Gabrieli celebrate success in The Big Give Christmas Challenge 2018

Gabrieli have completed The Big Give Christmas Challenge early, exceeding our fundraising target of £20,000 to raise a grand total of £24,773!

During this fundraising week, our donors have enjoyed reading anecdotes from our artists about Gabrieli’s storied history with the music of Henry Purcell. For anyone that might have missed these tales of happy debuts, travel woes and performance mishaps, here they are again, in all their glory!

In the early 1990s we made one of our earliest tours of Spain, under the ever-solicitous care of our wonderful Spanish manager, Enrique Subiela. For this tour of The Fairy Queen we had amongst the cast – as so often proves to be the case at Gabrieli – some wonderful young soloists who have gone on to have very major careers. One such was the baritone Christopher Purves, now known to be one of the finest singers of his generation. Chris had only recently started singing with Gabrieli (having just left the pop group, Harvey and the Wallbangers!), but was already a wonderful performer with tremendous stage presence.

As you will know, The Fairy Queen begins with ‘The Scene of the Drunken Poet’. The conductor (me!), in his wisdom, decided to dress said drunken poet in a foppish tailcoat and have him begin the scene walking, apparently suitably inebriated, through the audience. And so one evening, in a wonderful Baroque theatre in Seville, as the overture ended Mr Purves noisily broke into the theatre to start singing ‘F-f-f-f-fill up the bowl.’ This would have been marvellous but so remarkable was his acting that a group of audience members took it upon themselves to intervene – jumping up to evict him!

Some how or other the show went on…

Paul McCreesh, Artistic Director

I have performed Purcell far and wide with Gabrieli over some several decades and am always moved by the group’s continual commitment to reassessing and rethinking performance decisions. There is not a moment of complacency or routine, no single artist dominates and everything is up for discussion. It’s an invigorating and very special process that I should be able to write eloquently about, but I’m afraid that when I was asked for one memory of performing Purcell with the group, the anecdote that kept resurfacing was a rather silly one…

We were in a French town one summer, rehearsing in the town’s church, when a priest stopped our rehearsal of The Fairy Queen, offended by the kissing and flirtation between two men in the ‘Scene of Coridon & Mopsa’. Objecting to such lewd frivolities in church, there ensued serious debate between our management and the festival about whether the performance would be allowed to proceed. To our relief, the concert did go ahead, albeit with a somewhat more conservative version of ‘Coridon & Mopsa’ – although the priest was spotted laughing along with the rest of the audience during the concert!

Paula Chateauneuf, principal lute

Having performed Purcell with Gabrieli over many years, I was delighted to make my solo Proms debut with them, performing The Fairy Queen. Naturally, this is a landmark moment for any artist and I was delighted to share it with Paul and Gabrieli. It was a wonderful experience, but one full of bittersweet memories, as London and the whole country were in complete shock following the terrible July 2005 bombings on the underground network, which had happened as our rehearsals started.

Mhairi Lawson, soprano

Purcell and Gabrieli are, for me, inextricably intertwined… My first two engagements leading the orchestra in 2002 were performances of Purcell – a performance of Dido and Aeneas at the Israel Festival in May (the last time Paul played bass violin with us, I believe!) and then a trip to our home-from-home, Festival de Beaune, to perform The Fairy Queen in July. Mhairi Lawson, Charles Daniels and Roderick Williams were then as now amongst the cast for The Fairy Queen and so many of my string colleagues – including the wonderful Olly Webber, with whom I enjoy so many moments of chamber music in these pieces – are the same, 16 years later!

Catherine Martin, leader

The Fairy Queen was the first work I ever performed with Gabrieli, somewhere near Lake Como in Italy, I think in 1991. I stepped in at the last minute to replace Alan Mitchell, playing viola, so that he could remain at his desk in London to write a chapter of The Grove Dictionary! I didn’t even have a viola at the time (though I had studied both violin and viola in the Koninklijk Conservatorium in Den Haag and was also the viola player in Quatour de la Haye!), so Alan lent me his rather fine instrument – the rest, as they say, is history! My viola partner-in-crime in that performance was the late, lamented, Duncan Druce, which was an experience in itself!

Details of that first concert rather blur with the many other performances of this work that I’ve given with Gabrieli over the years. Strangely, the two memories that I do have are non-musical – I had one of the best pizzas of my life at the café down the hill from the church, and I was ridiculously impressed that, somehow, the ever-entrepreneurial Gabrieli management had arranged for our Italian train to make an unscheduled stop at the local station! I won’t name the naughty singers in the Consort who tried to get me drunk on ‘Grappa Julia’ after the concert – that’s a tale for another day!

Julia Black, violinist

My very first performance with Gabrieli was The Fairy Queen, at Festival de La Chaise Dieu, in France in 2002. Frankly, despite the glorious surroundings, wonderful music and a fabulous dinner before the concert, survival was the name of the game: I’d never played a bass violin before and the unusual tuning was messing with my head! If my instinct for Purcell has since developed (as presumably it must have, given that I now edit our editions!) it is because of the important role Purcell has played throughout Gabrieli’s history, and the knowledge and generosity of Paul and our colleagues which – through many performances of dramatick operas, anthems and odes – has gradually informed my own musicianship and hunger to understand this fabulous repertoire.

Christopher Suckling, principal bass violin

When we performed The Fairy Queen at the 2005 BBC Proms, Paul was keen to use the enormous space as effectively and imaginatively as possible. One might imagine a fanfare of trumpets blasting from up high, but no, Paul chose the delicate sound of two sopranino recorders to echo around that vast dome. Given the vast distance between us and the stage, we were given a small TV monitor so that we could follow Paul. With a hopeless head for heights, I was determined not to look down and had to trust that the intended effect of imitating the birdsong in Oberon’s enchanted forest would somehow transcend my rather nervous disposition!

Rebecca Miles, violinist and recorder player

Every ensemble has stories that become embedded in the group’s history, almost folklore… One such Gabrieli tale dates from our very first tour of King Arthur. We had a series of performances in Holland and a not-unusual situation arose, of one singer falling ill. Having just auditioned a young man down from Oxford, I thought this would be a good opportunity to try him out. He stepped in at short notice, and did perfectly well. After the first performance of the tour, we were driven back to our hotel and, on arrival, the coach driver announced, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, please be careful as you disembark as there is a rather large puddle to the right.’ Our new young countertenor, taking this advice rather seriously, thought the puddle would be worth jumping over.

And jump he did: straight into the middle of a Dutch canal. In February.

Mercifully, the young man in question managed to extract himself from the canal, emerging covered in filthy, stinking weeds, and walked into the hotel to hysterical laughter from his new colleagues. One wag rather prophetically remarked that in most groups that sort of offence could get you sacked immediately, but at Gabrieli it probably means you’ve got a job for life: that young counter tenor was in fact none other than David Clegg, who has not only sung for us for over twenty years, but is also now our Choral Manager. He is a fantastic support to me and a much-valued member of the group, but even he would admit that it was a particularly auspicious debut!

Paul McCreesh, Artistic Director

We are enormously grateful to each of the 66 donors who supported us in this fundraising drive, to The Big Give, and to our Charity Champion, The Reed Foundation, who provided matched-funding. Thank you.