Notes from the Apprentices

​Our Apprentices’ thoughts and insights into working with the Monteverdi Ensembles during the 2018/19 concert season

Sam Cobb: Reflections on a weekend in the countryside

Passing through the idyllic village of Fontmell Magna, you probably wouldn’t expect there to be intensive rehearsals of Bach’s sensational ‘Lobet den Herrn’, Monteverdi’s ‘Era l’anima mia’, or the Carnival Chorus from Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini taking place at the nearby farm. Yet Springhead proved to be an utterly appropriate setting for our weekend of Apprentice workshops, working alongside John Eliot, OJ Ruthven, Poppy Walshaw and, of course, our lovely mentors.

The old Mill building provided the location for our rehearsal sessions, yoga classes, and even meals. Looking out of the windows of our rehearsal room (not during pieces, I quickly learnt), there is what appears to be a small lake, lined with picturesque and beautifully kept gardens, at the far side of which lies the spring itself. This crystal-clear, gently simmering pool forms the source of Fontmell Brook, running south-west to join Dorset’s River Stour.

Over four days, this rural oasis provided a wonderful setting for our time together. The weekend started with each of us singing a folk song that is meaningful to us, and ended in a showcase recital at the grand space at Messums Gallery. In between, we worked tirelessly to develop our creative approach to the wide-ranging repertoire, to expand our expressive palette, while cultivating a fresh physical awareness and harmony, largely thanks to our yoga guru Liz Lark. Just as water etches the land in it’s course, we discovered new terrains together, each of us contributing our own artistic quality, creating an utterly unique collective sound and experience.

Sam Cobb, March 2019

Victoria Meteyard: Dogs, Bach, and yoga

When reflecting on our long weekend in Springhead, there are three memories that first come to mind: dogs, Bach and yoga!

We were greeted at the farm by John Elliot and his two beautiful Golden Retrievers, Hector and Princess Cuddles, who were most welcome company during our rehearsals - especially when they tried to join in! However for the most part they were very happy to lie at our feet, creating a nice and relaxed environment in which to get stuck into our long repertoire list.

And that we certainly did. The rehearsals began with an informal session of singing folk songs from our childhood, but things soon became more intense when we moved on to rehearsing repertoire for our performance in Messums. We covered several canons and rounds to encourage us to really listen to each other; then there was some Monteverdi, Schütz, Brahms and Schumann, and also some Fauré and Berlioz. Covering Italian, German and French in such detail with John Elliot was a real treat (if very hard work!) and I learned a lot about each language and the energy required to sing effectively in them. A real highlight for me though was working on Bach’s famous motet, Lobet den Herrn. Having sung this many times with a variety of choirs, I was still completely unprepared for John Elliot’s demands. It was exhausting but so exciting to rediscover this piece with a fresh energy and we couldn’t help but dance along during rehearsals!

What with all of the concentration required for singing, we felt very lucky to have Liz Lark with us as our yoga instructor. I am definitely not accustomed to starting my day with some yoga, but it was an excellent way to gear us up for the long day ahead. Afternoon sessions also helped us to relax and reset our breathing before continuing to sing.

It was a tiring but inspirational weekend and I am so grateful to have shared it with such a wonderfully supportive and fun bunch of fellow Apprentices and our mentors!

Victoria Meteyard, March 2019

Jonathan Hanley: Language, recitative and drama Workshops

After a couple of months away from the group as we all sang our way through Christmas, it was lovely to come together as Apprentices again to blow away the January blues for our workshops from 15-17 Jan. We had been promised a fantastic few days when we last met John Eliot in November, and they certainly were.

We began the first two days with an hour of yoga with the wonderful Liz Lark. Though we were all fairly apprehensive about this - most of us being complete novices - our introduction to the world of this spiritual and physical discipline was fun, relaxing, and exactly the right way to set up ourselves for a day of German recitative and language coaching. I know we’re all looking forward to exploring more yoga when we go to Springhead in March.

On our first day, we were joined by Dietrich Henschel and David Watkin for an intense day of tuition on Schütz and Bach; it was incredibly rewarding working with these two experts, as well as our excellent continuo team in harpsichordist O-J Ruthven and cellist Poppy Walshaw. It was also a treat to hear each other sing solo again, this time in a slightly less grand setting! After German came Handel and stagecraft, with enjoyable sessions from Tom Guthrie, who is directing the Monteverdi tour of Semele, which we are thrilled to be able to take part in during April and May. This involved some games, creative theatre and - most nerve-wrackingly - the tenors and basses lifting up one of our mentors, Graham, who was playing a deceased heroine, and carrying him as a funeral procession across the room!

We finished our time together with a morning of French - exploring a canon by Rameau and learning a chorus from Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini - another Monteverdi project for later in the year - followed by Italian coaching from Matteo Dalle Fratte on some Monteverdi and de Wert madrigals. With our heads swimming with agogic accents, downward dog, and endless pleasure, we all enjoyed some liquid refreshment and pizza with some of our mentors afterwards!

Our thanks to all whose support enables this fantastic programme to take place.

Jonathan Hanley, January 2019

Angus McPhee: Verdi’s Requiem on tour

Having made our debuts as Monteverdi Apprentices in the stunning setting of Westminster Cathedral, we didn’t have to wait long to have another crack at Verdi’s Requiem under the direction of Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Following a deeply moving performance in aid of Cancer Research and in memory of Richard Fitzgerald, we were thrilled in late October to have been invited to join the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique for the Lucerne-Vienna-Budapest legs of their subsequent European tour.

Each venue offered up its own challenges and excitements, from the cavernous space of Lucerne’s KKL, to Vienna’s historic and gilded Musikverein, contrasted sharply by Budapest’s unadorned twenty first-century Palace of Arts. The acoustic challenges were perhaps best realised in rehearsals for the epic build-up to ‘Tuba mirum’, requiring the co-ordination of on and off-stage brass fanfares. When on stage it can be hard to hear for yourself the challenges of an acoustic: it was therefore a real insight to be able to sit back and see John Eliot working with the orchestra, responding to each new acoustic and troubleshooting in real time.

We were especially grateful for the opportunity to experience an audition masterclass on the main stage of the KKL. To sing solo for a few minutes in such a hall was a rare experience and gave the Apprentices an opportunity to hear one another for the very first time. It quickly became clear that this year’s cohort is a) talented and b) immensely supportive, traits matched by the enthusiasm and support of our mentors.

No choir tour is complete without some socialising and so it was with this one. Apprentices commented amongst ourselves on how welcome we were made to feel by the wider touring party, experiencing the trip as members of a world class musical operation. Some were more grateful than others to have been initiated into the murky world of Dominion - a card game the workings of which this Apprentice is still trying to figure out - whilst there were bathing opportunities for others in the famous baths of Budapest.

Speaking personally, tour highlights include the bucket-list tick of performing at the Musikverein and having the chance to run round some of Lucerne’s glorious lake!

Angus McPhee, November 2018