The Oxford Bach Soloists and film production company Positive Note have once again joined forces to bring another glorious Bach piece into our homes while breathing fresh life into some of our most beautiful places of worship.
The Breaking the Silence project will see Bach’s popular B Minor Mass performed as a series of virtual concerts across four Fridays, beginning on 9th April, all free to view and available on demand afterwards.
The concerts have been recorded and filmed at the Oxford Oratory, Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral and Westminster Cathedral, and involve some of the UK’s top soloists as well as several cathedral choirs and vocal consort the Gesualdo Six.
Tenor Daniel Norman, the founding director of Positive Note, explains: “The Oxford Bach Soloists are the core performers, so they are the orchestra, and the main choir is formed of the OBS and the Oxford Oratory Choir. We all recorded the whole piece in the Oxford Oratory and filmed it.
“We’ve also got people singing from home and recording themselves, and we’ve got singers from the Metropolitan Cathedral Choir, a group from the Brompton Oratory Choir, and a very large group from Schola Cantorum of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, which is a state school in London with a really amazing musical tradition and this wonderful choir, and they’re joining us for the Kyrie and the Dona Nobis Pacem.
“So there’s a combination of the performance in the Oxford Oratory, then we’re putting people from around the country into that performance as well.”
The soloists are Sophie Bevan and Mary Bevan (soprano), Marta Fontnalas-Simmons (mezzo-soprano), William Purefoy (counter tenor), Nick Pritchard and Daniel Norman (tenor), Brindley Sherratt (bass) and Stephan Loges (bass baritone). Tom Hammond-Davies, founder and artistic director of the Oxford Bach Soloists, conducts.
Each of the four concerts will include a series of interviews at the end, including performers, conductors and members of the clergy, which will form a short documentary looking at the impact of the last year.
Audiences will also get to see artists David Tovey and Mitchel Ceney collaborate on a painting that will gradually emerge as the performance unfolds.
The two artists met through homeless charity The Passage in Westminster, and Daniel is delighted to be showcasing their work in this project.
“The painting is a really beautiful image, drawn from the words of the Mass and from their own experiences coming through homelessness – and prison, in Mitchel’s case,” he says.
“They’re writing words into the painting, which is very poignant, and which will feed into the Mass and also feed into their story. So we’ll have interviews with them as well. It’s very moving and very powerful to hear them talking about their experiences.
“To me that’s the main message of this whole project – the power of art to help us heal, and to help us celebrate and to give us hope. And what better way to do that than with the music of Bach?”
Breaking the Silence has been made possible by CCLA’s new Catholic Investment Fund, which launches this month. Daniel was invited to put together an online concert which, he says, “would fit the principles of this fund, give an opportunity for musicians who haven’t been able to earn much money to get a fee and do some performing together, and also to highlight the situation in churches within the Catholic faith specifically and how people haven’t been able to go to Mass.
“So it’s highlighting the impact on musicians in those buildings, the impact it has had on the congregation, and the impact it has had on the fabric of the buildings themselves.
“We’re using many of the same people that were involved in last year’s successful St John Passion in Isolation, because they gave their time for nothing then, so we’re trying to use the same forces and pay them this time.
“The CCLA really liked the idea. They have a strong sense of social engagement, and they do a lot of supporting of concerts and prison arts projects, so this very much fits with their profile.”
Daniel has deliberately avoided screening the B Minor Mass over Easter, as many of the groups involved were putting on ticketed events.
“We didn’t want to be offering a free event in competition with them, so this is more about the forward-looking sense of celebration of Eastertide rather than introspection of Holy Week and the actual Easter weekend itself,” he explains.
“It’s in the spirit of that, the looking forward that Easter is for Christians. It makes sense not to clash with people’s Holy Week and Easter offerings.”
Breaking the Silence: Bach’s B Minor Mass will be premiered in four episodes on YouTube from 9th April. Visit www.positivenote.co.uk/breaking-the-silence to register for free access.
To find out more about CCLA and the Catholic Investment Fund, visit www.ccla.co.uk/events/2021/01/catholic-investment-fund