How professionals and amateurs find common ground (and make sweet music) in the south of France – Telegraph Blogs

Unlike Benjamin Britten, who was happy to make recordings but thought they devalued the experience of music by making it too easily available, I’ve always been a fan of the record industry and grateful to have what it offers at the click of a button. But that said, I think the drive for ever-greater perfection in recordings has had equivocal consequences. And one is that professional and amateur music-making have become separate worlds, to a degree that’s virtually insuperable.

In previous centuries the demarcation lines were there but relatively soft. Now they’re as sharp as the edge of a concert platform. And it’s only in rare circumstances that pros and ams make contact with each other – at places like Dartington, or at the festival I’ve just been to in the south of France which is a sort of mini-Dartington with better weather and a name that tells you unequivocally what it’s about.

The name is Musique Cordiale. And though it’s largely run from the London flat of the former viola-player, Pippa Pawlik, who invented it, the event happens in a collection of hill-towns around rural Provence, with a home-base at Seillans where most of the participants stay.

Half these participants are amateur (mostly singers). Half are pro (mostly instrumentalists). They fly in from all over Europe. And between them they put together a fortnight of performances that culminate in a big choral project, which this year was Bach’s B Minor Mass.

As for the result – well, the B Minor Mass is no pushover, and doing it in these circumstances is never going to give you the pristine finish of a John Eliot Gardiner boxed set. But the lesson of an experience like Musique Cordiale is that there are other things in music-making that count for at least as much as perfection: qualities to do with effort and commitment and communication of a sense that what you’re singing/playing truly matters to you. And on those terms, this B Minor Mass was fabulous.

I heard it twice, in different hill-town churches, played on both occasions to packed audiences that overflowed into the street outside. There was a real sense of occasion: far greater than when you go and hear a comparable concert at the Barbican or Southbank. And though the first time round was unstable, the second sorted out most of the problems with a panache you just don’t get in more formal contexts. The Et Resurrexit went off like a rocket. The two Hosannas danced for joy. The Sanctus had mystical grandeur. And the Dona Nobis Pacem meant every word.

To get something like this off the ground takes a particular set of talents, and the presiding talent here was the conductor Graham Ross who for the past few years has been Director of Music at Clare College, Cambridge, as well as running his own very successful Dmitri Ensemble. To say he’s impressive would be an understatement.

There were also good young soloists including a silken-voiced bass-baritone, Tristan Hambleton, who delivered his Tu Solus Sanctus aria with such animated charm and beauty that the passing resemblance to Eric Idle telling a naughty joke scarcely mattered. And there were one or two very serious players dotted around the orchestra: not least, the new first flute of the Oslo Philharmonic, Trond Magne Brekka.

But this was nonetheless a collective enterprise in which everyone played their part – according to their gifts but with an elevating fervour. That’s what made it special. And it’s no bad thing to be reminded that a great work like the Bach B Minor Mass is difficult. To feel the challenge is to catch the thrill. Elite professional ensembles that make everything sound easy may be right for the recording studio but they’re not the last word when it comes to live performance.

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26 August 2014 | 12:50 pm – Source:

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