There can’t be many more dramatic looking colleges than Royal Holloway, especially at night, looming pinkly out of a mysterious dark hill in Surrey. This late-Victorian building is modelled on a chateau in the Loire. It has two particularly unusual spaces for music: a gothic chapel with extreme golden decorations; and a high-ceilinged picture gallery which was the final part of founder Thomas Holloway’s generous endowment, containing art he quickly gathered just as the college (then for women only) was opening, Landseer, Millais etc.
It was in the Picture Gallery that we gathered to hear Royal Holloway’s choral scholars in a short, refreshing programme curated/conducted by Nathan Dearden, built around work by Michael Finnissy. Michael is making a year-long progress around the new music world during his 70th birthday year; having recently returned from Latvia, he would be travelling on to Belgium after this sojourn in Egham.
The anniversary year has been a welcome chance to catch up on Finnissy’s catalogue, which I’m glad to say is growing as quickly as ever. As someone who encounters a lot of church music, I was fascinated to hear his latest setting of the Mag and Nunc (there are six!) whose strong linear counterpoint recalled the celebratory energy of Tippett. And Nathan Dearden had got there before me, adding Tippett’s ‘Dance, Clarion Air’ to the programme – pure champagne for the ears. This unusual evening also allowed the audience to take part in Robert Ashley’s ‘She was a visitor’ – prompting much reminiscence between Michael and myself about the wonderful Ashley stagings at the Almeida in, hmmm, 1982 or thereabouts. Thanks to all at RHUL for a joyous new music evening.