Spain: The Oratory Schola Tour Diary
The Schola Cantorum of The London Oratory School toured Spain in February 2015. Details of the programme and schedule can be found here.
The first full day of the tour, Saturday 14 February, began with some sightseeing. There was a great sense of anticipation amongst the boys about visiting the Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid, home to Real Madrid, one of the most successful football teams in Europe.
The stadium is one of the largest ever built and the tour included the team’s remarkable trophy collection, representing hundreds of successes going back decades. Leaving the Bernabeu, we drove to El Escorial, the famous Monastery and Palace built by Philip II of Spain. Although the Escorial’s own choristers were away at the time, we were welcomed into the choir school by the headmaster and choirmaster who gave us lunch in the refectory.
We then went to rehearse in the Basilica before taking a guided tour around the Palace, visiting in particular the rooms of Philip II and the Royal Mausoleum, situated beneath the High Altar in the Basilica.
After the tour we returned to the refectory for hot chocolate before robing for the Mass.
Mass was followed by a recital sung from the steps of the Altar. Of particular significance was a performance of Alonso Lobo’s Versa est in luctum which was written for the Requiem of Philip II.
After Mass we went into the town for a wonderful supper at Las Viandas. We took the coach back to our hotel in Madrid.
The following day we walked to Almudena Cathedral in Madrid where we had a brief rehearsal before singing the midday Mass.
We sang from the vantage point of the high west gallery. Afterwards there was a chance for some of the boys to see their parents before we set off on a walking tour of central Madrid, taking in the Palace, the Opera House, the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales where the composer Victoria served as Chaplain, and also the Church which is built on the site of Victoria’s grave.
The afternoon was spent in the Prado gallery and we divided into groups to go around, taking in the paintings which the boys had learned about back in London: The Last Supper by Juan de Juanes (1475-1545), The Cardinal by Raphael (1483-1520), The Annunciation by Fra Angelico (1395-1455), The Crucifixion by Velázquez (1599-1660), The Immaculate Conception by Murillo (1617-1682), The Annunciation and The Nativity by El Greco (1541-1614), Mary Tudor by Anthonis Mor (1517-1577) and the boys’ favourite, the gruesome Saturn devouring his son by Goya (1746-1828). The boys also enjoyed many other paintings which they had not seen before, including the Prado’s own version of the Mona Lisa, painted by students of Da Vinci. We spent a great deal of time in the shop afterwards and many of the boys bought posters of the paintings they had seen. In the evening we went for dinner at Los Galayos in the Plaza Mayor.
On Monday we had a very early start and set off for Segovia. The coach dropped us at the Roman Aquaduct, the largest remaining Roman construction in Spain, and we walked up to the Cathedral.
During the winter months, the Cathedral’s Masses are all held in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel due to the cold. We rehearsed before Mass at 10am. The elderly priest was moved to tears when he heard us sing Exsultate iusti by Viadana, a piece he remembered singing as a boy in the Segovia Cathedral choir some sixty years ago. We also sang two motets by Sebastián de Vivanco, who was Choir Master at Segovia Cathedral.
After Mass we gave a recital of movements from Victoria’s Requiem.
Segovia TV filmed some of our recital which you can see in their feature here:
Afterwards we were taken on a guided tour of the magnificent Cathedral.
We had lunch in the town before driving on to our next destination, Toledo, where we were to sing the evening Mass. Stopping outside Toledo, we enjoyed the wonderful view and took the opportunity to take some photos.
We then visited the church of Santo Tomé and saw The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, considered to be one of El Greco’s most famous works.
Then a brief visit to a sweet shop before we arrived at the Cathedral to rehearse in the San Pedro Chapel.
After our rehearsal we visited the Cathedral’s sacristy, adorned with fabulous El Grecos.
We sang the 6.30pm Mass in the main Cathedral, with the Schola situated in the Choir, at quite some distance to the Mass itself, which was celebrated at the High Altar.
After Mass we moved to the steps of the High Altar, standing beneath the extraordinary reredos for which the Cathedral is so famous. From there we gave a short recital, once again including Versa est in luctum, particularly appropriate as the composer, Alonso Lobo, was Choir Master at Toledo Cathedral.
We went for dinner at El Cardenal before returning to Madrid. Our final day involved the most travelling. We set off towards Salamanca where we were to perform in the evening, breaking our journey in Avila. There was some snow there as we walked through the walled city to visit the Convent of St Teresa of Jesus, the birthplace of the Saint better known as Teresa of Avila.
We also visited Avila Cathedral where the composers Vivanco and Victoria sang together as boy choristers.
After lunch we continued to Salamanca where the boys had some time to shop before our rehearsal at the Iglesia de la Purisima. Part of the rehearsal was filmed by Salamanca Television, after which one of our Spanish-speaking choristers was interviewed.
We had dinner near the church and then sang our concert to a large and appreciative audience.
It was a fitting way for our tour to end, and wonderful to return home the next day with so many happy memories.
I would like to express my gratitude to the school staff on the tour: Fr George Bowen, Sue Burden Griffiths, Dominic Sullivan & Christopher Wotherspoon. Also Anna Winstone our Tour Manager from ACFEA, Damian Stent our courier, and Maria Gonzalez-Merello our translator and Media Manager. And above all, the hard-working boys of the Schola. Charles Cole