Ars Nova Copenhagen

Yesterday being the day of my last revision lecture I decided to mark the end of the teaching year last night by going to a concert which was part of a series belonging to the 2012 Vale of Glamorgan Music Festival and was held in All Saints’ Church, Penarth. I would like to have been to more of these performances, but unfortunately it’s the busiest period of the academic year and I just couldn’t spare the time.

I made a special effort to make sure I could get to last night’s concert by the choir  Ars Nova Copenhagen partly because of their illustrious reputation as choral singers but also because the programme featured music by Danish composer Per Nørgård, whose music I have only just discovered. Ars Nova Copenhagen consists of twelve singers of extraordinary individual ability and wonderful collective cohesion under the direction of Søren Kinch Hansen. Last night’s performance was truly marvellous.

To the left you can see a picture of the venue, just before the concert started; we had seats in the gallery giving an excellent view of the whole performance. The choir made full use of this space, sometimes dividing into groups and standing in different parts of the church. I’m not all that familiar with the terminology of church architecture, but that includes just in front of the sanctuary (where the altar is), in the choir, and in the aisles either side of the central one. Incidentally, I have been told on more than one occasion that the central passageway through the nave is not, as is often stated the aisle; the aisles are the smaller parallel passageways to either of the nave. I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong!

Anyway, the programme consisted of a mixture of sacred and secular music (some of the latter actually rather profane), starting with a longish  piece by Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen which had the choir not only singing but also tweeting like birds and doing animal impressions. I was initially unsettled by this, but pretty soon decided that I liked it.

There then followed three pieces by the great Estonian composer Arvo Pärt – all of which were lovely, but I particularly enjoyed the piece called Morning Star – and then three beautiful pieces by Per Nørgård bringing the first half of the concert to a close.

Somewhat surprisingly for a concert in a church, there followed an interval at which we had a glass of wine. Then there was a second half which had a rather different, rather eclectic flavour. It started with two new works commissioned especially for this Festival, by Peter Bannister and Gavin Bryars, the latter being a moving setting of Psalm 141. A subset of the male voices of the choir then performed a piece by minimalist composer Steve Reich. Finally we heard a fascinating work by Anne Boyd called As I crossed the bridge of dreams which was bore the hallmarks of an oriental influence.

All in all, it was a fascinating and adventurous evening of music, by a wonderful and versatile group of vocal artists, helped by the intimate yet rich acoustic of All Saints’ Church.

You can’t beat live music. What with the various concert venues and the Opera here in Cardiff there are so many opportunities to hear the real thing that my CD collection is steadily gathering dust.

10 Responses to “Ars Nova Copenhagen”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    “Somewhat surprisingly for a concert in a church, there followed an interval at which we had a glass of wine.”

    Why surprising Peter? Islam is the dry religion. Teetotalism was probably the right thing to set an example in the slums of the Industrial Revolution amid much gin-fuelled misery, but oddly the temporal message then got confused with the eternal message in some churches even though the New Testament is clear that Jesus drank wine in moderation.

    • telescoper Says:

      That wasn’t a comment on Christian attitudes to the consumption of alcohol, merely that I didn’t expect a church to have a suitable space for use as a bar capable of accommodating all the people in the audience. As it turns out there was plenty of room in the gallery, and the makeshift bar was (by sheer coincidence) very close to where we were sitting.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Yes, improvisation is everything. The early church didn’t even have buildings but met in people’s homes, which is why I am no expert in church building features. I take the approach exemplified in a book by the architectual historian Alec Clifton-Taylor, “English parish churches as works of art.” (Cathedrals were also statements of power, of course.)

      Anyone remember Alec C-T’s wonderful TV programmes roughly 30 years ago, three series each about six English towns?

  2. Steve Warren Says:

    Yes, aisles are down the side, they are the wings, from ala Latin for wing.

    • telescoper Says:


      Is there a name for the central passageway, the one which is often called the aisle?


      • Steve Warren Says:

        It’s the nave.
        If you get married you’ll walk your partner down the nave not the aisle.
        For O level Art our text book was the Observers Book of Architecture (really!). I remember opening it for pretty much the first time the night before the exam (which I failed). But I did learn where the aisle, the nave, and also obscure parts like the clerestory and triforium are located.

  3. Steve Warren Says:

    ah I see your confusion now. The nave is the whole central bit, passageway plus pews/chairs. And the aisles are the wing bits beyond the pillars if the church is built that way. Passageways between pews or chairs don’t get an architectural name because the chairs aren’t part of the building. So the use of aisle is completely different compared to say a cinema where its a passageway between seats.

    • telescoper Says:

      Reminds me of an old joke about a wedding in which the bride walked down the aisle backwards, because she used to sell ice-cream at the Odeon.

  4. Bryn Jones Says:

    I have to confess never having attended a Vale of Glamorgan Music Festival concert. I believe festival concerts were only held in the Vale when I lived in Cardiff, and travelling by public transport would have been awkward. Some nice concerts have been broadcast on the radio in previous years.

  5. Just discovered your post on this concert! Wasn’t it simply wonderful? You are right, there is absolutely nothing like a live concert. I was particularly struck hearing Pärt live, as I thought I knew his music well. Over on my blog, this is the way I put it in my post on the concert: “I thought I knew well the meditative beauty of Arvo Pärt’s music, but I was wrong. In Ars Nova Copenhagen’s pellucid singing, each note and harmony rose bell-like to the heavens.” Sorry not to have met you there–or perhaps I did, who knows?

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