Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Portraits 12, 13 and 14

My day started with a touch of tinnitus, which I could have done without. Sadly, the more I mention tinnitus in this blog, the more likely I am to receive emails offering me curious American remedies. I've genuinely no idea how that works. I mean, how do those bastards know my email address?

Today's been another day of photographing Pepys singers, starting with Rebecca Shanks, a soprano who has sung in every composition I've written for the Rebel Chorus in the last five years. Rebecca's involvement with the Pepys Motet goes all the way back to 2010. Long-term readers of this blog will recall that when I first put pen to metaphorical paper, I was in the process of trying to raise the finances to perform an even more ambitious version of the motet, which was actually scored for forty individual singers. In this initial incarnation, the singers split into eight choirs of five, each of whom represented a different aspect of Pepys' life. We had a gospel choir representing Pepys' family life, an opera chorus representing his brutal snobbishness and a folk choir singing passages in the diary which mention the often lively occurrences in the streets and theatres of 17th century London. Add to this a choir of students from Magdalene College, Cambridge (where Pepys studied) and a choir of Naval officers (to represent Pepys' job as a naval administrator) and you have an incredibly complicated and ambitious piece of music, the rehearsals for which sent me closer to the edge than perhaps any period of my life ever! Read back over blog entries from October 2010, and you'll be introduced to a man on the verge of nervous breakdown! On one occasion I remember rehearsing the folk choir in a flat in Vauxhall, before driving through the night in a terrible storm to Dartmouth in Devon, where I had a 10am rehearsal with the navy boys.

Still, the performance itself went incredibly well, despite the fact that the forty singers were actually singing together for the first time. We performed at St Olave's, the church where Pepys and his wife are buried and it was a visual and sonic feast. The folk singers dressed like pagans, the musical theatre choir came in their tuxes, the Magdalene college crew wore their gowns, and the navy officers set many hearts a flutter by arriving in full ceremonial uniform including swords. The last movement was performed "in the round" with the forty singers actually surrounding the audience. I'm told it was like medieval surround sound!

Rebecca sang in the early music choir in that particular performance and when it came to the recording she sang the third soprano line on all six movements. Today, I photographed her in a mixture of city locations with giant skyscrapers to represent the City which Pepys knew so well, but plainly wouldn't recognise if he were scooped up, great skirts, vests and all, and deposited in the 21st century.

I walked from the Gherkin to St Paul's, feeling my way through the City like a tourist without a map. The second portrait of the day was with the charming Scottish mezzo, Helen Stanley, who sang alto on four movements of the motet. I photographed her by the Millennium footbridge which links St Paul's to that other great London cathedral, the Tate Modern.

I'm one of the few lucky people who can actually claim to have been on that particular bridge on the day it opened; the day it bounced up and down like a trampoline! It was a curiously unsettling experience, which would even have made an old sea dog a little queasy. I actually think it would have been a bigger tourist destination had they allowed the bridge to keep its wobble, but I guess, no matter how much we were all assured at the time that it was perfectly safe, eventually the whole thing would have collapsed into the Thames, taking scores of bemused elderly people with it.

I had a cup of tea from a little Italian cafe which was so insanely strong it gave me the jitters all the way from the bridge to Borough.

I had osteopathy in Borough after working for a few hours in a cafe there. I read a newspaper in the waiting room, which, for the first time, made me understand why some people actively like the Tory Boris Johnson. He's apparently had a quite the showdown with Asim Qureshi, director of Cage (which campaigns against the US-led war on terror.) Qureshi claims that MI5 have to take a great deal of responsibility for the behaviour of the ghastly Jihadi John, whom they apparently harassed. Johnson tore into Qureshi with a tirade of abuse which, in my view, makes perfect sense; "if you are going to have an impact on the lives and the minds of young Muslims, you have to focus on what these people are doing wrong and not immediately start scattering blame around. You have got to focus on where they have got their lives wrong, the false choices they are making, the false understanding they have of Islam..." And I'm afraid I agree.

The third and last portrait was of Jana Sutherland, another stalwart of the Rebel Chorus, who sang in the musical theatre choir on the original forty-part version of the motet. I photographed her at Drury Lane, which is mentioned twice in the sections of the diary I have set to music, the first time, most hauntingly, in relation to the plague; "I did in Drury Lane see two or three houses marked with a red cross upon their doors..." The second reference is far more jolly, and talks about milk maids dancing in the street, watched over by none other than Nell Gwynn, standing at her lodgings door in Drury Lane.

On my way to the tube I bumped into young Josh, the assistant director on Brass. He's in a young writers' group at the Soho Theatre, and was heading in the wrong direction, so I walked him to the theatre and we sat and nattered for an hour.

I went home via the new station at Tottenham Court Road where there's something horribly wrong with the escalators which were shrieking and screaming so much I thought my teeth were going to fall out. It was a truly hideous noise, which must be fixed for the sake of the collective sanity of the thousands of people who go up and down there on a daily basis!

Feet like stumps, I'm home again, feeling exhausted but upbeat. Let's hope the tinnitus doesn't haunt me tonight!

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