Monday, January 16, 2012

Sing Polyphony and See the World: Sydney

Readers of this little blog space will know that my knack for being able to sing Renaissance polyphony has brought me into the unique world of international choral workshops. One center of that world is the Tallis Scholars. The first workshop I attended was in Rimini, Italy, where the TS director Peter Phillips was the guest conductor. The singing wasn’t very strong, but the food, the weather, and having a bicycle to get around made it a great experience.

Ghislaine Morgan runs a workshop in Casole d’Elsa---a beautiful, hilltop walled Tuscan town that isn’t overrun by tourists---and Sintra, Portugal. Both were wonderful musical and travel experiences. In Tuscany we gave a concert in the cathedral in Volterra, a town I first visited with Cadfael and D.H.Lawrence, which has enjoyed a pop cultural resurgence since Stephanie Meyers of the Twilight saga created a “royalty” coven, the Volturi, who live there. A German tourist came up to me in Volterra asking if I knew where “the fountain” was. I hadn’t seen the movie, so I couldn’t tell him, and then later learned it was actually filmed in Montepulciano. Sintra, Portugal, is a very magical place that I need to write about.

The Tallis Scholars run their own workshops in Oakham, England (where I learned about Jan Coxwell’s Desert Island Disc love for "Puppet on a String"), Seattle, Washington, and Sydney, Australia., which is where I was this week last year.

Spem in Sydney
Note to any Sydney readers: go hear the Tallis Summer School Gala Conert this Friday, Jan. 20,7:00 pm. St. James’ Anglican Church, King Street. It’s always great! Wish I could be there.
Sydney is everything people say it is: friendly, sophisticated, and distinctive. It has undertones of its British/Irish roots, but the DNA is decidedly different. The Tallis Summer School is held at St. John’s College, Sydney University, and I arrived a few days early to do tourist stuff before the week began: a bike tour; a night at the opera; Blue Mountains; and Featherdale Wildlife Park, where the crossword puzzle nerd in me was thrilled to see many emus. At St. John’s the Harry Potter nerd in me enjoyed the traditional English-style dining hall (which we did not have at Rutgers).

Last year Peter tackled the famous 40 part Thomas Tallis motet, Spem in Alium on the course, because he is fearless. It’s one of the reasons I flew around the world, to enjoy the thrill of being part of it. I was choir 1, alto 1. We performed it twice at the Gala Concert, as the opening and the closing number. At the opening, we did a really good job. It teetered a bit, but it kept on course and sounded pretty good.

At the end of the concert everyone was more tired and it faltered. Just when it seemed that it might actually stop, Jan Coxwell’s voice soared over all the fuzziness with her amazing strength and dead on rhythm, and rallied everyone back on track.

Liz McKenzie and team put together a specific website for Sydney and a promotional video shot during the 2010 and 2011 schools that does a good job talking about the course, and Peter talks about the Spem performance from his point of view. It seems 2011 was the first year Americans had attended, which was me and a couple from Michigan. Maybe some other countrymen will go in the future, and I hope to go back.

Tallis Scholars Summer School, Sydney from Nick Caddick on Vimeo.