Tag Archives: national youth choir

Jenkins: The Armed Man… again

It’s rather like buses. You wait for one to come along…

I bought the National Youth Orchestra’s CD The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace as soon as it was on the shelves. Then I waited ten years before I managed to attend a live performance. That was in November last year (sung by EUMS).

Yesterday evening I attended another performance of the work, this time at Dunfermline Abbey and sung by the Abbey Choristers. I have to be honest here. The choir is fairly small. When I heard they were going to tackle this work I thought I’d misheard. Yes, Jenkins, Armed Man… that thing usually sung by a choir the size of a Cecil B DeMille cast. But surely they wouldn’t do the whole work? Surely they would do extracts? I’m glad I’m not a betting man because I would have lost. Miserably.

The other day I vowed never to use the word ‘stunning’ again. Luckily I don’t have to use it now, because it was used last night by the person thanking the choir (and small orchestra) at the end of the performance.
(How about ‘brilliant’? Am I allowed to use the word ‘brilliant’?)

It might not have crossed the minds of those present that the choir was sitting within easy haunting distance of Robert the Bruce. The brass cover of his tomb was right behind them and depicts, perhaps unsurprisingly, an armed man.

Arm’d man = man in armour

Robert the Bruce is also here, keeping an eye on Edinburgh. Read it through before you condemn me for muddling The Bruce with Mel Gibson. Or with Bob the Builder.

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The Armed Man

Yesterday evening I went to see (hear?) a performance of composer Karl Jenkins’ ‘The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace’, performed by the Edinburgh University Music Society. It is a particular favourite of mine. I have a CD of the National Youth Choir’s recording from 2001, though I have never heard it live.

The Armed Man has been described as a dark piece. Black, more like. In my mind the only thing that comes near it in terms of darkness is Rachmaninof’s ‘Isle of the Dead’, not something you want to listen to when you are feeling depressed. Jenkins’ piece is very different in that there is hope. It is a Millennium composition, a vain hope that after thousand years of hellish war there can be a thousand years of peace.

We wish.

Enough… back to the performance before I get shunted off to pseud’s corner in Private Eye.

Am I allowed to say brilliant? To be honest, I went along to St.Cuthbert’s in the city (our city, not London) with the expectation that the performance wouldn’t match that of my CD (well, you do, don’t you, especially when it’s the National Youth Orchestra). I was VERY wrong. The EUMS choir (and small orchestra – I’m sure there is a name for a small orchestra, but I’m no musician so I don’t know) was stunningly good. The conductor, Neil Metcalf, was a dream. If anyone ever tells you it’s the choir or the orchestra that makes a performance then ignore them. Stop being their friend.

How anyone can do that stuff in a suit and a collar and tie* completely escapes me. The Armed Man has amazingly abrupt terminations, stops and starts, like following too close to a learner-driver. There was nothing learner-driver about Metcalf. I’m not sure that I have ever heard a choir (and I have heard a lot of choirs) cut and start as if the power had gone off and then on again. If any member of the audience got bored with the piece (never!) then they only needed to watch Neil. Again, Brilliant – choir, conductor and orchestra!

It was touch-and-go whether or not we should go. We had other things to do, or other things we could have done. You understand me. You know what I mean.
But I love The Armed Man, it plummets me to earth like nothing else does. It was my birthday treat… no, you don’t want to know… or, rather, I don’t want you to.

Postcript:
(Can you have a postscript in a blog post?)
I remember from somewhere that The Armed Man of this piece is not a guy with a gun but an Arm’d Man. So, for Arm’d Man, read man wearing armour.

*I have just been told that he wasn’t wearing a tie.

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