Rock’n roll approach to Purcell headed for Bergen


En route to Washington

I´d forgotten about US Immigration, the queues of exhausted parents and bewildered children, hopeful students, excited tourists all waiting to get into God´s own country via New York´s Kennedy airport. An hour and a half in a queue – it´s now 00.45 and I´m led into a side office where around 40 people sit looking apprehensive. I must look shifty, I´ve possibly committed an unidentified offence, or I´m just plain unlucky. A teenage Vietnamese boy is weeping quietly. Three large officers behind a high counter are flicking paper, laughing and discussing a girl called Leanne who shouldn´t have got promotion. Hours pass. Leanne is not exonerated. Neither am I. The questioning continues. I point out with arch politeness that I lived in the US for five years. ”So why d’ya want to come back” says Officer A. At 2.53am, it´s hard to find an appropriate answer which wouldn´t result in mutual assault. Finally a representative of turns up, and I´m free to go with a long lecture about how you guys think you can just walk into our country, don´t you know its a privilege etc.

Purcell double bill at Washington Cathedral

A short night, then on to Washington to the premiere of a new Purcell double bill, Dido and Aeneas plus The Witch of Endor, a rare piece of Purcell music theatre realised by musicologist Malcolm Bruno, and here played by American musicians led by Barokksolistene´s Bjarte Eike. We´re planning the show for Bergen. Arriving at the rehearsal at Washington Cathedral, blinking a little at the glittering January sunlight, there is cheerful chaos. The lighting board has crashed, Bjarte and choreographer Catherine Turocy are arguing about a cut in the score, various dancers are flexing limbs and weaving circles with their toes in a dancery way, and the Witch herself is tweaking at a formidable long black wig. The music is amazing, harmonic collisions, strange weaving phrases, rhythms that hiccough and glide. It must have utterly astounded 17th century England; it fairly startles in the 2015. The singers, some excellent main soloists apart, are Cathedra, the superb resident ensemble led by the Cathedral´s Master of Music, Michael McCarthy. Two night´s before, they – along with Norway´s Hemsing sisters – had triumphed in a Knut Nystedt concert, all this part of a week´s festival entitled Seeing Deeper celebrating the building´s glorious Gothic space. With the seats taken out so as to restore the church to its original transcendental space, the ambience is formidable. A wonderful quote from St Augustine in the programme says ”We are talking about God. What wonder is it that you don´t understand? If you do understand, then it is not God.” Even for flagging Christians, the impact of Gothic vastness and almost psychedelic light pouring through the high rose window onto an tinted ocean of marble floor is awesome.

Barock’n roll

The evening´s performance is a triumph: a huge audience, fine singing, unsophisticated but heartfelt staging, and exciting playing, with Eike´s rock’n roll approach to Barock music-making driving skipping tempi which then swerve into touching meditation. We retire with the soloists to eat Mexican food, to discuss collaboration and to plan the next day´s exploration of Georgetown venues.

Oh, the food; again I´d forgotten. The size of it. Even the cutlery is made for giants. I´m handed a fork the prongs of which could tackle road works with some efficiency in Kalvedalsveien.

On to New York State to discuss a new production with Mark Lamos, whose Gullhanen (Golden Cockerel) for BNO thrilled Bergen in early 2014. I want Rossini. He wants Massenet. Sleet settles around his beautiful hillside house. We listen to Paul Lewis´s breathtakingly beautiful new Beethoven sonatas recording. I miss my train. Sleet turns to snow. Time to leave for Norway, my head ringing with three centuries of composers and a thousand new ideas.

Mary Miller

(Picture: Selfie with Bjarte Eike of Barokksolistene)

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