AAM in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, with the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge (4 October)

Welcome to the latest AAM blog and greetings from me, a first-time blogger. My name is Gawain Glenton, one of the three cornetto players on this Monteverdi Vespers project, and it’s my turn to give you a bit an insight into life behind the scenes of a AAM tour.

For those of you less familiar with my instrument here’s a picture of some cornettos:

It’s a curved instrument made of wood, with finger holes like a recorder and a small mouthpiece made of horn similar in principle to that of a trumpet. It’s a hybrid that doesn’t really belong to the brass or the woodwind families. In Monteverdi’s time though it was considered to be the most excellent of all instruments (after the human voice of course!) because it could be virtuosic and very expressive, play loud and soft and also imitate the human voice better than any other instrument. Playing the Vespers is always a treat and a challenge for a cornetto player because the piece requires lots of all those qualities, from the opening fanfare to the dreamy (and very high) ‘Deposuit’ that comes towards the end of the work. 2010 is of course the 400th anniversary of it’s publication which means we get to play it even more this year than others. My cornetto colleagues and I are eternally grateful to Monteverdi for having written a piece that remains fun even after 100, 200 or even 500 performances. Cheers Claudio!
Now, back to this performance in the prestigious Concertgebouw, Amsterdam.

Today started rather mundanely, by having to get to London City Airport for 8am in the teeth of a full-scale tube strike. Nothing brings home the glamour of the freelance musician’s life more than waiting in the rain at 6am for an overcrowded bus to Lewisham.
Thankfully the DLR was running normally so the masses of spare time I had left could be spent having a proper breakfast with a some bleary-eyed colleagues who, like me, aren’t too used to getting up at 5:30. After the short hop to Amsterdam we had time to check in to our hotel, grab lunch (for me a very nice salad with carpaccio and parmesan) and retrieve a bit of the sleep we had lost the previous night before walking across town to the Concertgebouw for a 4pm rehearsal.

The Concertgebouw. How to describe it? Having played here a couple of times I have to say I find it one of the best concert halls in the world. It is extremely elegant and basically acoustically perfect which, funnily enough, causes us one or two problems in the Vespers! The piece makes dramatic use of echo effects which are relatively easy to achieve in cathedral acoustics. In the Concertgebouw however, even if you move away from the orchestra to play behind the organ, the acoustics mean that the echo sounds every bit as loud as the bit you’re meant to be echoing. In the end the solution was simply for Sam Goble (cornetto player) and Ben Alden (tenor) to hover in a doorway half inside, half outside the auditorium. That aside, it’s a pleasure to play here and the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge really filled the hall with their sound. Impressive considering they are just back from the summer break and have a few new faces amongst them. Conductor Stephen Cleobury was in good form and together we managed to remember all the details we had worked on in August.

In the break between rehearsal and concert a few of us headed straight to an Indonesian restaurant (food is a very important part of these trips). Upon our return backstage we were amused to find a posse of excitable chorister boys besieging the shoe-shining machine. Anyone would have thought it was the highlight of their day!

Anyway, the concert went off without a hitch in front of what looked like a full-house. At the end we received a spontaneous and very genuine standing ovation which, coming as it did at the end of an extended project like this, was all the more satisfying. It seemed an ideal way to draw the curtain down on what has been a lovely project for me personally and I think for my colleagues also.

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