Nigel Short

Brings the as­ton­ish­ing sound of Tene­brae to Snape Malt­ings

EADT Suffolk - - Inside - Tene­brae Satur­day, Novem­ber 11, 7:30pm Snape Malt­ings Con­cert Hall www.snape­malt­­brae/

IT’S pos­si­ble that if you go to Snape Malt­ings to hear the vo­cal en­sem­ble, Tene­brae, sing on Satur­day, Novem­ber 11, you will need to re­mind your­self to breathe. Any com­mem­o­ra­tion of The Great War is an emo­tion­ally charged oc­ca­sion, but Tene­brae could just tip you over the edge, with the as­ton­ish­ing pu­rity of their voices and the spell­bind­ing beauty of their sound.

And founder-con­duc­tor Nigel Short’s choice of pro­gramme couldn’t be more pre­cisely in­tended to move you – songs of re­mem­brance and hymns for peace, writ­ten in the tur­bu­lent open­ing decades of the 20th cen­tury and ele­gies of more re­cent times. To many peo­ple, Nigel will be recog­nis­able as one of The King’s Singers, the renowned vo­cal en­sem­ble, formed 50 years ago by six re­cently grad­u­ated schol­ars from King’s Col­lege, Cam­bridge. He was with the group be­tween 1994 and 2000, and had been singing con­tin­u­ously as a cho­ris­ter since the age of seven, in­clud­ing at West­min­ster Abbey and St Pauls, as well as solo and oper­atic roles. It was time for a change. So, he went off to Switzer­land to learn to ski and stayed for a cou­ple of years. Then Tene­brae came along.

“Some­one asked if I could help them or­gan­ise some singers for a con­cert of Christmas mu­sic in Geneva Cathe­dral,” he re­calls. “I told them I had a group of friends who could do it, so they agreed. Sud­denly things rather took off. I found my­self di­rect­ing the choir in a record­ing of Christmas mu­sic and tak­ing them to Switzer­land for not just one con­cert but five. Af­ter the tour the singers came up to me and said, we have to do this again and keep it go­ing. So Tene­brae re­ally came about by ac­ci­dent rather than a spe­cific plan to cre­ate a new cham­ber choir. In fact, Tene­brae has been the per­fect ve­hi­cle for ex­press­ing Nigel’s pas­sion for vo­cal mu­sic, and choral mu­sic in par­tic­u­lar. As 19 singers he de­scribes them as a choir, al­though when they come to­gether as 30 or 40 singers, they are more like a large cho­rus.

“We sing mu­sic that spans nine cen­turies and the thread can be any­thing rang­ing from the fact that it’s mu­sic by a com­poser of a cer­tain na­tion­al­ity. Or the theme can be mood led and re­flec­tive, along the lines of Parry’s Songs of Farewell, and for which we can sing pieces by John Tavener, Vaughan Wil­liams and Brit­ten, to name a few. I al­ways try to cre­ate se­quences of mu­sic rather than just a list of pieces to be sung, so that we cre­ate an at­mos­phere, and then build the in­ten­sity of that as we go, as opposed to ap­plause af­ter each and ev­ery piece. I think this al­lows our au­di­ences to re­lax.” Tene­brae will no doubt be greeted by a warmly ap­pre­cia­tive Snape au­di­ence, ready to soak up choral mu­sic that has held us in its thrall for cen­turies. Its en­dur­ing ap­peal, Nigel be­lieves, is down to the fact that it’s “to­tally hu­man”.

“There’s noth­ing but the heart and soul of a singer on offer, whereas with in­stru­ments there’s al­ways some­thing tech­ni­cal that can some­times get in the way of com­mu­ni­cat­ing with a lis­tener. We all need ways to re­lax these days, in what is a mad, chaotic world, where it’s be­com­ing in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to find quiet time and ‘space’ in which to un­wind and switch off. Choral mu­sic helps us do that, I be­lieve.” For all its pu­rity and pre­ci­sion, Nigel in­sists this is not dif­fi­cult mu­sic and most pieces could be sung by a good am­a­teur choir.

“The mu­sic we sing varies in lev­els of

‘The name Tene­brae is the Latin word for shad­ows, and when­ever pos­si­ble we like to present our con­certs by can­dle­light. It makes a more spe­cial at­mos­phere than just bright, white stage lights’

difficulty. Per­haps there are some pieces that would be a bit of stretch, but I’d never sug­gest to any choir they shouldn’t at­tempt a piece!” Of course, ex­cep­tional voices help, which is how Tene­brae achieves its sound, as well as they way they work to­gether.

“A choir with lots of great in­di­vid­ual singers can sound good but have no com­mon ap­proach. I like to have a very dis­ci­plined ap­proach and for all voices to slightly mould into one an­other, so you hear the text and the vo­cal line first and fore­most, rather than a group of in­di­vid­ual voices go­ing at it in­di­vid­u­ally. That’s why we have choir prac­tice, to sing and breath as one, and share the same mu­si­cal goals.

“The sound of Tene­brae al­ways changes slightly ac­cord­ing to the team of voices we have. The singers and I are happy once we’re con­fi­dent we’ve done all we can to achieve what is best for the mu­sic. I tend not to ar­rive at a re­hearsal with a to­tally set idea of how a piece of mu­sic should sound. As a direc­tor you must give the singers in­put and a share of the re­spon­si­bil­ity.” I won­der how con­duct­ing voices dif­fers from con­duct­ing mu­si­cians. Nigel is swift to cor­rect my er­ror.

“Care­ful! Voices, singers are mu­si­cians! It’s an amus­ing mis­take that makes us smile (some­times). The only sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in con­duct­ing play­ers from singers is that the for­mer have no text, so you need to try and show how you want a note or phrase shaped by ei­ther mouthing the words or ar­tic­u­lat­ing with your hands.

Nigel has se­lected the Snape pro­gramme as some­thing of a tribute to poet and com­poser Ivor Gur­ney and oth­ers who were com­pos­ing around the time of World War I. This will be only his sec­ond per­for­mance at Snape, so he’s very much look­ing for­ward to re­turn­ing.

Fifteen years af­ter his happy ac­ci­dent, has Tene­brae be­come Nigel Short’s life’s work?

“For most of my life I thought I wanted to be a singer. Ev­ery­thing pointed in that di­rec­tion un­til I left the King’s Singers aged 34 with no idea of what di­rec­tion I wanted life to go in. Fifteen years later it feels as if all my years of singing were in prepa­ra­tion for what I do now, di­rect­ing a team of won­der­ful singers (and mu­si­cians!) in try­ing to make the most beau­ti­ful and at­mo­spheric mu­sic we pos­si­bly can. There’s noth­ing I’d rather be do­ing.”

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