BCS in Berlin with Sir Karl Jenkins and The Armed Man Mass for Peace

Botley Choral Society in Berlin

A Concert for Peace

Music is a universal language and this was demonstrated in a momentous way when almost 2,000 singers from 30 different countries came together in Berlin to mark 100 years since the ending of the First World War. The concert took place in the Mercedes Benz Arena on 2nd November 2018. Twenty three members of Botley Choral Society took part in this concert. It was a profound experience as the Arena is only a few yards away from remnants of the Berlin Wall and the personal stories portrayed in the Wall Museum had a great impact, tragic events which have happened in recent memory, in our lifetime.
The singers were accompanied by the World Orchestra for Peace, formed by Georg Solti in 1995. Solti brought individual players from orchestras all over the world to create a unique ensemble for a special concert in Geneva, marking the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. In 2010 it became the first orchestra to be designated a UNESCO Artist for Peace.
Our first rehearsals took place in the new Verti Concert Hall, so new that the doors had been painted on that morning. We were put through our paces by Nicol Matt, founder and conductor of the Chamber Choir of Europe. The accompanist was great fun in our warm-up sessions, we acted fiercely and loudly like a lion, made quieter mouse-like sounds and made appreciative noises about Sir Karl Jenkins moustache. Our other rehearsals were taken by the great man and composer, Karl Jenkins himself.
The first half of the concert was conducted by the charismatic Grant Llewellyn. It opened with Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. This was followed by Palladio Allegretto, written by Jenkins who was inspired by the architect, Andrea Palladio. Fourteen year old Amineh Abou Kerech recited her haunting poem, Lament for Syria: ‘O Syria, my love, I hear your moaning in the cries of the doves. I hear your screaming cry, I left your land and merciful soil...’ Jenkins put the words to music in his work, Lamentation. The next piece was the moving Theme from Schindler’s List for which composer John Williams won an Oscar. Maurice Ravel wrote Le tombeau de Couperin, the energetic Prélude being dedicated to Lieutenant Jacques Charlot and the vivacious Rigaudon to brothers Pierre and Pascal Gaudin who died on their first day of their service on the front in 1914. This piece ended the first half.
Then the excitement built up in us all as we prepared to sing Karl Jenkins multi cultural work, The Armed Man:A Mass for Peace. The work was commissioned by the Royal Armouries as part of its commemoration of the Millennium. The Master of the Armouries at the time was Guy Wilson who selected the texts and wrote some of the words. He was also part of the choir, singing in the Bass section. There are no words to describe the feeling of singing in such a large choir, in harmony, singing the same language, knowing that behind us, on large screens, were horrific images of war and terrorism. Images, harrowing and upsetting, but we must never forget them in the cause of world peace.
Unlike the original composition some movements were sung in different languages for this historic performance. The eighth movement with words written by a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bomb was sung by Yumeneji Matsufuji in the original Japanese, the eleventh movement was sung in Welsh by Leah-Marian Jones and some of the original English text was sung in German. The composition takes the listener through a battle with the beat of marching feet and trumpet calls to arms. Words of the Latin Mass are included as prayers to God for mercy. Biblical texts, an Islamic Call to Prayer and words from the Hindu Mahabharata form a cohesive story. The tension builds throughout the piece, war is inevitable as Kipling’s words ‘Lord, grant us strength to die’ are sung with menacing brass accompaniment. ‘The double, double beat of the thundering drum’ drives the piece forward, the choir singing discordant notes to convey the cacophony of destruction, the eerie silence of the battlefield, the burial of the dead and the strains of the British bugle call in the Last Post. Within the work the horror of mass destruction is conveyed but also the thought that one death is one too many. The Agnus Dei reminds us of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice, the sacrifice too of millions of lives lost. The Benedictus is an affirmation of faith whilst Tennyson’s poem exhorts us to ‘Ring out a thousand years of peace’ as the music emulates the ringing of church bells at the ending of war. The piece ends with words from Revelations: ‘God shall wipe away all tears and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain. Praise the Lord.’
There was a stunned silence from the audience for several moments, then the applause started quietly, gradually building up and up until everyone was on their feet. This was an emotive experience for all of us, not only in taking part in a unique musical event but in spending time together forging lasting friendships.
In the words of Oscar Arias, Nobel Peace Laureate 1987, ‘Only music surpasses the divisions of language , soaring above borders. Only music can capture universal emotions, reminding us of our common humanity.’

Catherine Tribble