I spent most of Saturday - pretty much a full 12 hours - at Symphony Hall. I arrived at about 10.30am (half an hour early) and as the changing room wasn't open, I decided to kill time by having a coffee in Starbucks. Every other time I've been to that Starbucks, it's been empty; of course this time it was rammed. Also there were little girls everywhere because there was some Disney princess thing going on at the NIA. I ended up spending 20 minutes queueing for my coffee, got to the changing room and necked it in record time. It was actually very nice, but would doubtless have been nicer had I had time to enjoy it. :P
Anyway, around 11.00ish I got myself into the choir stalls and saved seats for Chris and Jenny, who arrived shortly afterwards, and there then followed another half an hour or so of faffing as we tried to get the Chinese choir seated. Then some of the sopranos refused to be separated from their bestest friends (some of them were "first seconds" for the Vaughan Williams and were sitting amongst "first firsts" until Lynn forced them to move to the right place - honestly, it's like working with children sometimes).
Anyway, about 11.30 we had our first Koinonia rehearsal, which was... a shambles, to put it lightly. Well, some bits were sounding good and others were emphatically not. Understandable considering it was a massive undertaking. We did not envy Adrian having to keep the whole thing together; in addition to him there was also Colin (usually our accompanist) and another bloke conducting on stage for the two sets of "voices" during the first movement, as the two groups were independent of each other, plus John Barber (who wrote a percussion fanfare for the event) conducting one drum group and one of the altos conducting another. So five conductors in total.
After the first Koinonia rehearsal we broke for lunch, whereupon we queued ages for food in the canteen at Symphony Hall, who had clearly not briefed their staff that there would be a large group of hungry people exiting the concert hall en masse. Anyway, thankfully it was a long break; after food I went back to the changing room and got through a few more chapters of Les Misérables. (I'm up to the bit where Hugo goes on and on about the Battle of Waterloo, which I remember skipping last time, so I'm trying to persevere with it; he even prefaces the section by saying that it's been covered by numerous historians and he cannot possibly do it justice, then goes on to describe it anyway!)
We had to vacate the room at three for another group to rehearse, so we went back on stage and heard SHAAM rehearsing their bit before we did our individual rehearsal with Bournville Young Singers. We then had another full Koinonia rehearsal, and at this point we were starting to panic as the middle section of the second movement was still a mess. We were supposed to be singing the entire piece straight through as a back-up recording in case things went horribly wrong during the concert. Oh dear.
So, the concert itself. This was the first time I'd been nervous about a concert in ages, I think because of the fact that (a) we were opening it after the percussion fanfare and (b) we were singing our signature pieces from memory. I was apparently more confident than some others (who were still trying to get their brains around the lyrics of Sumer Is Icumen In as we were lining up!) so I dread to think how those less confident were feeling.
The percussion fanfare was amazing, when it finally came together. Sumer... went without a hitch and actually sounded pretty good, I would say, and then our host announced the rest of the groups, so we got to sit back and enjoy for a bit.
All of the groups were amazing. My personal favourites were definitely Sanchita Pal Ensemble and Echo Doliny (the Polish group), as well as the Chinese Conservatoire students with their Mongolian song in the second half. My least favourites were SHAAM; the drumming was brilliant but I felt the actual ensemble was a bit repetitive and went on about five minutes too long. It was still impressive that four blokes could make that much noise, and I enjoyed it for what it was, but it didn't hit me as much as the other groups did. I also really enjoyed Black Voices, World Youth Choir and Town Hall Gospel Choir's soul version of the Overture to Messiah - very interesting.
All through the first half I was struck with the bizarre and inexplicable desire to hide in a dark room and cry - in a good way, I should point out. I was just starting to think that I might have to spend the interval composing myself, but actually SHAAM chilled me out again right at the end of the first half. I can't even explain what it was that triggered the emotion - perhaps the music itself, or the fact that all the groups had come together for the concert. It may also have been a result of the fact that the audience turn-out was shockingly poor - we didn't even fill the ground floor stalls. :( I knew that the timing of it would be to its downfall; even though the St Patrick's Day celebrations were in Birmingham the week before, nonetheless the majority of people would have been out drinking on Saturday night. It's a terrible shame; the concert was full-on amazing and I'm really surprised there weren't more audience members supporting other groups. Perhaps the stuffy location put them off? Symphony Hall is the biggest space in which we could have performed the event, but perhaps something could have been wrangled elsewhere, in a more common space. I don't know. For the other groups it was undoubtedly a new and fantastic experience, but it's a very "up-market" location and it has a reputation as being only for posh concert-goers.
Anyway, the second half saw our Shakespeare Songs (which seemed to go really well), the Chinese Conservatoire students and the premiere of Koinonia. If Adrian was terrified then he didn't show it, but he would have been well within his rights to be. As far as I could tell - although it is admittedly difficult to differentiate when you're concentrating - there was only one minor mistake towards the end when one of the percussionists played the cow-bell too loud.
