The Spanish have a great affection for the Messiah. They are also proud custodians of some truly impressive concert halls not just in the major cities, but even in smaller towns- the UK really has nothing to compare! Added to this, Spanish banks have a long tradition of generous sponsorship and thanks to one such donor IT&T and Oxford Voices were delighted to be invited back to Spain following a one-off performance in Barcelona two years ago.
Our first port of call was Santander in Northern Spain in early December. A choir of 250 voices from various regional choirs had been rehearsing for several months in order to join forces with us for the concert. We arrived in time for an evening rehearsal where an interpreter was on hand for Edward, whose wit was clearly translated and nuanced appropriately judging by the laughter coming from the choir at the right moments. A huge amount of collective energy and good will helped create a very enjoyable concert.
On the second leg of the tour, following IT&T’s Oxford Messiah on December 16th, we flew to Las Palmas in Gran Canaria. As a musician one regularly has to try to convince friends and family that concerts abroad are work, not a holiday. On this occasion however the trip did start off feeling remarkably like a very enjoyable winter break. Our first evening was spent strolling along the esplanade of Las Palmas beach, stopping for the occasional gin and tonic (large ones!) or tapas. The following morning a group of us took a bus up into the mountains and managed to fit in quite a serious hike, as well as lunch, before returning to rehearse in the evening. Once again we were collaborating with massed local choirs who seemed delighted to be working with Edward, and the concert was very well received.
Even when repeating one concert programme several times on tour there are always new challenges to do with changing acoustics in each venue as well as the problems encountered when musical instruments (particularly baroque string instruments) travel. The choir and orchestra took some time to adjust to Auditorio Alfredo Kraus in Las Palmas in particular: to begin with the orchestra seemed very small in such a huge space. In contrast, the Palau de la Musica in Barclona seemed relatively intimate with a much easier acoustic. This was the fifth performance of the Messiah the Palau had hosted in recent weeks, and national newspaper, El Periodico, summed it up: ‘One of the most brilliant and faithful interpretations of this monumental piece that we have heard in recent years… the precision of this choir of extraordinary quality is astonishing as is the balance achieved between the different vocal parts. No less astonishing is the balance between the choir and the orchestra, made up of excellent baroque specialist musicians.’
A delightful five hour train journey, much of which was along the coast, took us to our final destination, Alicante. We were a particularly harmonious group, many of us having worked together over the years in different ensembles as well as IT&T. Unusually there were four family pairings amongst us: two of brother and sister, and two of parent and child. In many ways IT&T feels like a family, and the close links with Oxford Voices added another layer of cohesion to the concerts as well as during the ‘down time’. It was lovely to return to the hotel after our last and very enjoyable concert to find opened bottles of Cava awaiting us. For the next couple of hours the bar staff were run off their feet while IT&T celebrated the end of a busy year and a very happy collaboration with Oxford Voices and Edward Higginbottom. ‘It’s rare to have the opportunity to attend such a brilliant interpretation of Handel’s Messiah as this…The orchestra shone throughout, stimulated by the conducting of Edward Higginbottom.’… (El Mundo)
Many thanks to Caroline Higginbottom who worked tirelessly to organize this tour. She has many years of experience taking New College Choir abroad, and although she was not responsible for young children there were perhaps similarities in behaviour - a forgotten passport here, an intrument there...!
We look forward to returning to Spain soon, as El Periodico remarked, ‘this performance is worth repeating’.