In his speech introducing the Odyssean Ensemble’s performance of William Byrd’s Cantiones Sacrae, the Chairman of the Spitalfields Festival Board made the point that we live in troubling times but that each time we gather to make music and to listen to it, this anxious world becomes a better place. That ‘coming together’ is the over-riding theme of this festival, which aims to unite musicians professional and ‘amateur,’ experienced and beginning; it also has as its theme the connections which the Artistic Curator, André de Ridder, sees between the music of Handel and that of the post-punk band Joy Division. Intriguing, to say the least.
To whet our appetites for the musical delights to come, we were treated to two very fine vocal performances, both in the glorious setting of the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London. Handel’s cantata La Lucrezia, in which Lucretia rages against her rape by the ‘villainous Roman’ Tarquinius, and contemplates her suicide, was sung with passionate dramatic skill by Katherine Manley, accompanied with fervour by Liam Byrne on Viola da Gamba and Marianna Henriksson on Harpsichord.
The evening’s main concert was a stunning performance of Byrd’s Cantiones Sacrae by the Odyssean Ensemble, directed by Colm Carey. This set of motets, obliquely addressing the terrible situation of Catholics at the time, is mostly bleak yet still inspiring, and the performance was all the more affecting for having been sung in the very chapel where so many Catholic martyrs (including John Fisher and Thomas Moore) are buried. The music was interspersed with some very moving readings, notably of Edmund Campion’s “I am a Catholic” in which the poet says that “You cannot reason with those who do not love Reason” – a statement which one might feel remains especially relevant today.
The Festival runs until December 9th, and includes a recital of Purcell songs by Mary Bevan, accompanied by Elizabeth Kenny and Joseph Crouch, on Tuesday 4th, and a performance of the Tallis Lamentations by the Erebus Ensemble, on Friday 7th. Other offerings include Ringside Symphony on Thursday 6th, and the Fidelio Trio on Saturday 8th, with four premieres including Luke Styles’ Memories of a Foreign Land called Home.
The Spitalfields Festival has always concerned itself with taking music into the community, and this year’s events include ‘Heart and Breath Reimagined’ which was created by Year 5 students from local Primary schools (Tuesday 4th) and ‘Platform at the Museum’ on Thursday 6th, which takes place in the Museum of Childhood and features the Soundbox Creative Ensemble and members of the Saturday Music Centre.
You can find out more at spitalfieldsmusic.org.uk