22 July 2012

Luke Whitehead writes: How to describe the Three Choirs Festival... It's a little like a week on tour and a little holiday rolled into one. It's now day three of the festival, which this year is being held in Hereford, and after a VERY early rehearsal for this evening's concert, I'm sitting in the glorious sunshine on my campsite (my chosen accommodation for this year's festival) looking at the idyllic Herefordshire countryside.

Green and pleasant it most certainly is!

I admit I had some trepidation having decided to camp, given the localised flooding and torrential downpours of the last week, but the fates have smiled on us, and I must say I'm very pleased with the decision now!!

The story started, however, in a very rainy London, about a week ago.

A packed few days of rehearsals at the Royal Academy of Music welcomed us back to work after a short but well-earned break, but there was already a lovely relaxed air around the orchestra. This is my second Three Choirs, so I knew what to expect, and had been looking forward to it for weeks.

After a steady drive down to Hereford, the festival opened with the traditional opening ceremony with music played by the Philharmonia brass, and then straight into rehearsal for the first main concert, Haydn's The Creation. I've always been really fond of this piece, having studied it for my music A-level a few (ahem!) years ago. It's full of wonderfully descriptive music, and has Haydn’s trademark musical wit and good humour by the bucket load. The concert was a great success, and it was a thrill to hear the Three Choirs Festival chorus in full voice. And then off to the campsite for a little supper of cheese and wine in the moonlight.

Sunday's concert was completely different, with a strong flavour of France about it. It opened with Stravinsky’s suite from The Firebird, written for the Ballet Russes in Paris, which was electrifying, the Infernal Dance in particular, followed by Delius' Cello Concerto.

After the interval came Debussy's epic La Mer, and Ravel's Bolero, which really brought the house down. I should mention at this point that the day had an added drama, as the conductor Diego Mathuez was unfortunately taken ill. But in true Philharmonia style, the show must go on, so at the eleventh hour Christopher Warren-Green stepped into the breach for three of the works, but I have to take my hat off to Robin O'Neill, my section principal, who not only played the solos from Firebird and Bolero stunningly, but also stepped up to the rostrum and conducted the concerto absolutely beautifully. Quite a day's work!!

And so to today, an early start for all of us, although very nice to wake up to the fresh air and beautiful morning sunshine. The rehearsal was jam-packed (both musically and physically on stage!) for tonight's performance of Vaughan-Williams' Sea Symphony, a mammoth choral symphony with text set from poems by Walt Whitman. This was preceded by Mendelssohn's overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage and a new piece by Joseph Phibbs, Rivers to the Sea a fantastic work which we premièred at The Anvil, Basingstoke (who co-commissioned it with the Philharmonia) last month. So, quite a nautical theme.

And I can't think of a better way to prepare for such an epic concert than to sit here in the sunshine with lovely colleagues and the beautiful Herefordshire countryside...