Escapism often has a negative connotation. Society tells us to plant our feet firmly on the ground and keep our heads out of the clouds, but our most powerful inspiration can often come from those moments where we escape the mundane and fill our heads with dreams.
Gesualdo Six transported audience members into an intimate and deeply moving musical experience, through the likes of Renaissance composers William Byrd and Thomas Tallis. Although the backdrop and stage setup were minimalistic and the singers wore dark, simply cut suits, the sounds that echoed through the room evoked images of lush tapestries, brilliantly coloured stained glass windows and intricate cathedral-like backdrops. There was nothing simple about the interwoven and layered musical textures and shifting tones, sung with hardly a glance at the score below. This was an escape from everyday life, but it also brought with it themes and ideas that, although born during the 15th and 16th centuries, had a direct meaning and relevance to the audience sitting in rapt attention in 2023.
The program notes made mention of the religious division during the Renaissance era, which brings to mind our own struggles to align beliefs and ideologies in an increasingly divided 21st century world. Even when the world devolves into turmoil, this music continues to stay relevant; uncaring of era or language it applies itself to any historic context like a soothing balm. Certainly, when listening to these performers, differences that once seemed stark and irrevocable begin to thaw and melt away.
Another link in the chain from today to the world of ancient texts and religious solemnity is the universality of the ideas the text presents. The translations were at times heartbreakingly sad and tinged with despair: “Sadness and anxiety have overtaken my inmost being/My heart is made sorrowful in mourning.” But throughout the sorrow a central message of hope remained: that despite the fears and troubles that may overcome us at times, there is always the promise of hope on the horizon. It is part of the human experience to have fears and anxieties, but also to be flooded with those feelings of joy and hope, that inevitably make their way into our hearts. Often, music is the key that helps us unlock the freedom we find in hope. The text combined with the music took audience members through a myriad of emotions, which poignantly remind us of what it means to be human.
This was not just a concert, but a musical experience which moved listeners regardless of age or background. It was an evening of escape from the stresses and cares of the everyday world, but it also offered a message firmly rooted in reality: that where there is music there is healing and hope.
Emma Sweeney - Vice-President
The Valley Concert Society