We’re delighted that five of our top string players (biographies below) have been invited to play the acoustic stage at the Down at the Abbey festival on Saturday 7th September. The invitation came after our barnstorming debut at sister festival ‘Are You Listening?’, back in April. Our set this evening will be very different: instead of music based mainly around dance, we’re presenting an atmospheric set of music from Reading Abbey’s foundation and heyday. Those pieces will be complemented by more modern takes on the ‘old style’ musical forms, as well as a moving elegy and lament – a reflection of the Abbey’s demise to the ruins in which the performance will take place.
The set will proceed unannounced, so we’ve created this web page to guide you through the works and introduce the performers. Enjoy!
O Virtus Sapentiae – Hildegard von Bingen (arr. for string quartet by Marianne Pfau)
Mel Le Breuilly, Chico Chakravorty – violin, Kat Hatton – viola, Mel Hopkin – cello
Saint Hildegard of Bingen lived from 1098-1179, meaning that she was alive when Reading Abbey was founded by Henry I in 1121 (he was buried in the Abbey in 1136). As well as being a poet and writer on various subjects she was also, appropriately, a Benedictine abbess who founded two monasteries. Her prolific output of music was mainly for the liturgy and this work (the title of which translates as ‘O Wisdom’s Energy’) is a hymn to the Holy Wisdom and the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
Three Renaissance Dances (arr. for cello duet by Georg Mertens)
Bianco Fiore – Cesare Negri, Alman – Anonymous composer from 16th century, Alman – Thomas Morley
Anastasia Arapi, Mel Hopkin – cello
The music of the Middle Ages was dominated by the church, but from the 14th century, some composers were able to break free from the characteristics of church music and move beyond plainchant or other choral writing. Dance forms were important in this ‘Renaissance’ period, as they used secular instruments such as the lute, a precursor to the modern guitar. It was for this instrument that these three dances were originally written. They also show the reach of music spreading from northern Europe down to Italy, in the south.
Duo No.1 from ‘Canons and Fugues in Old Style’ for two violins – Max Reger
Chico Chakravorty, Mel Le Breuilly – violin
Another feature of music that developed during the Renaissance period was counterpoint – the combination of different melodic lines in music. During the lifetime of Reading Abbey, simple plainchant was developed with the addition of other vocal lines and even written down (indeed, the first piece of non-religious counterpoint ever written down was the round ‘Sumer is icumen in’ – at Reading Abbey). During the Baroque period, strict contrapuntal forms such as fugues and canons evolved, with Johann Sebastian Bach being the most famous exponent. He lived in Leipzig where, 300 years later, Johann Baptist Joseph Maximilian Reger’s music carried on the great contrapuntal tradition with a modern flavour.
Elegy for solo viola – Benjamin Britten
Kat Hatton – viola
English composer Benjamin Britten wrote this haunting piece aged just 16. Its long, anguished lines, combined with more urgent, disturbed music, is the first of two pieces in our programme that lament the closure and destruction of the Abbey as a consequence of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, exacerbated through its use as a defence position during the English Civil War.
Gia pianse nel dolore – Carlo Gesualdo (arr. for string quartet by Bruce Adolphe)
Mel Le Breuilly, Chico Chakravorty – violin, Kat Hatton – viola, Mel Hopkin – cello
Infamously responsible for the violent killing of his first wife and her lover, Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa lived a colourful life around the turn of the 16th century. As mentioned above, the treatment of multiple melodies had been a feature of Renaissance music and this song exemplifies this development, with five parts weaving around each other. But Gesualdo’s music goes further, with adventurous harmonies which sound more akin to crunchy 19th or 20th century music. This song starts solemnly, as the title suggests (‘I’ve already cried much with sorrow’), but quickly develops into an animated, ‘sweet and happy song’, with the banishment of the writer’s troubles, ‘because my beloved says: “I also burn with love for you”.
Lamentatio – Giovanni Sollima
Anastasia Arapi – cello
Our set concludes with this remarkable piece for solo cello by Italian composer Giovanni Sollima. Written in 1998, the work explores all the technical capabilities of the cello soloist. They are merged with the human voice in an opening reminiscent of the plainchant that would once have been heard within the walls of the Abbey. The increasingly unorthodox rhythmic patterns marry the traditional with the modern, intensifying the lament, before the echoes of the past dissipate among the ruins.
