Gretta and I heard the King's Singers on 1/21/18. I'd seen them on PBS since I was a wee lad, but had never seen them in concert. They're celebrating their 50th anniversary this season - - the six members are all new, none of the original six members are in the group anymore. But they seem to have the same "brand" as they've always had, and they're keeping it current. And keeping it real!
The program started with the bass in the group, Jonathan Howard, coming out and making some opening remarks. He has a gorgeous, rich speaking voice and a posh, plummy English accent, but he went on a bit long for my taste. I like a little talking in a concert situation, but anything beyond five minutes should be said in program notes. Also I got a little tired of him raising his eyebrow.
The first half of the program was the highlight of the concert, and it was because of the programming.
"The Prayer of King Henry V" (Henry Ley)
*To stand in this house* (Nico Muhly)
"I: Amicabilis Concordia"
"II: The door of this house."
"Domine Dominus Noster" (Orlando Lassus)
"The seasons of his mercies" (Richard Rodney Bennett)
*Quatre petites prières de Saint François d’Assise* (Francis Poulenc)
"Musica Dei donum" (Lassus)
"The bell doth toll" (Bennett)
*To stand in this house* (Muhly)
"III: In later life"
"IV: A finer music"
"The Evening Hymn" (Ley)
Do you see how the programming created a sort of mirror image? Ley / Muhly / Lassus-Bennett / Poulenc / Lassus-Bennett / Muhly / Ley. Glorious, thoughtful, stimulating. The composers played off of each other, and the cumulative impact was immense.
A few specific notes: the first Ley ended with a graceful cadence that brought tears to my eyes. Here's a recording:
Nico Muhly is the fair-haired boy of the classical music world right now - - I've heard quite a few of his pieces and am always impressed with how well-made they are. He's only 36 years old, so I'm using the word "boy" deliberately. The Muhly pieces on this program had an appealing searching quality. The counterpoint was clean and the writing for the voices was idiomatic. It often seemed like there were more than six parts, which is impossible, because there were only six people onstage!
The first Bennett piece was a beautiful setting of the text with some surprising chord changes. It had a longish a cappella solo for the tenor. Both Bennett pieces had a delicate but strong sense of drama.
I LOVE Poulenc, I've never heard a Poulenc piece I didn't love. His music is always surprising but always logical.
* * *
The intermission was a blast. Gretta and I ran into a friend from work and her partner. Their friend mentioned that the King's Singers were doing a concert at Carnegie Hall later this year, and we couldn't imagine that they would be half as resplendent as they were at St. Ignatius Loyola. That church has a glorious, lively acoustic, and though Carnegie is no slouch, it wouldn't be nearly as impressive. The President had just had his "sh-thole" moment, so I called Carnegie a sh-thole, which got a laugh from everyone (most of all from me).
* * *
The second half:
"Master of Music" (Toby Hession)
"Be not afeard" (John Rutter)
"Thou, my love, art fair" (Bob Chilcott)
"The Lord's Prayer" (Malotte, arr. by Brian Wilson)
"It's a new world" (Harold Arlen, arr. by Bennett)
"I'll follow the sun (Lennon and McCartney, arr. by Bill Ives)
"Some folks' lives roll easy" (Paul Simon, arr. by Andrew Jackman)
"Little David Play On Your Harp" (traditional spiritual, arranger unknown)
I called Nico Muhly a boy, but Toby Hession is less than two thirds his age - - this kid is 21! Jeez! His piece had impressive counterpoint and some lustrous harmonies.
The Rutter was a new commission. I got to that spot in the program and said to Gretta, "Wait a minute, *I* set this text!" It's a text from *The Tempest,* I did a gorgeous setting for my chorus a few years ago. The Rutter had a similar undulating texture and sense of wonder. Is it rude to say I like my version better?
"The Lord's Prayer" was not listed in the program, and it was the undisputed highlight of the concert. I was tearing up earlier, here and there, but this piece sent me into full, heaving sobs! I think Gretta had her phone poised on 911, girlfriend was having a MOMENT. This arrangement is so far out there, it really shows what a mad genius Brian Wilson is. Here's the Beach Boys original:
Their encore was a beautiful piece by Bob Chilcott called "MLK." The concert was about a week after MLK Jr Day, so that was a touching tribute.
I'm going to leave you with one last recording. My dear darling friend Bill Lutes made a CD compilation for me when I moved to NYC, an Americana mix. The stand-out was a recording the King's Singers and the English Chamber Orchestra doing, of all things, "Wichita Lineman." It's heavy on the harp, and you know how I love me some harp, but it's rather incongruous in this context. It bears very little resemblance to a Glen Campbell song, it sounds more like "Bali H'ai." I played this recording for my friend Jim years ago and he said, "Whoever did this arrangement clearly has never been to Wichita and has no idea what a lineman DOES."