The Fitzhardinge Consort - Singing In The Dark

Kicking off Monday's events, it's one of Bristol's finest choirs, taking on repertoire from Whitacre to Palestrina.

One of Bristol's premier ensemble choirs and purveyors of exquisite, a cappella choral music, perform in an inky cloak of darkness in the Studio. A repertoire comprising music by Gesualdo, Whitacre, Palestrina and Arcadelt, The Fitzhardinge Consort will also perform a lit rendition of Bristol Old Vic's Anthem, composed by Adrian Sutton (Coram Boy, War Horse, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time).

Mon 29 Jul

Tom Williams is the director of The Fitzhardinge Consort.

How is your Bristol Proms concert different to any normal concert?
Well, it’s pretty standard for us to have the lights on when singing this kind of music! The idea of using low and, at points, no lighting is unusual but provides a fantastic opportunity for the audience to focus on the sound and lose the trappings that ordinarily come with concerts of this type. It’s quite experimental, and might not fully work but I think that’s part of the experience of trying this out. This concert is all about space and distance; with little opportunity to fix on one person waving his or her arms in the air or worry about the suitability of a performer’s footwear(!), the audience members will be left simply to receive the sound that surrounds them.

Tickets for these concerts are available for as little as £5 to make them as accessible as possible - is elitism a problem for classical music?
This question comes up time and time again and it is frustrating that it still has to be asked. It is complete nonsense that classical music is in some way exclusive and performed for the enjoyment of a certain ‘type’ of person. I’m a state comprehensive school-educated South Walean and I love the music of Palestrina and Bach. I’ve never been made to feel that this music wasn’t for me. I also love the music of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Music is one of the greatest gifts we have and it is there to be enjoyed by anyone who wishes to experience it; I am constantly proud of classical music promoters for keeping the prices as low as they possibly can – people seem to overlook the fact that musicians need to get paid just like anyone else! I saw Oasis live at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff a few years ago and paid £50 for the great pleasure of being there in one of their final performances together; in the Autumn I saw three operas by the WNO at Bristol’s Hippodrome at £7.50 a performance! I don’t hear people asking Liam Gallagher if elitism is a problem for the Britpop genre!

Will you be sticking around for any other concerts during the week? Who are you looking forward to seeing?
Absolutely. I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with Tom Morris on the Messiah project from its gestation – I’m thoroughly looking forward to what promises to be a truly special performance of this great and timeless masterpiece. Nicola Benedetti too – she’s a tremendous artist. And I’ll certainly try to make the Voces8 concert; they’re a group I’ve followed with interest for many years. I’ll be there for as much as I can – it is a great line-up!

Is this the way forward for 'classical' concerts? Does the classical music world need to change the way it presents itself?
I’m not convinced it does. It is important to try new things and to give audiences freshness of approach, but traditional forms need not be discarded. They are traditional for a reason – they work! Some people seem to have the idea that wearing a tailcoat on stage is stuffy – again I don’t see why. It is just the uniform that has become standard over time. Just like jeans and a t-shirt might be for other genres. It is our duty to make our music as available to the public as possible; that’s the important thing. Keeping prices down is the key. I don’t think we need to get too bogged down with the music’s presentation - its sound is of paramount interest.

What's been the strangest concert you've ever performed?
This one is definitely going to be up there! The prospect of performing intricate polyphony without the ability to see my score or the singers is very scary! Good scary though; we’re all looking forward to the challenge and rehearsals are proving fun. Aside from this, I did a gig with the Lay Clerks of Bristol Cathedral once – we were on the bill with the Great Western Chorus in a charity concert at Wells. We performed our set (sacred music of the 12th – 16th centuries) and they performed theirs (barbershop classics, and close harmony) and then we combined for a very strange performance that saw 8 men in red cassocks singing ‘is this the way to Amarillo?’! Won’t forget that one in a hurry…

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