Music: The Very Impressive Cordydd at Carnegie Hall:
A Match Made in Heaven for the Also Impressive Weather
By Leslie Herman
ART TIMES online July 2014
Prelude to my use of cliché: Please don’t chop my head off - clichés have gained their status because they are true. Also true that writers are warded off using them directly, but indirectly, they serve as useful points of reference: so, here it goes:
Everyone knows that it rains a lot in Wales. And on Saturday 29 March 2014, New Yorkers were treated to a truly authentic Welsh experience with Cordydd’s performance at Carnegie Hall. The Cardiff-based mixed choir, conducted by Paul Mealor, with Huw Alun Foulkes and Steffan Jones also conducting, Ieuan Jones (piano) and Gwenliian Llyr (harp), produced sounds that were so clean and pure, it was no surprise that the heavens opened to produce the rainiest night of the entire month!
I was still recovering from a severe virus that knocked me out for 10 days and, as much as I was looking forward to the concert, I was not looking forward to the trek into Manhattan in such weather. Pre-concert, I couldn’t help make the cynical connection between Wales and the weather and was pleased and relieved once I was inside the concert hall and out of the cold and wind-lashing rain.
It rained so hard that there just had to be a correlation, and I was compelled to get the stats to back it up: Sure enough, according to NY Metro Weather.Com, Saturday night’s was the month’s heaviest rainfall in the NYC area, was one of only 11 days that month where any rain fell at all, and accounted for 3 of the 3.9 inches of rain that fell in New York throughout March.
Within Carnegie Hall, the Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall fittingly resembled St. David’s Hall which, I imagined, would help the choir to feel at home there. But negative impressions challenged my positive ones: the crowd was small, and I wished I had been contracted to promote the event. My stifled cough commiserated with my silent lament (such a long way for the choir to come for so few people; was the weather a deterrent?) as the unavoidably rained-on folk created a stuffy dampness in the room.
As soon as the choir members took their places on stage, the concert began, and as they produced their first few joyful notes ( Craig yr Oesoedd/Rock of Ages), I was struck by another unusual feeling. A kind of swelling which I knew was pride but was almost embarrassed to acknowledge.
I am not the first and certainly won’t be the last person to be in awe of the voices that are born and produced in Wales, and my internal battle persisted while the concert continued with Cennin Aur/Daffodils -- Oh! The quiet note this piece ended on was breathtaking! -- And then with Maelor’s own composition: Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal: Four Madrigals on Rose Texts. (Worth noting here were the complex trills of the third , Upon a Bank with Roses Set About; the pure, rich high notes, and the evocative storytelling of the fourth madrigal, Spotless Rose -- a piece I would love to have sung to me at bedtime). There was something ‘other worldly’ about the experience: the sounds so familiar to me, the exquisite musicality only a Welsh Choir could produce just felt jarringly out of place in the heart of New York City.
I rationalised with my ‘only in Wales’ sentiments, but still felt them silly and naïve -- New York City is one of the most prominent cultural capitals of the world and its audiences have a wide frame of reference. I also wrestled with where my loyalties lie, and whether I could or should own such pride. I am a NYC export living in Wales, and there I was, in New York 35 years later, arguing with myself that NY may play host to talent the world over, but sure that this was a very different experience for a NY audience, and feeling precious and uber-connected to the unique sounds that the Welsh are born and bred with.
Complex? Yes. Wonderful? Yes!
My instincts proved correct and my entire internal argument was wholly justified when Paul Maelor spoke to welcome us and to introduce the choir. He confirmed that this was the first time a Welsh language choir had sung in the hall!
After his introduction, Maelor treated us to his royal pieces: Ubi Caritas, a revised setting of the piece commissioned to be sung at the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton; and A Welsh Prayer, also a commissioned piece to celebrate HRH Prince Charles' birthday. Maelor has an impressive track record -- the programme notes tell us that in 2001 the New York Times described him as ‘the most important composer to have emerged in Welsh choral music since William Mathias'; and in 2011, he was the first classical composer to hold both the classical and the pop chart No.1s at the same time with Wherever You Are.
The concert continued to showcase some of Wales’ most profound classical talent. Reaching out and touching us with Karl Jenkins’ powerful and well-lovedAdiemus, best known as a tune from The Lion King. Pushing vocal boundaries with the complex Wherever You Are Salvator Mundi: Greater Love, requiring premium breath control for its soloists, Nia Tudur, Betsan Powys, Owen Saer and Steffan Jones, and their multitude of scales and solo humming which sounded like a flock of birds in a tree.
The concert ended with a composition Maelor dedicated to his grandmother -- the last note of this last piece was like the last breath of life. And in true form, the evening was rounded off with the Welsh National Anthem, Hen Wlad F’yn Hadau.
A good number of the audience were in full voice during the national anthem, which told me something about its makeup. I love the Welsh National Anthem, and I also love to sing it loud and proud, but Cordydd missed a trick by not following their anthem with an American anthem or well-loved American tune. Singing just the Welsh anthem? This might as well have been St. David’s Hall.
Cordydd’s are sounds you just cannot take for granted. The experience felt like heaven on earth.