Synergy represented by:

L-R: Micaela Haslam, Rowan Fenner, Amanda Morrison, Rachel Weston

“It was wonderful to have the chance to revisit De Staat by Louis Andriessen.  It’s a piece that I enjoy more each time I hear or sing it.  There is a fair bit of preparation in involved for the singers as the text is in ancient Greek – not a language many of us can say we’re familiar with.  Fortunately, my job-share partner at the BBC Singers (Alison Smart) studied classics at Oxford, and she very kindly made a recording of the text for us.  We would have been lost without her.

As usual, we got together before the tutti ensemble rehearsals.  The four female voice parts in De Staat work in pairs for much of the piece which includes a rather tricky and lengthy canon.  It’s easy to slip off the proverbial rails about three quarters of the way through, when your eyes and brain are beginning to tire, so it’s important to sing it all the way through when practising.  Towards the end of the piece, there is a fabulously dissonant chordal section where it must sound as though we’re just singing any old notes – but, honestly, we’re not!  Those clusters take some rehearsing, because there’s very little to latch on to tonally-speaking.  You just have to know where you’re starting, then hang on to your own line for grim death!!

Our first rehearsal with London Sinfonietta and David Atherton was a little strange in that, for the first half of the rehearsal, David didn’t have any foldback, which meant that he couldn’t hear a thing we were singing.  Not a great start – it didn’t exactly make us feel part of the team.  When he did finally get to hear us he was very kind about our efforts, but sadly we were left with the feeling that his attentions were elsewhere – largely with the brass and wind.

Don't forget the singers at the back!

Still, Louis dropped by to say hello, which was nice.  As usual, his only instructions in respect of the vocals were, “Sing long quavers.  Apart from that, just shout!”.  Somehow, when we first sang De Staat with Sinfonietta some years ago, we had made the decision to do just that.  We’d never met Louis, but he heard our recording and, during the Radio 3 broadcast intermission, said that this was the first time he’d heard the vocals exactly the way he intended.  What a stroke of luck!  Basically, he likes the four women to sound like a bunch of fish-wives in an Athenian market during the time of Plato.  I’m not entirely sure whether we should be flattered by being “the best he’s ever heard…”!

A singer’s eye view of 'De Staat'

The concert day involved a lot of playing for the ensemble, as Sound Intermedia were recording both rehearsal and concert for an upcoming CD.  De Staat is fiendish for the players – loud, incessant, repetitive patterns that must be lip-wrecking for the wind and brass, not to mention the piano (and harp!) parts that fly by at a rate of knots.  The players did brilliantly, having to perform the whole piece at least twice during the rehearsal.  Somehow they still had something in reserve for the concert which went really well.  Once again, Clark Rundell came along for the gig, which was sweet of him.  Maybe we’ll get to do De Staat together some time – I hope so.

We were looking forward to hooking up with our friends from Amsterdam after the concert but, unfortunately, the QEH bar closed about fifteen minutes after the end of the concert.  It was somewhat embarrassing to see the expressions of disbelief on their faces.  Back in March, we’d all had such a lovely time in the Muziekgebouw foyer after our Steve Reich concert with Asko|Schönberg.  Here we were in one of the premier music venues in our capital city – and the bar was shut by 10pm!  I reckon the Muziekgebouw management could teach the South Bank a thing or two…”

Micaela

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