Altrincham Choral Society

Summer Concerts 2005


Manchester, Cartmel & Venice



The RNCM - Manchester’s Hot Venue


If there was a single memory of the day, it was the heat!  On one of the hottest days of the year, there was no movement of air at all in the concert hall.  But this was a wake-up call, a reminder that Venice would be hotter still.  Professional musicians have to cope with whatever they are subjected to and still perform to the highest standards, so why should we complain?  Also, Steven reminded us that professionals have to perform the same music enthusiastically time after time, just as we would over four concerts - not just maintaining the same standard but even hoping to improve.


The rehearsal was more than just a run-through.  Steven devoted extra time to certain pieces - for instance, in the Vivaldi Gloria we put a lot of effort into getting “Et in terra pax” just right - a superbly shaped and gripping movement.  Another good piece was Mozart’s “Lacrimosa”, particularly for the basses’ octave jumps. This sort of practice has a great spin-off in that it gets the whole choir into the habit of thinking carefully about every single note in the programme.


Considering the heat and discomfort, the concert went extremely well.  In particular, it was our soloists’ first airing and they produced a very professional result.  The concert was well-attended despite the obvious lure of a perfect summer’s evening and we were grateful to the loyalty of our regular audience.  They were particularly appreciative of Lydia’s piano pieces and our soloists Jane and Ann.  The audience also enthused about Bruckner’s Locus Iste which we sang by heart - it seems that as soon as we only have our conductor to look at, we all come alive!


The encore was Faure’s “In Paradisum” which Steven thoughtfully dedicated to the victims of 7/7, just two days earlier.  It was uncanny that we had been practising this piece for weeks without realising just how apt it would be on the day.  The sopranos’ voices were truly angelic.


Culture & cream teas in Cartmel


From a 1970s concert hall to the stunning Cartmel Priory, the contrast could not have been greater.  It was a glorious summer’s day but not too hot, and the day was spent wandering in the sun, chatting, eating and drinking in gardens and squares - and yes, singing too.


How could such a magnificent building house such an awful piano?  All of Lydia’s professional expertise was called upon to tame this stubborn beast.  The piano brought home just how difficult a job the soloists have in the Vivaldi. The notes of the accompaniment are completely different notes to the soloists’ and having to listen to an out-of-tune piano must have been a terrible distraction.  Despite this, Jane and Ann rose well to the occasion.


The acoustics were excellent and the Bruckner could almost have been designed for the Priory.  However, Steven warned us that it would all change as soon as the seats were filled.  The local people at Cartmel were very welcoming and made a great audience.  Little things like organising separate interval refreshments for the choir made us feel very special.


All in all, a really great day out in a magical location.


Storms over San Margherita


Proudly showing off our ACS T-shirts we made our way to rehearse in our first Venetian venue, a church now converted into a college auditorium in a classical style.  It felt manageable and had good acoustics. We had been slimmed down from the English concerts and right from the start our singing felt more intimate.  We missed our usual colleagues (yes, honestly!) but it made for an interesting change.


There was another transformation.  Jane and Ann had already given two great performances in England but this time our conductor wanted something more.  While the rest of the choir sat and watched from the audience, Steven worked his magic and our two soloists suddenly found themselves projected into a different league - achieving a true duet, apparently all to do with the communication between each other.


As the evening performance approached, the skies darkened and some of us collected umbrellas before setting off along the miles of canals and passages to San Margherita.  Sure enough the heavens opened and the choir’s stragglers got well and truly soaked - not that the early party could feel smug because they got hopelessly lost and somehow managed to detour via San Rocco.


Dress code was colourful blouses and shirts, thankfully much cooler than jackets but the auditorium was still mercilessly hot and humid despite a rattling air conditioning plant just behind the stage.


Musically this was arguably the best of our four concerts.  It was atmospheric too, with the some of the audience perched on the balconies and a dramatic electric storm for accompaniment.  Just before the end of the encore a local woman jumped to her feet shouting “Bravi, bravi!”.


Before and after the concert there was a lot of organisation going on in the background, mainly by Pam but with others helping in all sorts of ways.  For instance, Helen reluctantly tore herself away from parental duties to act as Steven’s Italian speechwriter and we were really impressed when Steven launched into fluent Italian.


San Stefano - simply stunning


This venue seemed curiously named because none of us could think of anyone called Steven who was particularly saintly.  Those who forged ahead with their sightseeing (while the rest of us were lingering over our breakfast and recovering from the night before) reported that the building was stunning, but nothing prepared us for such a dramatic church - it was huge, with a wow factor even beyond Cartmel.


The rehearsal gave a taste of what was to come.  The acoustics were extremely rewarding and required more than our usual clarity and precision because the slightest errant voice could be detected.  Steven remarked that he actually had to change the pace of the pieces to take account of the lengthy echo.  Our two soloists could be heard just as well from a far corner as close by, though they reported that it seemed a daunting place to fill.  Meanwhile the tourists came and went, some settling for the duration and obviously appreciative of a (comparatively) cool and beautiful place to take in some quality culture.


Out in the heat, our marketing team were hard at work handing out posters and many of us spent dinner recruiting from adjacent tables.  Our ACS T-shirts were also spreading the news.  We had a small problem in that the daily Vivaldi concert machine was performing simultaneously in the same square, although we did hold the advantage that our concert was free!  Some of the Vivaldi audience were later spotted wandering in to hear us during their interval and were reluctant to return.


Choir dress reverted to black and white.  The performance started with a reassuring audience of well over 100.  Vivaldi’s Gloria and its solos went particularly well in response to Steven’s earlier coaching and it was quite something to realise that we had brought this work back to within a short walk of its origins - also true of San Margherita but felt more poignantly amongst the sculptures and art of San Stefano.


The audience continued to shuffle in off the street and almost filled this vast church to capacity, giving us more and more confidence.  Some left noisily and at odd moments, leaving us wondering what we were doing wrong but afterwards we learnt that this is standard European behaviour.  Then a man strode to the front and blasted Jane with a camera flash just as she started her second solo but fortunately this was an isolated incident.



The audience became increasingly attentive as the concert progressed.  Lydia’s first piece had them gripped. The Palestrina was particularly effective - at rehearsal Steven had asked us to emphasise the entries “Buccinate” and “Jubilate” and we didn’t disappoint.


Between the two linked Mozart movements, Steven’s hands still held high, the audience were so enraptured they even tried to applaud.  We put absolutely everything into the stirring Beethoven finale “Hallelujah” and the audience were overwhelmed.  The priest decided that we had finished and rapidly switched on all the lights and made a quick goodbye speech, but Steven stuck with the plan and rewarded the audience with our two encores sung from memory.  In this fabulous church, sung faultlessly (the tenors managing their best ever “Irreprehensibilis est”), this was the high point of all our summer concerts.  There were even the beginnings of a standing ovation.  What a way to finish!


We all drifted back towards the hotel, very tired but on a great high. The overwhelming feeling was that the programme had been superbly chosen and it was a sad realisation that we would not be singing this music again for quite some time.  Our warmest thanks to Steven, Lydia, Pam, Andrew, Kath, Val, Ann, Jane and indeed everyone who put in so much hard work in the heat of England and Italy.



Caroline (Soprano 1) and Bob (Bass 1) Harris

August 2005