In phew-what-a-scorcher Sunday weather, it seemed only a borderline good decision to attend Evensong at 3.30pm. However, Hampton Court’s gardens (pictured) offered friendly shade, and the inside of the Chapel Royal was cool and reposeful.
Until the service started,that is. I’d quite unknowingly arrived during part of the excellent London Festival of Contemporary Church Music, and all the music (apart from my own Chapel Royal commission Praise Him with Trumpets) was refreshingly unfamiliar and, occasionally, weird. The closing voluntary by Naji Hakim (Messaien’s Lebanese-born successor at the organ of Sainte-Trinité) a wild trumpet and organ Presto movement with overtones both of circus music and jazz, sounded exuberantly mad, emanating from the historic (and quietly voiced) Schrider organ dating from 1712.
The actual purpose of my visit had been to meet the local chapter of the Friends of Cathedral Music for afternoon tea. This generous organisation is 60 years old, and I always enjoy speaking to its members, many of whom are very well-travelled around England’s cathedrals, and possess an interesting fund of knowledge about what’s happening inside them. The shadow of funding shortages often comes up in these conversations. Having just heard the amazingly bold Chapel Royal Evensong programme, it felt as if English church music has never been healthier – but this is one of those glass half full/empty situations. Rather like the now perpetual discussion about the current vitality but uncertain prospects of classical music as a whole.