Madrid this weekend.
I had been invited out of the blue last September to come and work with the Madrid Choral Society on their upcoming performance of Mendelssohn's "Elias".
My unsteady Spanish having ensured it was vocal classes that were needed, not any form of conducting, (a relief for all) I tackled the problem of sharing vocal ideas with one hundred singers in ten hours of classes over a weekend.
My own Spanish vocabulary can be counted on the fingers of one finger. I didn't want to spend too much time talking. Even Google Translate can only get you so far. I also wanted to explore the physicality of singing and see how far ideas I had gleaned about the origins of music, language and gesture could be put into practical form.
Elaine and I arrived in, appropriately enough for Elias, in a bone-dry and unseasonably warm Madrid, armed with a set of ten, language-free gestures designed to physicalise various aspects of the craft of singing, and ten dramatic exercises, each based around a different chorus from Elias. We had our fingers crossed.
What followed were some of the most extraordinary scenes and some of the most expressive singing I have witnessed in a rehearsal room.
The singers were amazing. So full of energy and enthusiasm and willing to try anything that was thrown at them:
We had a contemptuous Baal, surrounded by four diminutive lady bodyguards, impervious to the pleas of the surging chorus.
We saw desperate sopranos and altos clambering around, over, and even between the legs of the tenors and basses, urging Elias to return to the Lord's work in Israel.
The final fugue Herr Unser Herrscher was transformed into jazz, scat-sung, doo-be-doo pianissimo, sung freely dancing all around the room, each new entry marked by a trumpet-like da da da-dah da.
Finally, pretty much the most moving final Amen I have ever heard as the singers took all the trials, tribulations, hopes and fears of the entire piece in their hands and raised them up to the Heavens. Amazing.
Along the way, Elaine and I were treated to superb hospitality: Jamón Ibérico in the breaks, a splendid communal lunch where desserts ranged from custard in a cup to an apple on a plate and a booking made for us at a restaurant serving the best traditional cocido madrileña which, ten hours later, is still keeping us going.
Wonderfully, we have been asked back in the Autumn of this year to work on Bach's St John Passion. Can't wait.
Oh yes. I almost forgot. Three days, three paellas