St Cecilia – a saint of note

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We sing about her, we have concerts in her honour – but who was St Cecilia and why is she the patron saint of musicians?

Well she’s thought to have come from one of third century Rome’s aristocratic and wealthy families and was said to have worn sackcloth next to her skin and constantly called upon the angels, saints and virgins to preserve her own maidenhood.

That didn’t stop her being given in marriage to the Roman Valerian but she is said to have spent the ceremony singing ‘in her heart’ to God or listening to heavenly music. No doubt Valerian was delighted when she told him on the wedding night that she had taken a vow of virginity and was now protected by an angel.

Understandably, her new husband was quite keen to see this angel,but his wife told him that wouldn’t be possible until he had travelled part way along one of Rome’s most important roads, the Via Appia and been baptised by the Pope.

This he duly did and returned to see the angel, who is then said to have crowned Cecilia with a garland of roses and lilies. Word of all this reached Valerian’s brother Tibertius who responded with his own baptism and the brothers went on to dedicate their lives to burying those killed for their faith by the city’s then prefect. The siblings were ultimately executed for their trouble.

Cecilia, meanwhile, spent her life preaching and was said to have converted over 400 people as a result but this, too, led to her arrest. She was condemned to die by suffocation in the public baths. However, despite being shut up for around 48 hours as the fires were stoked to a blazing heat, she survived – without even breaking a sweat.

So the city’s same prefect then ordered her decapitation. She was struck three times but lived on for another three days while crowds visited, collecting her blood as she continued to preach and pray.

She is buried under the high altar of her titular church in Trastevere, Rome, and is regarded as the patroness of musicians/music because of all she heard and sang on her wedding day.

Our concert, in St Martin’s Church, London Road, Worcester, comes one day after her feast day, November 22. For tickets please visit our home page or Eventbrite.

Singing aloud for St Cecilia

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We’re raising our voices to celebrate the patron saint of musicians at our next event.

O Sing Aloud! will encompass a wide range of composers and genres for the St Cecilia concert, due to take place in St Martin’s Church, London Road, Worcester, on November 23.

The programme spans the globe: France, Britain and America, the centuries: Purcell, Mozart, Vaughan Williams and Gershwin; and is interspersed with items from local musicians.

Worcester’s Ian Venables has created the piece from which the concert takes its title and ‘Three meditations’ have come from city-born Steven Kings.

The performance ends on an upbeat feel with a series of classic American songs arranged by former Worcester Cathedral Director of Music Dr Donald Hunt.

Readings reflecting the evening’s theme will be performed by Gabrielle Bullock and Vaughan Williams’ classic The Lark Ascending will be sent soaring aloft by violinist Shulah Oliver

Christopher Allsop, King’s School’s Assistant Director of Music, provides organ and piano accompaniment for the evening that, under the baton of Stephen Shellard, also includes Faure and Parry.

Tickets are available from Eventbrite or via www.worcestercathedralchamberchoir.co.uk

Larking About: facts behind our St Cecilia celebration centrepiece

Image by David Mark from Pixabay 

One of the central pieces of our St Cecilia celebration concert is Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending.

This lush, evocative work is more often than not performed with violin and orchestra, but it was originally scored for violin and piano. That is how it will be heard in St Martin’s Church on November 23.

Vaughan Williams began working on the piece in 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War. He did not score it for orchestra until 1920.

Here’s a few more ‘did you knows?’ about this most English of English-sounding music.

  1. The work was inspired by George Meredith’s poem of the same name.
  2. Vaughan Williams said that tune came into his head on a cliff walk while holidaying in Margate and he stopped to make some notes. This was on the first day of World War One and ships were holding fleet exercises off the coast. The composer then found himself under a citizen’s arrest by a keen young scout who thought he was a spy scribbling down details of the English coastline.
  3. Actor Peter Sallis  (Last of the Summer Wine and the voice of Wallace of Wallace and Gromit fame) is said to have requested that a copy of The Lark Ascending be buried with him.
  4. The Lark Ascending regularly tops the polls.  This year it regained number one status in the Classic FM Hall of Fame chart after a rare slip to number three in 2018. It has also been voted the nation’s favourite Desert Island Discs track and, in a 2011 American radio survey, New Yorkers ranked it number two as the music they most wanted to hear to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Twin Towers attacks.
  5. Dedicated to violinist Marie Hall, she gave the work its first performance in Bristol in 1920.  Adrian Boult led the orchestral debut in London the following year.

