Last Saturday, we made our way to St John on Bethnal Green, a grade 1 listed building designed by Sir John Soane.
Strongly rooted in a London whose rich past is being bulldozed out of existence by the powers that be, this one sturdy construction has withstood the passing of time, a fire in 1870 and The Blitz.
Today, it remains at the heart of community life and it is still a working church but has also become a dynamic centre for the arts.
Chris Gollons's striking Stations of the Cross, commissioned by the church in 2000 and exhibited around the church - reminds me of early 20th century art inspired by the horrific visions of WW1. I find Stations I, II, IV and VIII particularly interesting: their nightmarish, grimacing and grotesquely disfigured characters reflect the horrors of the human condition.
This was a very special event for cellist Jo Quail.
After having attended the thrilling launch of her new album Caldera back in June (find my report HERE), I just couldn't miss Jo's next show and her most ambitious to date: Nocturnes.
As writer Adrian Ainsworth - who incidentally has written the sleeve notes for the Caldera album - states:
In some of the interviews in the run-up to this special concert, Jo Quail talks about her time away from the cello - itself a kind of darkness, I imagine, given her extraordinary relationship with the instrument now - and how she found her way back. This makes the programming of 'Nocturnes' even more interesting, as the evening builds up into a musical autobiography: starting with arrangements of pieces that shaped her listening and playing, moving to tracks from her two solo albums, before arriving at a majestic new work, a glimpse of who knows how many future possibilities.
Also in those interviews, Jo speaks out about the sometimes crippling self-doubt that has plagued her.
My greatest challenge has been myself. I’ve had to do quite a bit of work to overcome my own imposed limitations, to shed myself of the feeling that I’m somehow ‘not good enough’ or without some kind of special power that other widely known soloists seem to embody with ease.
I’ve only recently acknowledged the fact that I am fiercely ambitious and really quite driven in my work, and that’s been a big eye opener for me.
Needless to say, absolutely no trace of this lack of self-confidence was on display at St John: Jo was smiling; she was focused, fired up and looked at ease surrounded by her fellow musicians.
But how well I recognised the feelings described in the two quotes above! As someone who has always wanted to be a fiction writer, it is only in the past few years that I have found the courage, the time, the energy and, most importantly, the self-belief to actually become an author.
To be a real artist, you have to allow yourself to be one. No one else can.
I recommend you read Jo's interviews (links at the bottom of the page) as they give a fascinating insight into her creative process and inspiration.
I am personally as interested in the mechanisms of making art - the inspiration behind it, the way ideas are developed and put together, the ins and outs of the act of creation - as I am in the end result.
For someone like me who is not a musician and struggles to understand how people like Jo compose and make music, it is very useful to see the veil lifted on the mystery from time to time.
Or should I just accept it as simple magic?
What was obvious on Saturday was that a lot of work had gone into Nocturnes.
The evening was Jo's baby but to help her bring her vision into the “physical world”, she was surrounded by musicians, singers, promoters (Chaos Theory), sound engineers as well as a poet and a conductor.
To have an idea of what the evening sounded like, let me send you to Adrian Ainsworth's superb report of the evening (read it HERE).
I don't think anyone could have written a better article about Nocturnes, and I won't even start to attempt it here.
But who knew that Nine Inch Nails' The Great Below (from one of my favourite albums ever, "The Fragile" - a very important album for me for various reasons) would sound so good covered by a cello quartet? It gave me goose bumps and made my heart beat faster.
Another highlight for me was the epic South West Night: Autorotation's Robyn Sellman provided otherworldly improvised vocals; Daniel Merrill's haunting violin unsettled; and conductor Jos Pijnappel conducted the audience's waves of "shhhhhhhhhhh" sounds added to conjure up the sound of the Australian bush. You're in luck , there is a video of it!
Jo's own compositions are simply stunning, gorgeous pieces of work; they are shape-shifting and take on new nuances each time they are played depending on the venue and the guests invited to join her. These tracks are "alive" and evolve in front of our very eyes (and ears) with each performance.
In Jo's work, beauty is often stalked by darkness; dreams are never very far away from nightmares, and the spiritual is rarely disconnected from the earthy (and earthly) power of nature.
I think these (apparently) unnatural pairings were somewhat at home inside St John.
This Path With Grace, Jo's epic, breathtaking brand new composition was also premiered at St John. It is an ambitious, expansive work of mind-boggling ambition.
You can listen to (and download) the track HERE.
Nocturnes was very special for Jo as well as for the audience and I feel really privileged to have been among those who witnessed the blossoming of a truly remarkable musical talent who doesn't let genres and categorisation stunt her growth and ambition.
I will leave the last word to Adrian Ainsworth, writing about Nocturnes on his BLOG:
'Nocturnes' may be a concert full of dreams (and I use the present tense in the wish there'll be some kind of repeat or sequel). But as well as night thoughts and half-memories, dreams can also mean hopes and ambitions for the future. To me, the evening was just as much about this latter kind. I felt a line of accomplishment had been vaulted with ease, and that these ambitions were becoming realities; it's not really a question of what Jo might do next. It's more: what couldn't she do?
I think therefore I write.
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