Last Sunday Fedora Strings’ violinist – Roger Stimson – and myself led the violin and cello sections of the City of Peterborough Youth Ensemble ( CPYE) in a concert of string orchestral music in Cambridgeshire. It reminded me of what a marvellous experience string orchestral playing can be. The repertoire is superb and every member of the ensemble is crucial: you play as part of a team – with no conductor – so trust and interdependence are vital.
I used to love exploring the great works for string orchestra when I was a member of the Scottish Baroque Ensemble and later, as artistic director of Peterborough String Orchestra. I could name one superlative piece after another: Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings, Dvorak Serenade for Strings, Suk Serenade for Strings, Shostakovich Chamber Symphony, Britten Simple Symphony and Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Arensky Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky, Bach Brandenburg 3, Grieg Holberg Suite, Stravinsky Concerto for String Orchestra, Rossini String Sonatas, Elgar Serenade for Strings and Introduction and Allegro, Handel Concerto Grossi, Purcell Chaconne in G minor, Mozart Divertimenti , Warlock Capriol Suite, Vivaldi The Seasons and Sinfonia in G…….the list just goes on and on.
Yet now, having played Roger’s adaptations of more or less anything for string duo, and beginning to create sheet music arrangements myself, I realise that the string orchestral repertoire could be widened far further. In fact, for its next Peterborough concert in Cambridgeshire, CPYE will be playing an arrangement of Monteverdi’s famous Beatus Vir – which was originally written for voices with string accompaniment. The title of this early baroque work means ‘Blessed is Man’ and you can hear the joy in every phrase; there’s an excellent performance on You Tube by the Swedish group Vox Scaniensis which has some delightful string playing.
Isn’t it amazing to think this work was composed around four hundred years ago, yet is still easy and straightforward to understand ? As musicologist Robert Donington says:” We are of this modern age and much has changed which could not be changed back again, even if we so desired. But not our deeper human nature and not the essential musicianship so intimately bound up with our human nature: these do not change.”