We’re delighted to welcome Shulah Oliver onto our concert platform for this performance. One of the Chamber Music @ Worcester Festival’s founders and artistic directorial team, she regularly performs concertos and gives recitals throughout the UK and Europe.

Tickets for our concert, which also includes Serenade to Music are available from Eventbrite.

‘A glorious performance’. Brahms German Requiem – review

Michael Whitefoot Photography

St Martin’s Church, London Road, Worcester, Saturday, April 6 2019

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir chose to programme Johannes Brahms’s magnificent Ein Deutsches Requiem (German Requiem); but with a difference. Instead of the usual orchestral accompaniment, we were treated to an arrangement for two pianos that used Brahms’s original 1869 version for piano duet as its basis. 

Having only known the orchestral score, I was inevitably a little apprehensive as to whether this version would work. Brahms, a master writer for the piano did not leave the score wanting: neither too, did the choir. They gave a glorious performance (in German) under the insightful and energetic direction of their conductor Stephen Shellard.

 Any doubts I may have had about this version were swept aside by the majestic opening movement ‘Blessed are they that mourn’. Even the sumptuous orchestral introduction was beautifully captured by the deep and sonorous legato lines of the two pianos, expertly played by Christopher Allsop and Robin Walker. From the perfectly paced opening, Stephen Shellard drew impassioned singing from the choir. Indeed, the choral singing throughout was compelling, incisive and well-balanced. 

Of the performance’s many high points, I was especially impressed by the mighty chorus, ‘Behold, all flesh is as grass’, where the virtuosic piano writing and vigorous fugal textures added greatly to the drama. Equally striking was the thrilling singing in ‘For we have here no abiding city’. The faster sections were taken at a breathtaking pace with the pianos’ percussive incisiveness adding greatly to the overall excitement and rhythmic drive. 

The soloists too added much to the success of this performance. Baritone Edward Seymour possessed a wonderfully lyrical tone and sang his solos with deft assurance, while soprano Sheila Davies was the highly expressive singer in ‘Now you have sorrow’; her bell-like clarity emerging most pleasingly against the backdrop of chorus and piano accompaniment.

Brahms envisaged his German Requiem essentially as consolation for those left behind. This concept reached its peak in the final movement, ‘Blessed are the dead’ and in spite of the valedictory nature of such a work, The German Requiem rises memorably in hushed affirmation. 

The audience’s enthusiastic and appreciative response brought this 20th Anniversary Concert to a close and left many wondering what the next twenty years would bring: watch this space!

Ian Venables

Michael Whitefoot Photography
Michael Whitefoot Photography
Michael Whitefoot Photography
Michael Whitefoot Photography
Michael Whitefoot Photography
Michael Whitefoot Photography

Playing a key role

Brahms’ German Requiem is a repertoire staple of choirs around the world but usually with an accompanying orchestra. It is not often performed with a two-piano accompaniment.

For our 20th anniversary concert, Robin Walker steps out from his regular weekly rehearsal accompanist role to join King’s School Assistant Director of Music and Worcester Festival Choral Society’s conductor Christopher Allsop at the keyboard.

The fact that experienced organist, pianist, choirmaster and teacher Robin also works at King’s School has proved a bonus.

“Working under the same roof has been particularly useful for rehearsals,” he says. “Christopher and I have not played together before and it has been an enjoyable and very useful experience. Using two pianos throws us a few more challenges, such as keeping the big chords together of particular note!

“Just synchronising everything, particularly in the more energetic moments, takes some practice,” agrees Christopher.

“But it’s such a wonderful score that it’s a privilege to be able to play it on one’s own instrument.  Also, working with a pianist colleague like Robin is rewarding, both socially and musically.  Both of us working at King’s has certainly made scheduling rehearsals together easier!”

Practising has also required two pianos. “This arrangement uses all of both keyboards, so you would keep crashing into each other if there were two of us at just one piano.” explains Christopher. 

However, audiences need not think they’ll be hearing a ‘cut down’ version of the full orchestral score.

“While both of us get a good share of the orchestral writing, very often the independent piano parts are quite different, adding variety,” says Robin.

For our conductor Stephen, using the piano version neatly avoids the possibility of repeating the disaster of the work’s 1867 premiere.

“A timpanist wrongly read an instruction to play at full volume and proceeded to drown out part of the Third Movement,” he reveals.  “A contemporary critic wrote that the singers were intent on ‘shouting each other down wildly,’.  Maybe they were trying to drown out the percussive din.”

The concert takes place in St Martin’s Church, London Road, on Saturday, April 6, at 7.30pm. Tickets are available from Eventbrite, from 01386 860389 or on the door.


