Phone call from Spanish agent. ‘Lamentations’ in April 2010, during Cuenca’s Semana Santa. Good memories of previous engagements over there. First time somewhere in the nineties. Two years ago a Via Crucis – not that rewarding. Good public response though.
Nine quite interchangeable fragments of Jeremiah’s Lamentations. Last one a prayer. As chant: simple, somewhat monotone pieces, except for that last one. Lament for the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. Three days, three concerts, very similar to traditional ‘Tenebrae’ services.
The Music of Fiocco.
Appropriate chant by Psallentes. Fiocco Lamentations by rising stars the Z brothers and their Forma Antiqva. ‘Belgian’ composer Joseph-Hector Fiocco – a great and probably underrated composer. Wonderfully rich music, lavish, splendidly baroque.
Instructions from the festival director PT, via the Spanish agent AS. Somewhat unclear and confusing directives. Negotiations on programme, slight misunderstandings in Spanish, French and English. Enormous amount of mails, Belgian agent BH to the rescue.
Happy to help. All information always extremely urgent. Instructions on flights Brussels-Madrid-Brussels, car rental in Madrid, hotel in Cuenca, parking in Cuenca, meeting in Cuenca … Telephone numbers, passport numbers, contracts and invoices. Contact almost exclusively by email.
Curious compatibility of the ensembles in the search for intensity rather than beauty. Good vibes, deep mutual respect, joyful rehearsals, warm and passionate concerts. Both ensembles working from own transcriptions, and both equally concerned with staging details.
Forma Antiqva mainly young people, Psallentes slightly older – the latter in this case male only. Five friends with long career of singing together. Brothers Z as backbone to the baroque ensemble. Players of theorbo, archlute, guitar and organ all standing. Something of a rock band.
The Melting Pot.
Belgian singers, one of them Irish. An Italian soprano. A Portuguese bass. An Italian cellist. All the others Spanish, from different regions. Meeting with French and Dutch concert organisers. Conversations with Spanish, German, Austrian and Norwegian members of the public.
Negotiations on budget matters. Relation to duration of singing? Fixed price? Not necessarily. Yet, more to sing. No problem. Late application to Flemish government for travel funding. Answer in a few months. Self-pay of car rental, catering and miscellaneous expenses.
Meeting with Spanish Agent AS on arrival. Discussions with her and AZ on programme, pitch, and most of all: the candles. Fifteen candles or eight – search for Cuenca’s most transportable tenebrarium. But the last candle! The so-called Maria-candle! Delicate subject.
Late change of plan. Not only the lamentations, with Fiocco’s version as a reiteration. Antiphons, responsories? Confusion. JCA (writer of programme notes) says one thing, AZ (Forma’s director) another, AS (agent) and PT (festival director) yet another. Everybody happy at last.
The Programme Notes.
JCA as one of Spain’s main chant specialists. Context of Fiocco’s music. Lamentations as part of Tenebrae-offices. Antiphons and responsories hidebound by tradition. Too much music. Concerts too long. Solutions: selection of antiphons, fragments of psalms, a few responsories.
The Festival Director.
Friendly but firm. Fan of Psallentes for years. In a previous life, festival director in Madrid. Based in Cuenca for a number of years. Worries about candle-traditions. Last candle! Last candle! Total darkness except for the last candle! Third night, total darkness.
The Tenebrae-tradition. Reference to responsory Tenebrae factae sunt. Darkness in the moment of Christ’s death. Three Tenebrae offices in the Triduum Paschale. Candles, one by one. And then: the great noise. The Strepitus. Three ratchets in the hands of PhS, PS and HVdA.
Recollection of poor acoustics in Cuenca’s San Miguel on previous occasions. Surprise: burgundy drapes no longer there. Extraordinary rich and full, yet controllable acoustics. Perfect for chant, somewhat less so for baroque music ensemble with solo voice.
The Semana Santa.
The famous ‘pointed hood’ processions. Crowded Cuenca, all week long. Hotels and restaurants overfull. Noisy, busy, crowded, exciting. Hundreds and hundreds of people in processions. Worshippers along the streets. Scenes from the Passion of Christ.
Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century antiphonaries check-up. Speech-rhythm in the recitation of the lamentations. Ninth lamentation (the prayer) in deviant melody. Rhythmical transcription of same, almost the left/right metre of the Semana Santa processions. A concurrence of circumstances?
The Rock and Roll.
The beat of the Oratio Jeremiae Prophetae in rhythmical/metrical version. A four minutes long ostinato. Agile, slightly acrobatic. Compatible with Forma Antiqva’s rock band air. The drive, the power, the energy. The occasional backbeat.
Radio people at rehearsal, dress rehearsal, concert. Similar to all radio people all over the world. Here for the recording. Quiet, modest, efficient, invisible. Good ears. Concern about acoustics. Professionals in recording. Hotel room at night: that’s our concert! On the radio!
From daylight to darkness during an hour long concert. Total darkness at six p.m., in April. Production detail? A tenebrarium with how many candles? Fifteen? Too heavy. Eight? Will do. Easily visible to audience. A candlesnuffer for master of ceremony PC.
