready to post back. I hope the concert hall is still open long enough for them to receive it. We live in such uncertain times.