Choir tour 2015: Munich and Westminster Abbey

Choir tour 2015: Munich and Westminster Abbey

Last year’s Director of Music, Daniel Gostin, reflects on a wonderful round-up to the choir’s 2014-15 year:

After a very successful ‘domestic’ choir tour to Oxford in August 2014, this year expectations and excitement levels were high for the choir’s first international tour in a few years. Our much-anticipated trip to Munich included engagements at the Herz-Jesu-kirche (Sacred Heart) for Saturday Vigil Mass and Sunday High Mass at the Michaelskirche (St Michael’s) followed by a service at the parish of the Anglican Communion in Munich. We were enthusiastically welcomed by the directors and organists at the Catholic churches of the Sacred Heart and St Michael’s during our rehearsals; and while their churches’ architectural styles were more than worlds apart, they were nonetheless acoustically and aesthetically stunning. The Herz-Jesu is a fantastically modern building, where we presented music both rather old and boldly new: The madrigal-based Missa ‘Bell’ amfirit’ alteraby Orlando Lassus (a long-time musical resident of Munich) as well as his motet Ego sum panis vivus, Arvo Pärt’s Bogoroditse Devo (Ave Maria), and Jonathan Dove’s ethereal Seek him that maketh the seven stars, expertly played by our organist Tom Brockington.

 

We returned to some very grand and traditional music for Sunday morning High Mass at the Michaelskirche. Built and decorated in the elaborate late Renaissance and early Baroque styles, the church was meant to impress, and it certainly had an awesome effect on all of us. Despite the imposing grandeur of the setting, the pleasant Jesuit priests and professional musicians on staff made us feel very much at home as we sang Josef Gabriel Rheinberger’s Mass in E-flat major in the very same space Rheinberger worked for a time in the late 19th century. The choristers made a very laudable attempt at the German hymns, but in the end were able to present a little bit of England to the congregation with Parry’s epic anthem I was glad as the recessional.

 

After St Michael’s we rushed out to the Munich suburbs to the Church of the Ascension, home to the English-speaking Episcopal Anglican church in the area. A mix of American and British expatriates, the congregation was very pleased to have such a high-quality choir sing at their humble church. We were even surprised to be greeted by a former professor of theology at Durham who now teaches at the university in Munich.

 

When not singing, the choristers were eager to explore the many elegant outdoor areas of the city, including the English Gardens and a few outdoor beer halls of the major breweries, to capitalise on the perfect summer weather. One contingent, myself included, made an excursion out to the suburb of Dachau, home of the infamous concentration camp during the Second World War. It was a truly remarkable and haunting experience to be sure. Still other choristers made various trips during the week to points of local cultural interest, taking in the BMW Factory Museum, the Munich Residenz (home of the Electors and Kings of Bavaria), and the stunning Nymphenburg Palace (the Baroque ‘summer’ residence of the ruling families). Our biggest bonding and sight-seeing day came on the Tuesday of tour, with a day trip by train through the picturesque Bavarian mountainside country to Salzburg. Touring the fortress and churches of the city we felt at home with the many musicians who called the surroundings home—including eating at a café reportedly the local favourite of a young Mozart.

 

Munich tour 1

 

Upon return to England, most of the choir united once again on Friday the 7th for a one-day residency at Westminster Abbey. To be amid such luminary and famous figures in British history while singing some beautiful music for Evensong—including Herbert Murrill’s Evening Service in E major and Henry Balfour Gardner’s splendid Evening Hymn—to a packed church of tourists, familiar friends and family, and even the Singaporean High Commission, was certainly a grand finale to an extraordinary choir year

 

WAbbey