I went to a stunning concert last night, given by Trinity College, Cambridge, under the direction of Stephen Layton. He has a stellar reputation as a conductor and directs a number of top quality ensembles, and, for a choir of students, don’t forget, I have to say that yesterday’s experience was seriously, seriously impressive.
The choir, dressed in tasteful black, of which I approve, of course, gave a programme of about an hour and a quarter entirely from memory, traversing the arc from Parsons (who drowned in the River Trent) to contemporary fare, all of which was performed to the very highest standard in a truly blended tone.
The more recent pieces blew hot and cold for me, and I was struck by the stylistic disparity within some single works, which I find curious and does not really tally with what I attempt to do. There was one piece in particular which I enjoyed until the end, when I felt the composer lost his nerve, and one which annoyed me quite a bit, but there is no pleasing some people. The piece I enjoyed the most was by good old Heinrich Schütz, a first rate composer, proving once again that quality and imagination, when effectively combined, have the capacity to outlast fashion and trend.
Credit to Mr. Layton and his choir, though, for he charmed and delighted his audience, and even gave them some Jerome Kern at the end. Nice.
My trek home begins in a couple of hours, so I was up at 4.30 American time in an effort to wrench myself at least partly back to BST. One of the niceties of the time difference, though, is that Wimbledon is on first thing in the morning, so I am sitting in my room with a coffee and watching Federer and Djokovic slug it out, and it is not yet 8 o’clock.
I hope very much that my trip here has planted some seeds which might produce fruit in the future. I have made contacts and shaken hands, and need to chase up a few leads when I get home. It has been educational in other ways too. Listening to some of the recitalists here, and listening to Trinity (especially) yesterday has convinced me that I am outclassed in these areas. I am simply never going to reach the heights of artists such as Layton and others, and I think that it would be foolish of me to think as much.
However, I have only occasionally heard a piece this week which has made me think that I cannot write something which might approach it in quality. There is great stuff everywhere, of course, and I would be bang out of order to say that my stuff is better, but, importantly, I take all these pieces as opportunities to learn, and know in the back of my mind that if I can constantly take on new ideas I can continue to improve and write better and better music.
A fellow composer I was talking to on Wednesday (who, as so often with other writers, gave freely and openly of invaluable advice) said that he had spent many, many years “pounding the pavements” musically, taking his pieces to various interested and not so interested parties before he was compositionally comfortable. There has been momentum picking up for me at home for the past year or so, and I have at least begun to pound the pavements on this side of the Atlantic. Now it is up to me to attempt to make my foot in the door persistent enough to push that same door wide open.