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Reflections on the Hilliard 40th birthday concerts

Day 1: rehearsal…

This was an interesting experience. My memory of HE rehearsals is that no one said much (it’s basically where I Iearned that there’s almost always too much talk in rehearsals). But my esteemed fellow former-members had left the group long before we evolved the intuitive process that was at once so simple and so sophisticated, and they asked a lot of questions. I was, as usual, mostly silent. It all more or less worked, though Roger Marsh’s new piece gave us a few tuning and rhythmic problems which we hadn’t quite cured by the time we did it live on Radio 3’s In Tune in the evening. It’s a weird experience, being back. On the one hand, it’s as though I’d never left, and on the other (especially being airbrushed out of the potted HE history on Music Matters at the weekend) it’s as though I’d never been there.

Day 2: concert at Shoreditch

It was a great occasion – wonderfully enthusiastic audience and so many old friends I hadn’t seen for ages (decades in some cases). A lot of the music worked really well, and we got away with Roger Marsh’s piece until the very last page… Al Hume was a friendly and pertinent inquisitor at the pre-concert talk and managed to avoid anything embarrassing, cleverly focusing on what it was like to join the group rather than why people left it. I made the point that the HE had only 9 members in total, whereas the Swingles (celebrating their 50th across town this very night) counted over 100 – and I tactfully didn’t mention the Kings Singers franchise who are well into double figures. Very late dinner in the heart of Hoxton. Hipsters make a lot of noise so it was almost impossible to hear what anyone said, but a great time was had by all. Eurostar to Paris tomorrow and we’re staying very close to the Brasserie du Nord where the eating should be quieter and more French.

Day 3: concert in Paris

Brasserie du Nord turned out to be rather disappointing – we should probably have gone for the big meat or fish stuff rather than the Menu. The church was impressive but felt a bit impersonal. No applause between pieces though they were enthusiastic enough at the end. Made it almost to the end of the Marsh without mishap– just a few bars to perfect in tomorrow’s final performance. The middle section, just for the current members and acting out the death of Yorick was absolutely beautiful. Good press for last night from the Evening Standard (bizarre pic…), The Guardian and Early Music Today. One other less good, apparently written by someone who’d failed a Hilliard audition in the past.

The most French bit of the trip was trying to buy Metro tickets after the gig. The woman in the ticket office refused to sell us any, pointing to the two adjacent machines. These turned out not to work, but in best Gallic fashion we just got a shrug from the ticket office and no tickets. More people should be paid to shrug in ticket offices rather than the boring business of selling tickets I reckon. We then hailed a taxi which slewed across the traffic and reversed into the car behind it, so it took a while to get back to base.

Day 4: concert in Munich

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The security people at the Gare du Nord should be paid to catch thieves rather than sit around drinking coffee. Penny’s purse was stolen as we got on the Metro to the airport. It’s the second time we’ve encountered pick pocketing at the Gare du Nord. Then the Metro drivers were having ‘social movements’ (ie were half-heartedly on strike) so we had to change trains amid much confusion. Then horrendous queues at check-in. Very glad to arrive in Munich at the wonderful Hotel Palace.

The concert was the real deal. Munich is pretty much the capital city of Hilliard-dom and the huge church was packed to the rafters. There were fans and friends from all over Germany (many former summer school students) and three members of the Poor Knights came down from Helsinki just for the concert. Roger Marsh’s Poor Yoric was heard with all the right notes and rhythms for the first time and made a great impression. We encored the final section and it got even better.

The 40th  birthday was a great idea – and thanks to David James for getting it all together. It was a brave and generous thing to do, especially given that only one of the five who left really did so voluntarily. The rest of us all found ourselves in positions where for one reason or another we just couldn’t continue. Our Finnish friends came because they thought they’d never get to hear this particular line-up ever again. I think they’re right, and it was great while it lasted.

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