Memorable, remarkable, encouraging, emotional: the Fellows enjoy a mini-residency at Snape Maltings.

SARAH LUCY PENNY

During Holy Week, the Fellows travelled to Snape Maltings. We (along with four Chamber Choir members) had been invited to join forces with Aldeburgh Voices and the Suffolk Ensemble for a performance of James MacMillan’s ‘Seven Last Words From the Cross’ in St Bartholomew’s Church in Orford.  Some of you might know of the connection between these two places, as Aldeburgh-based composer Benjamin Britten was responsible for the building of the Snape Maltings concert hall, and had several of his works premiered in the Orford church, most famously ‘Noyes Fludde’.  It was delightful to find ourselves in such beautiful venues full of musical history.

We all gathered on Thursday morning and were met by the dynamic Dominic Ellis-Peckham, who would take us through a session on workshop and choral leading.  I find myself completely in awe of Dom whenever we’re given the chance to work with him – for instance, he began our session in complete silence, got us all warming up and following his varied musical directions without him having to say a word for at least 25 minutes!  He sat us down afterwards and chatted through his techniques, as well as imparting some golden nuggets of wisdom regarding choral leading for us to take away. I’ll certainly be making the most of these during the upcoming junior residential courses that the Fellows will be staff members on – watch out, juniors!

Once the Chamber Choir members had joined us, we were able to rehearse the MacMillan work.  The piece is divided into seven sections, each illustrating one of the last sayings attributed to Jesus during his crucifixion.  I had not come across the work before, and was very excited to later join forces with the choir and string orchestra to hear the overall effect.  Before this, however, the group was treated to an afternoon masterclass with none other than Dame Sarah Connolly, mezzo-soprano extraordinaire who just so happened to be working in Snape Maltings during the same week!  I and the other two mezzos, Emily Hodkinson and Emma Jones, performed for her and worked through a variety of pieces. Dame Sarah was incredibly encouraging, and gave us all – audience members included – several useful ideas to take away from the session. We three each feel immensely privileged to have had the opportunity to work with one of our mutual idols.

As our soprano Lizzy couldn’t make the residency, ex-Fellow Elspeth Piggott kindly came to step into her shoes – having also worked at Snape Maltings during her Fellowship year, she was able to lead us directly to the best fish and chips in town. Once the last few scraps of greasy paper had been binned, it was back to the Maltings for a full rehearsal in the Britten Studio. Aldeburgh Voices were incredibly welcoming, as were the Suffolk Ensemble – and the combination of all three groups made for a very powerful run-through of the work.  From the most delicate choral dynamic, to the ‘violent shuddering’ and sforzando entries for the strings, this piece is an emotional roller-coaster. 

The Fellows had a much more relaxed day on Friday, conserving energy for the concert the following day.  We were able to rehearse our own piece with Ben, Arvo Pärt’s ‘I Am the True Vine’, as well as the repertoire for a secret project that the Fellows are currently working on… (keep your eyes peeled on our Twitter and Instagram feeds!)  The day wasn’t a completely lazy one, however, as we met up with Amy Bebbington for an afternoon workshop and musicianship session. Amy is a freelance conductor and teacher, and a simply superb workshop leader – we spent the afternoon singing, chanting, moving and playing games to help both our rhythm and general musicianship.  It was great to be able to let our hair down whilst also learning a huge amount.

Saturday finally came, and with it we were off to Orford.  The village is small and beautiful; a gorgeous setting to perform in.  I ended up leading the combined choirs in a group warm-up… as Ben does like to see how his Fellows work when put on the spot!  We were all energised, and thankfully the run-throughs of each piece went very smoothly. The concert was, all in all, a glorious one – James MacMillan has the ability to compose some of the most emotional, chilling music I have ever come across.  It was a remarkable experience, and one that I feel each Fellow will take a good deal from. Many thanks to the members of the Suffolk Ensemble and Aldeburgh Voices for having us join them for this memorable performance!