'The Sixteen' at Ealing Abbey
Rory Thomas Butler is wowed by choral pilgrimage concert
Seldom is one given opportunity to step outside the quickening rate of modern society, and instead linger for a moment in a place of quiet tranquillity, veiled from the rumbling traffic, ominous sirens, and the scream of passing trains.
Last night (8th September 2016), I attended ‘The Sixteen’ Choral Pilgrimage Concert of ‘The Deer’s Cry’ at Ealing Abbey, with thanks to their Marketing Manager, Jessica Tomkins, to discover that such moments are indeed possible. Proceedings were underway by around 7:30pm, and concluded by approximately 9:20pm.
As to my experience: this was a deeply powerful and majestic evening of music from William Byrd and Arvo Pärt, given by a relatively small yet immensely talented group of singers, and I would wholeheartedly encourage you to see them if possible.
During the performance, which lasted around two hours, I cast about to see how my counterparts in the audience were reacting to the performance. Of an audience of around 300, according to event officials, many were simply motionless, unshifting, with eyes closed and heads bowed, listening, seemingly arrested by the force and beauty of the performance. I saw some were crying, not from sorrow I claim, but from a feeling of a kind of heightened melancholic elation.
Never did the power of the music appear to be felt more keenly, than in the penultimate piece Tribue, Domine, which seemed to soar above us like some great bird, lifting us up one moment and letting us fall gracefully in the next, down into the well of our ringing hearts. By the end of the performance, the audience were like seated statues, frozen, like pious monastics in solemn prayer.
In the interval I manged to speak with the Associate Conductor of the Sixteenth, Eamonn Dougan, to find out what it means to perform at the Ealing Abbey:
“This is the sixteenth year of our choral pilgrimage, and for me, it’s one of the best sounds (acoustically), it’s a joy and a privilege. I’m sure he (William Byrd) was writing his music exactly with these buildings in mind. I don’t know how he does it, but each year, Harry Christophers (Founder & Conductor) puts together rewarding and exhilarating programmes, and it’s great to see Byrd and Pärt side by side”.
When asked about the choir, he said: ''We’re based around the country, though all within striking distance of London where we tend to rehearse. We are all friends, a wonderfully happy choir, and the Choral Pilgrimage has become the real back bone of our artistic season”.
When asked about what this music means to Eamonn personally, he said, “Difficult to put that into words…but, you asked me about the relationship with this church: this evening, standing before that beautiful crucifix, I can look up and its extremely powerful. You don’t have to be a person of faith to appreciate this music, you just have to listen, and it’ll speak to you.''
The choir received a wave of applause at the close of the performance, which given the length and enthusiasm, was a clear indication of their deep satisfaction and joy.
The choir will be performing at Wales Cathedral, then Tewkesbury Abbey, and in October they move to the Barbican and in Manchester, there will also be a whole series of concerts around Christmas up and down the country, including London.
Details of the choir can be found here
National centre for Early Music: 01904 651484
Rory Thomas Butler
13th September 2016