Manchester Camerata performs first concerts in its new home at the previously derelict Gorton Monastery
The Monastery in Gorton is a former friary which became derelict when its congregation dwindled in the 1970s, and was on a list of the world's 100 most endangered sites
The Manchester Camerata has performed its first concerts since lockdown, but not in the traditional concert halls you might expect. The ensemble's new home is the Monastery in Gorton, a former friary which became derelict in the 1970s when the congregation moved away and the population and landscape of Manchester changed. At this time, it was even featured on the World Monuments Fund Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World alongside the Taj Mahal, the ancient city of Pompeii and the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. A group of volunteers later helped repair the damage and brought the venue back to life over a period of two decades. The Manchester Camerata now calls the Monastery home, having recently opened its offices in its wings and hosted its first concerts in the main hall.
The ensemble's first concert in its new home was titled Resonance, with a programme comprising pieces chosen specifically for how they would interact with the natural acoustics of the space.
Gesualdo's O crux benedicta created a sense of stillness in the Great Nave of the building, before the Camerata moved into the 21st century with Steve Reich's throbbing work for strings, wind, piano and electric bass, Pulse. A moving rendition of Gavin Bryars's Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet paid homage to the monastery's religious past. The piece is centred around a recording of a homeless man singing a gospel hymn, which is looped throughout the duration of the work. A new, broader string arrangement of Caroline Shaw's Entr'acte was captured beautifully by the Camerata, with the addition of a double bass part adding further richness to Shaw's work, originally written for string quartet. The concert drew to a close with Oliver Leith's Honey Siren, which reverberated around the monastery's space and recreated of the sound of sirens with uncanny accuracy.
The Manchester Camerata has moved into The Monastery ahead of its 50th anniversary next year. The ensemble is currently five albums through its recording cycle with pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet of Mozart Piano Concertos.
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Freya Parr is BBC Music Magazine's Digital Editor and Staff Writer. She has also written for titles including the Guardian, Circus Journal, Frankie and Suitcase Magazine, and runs The Noiseletter, a fortnightly arts and culture publication. Freya's main areas of interest and research lie in 20th-century and contemporary music.