A hasty retreat

Champs Hill CD dry run at The Old RectoryOne of the most useful things for me before an important performance is to give the programme a dry-run. There’s no substitute for the energy and intensity of delivering to even the smallest audience and surprising “pressure points” emerge, which are only discoverable in this way.

In anticipation of next week’s recording sessions at Champs Hill, I spent the last two days in Somerset, rehearsing with Libby Burgess and Catriona Scott, culminating in a concert for an invited audience. Initially it felt like a long way to go for two days and, possibly, a bit of an indulgence. This in spite of the fact that performing (and therefore rehearsing) is my job! I couldn’t have been more wrong about the value of taking this focussed time away. Admittedly it helped that we were spoiled rotten by our hosts, whose enlightened patronage through the provision of a beautiful working environment, great food and an intuitive understanding of what performers need, is the key to serious productivity.

Taking a sabbatical from ‘normal’ life isn’t a new idea – it’s at the heart of the Leighton Artists’ Colony at Banff and similar creative retreats. I was reminded again of the powerful effect of leaving my normal routine for one in which my sole purpose was to give my attention to my work. Being extremely good at multi-tasking, I tend not to make this a priority but it’s something I’ll be finding more opportunities for in the future. There’s no question that it works.

At the end of our ‘retreat’ we tested our audience and ourselves with an intense programme of songs about madness – Purcell’s Bess of Bedlam, Wolf’s settings of Mörike’s Agnes songs, Rorem’s Ariel Songs (poems by Sylvia Plath) and our starting place for the project, Stephen McNeff’s Vivienne. Blessed with a sophisticated and appreciative audience (including the local builder, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of C20th music), we were gratified by one man who simply said “that was one of the most astonishing evenings I’ve ever spent”.

That’ll do for me.