It was one of those rare moments in life when, if I possessed a 'pause button' for real life I would have pressed it to stay in that moment for as long as possible. I might still be there!
The occasion was the performance of Apocalypse by the amazing Danish Radio Vocal Ensemble, directed by the inspirational Robert Hollingworth. For the choir’s ‘Angels and Demons’ programme I had divided my 30-minute piece into four separate sections; Robert devised a dark, brooding programme around it, with music be Machaut, Henze, Penderecki and MacMillan interspersed with mine, and with vivid atmospheric soundscapes by composer Tim Hinman between each piece telling the story of the angel’s fall from grace and the dark forces which came into play.
The first performance took place in the stunning concert hall at Danish Radio on 4th February, a short ride out of town on Copenhagen’s new underground railway. The choir made me welcome at rehearsal and the performance was meticulous and clear, sung to a large and enthusiastic audience. But nothing really prepared me for the spectacle that was to follow.
There were to be two further performances the following day, at the magnificent baroque Christians’ Church in the elegant Christianshavn area of the city. The church is almost like an opera house, with ‘boxes’ on three sides and on three tiers, all facing the ornate altar as if it were the stage of a theatre. The performances were to be broadcast on Danish Radio and with live video streamed on the Danish Radio website, and DR had spared no expense in terms of production values, with dramatic lighting, remote cameras and angel mannequins around the church! That the performances were of the highest standard was to be expected; the Danish Radio Vocal Ensemble are an energetic, enterprising professional choir with a first class musical and technical facility and a wealth of experience singing new music.
Apocalypse is based on the story of the last fifteen days of the world, as depicted visually in the medieval stained glass at All Saints Church, North Street, York, and in the vivid language of the ‘Prick of Conscience’ poem on which the window is based. I use both old English and modern texts but the story doesn’t unfold chronologically, rather it starts with the first day and gradually works its way to the fifteenth but it constantly refers back to all the previous utterances, like flashbacks, so that by the fourteenth day all the previous days’ text can be also heard. Scoring is for unaccompanied mixed choir of singers with a high soprano soloist to the rear of the choir and, in the second half of the piece, two further sopranos placed either side of the choir singing antiphonally. In the DRVE performances these roles were rotated amongst the soprano section with thrilling effect.
In that glorious setting, with the lights dimmed apart from bold shafts of colour, and the intensity of the music uninterrupted, flowing seamlessly from one piece to the next, it all added up to one of the most compelling musical performances I have experienced for a long time.
At the time of writing the complete performance is still available online, at: http://bit.ly/1r0jRkR
My sincere thanks to Robert Hollingworth and the ladies and gents of the Danish Radio Vocal Ensemble.