2014 UK Cathedral Tour
Throughout the spring and early summer of 2014, I embarked upon a UK tour of eight Cathedrals. The places in which I performed are undoubtedly some of the most beautiful buildings in the UK, and perhaps even the world. From the performances in the sumptuous surrondings of Wells Cathedral to the final concert of the tour within the modern surroundings of Sheffield Cathedral, I found myself humbled on many levels.
I was humbled to be playing music in spaces that have been concert venues for hundreds of years. I often found myself stopping for a moment or two during my pre-concert warm up and thinking about all those figures who would have performed concerts in the cathedrals since they were constrcuted.
Just as humbling were the warm, gracious and attentive audiences at each of the eight concerts throughout the tour. Each audience had their own unique quality for me, and I have been lucky to meet a host of diverse and fascinating individuals at each one of the venues.
Then there is the true magnificence of the cathedrals in which I performed, as you will see in the photographs that are placed throughout this blog, I have been fortunate enough to give concerts in some exquisitely beautiful surroundings.
The tour then led me to Ely in Cambridgeshire, the most southerly location of all the dates on the itinerary. Ely Cathedral is sometimes referred to as a ship that appears to be sailing through the surrounding countryside that is topograghically very flat. This is an understandable ananlogy, as whilst approaching Ely on the train the Cathedral appeared to rise up into view as we became closer and commanded the horizon with unquestionable authority. The concert was given in the Lady Chapel, a space that is just perfect for a guitar recital, with an acoustic sound decay of seven seconds. Within this environment sound truly did soar and fly around the hall, and pieces took on a new character.
Ely Cathedral is a place of truly rich heritage. The original monastery was constrcucted in 673 by the princess of East Anglia Etheldreda. This monastery flourished for 200 years until it was destroyed by the Danes, after which it was refounded as a Benedictine community in 970 and the old monastery at Ely became the richest abbey in England except for Glastonbury.
When one is performing in surroundings of such historical depth the mind quickly begins to wander towards considering how much has occured in this space since 673. That’s 1341 years for any of those amongst you who were beginning to do the maths. To put that into perspective, in the seventh century the stirrup was introduced in Persia, in 653 King Anna of East Anglia, Etheldreda’s father, was killed in the Battle of Bulcamp by Penda of Merica, The Irish monk St Aidan moved from Iona to establish a monastery at Lindesfarne and in 674 the construction of Ripon Minster began. England as a country was divided into conflicted regions and and a place that can accurately be described as utterly unrecognisable from that which we know today.
With the pace of life that most people currently adhere to, it’s easy to forget that some of the buildings that are present throughout the British Isles have been around for so long. It’s a hugely humbling thought to have in one’s mind when approaching a concert performance.
The programme for Ely Cathedral was made up of the music of Mozart, Bach, Walton and Albeniz. When reflecting upon the time-scale that we have already referred to, it’s truly fascinating to note that when the first monastery at Ely was established there were still 1012 years to pass before a young Johann Sebastian Bach was born into the world over the seas in Eisenhach, Germany. How grounding it is to realise that we are so much closer now to Bach’s generation than to Etheledreda’s, and that his music is in fact relatively close to ours historcially.
When days, months and years can sometimes feel like over-bearing swaythes of time, I find it incredibly soothing to connect with our past in this way and to feel a link to it.
And so, when I sat down to perform in the beautiful Lady Chapel, and heard Bach’s music wash around me in the wonderful acoustic environment I felt strongly connected to the past and also to the present moment, thinking about what we will do in our lives to be worthy of people’s reflections in 1341 years time.
Ilkley, July 2014