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From Cathedra to Coldplay


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From Cathedra to Coldplay

Posted on 10 July 2005


Over the past few weeks I've been appreciating the wide range of music that the UK has to offer. First I attended some free lunchtime summer concerts held at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts by music students of the University. On Wednesday, 15 June, I listened to some early music ensembles, followed by a performance by a chamber choir and chamber orchestra on Friday, 17 June. I particularly liked Summertime from the musical Porgy and Bess by the chamber choir, and the orchestra's stirring rendition of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. In the evening on Saturday, 2 July, I was at the Symphony Hall, Birmingham, attending a Midsummer Classical Gala by the London Concert Orchestra under the baton of Anthony Inglis. The concert included familiar favourites such as Debussy's Clair de Lune, the Méditation from Thaïs by Massanet, and even Frederick Loewe's I Could Have Danced All Night from My Fair Lady.

An especially interesting concert that I went to took place on Wednesday, 22 June: English summer vespers by candlelight performed by the Ex Cathedra Choir, one of the UK's finest choirs and the flagship early music ensemble for Birmingham and the West Midlands. The programme consisted of works by composers such as Tallis, Byrd and Gibbons. It took place at the beautiful Birmingham Oratory, a Roman Catholic church.

An oratory is a place of prayer, or a room or building for private worship. It also refers to a society of priests without vows founded in Rome in 1564 known in full as The Oratory of St Philip Neri or the Congregation of the Fathers of the Oratory whose purpose was to preach in a plain style to uneducated congregations. Inspired by the original Roman oratory, John Henry Newman (18011890) founded the first English oratory near Birmingham in 1848. During Newman's lifetime a temporary building was established on the site of the present-day building on 22 November 1853. It was not long after Newman's death that it was felt a more fitting, permanent church should be built to mark and honour him. The foundation stone of the new church was laid on 25 March 1903 and the church, having been in use for some three years, was solemnly opened on 8 December 1909. Steps are currently being taken to propose Cardinal Newman for sainthood.

The rather austere façade of the Birmingham Oratory gives little clue of its spectacular interior.

  Views of the nave (left) and the dome (below)
of the Oratory.




(Right) The Lady Chapel. This beautiful 17th-century altar came with its altar rails from the church of Sant’ Andrea della Valle in Rome. The statue of Mary is a wooden replica of Notre Dame des Victoires (Our Lady of the Victories) in Paris. The two columns of rare Siberian onyx were part of a set of six originally acquired for Westminster Cathedral and were added in 1914.

The high altar is based on the famous Certosa at Pavia, Italy; and the tabernacle, circular and surmounted by a dome supported by metal gilt columns, is based on that in St Peter’s in Rome. The Latin motto behind the high altar from Isaiah, 'Domus mea Domus Orationis vocabitur', means 'My House shall be called a House of Prayer'.

... and Coldplay

There was quite a change of scene on Tuesday, 5 July, when I travelled up to the Reebok Stadium in Bolton to attend the final night of Coldplay's current UK tour. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that this was the first time that I'd ever attended a live rock concert.

The members of Coldplay are Jonny Buckman, Chris Martin, Guy Berryman and Will Champion.


The Reebok Stadium in Bolton.


OK, so from where I was positioned the members of the band looked quite small, and I caught most of the action off the large video screens mounted on both sides of the stage. But there was something special about seeing Coldplay live, and taking in the energetic atmosphere generated by the 30,000 people in the stadium all on their feet, waving their hands in the air, clapping and singing along to the songs. A reflection of the time there were as many people holding up mobile phones to take photographs and record videos as there were waving lit cigarette lighters.


All the photographs are of various concerts from
the Coldplay website — I didn't have my camera with me.
But they give you an idea of what it was like.

Things which sucked Things which rocked Things which showed that
I am (or always have been)
a boring git
bulletShivering in the rain outside the Reebok Stadium waiting to be admitted at 4:00 pm, and discovering that my windbreaker isn't as impervious to water as I thought.
bulletHaving to buy a blue emergency plastic poncho from an enterprising salesman for £3.
bulletIcky toilets.
bulletHaving to wait five hours (from 4:00 to 9:00 pm) before Coldplay finally began their set — two other bands, Doves and Morning Runner, opened the concert.

Getting to the venue early and finding a seat with a good view of the stage.


Potato-and-meat pie for dinner washed down with hot chocolate.


The rain stopped and rays of the evening sun broke out into the stadium.


Clapping and singing along to favourite songs from Coldplay's albums, Parachutes, A Rush of Blood to the Head, and X&Y.


Participating in the live recording of a music video (complete with pyrotechnics) of Coldplay's finale number, Fix You — and therefore getting to hear the band performing the song twice!


Wimping out and deciding to take a seat in the stands rather than braving the mosh pit. (Which was probably a good idea in the end since I would have been dwarfed by the other audience members.)


Am I the only one who noticed that the music, including Chris Martin's voice, was off key? Guess it's hard to reproduce the quality of a studio at a live venue.

All photographs © June–July 2005 Jack Tsen-Ta Lee, except those of Coldplay and the Reebok Stadium.

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