I went to "The Dream of Gerontius" last night. It was a bit cool and uninvolved at first, perhaps from the fact that I am used to Elgar's music coming on with umpteen hundred strings and all the stops out, if you know what I mean, rather than with the crisp, cool, rather small sound of the OAE. Adrian Thompson's heartfelt, lyrical Gerontius sounded terribly alone without that consoling cocoon of lushness around him. But when Roderick Williams stood up to sing the Priest, my hair stood on end. Gods, what a voice - golden velvet, warmth and clarity and ardour, wonderfully controlled, riding over the chorus like a magnificent roan horse, full of feeling but without a scrap of ham. And he's good-looking (understatement!).
& Please excuse the bad mixed metaphor there - I have no desire in truth to see the Ex Cathedra choir trampled by a horse, even one that can sing like Mr Williams.
Part two was full of such moments; right from the start, those delicate solo strings and Gerontius' hushed wonder at his awakening, a real shivers-down-the-spine moment. A slightly underpowered angel, I'm afraid; but the chorus of fallen angels, the big chorales, and the moment at the Judgement Seat, lifted the roof...
I don't always know in advance what is going to move me and sometimes get caught out, especially by music, which can open a direct current into my heart without my realising it is happening. At the interval I went out onto the balcony above the Thames for a breath of air, feeling vaguely melancholy, and by chance I looked up.
There were huge clouds rushing by overhead, and the stars came and went as they passed. The beauty and grace of the clouds, and the magical way that their speed did not in any way reduce their serenity, seemed to me to convey the majesty and wonder of divinity as beautifully as any church or prayer I have known. I have been in great churches, shrines and mosques, places that were full of hallow-ment and prayerfulness; yet that Cathedral of racing clouds, and the great edifice of music, equal them all.
But I can't subscribe to my late father's view, that because "Musik ist eine heilige kunst" it must therefore be protected from anything other than quality performers and reverent, strictly-controlled performances and forward development. Any art that is unable to live in the real world, the world where people experiment (& sometimes get it wrong) and where amateurs are having a go for personal pleasure and without any expectation of greatness, is an art that will die, shut away in its safety box far above the rest of us.
Sorry, that was another mixed metaphor...
I cannot bear to consign the creative and performed arts to the realm of Sacred Objects, relics in glass cases with "Noli me tangere" written on the label. Even if some - even if a lot - of the living and developing of an art is painful to the ear or the eye, it must still live. It must live. If the Almighty, whatever we conceive him or her or it to be, is living, then so must everything we do that works with god be living, or it must fail.
Music is a holy art; and so are all the others. But they must be free to race under the clouds, as well as to be made anew each time in the concert hall, slightly-low-key angel and all.
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