Programme Notes - Musical Director (Sun, Moon and Stars)

Posted: 8th June 2019

For the concert on 8 June 2019:

It is lovely to be back at St Margaret’s Church, Topsham once again for our final concert of the 2018/19 season. It is a lovely venue for a Summer concert and we rarely fail to get a good audience here, so thank you for your continued support.

It was with great sadness to hear of the death of our current Honorary Patron, Dr Peter Hurford OBE on the eve of our St Matthew Passion concert back in March 2019. However, it ended up being a most fitting tribute to his life’s work with a choir of around 100 dedicated amateurs and around 30 professional musicians putting on a beautifully moving performance in his name – I hope he would have the enjoyed the performance.

In a very different way, we are also sad to say goodbye to Colin Pettet – the society’s current Assistant Musical Director – who has served us so well over the past three years and has been a true rock supporting me in every aspect of musical direction. Colin is as unflappable as it gets and takes any challenge in his stride. His ability both at the piano and leading the choir when I’m away will be greatly missed and we wish him every luck in his future endeavours.

So, onto tonight’s concert… and it is one I have been looking forward to all year and is an exciting way to end our 2018/19 season. The idea of the ‘Sun, Moon and Stars’ theme was inspired initially by Gjeilo’s Sunrise Mass and wanting to introduce the choir to this modern classic. I was first introduced to this work back in July 2013 when singing with Counterpoint, David Acres and the Divertimento string ensemble. It was one of my first concerts with Counterpoint (now Antiphon) and there was something about the energetic minimalist ostinatos in the orchestra and the textural use of choral forces in a way similar to many modern film scores that struck a chord with me.

From Gjeilo’s Sunrise Mass came the idea that each half of the concert could start at dusk and travel through the night meeting the moon and stars exploring themes such as love, loss, dreams and darkness before ending with a sunrise. This led to detailed research on many interesting works but the first job was to find another ‘Sunrise’ themed piece to end the first half. I stumbled across Haydn’s String Quartet No 63. in B Flat Major (Sunrise) and the more I listen to both pieces, the more I am amazed by the compositional similarities of both composers using strings to illustrate the sunrise despite writing over 200 years apart.

With the two ‘Sunrise’ pieces chosen and knowing there is a rich collection of German, French and English songs which depict the moon and stars, I knew I wanted to secure the services of soprano, Aimee Presswood. I know how much Aimee enjoys singing songs, lieder and mélodies so it was lovely to be able to give her the opportunity to do something in a more intimate setting than previous concerts. As such we have Schumann’s beautiful Mondnacht (‘Moonlit night’) from his song cycle Liederkries, Grieg’s Ein Traum (‘A dream’), Barber’s Sure on this Shining Night, Dvořák’s Lieblicher Mond (‘Song to the Moon’) culminating with a performance of the Berlioz’s song cycle Les Nuits d’été (‘The Nights of Summer’).

Finally, I added two more pieces for the choir: Morten Lauridsen’s beautiful multi-language song-cycle Nocturnes and one of the most popular 21st century sacred anthems – Seek Him That Maketh The Seven Stars by Jonathan Dove. The end result is a beautiful programme of contrasts and poetry that I am really proud of and I really hope you connect with the music and text as much as I have throughout this process.

I am also extremely grateful to David Davies, Anna Cockroft and the Exeter Bach Society Orchestra for their time and commitment and as always, I would particularly like to thank the committee for their help in the preparation of this concert.

Looking ahead, preparations are well underway for our 25th anniversary season beginning in September 2019 and there are a number of exciting announcements for the Society such as the appointment of Timothy Parsons (Exeter Cathedral) as our new Assistant Musical Director and the imminent announcement of a new Honorary Patron. In addition, we are always looking for new singers at this time of year so please don’t hesitate to get in touch through our website www.exeterbachsociety.org where you can find additional information about joining and the exciting 2019/20 season.

Jonathan Lucas Wood