Concert at five p.m. One hour. Early night, ideal for quiet dinner amongst friends. Early bed, sooner than usual in concert cases. No car trip whatsoever, just a ten minute walk. Procession drummers practising under the bedroom window in the middle of the night.
Religious motives? Some of them. Interest in liturgy? Some of them. Quiet, interested, into the moment? Most of them, apparently. Applauding? All of them. Satisfied? Most of them. Showing enjoyment? Most of them. Interesting comments afterwards? Lots of those.
Forma Antiqva’s choice of 415 Hz Vallotti for tuning purposes. Consulting a friend in Belgium about that. Vallotti? Ugly, according to KV. Why? The G sharps, for example. Contemporary, sure. Consequences for the singer? Very little. Nevertheless, conscious about lower f for recitation.
The Love of the Job.
No nonsense approach to the scores on the rehearsal table. Attention for details, for pronunciation, for structure, for metre, accents, words, sentences. Melodies. Rhythmic subtleties. Vowels and sounds, vocal technique and efficient breathing. What an exceptionally exciting job…
Difficult question, the one about the pronunciation of Latin. Some studies, very detailed, questionable solutions. French oriented for this Fiocco related chant? Simple classical pronunciation for the soprano and bass soloists. Well, all right, no worries. Easy: the classical church Latin.
Lovely people, proud of country and language, culture and traditions. Very catholic, apparently. Exciting cuisine, some curious eating habits. Not so good at foreign languages though. Organisational talents quite good, but unstable. Wonderful people to work with, after all. Great audiences.
IPSIS as a guiding acronym for five points of particular interest during rehearsal (and performance). I for Intonation; P for Precision, not perfection; S for Suppleness; I for Intensity first, beauty after – and not vice versa; and S again for Subtlety or Sophistication, or even Style.
The Dress Rehearsal.
Funny word, dress rehearsal. No dresses, actually. But everything else as in the real performance a few hours later. Candle show rehearsal. Reduced lighting for effect. Otherwise full speed ahead. Rare stop for a radio-recording thing. Stamina development!
Three scripts, almost identical for the three concerts. Three antiphons with seven psalm verses – in recto tono, melodic motives from the antiphon on top of that. Chant lamentation, Fiocco lamentation. Chant lamentation and Fiocco again, with responsory. Chant and Fiocco at the last.
Full week’s work. Professional people accidentally on the road together. Small talk and gibberish, but serious-minded conversation as well. Friendships, with open hearts and minds. Divergence of views, the usual minor annoyances. The ritual big hugs after the concert.
Away from home. Travels, airports, flights, rented cars, lost luggage, new bed, new sounds, different food, hours of rehearsals, performances. Tiredness, and yet. Music’s energy, friendship’s stimulus. The thrill, the excitement of the live music. The public’s enthusiasm.
An almost magical word: the embassy. Fiocco as Belgian composer, so: the embassy’s interest in concerts with his music. Belgian embassy in Spain, that is. Plans about Forma Antiqva with Psallentes in Brussels. Preliminary talks, first negotiations.
Each day before the rehearsal a rigorous ten-minute climb. Air-filled lungs on arrival. Descent, and then back up again for the performance. Obstructions from ongoing processions. “Please don’t cross between the Nazarenes during the processions!”
PhS on his way to his old and sick father, a few days before Cuenca. A fall from his daughter’s bicycle. An injured knee. Difficulty with the climb. Thoughts about father. The light and hope of the candle. The darkness. Doubts and fears, worries and dedications.
Self-catering, that is. Restaurant tip on the first night. Splendid thing. Shared food, rather expensive. Pictures on the wall of local celebrities with restaurant owner. CB’s fiftieth birthday. PhS and PS headache. Lunches in local pubs – lots of bocadillos con jamón, with ensalda mixta.
In a literal manner: the autographs after the concert. Occasionally. On CD booklets, programme notes, no not on tummies. Less literally: the typical sound of the ensemble. Distinct features, special characteristics. All these little idiosyncrasies. Easily recognizable.
Lamentations: Directorium Chori 1589. Responsories: a 1545 antiphonary from Paris, printed for the Abbeys of Cîteaux and Clairvaux. Appropriate? Quite. Comparison with some other sources, even from the nineteenth century. Relatively stable repertoire, these things from Holy Week.
The Flying Back.
The goodbyes, the promises. Prolongation of a new artistic relationship. New facebook friends. The drive back to Madrid. An evening meal somewhere in no man’s land. Night in airport hotel. Flight next day to Brussels. Off to Bever for a full Tenebrae.
The Tenebrae Again.
Evocation of a full Tenebrae: nine antiphons, nine psalms, nine lamentations, four responsories. Three concerts in one, no Fiocco this time. Only chant, eighty minutes long. Small attractive chapel. Full of atmosphere. Very attentive audience. Endurance-test. Candles.
Top of the bill that night, after our concert: a performance by Nóirín Ní Riain and her sons Eoin (32) and Mícheál (29). Profoundly different aesthetics here, but interesting, gratifying, inspiring. Charming lady, likeable sons.
Hendrik Vanden Abeele