4 May 2017

My week of Arvo Part - also starring Goeyvaerts

For the past week I have been chucked in the deep end, well and truly. I have been spending my week in New York, primarily in Fordham University where I have been attending the Arvo Part: Sounding the Sacred conference. The conference, which was heavily supported by the university, the Arvo Part Project, and the Sacred Arts Initiative to name just a few.

As can be guessed from the title, the week has been dedicated to the great composer. A conference of 4 days which has shown us a huge variety of stances and disciplinary viewpoints of the composer and his connection to the world around him. There were many fascinating discussions all of which have really challenged my understanding and broadened my sensibilities.

The real highlight of the whole conference was last night's concert in the Holy Trinity Church. The concert was overflowing with audience members and after a moment of hush the concert started. The opening came in the form of Trivium (1976) for organ. Andrew Shenton really showed his nuance and understanding of the piece bringing out all of the wonderful character and charm of the work, as well as the ethereal extra the often comes with Part's music. A real joy and a great way to open the concert.

Following a brief moment of shuffling amidst the stunned 'silence' of the creaking pews, the next work that followed was De Profundis (1980). It is always hard to witness performances of this work for me. Having grown up with the almost intense perfection of the Hilliard Ensemble's recording  its hard to find other interpretations match it. The four singers had a wonderful tone and the interaction between the quartet and the organ was elegant. The percussive sounds could have been performed with a bit more mystery, but were still very effective. Despite the many merits of the performance, I just wish they sang it slower to really wallow in the depths.

Then, after even more shuffling, coughing, and spluttering, came the awe-inspiring Sarah was Ninety Years Old (1976/89). The broad powerful opening of the percussion combined with the beautiful lilting tenors were completely mesmerising. I am always stunned by the work, one because of the sheer power of it, but also because of the sheer oddness of it. The blocks of the sections are intensely static, but almost have no impact on the next, but you feel a building intense and dramatic dialogue. The entrance of the organ always stuns too, but I felt the dialogue between the organ and soprano didn't have the same fluidity of gesture that the Hilliard's recording managed to achieve. 

The finale of the concert came in the form of something truly astounding. The string trio Goeyvaerts combined with three astounding singers performed Part's Stabat Mater (1985). A truly inspiring piece, but last night's performance had one more intense nuance. The ensemble had performed the entire work in Just Intonation. For those unfamiliar with the term, just intonation is a tuning system where in short everything is tuned in relation to a point, instead of by 'equal' intervals we are used to in well-tempered tuning. What this did was give a truly unique power and colour to Part's music that has never been opened up before. The rolling lines moved along and the sextet had a truly exquisite sweetness to it. The colours of the three singers; Maria Valdmaa (soprano), Alex Chance (countertenor), and Tore Denys (tenor), was always complimentary and divine. The ability of the singers to adapt to the refined tunings and the new 'field' built up made for a truly profound moment. Not since seeing the British premiere of Adam's Lament was I struck by such a freshness in Arvo Part's music. I had to buy the recording the trio made of the work so I can continue to obsess and indulge myself in it. Goeyvaerts were astouning. No other way to put it. What a magnificent trio that I hope to hear again in the future.

It has been a lot of fun being in the conference and I hope this isn't the last time I have the pleasure of discussing Arvo Part or to witness a concert quite like this. 

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