A touch of gloss

We love it when our concert activities make the news, so we’re singing the praises of Country Lifestyle and Leisure Magazine, which recently supported our 20th Anniversary Brahms Requiem concert with this great article on one of its glossy pages.

We’re now on the home straight with our preparations for this concert in St Martin’s Church, London Road, Worcester, on April 6 (tickets available through the link on our home page or here). Featuring the composer’s own two-piano arrangement, it’s going to be something special.

You can read the County Lifestyle and Leisure Magazine article online here.

Countymag

Just the ticket

Now it’s even easier to buy tickets for all our concerts. Now available via Eventbrite, they’re just a click or two away when you follow the links on our home page or on our Facebook event listings.

Currently available are tickets for our 20th Anniversary Concert – Brahms Eine Deutsches Requiem – on April 6, 7.30pm, in St Martin’s Church, London Road, Worcester.

We’ll post purchasing details for future events as and when they’re available.

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

We are part of Elgar Festival 2019!

We are so excited and honoured to be joining the English Symphony Orchestra for this festival performance of Donald Fraser’s acclaimed choral arrangement of Elgar’s Sea Pictures.

It is such a privilege to be part of this concert that is also a 100th anniversary gala celebration of Sir Edward’s Cello Concerto, which will be performed by world-leading musician Raphael Wallfisch in the cathedral.

With the theme ‘Elgar for Everyone’ festival organisers are determined to engage people of all ages and walks of life in the legacy and music of the city’s world famous son. A jam-packed programme of activities includes the chance to play one of the great man’s own pianos.

For Raphael Wallfisch the Elgar festival’s ethos couldn’t be better demonstrated than through the Cello Concerto, which was conceived during the dark years of the First World War as Elgar recuperated from an operation. However it was initially a flop.

“Elgar was to conduct the London Symphony Orchestra and the young British cellist Felix Salmond but the rest of the programme, at the Queen’s Hall that October 1919, was conducted by Albert Coates, who was in fact my wife’s grandfather,” says Raphael Wallfisch. “Albert took the bulk of the rehearsal time, and a mere 30 minutes were left for the concerto. 

“The performance was not good and the orchestra unprepared. The public and critics were puzzled and unsure about the new work and Felix never played it again.

“It took a number of years, and distance from the Edwardian era and World War 1, for it to be realised how powerfully evocative and nostalgic the music is. I am greatly looking forward to performing this now beloved work in Worcester with the ESO.”

The June 1 gala evening also includes Vaughan Williams’s Fifth Symphony.  

Other festival concerts include music from professional chamber choir The Proteus Ensemble, Elgar and Debussy sonatas from violin virtuoso Zoë Beyers and a song recital featuring the more familiar voice and piano version of Sea Pictures.

Alongside this busy programme are educational workshops, talks, poetry readings, a new version of the Elgar Trail, a Cello Day for families and young people and an Elgar for Everyone Family Concert in Malvern College, hosted by narrator Ben Humphrey.

“Every once in a while, we need to step back from a very popular work like the Cello Concerto and remind ourselves of why it resonates so deeply with so many millions of listeners,” says Elgar Festival Artistic Director Kenneth Woods. 

“We want the festival to create the conditions whereby even the most jaded Elgar fan can hear this most personal work with fresh ears.

“The Cello Concerto was my pathway into the world of this great composer whose music has had such a profound influence on my life,” he continues. 

“From my first encounter with it as a young cellist in America, it cast a spell on me, and after all the times I’ve since played it, heard it and conducted it, its power and honesty continues to amaze me. 

“To conduct this 100th anniversary performance  with Raphael in Elgar’s home city, in the shadow of the Malvern Hills whose profile helped inspire the work’s opening melody, is more than a dream come true. I would never have dared dream something so crazy, so unlikely. I can’t wait.”

For full booking and event information, go to http://elgarfestival.org/whats-on/ or visit the event’s

page.

Donning our fund-raising dancing shoes

Ae ye dancin’? We’re is swapping singing for Stripping the Willow – and want you to join us.

We’re putting on our dancing shoes for a fund-raising ceilidh this Saturday, February 9, and, with a bow to the recent Burns Night celebrations, are including a haggis supper in the ticket price.

Featuring Midlands barn dance band The Cat’s Whiskers the 7.30pm evening (to which you’ll need to bring your own bottle) is shaping up to be a note-worthy event.

Tickets cost £15 and are available from Jenny Smith on 0788 2417858. For further information visit the choir’s Facebook page or go to www.worcestercathedralchamberchoir.co.uk