Anastasia Arapi was born and raised in Thessaloniki, Greece, where she took her first cello lessons at the age of 4 and piano lessons at the age of 6. In 2013, she graduated from the New Conservatory of Thessaloniki with a Diploma in Cello Performance with distinction, class of Dmitry Gudimov and also holds a Diploma in Harmonic Analysis since 2011. During her studies, she performed in numerous orchestras and ensembles in all major venues of Greece and has taken part in Festivals in Austria, Belgium, Iceland, Czech Republic etc. After moving to the UK in 2015, she started performing with Aldworth Philharmonic Orchestra in Reading and HACS Millenium orchestra in London. Since then, she has performed with world famous conductors like Bernard Haitink, Thomas Zehetmair, Rafael Payare, Holly Mathieson and has worked with high calibre musicians such as Nicola Benedetti, Torleif Thedéen and Maxim Vengerov. Alongside performing, Anastasia is a professional music educator, hoping to spread her love of the cello and music generally to young people. She is currently studying cello with Helene Dautry at the Royal College of Music and conducting with Peter Stark.
Chico Chakravorty has played the violin since he was 9 and was a member of Reading Youth Orchestra when growing up in the area which is where he first met APO’s music director, Andrew Taylor. He studied music at Cardiff University and after graduating, spent a number of years managing professional orchestras in the UK and working for the BBC Proms and Classic FM. Chico is now a passionate advocate for Diversity and Inclusion which is in part why he loves playing with APO to reach new audiences in ways that enable those who wouldn’t otherwise hear live classical music. He joined APO after recently moving back to Berkshire and truly loves his new “family”.
Born into a family at the heart of England’s folk music revival, Kat Hatton has been a musician as long as she can remember, growing up in folk clubs and festivals in Devon and Gloucestershire. Having learnt the violin from the age of 7, it was attending a performance of Benjamin Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra” which ignited a lifelong love of the viola – studying under John Gillett-Smith and Richard Crabtree, she played at the highest level of county music in Gloucestershire Youth Orchestra and GYPSE while also receiving a strong grounding in the joy of chamber music with teachers and students at Cheltenham College. While studying Maths at Oxford University she joined a number of orchestras, played in pit bands for university plays and was president of the Music Society. On moving to Reading ten years ago, and after a break from classical music, Kat found a thriving amateur music scene and since then has thrown herself wholeheartedly into both orchestras and chamber groups. She now balances this with a career as an Insights Manager and raising two small musicians of her own. She remains a keen advocate of the viola, and also interested in the workings of the instrument: she plays a Tim Phillips viola which was designed for her, and has recently rehaired her first bow. Kat would like to dedicate her solo tonight to the memory of John Holland – a truly inspirational man who put music firmly at the heart of Okehampton’s community, and leaves a legacy stretching well beyond the small Dartmoor town he lived in. Thank you, JVH: you made life so much richer for so many people.
Mel Hopkin was born and brought up in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire and began playing the cello at the age of 11. Music quickly became a big part of her life and she progressed through the ranks of local orchestras, most notably Hertfordshire County Youth Orchestra under the baton of Peter Stark. She studied Music at Manchester University, where she continued to develop her cello playing with guidance from David Fletcher of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. After graduating, she spent time travelling in Central America, which included volunteering in a specialist music school in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. It was this experience that inspired her to pursue a career in music education. Mel moved to Reading in 2004 to study for a PGCE in Primary Education with a Music specialism. She soon joined APO, and also began playing with local band A Genuine Freakshow, who she continued to travel the country with until the band split in 2012. Since 2007 Mel has taught at the Hawthorns Primary School in Wokingham, most recently as a specialist music teacher. She is passionate about providing musical opportunities for children and young people and is proud to be involved in APO Young, set up recently to provide for the next generation of musicians.
Mel Le Breuilly is a violin and piano teacher based in Wokingham and she simply loves playing the violin. Her enjoyment of the instrument was nurtured in the early days by her teacher Cristian Persinaru and she now actively seeks any opportunity to play. Mel is a committed supporter of youth music in the area and together with Paul Cox she runs the Reading Youth Orchestra and Henley Music Centre. Her guilty pleasure is to arrange pop songs for string quartets and for her students. From the Muppets to Mozart, Mel is always looking for ways to engage new audiences with string ensembles. APO has been a significant part of Mel’s love for music and it’s her favourite place to play. She has been a member of the APO ‘family’ for 15 years and has been leader since October 2018.