The final few minutes of the piece, as the full-group ensemble slowly dwindles back to a drone, had the same effect on me as the entire first half. Lisa could probably tell me why that's so (from her sound therapy knowledge), and unfortunately she couldn't come due to having a bad knee, as she would really have enjoyed it.
The audience reaction really said everything. After a few beats of silence, there was an almighty cheer. It was awesome. Chris Long, the composer, ran from the back of the auditorium and JUMPED onto the (chest-height) stage, presumably buzzing from adrenaline. I can't begin to imagine what it feels like to hear the first performance of something you've composed, but I presume it's akin to an author's first novel getting published. He was visibly moved by the audience reaction.
Back to real life after that, unfortunately. Paul and I went for tea at Pizza Express as it was the nearest place not full of drunkards and got a taxi home. Despite being knackered I still didn't actually get to sleep for ages, although at about half-two I went downstairs and it transpired Paul had fallen asleep on the sofa watching a DVD...
Sunday was only a little more sedate. I got up at about half-nine and went downstairs to make the chicken liver pate for the Mother's Day starter. That was done by about half-ten and we had some breakfast, then I watched EastEnders and Glee before we went out to get booze from the off licence. Paul cleaned the bathroom whilst I did about my 17th round of washing up (white chocolate and cranberry cake-making on Friday produced about three loads) and swept the floors. Then I made my pastry cases for the pie, basing them on a dessert recipe that Paul made ages ago, which I reproduce for your entertainment below:-
Filo Pastry Cases
6x filo sheets, cut in half (thawed if frozen)
About a third pack unsalted butter
Salt, pepper and dried mixed herbs
Pre-heat oven to 180C. Melt the butter in a bain marie or saucepan. Mix together a generous amount of mixed herbs with salt and pepper in a small bowl.
For each pastry case, lay out one sheet of filo and brush with melted butter. Sprinkle on a couple of pinces of the seasoning.
Lay another sheet on top at right angles and repeat the butter/herb process. Do this two more times, laying the third sheet at 45 degrees and the fourth the opposite way (so you have eight points, effectively). Do not season the fourth sheet.
Carefully press the filo sheets into a buttered ramekin or similar receptacle depending on what you're using as a mould. Place in the pre-heated oven for 10-15 minutes until the pastry has turned golden.
They are impossible to remove so you will probably lose some bits here and there; just put them inside the pastry cases. Let them cool for a few minutes before removing from the ramekins, refridgerate and then re-heat for about five minutes in a hot oven when required.
Considering I'd never actually made this before and was basically winging it, they turned out quite well; only one of them fell apart and that was because the filo had started to crumble from being rolled up in the freezer. :)
At about half-five I started on the casserole, with Paul being my sous-chef. :P He was in cooking mode and wanted to chop things, so I worked on the stock/gravy and browning the meat instead. As the recipe was for six rather than four, I also gave it an extra half-hour in the oven.
Paul's mum arrived at about quarter-to-six, with my mum and David arriving at sixish, when Paul started his peanut soup pre-starter / amuse bouche / whatever. Everyone tried some, even soup-phobic David, so that was a bonus. Everyone loves peanut soup. :D
Shortly after that I served the pate, and we got to show off our new serving bowls that we bought from House of Fraser (oooh, very posh!) - I was determined to use them so we filled them with home-made butter (made by Paul earlier whilst I was making pastry-cases), piccalili, red onion chutney and Dijon mustard. There was also loads of pate left over as I only did four little bits of toast with it, so people got some to take home. :)
The main course was served by eight - steak and Guinness pie (technically a casserole but I call it "deconstructed" :P) with roast potatoes. The herbs in the pastry cases worked really well so I'll definitely be doing that again.
Oh, I should also point out that we had to move the table into the living room in order to seat five people and be able to serve, but actually it wasn't a problem. After the main course we moved it back again with very little hassle so at least it's a workable option.
I served the cake about an hour later and even though people only had small slices, I gave Paul's mum and my mum about a quarter each to take home. Obviously I've sliced up the rest and brought it into work. ;)
About this time last year was when we officially started house-hunting and I'd got all excited about the ill-fated Pryor Road house. I remember this vividly because Mother's Day was really nice and then on the evening I found out the house had been let agreed and had an emotional meltdown over it. I can't believe it's been a year since we started looking. Mind you, we moved in July and there are still boxes filling the office, so maybe that says less about the expediency of time and more about our laziness. :P
Okay, I think this entry is more than long enough. Thankfully this weekend will be a quiet one. I had a migraine yesterday at work so left a half-three, then we both had a nap at about five o'clock. I'm getting much too old for all this. :P