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.

‘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.


We remember them 100 years after 1918 Armistice

Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir

Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir

 

 

 

 

 

Our Remembrance concert is being hosted in Worcester, almost exactly 100 years to the day of the 1918 Armistice.

Gabriel Fauré

Gabriel Fauré

The central part of the evening of words and music, in St Martin’s Church, London Road, will be a performance of a new chamber ensemble arrangement of Fauré’s Requiem, featuring violin, cello, harp and organ.

The readings will be given by Gabrielle Bullock and Stephen will conduct us in the first concert of our musical milestone year.

Taking place on November 10 at 7.30pm, the evening heralds our 20th anniversary season, a year in which a gala dinner, a performance of Brahms German Requiem, featuring the composer’s arrangement for two piano accompaniment, and an anniversary cathedral Evensong and reception are planned.

Celebrations for this special year have been in the pipeline for some time but were originally completely unforeseen when, in 1998, then lay clerk Stephen Shellard outlined his dream to lead and conduct his own choir to Worcester Cathedral’s Chapter.

“I wanted to gather together the best amateur singers from across the Worcestershire diocese and beyond to form the first male and female choir to sing in the cathedral in its 900-plus years, but I never envisioned that it would be here 20 years later and such a successful and established part of the Cathedral and Worcester’s musical life,” reflects Stephen, now Senior Lay Clerk.

“Now the first concert of our anniversary season is coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the Armistice and will feature moving words and music in tribute to all those who have fought and died in the line of duty since the First World War.” 

Tickets for the Remembrance concert ( £12, under 16s half price), are available on 01386 860389 and at the door. For more information, go to www.worcestercathedralchamberchoir.co.uk. You can also find the choir on Facebook, Google + Instagram and Twitter (@WCCC2).

 

Poster

Royal Wedding revisited – musically!

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry couldn’t have timed their wedding better, says our musical director Stephen Shellard.

The day, when the world’s gaze will be trained upon Windsor Castle to see the sixth in line to the throne tie the knot, comes just one week before we perform highlights from our latest recording Royal Worcester – A Celebration of Music for Royal Occasions.

Our disc already includes music heard at William and Kate’s 2011 wedding and the concert, in Crowle’s St John the Baptist Church on May 26, will include pieces familiar from other magisterial events down the centuries, such as coronations and jubilee celebrations.

“We wish the royal couple all the best for the future – and thank them for choosing the date they did,” grins Stephen.  “Some of the most beautiful, uplifting and rousing music has been performed at royal weddings and if you like what you heard at Harry’s wedding, we can give you another ‘live’ taste a week after.”

The concert, whose title Royal Worcester also references the world-famous Worcester Porcelain factory, heralds the start of a busy year for us as we celebrate our 20th anniversary.

Our group was stablished by Stephen, Senior Lay Clerk at Worcester Cathedral, who wanted to create a group of high quality local singers with a prestigious concert repertoire and to further enrich the cathedral’s own choral tradition. 

We now sing regularly at services and also guest at other churches in the diocese. Our Nine Lessons and Carols services at Kempsey in recent years have proved particularly popular.

We are also proud of our established concert repertoire and have also been asked to perform with other artists, including rock legend Rick Wakeman. Our current CD, which is available from the Cathedral Shop and on Spotify, Amazon Music and iTunes, is the latest addition to a growing catalogue of recordings.

Future events lined up for our anniversary year include a a trip to Lichfield Cathedral for a joint performance with its own chamber choir of Haydn’s Missa in tempore belli a celebration weekend of singing Cathedral services and a gala dinner.

Our Crowle performance is due to start at 7.30pm and will include works such as Handel’s Zadok the Priest and I Was Glad, by Parry.  Tickets are available from the church, Crowle Post Office or on 01905 381820. 

Stephen Shellard

Harry and Meghan couldn’t have timed their wedding better, says our MD Stephen Shellard

May 26 concert poster

Royal Worcester CD

Our latest CD, Royal Worcester – Music for Royal Occasions

We are glad – October concert posters are out

The arrival of the posters and printers for our next concert have made us very glad indeed.
They herald our October 15 celebration of English music, a sparkling occasion which will also anticipate our forthcoming CD Royal Worcester.

With classics such as Zadok the Priest, Purcell’s Rejoice in the Lord Alway, Howells’s Behold Oh God Our Defender and, of course, I Was Glad – both Parry’s much-loved familiar version and the lesser known Purcell arrangement – the evening and CD are destined to be two crowning moments for Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir.

The concert will take on a slightly nautical flavour too when baritone William Thomas joins us to perform Charles V Stanford’s Songs of the Fleet.

Conducted by Stephen Shellard and with accompaniment from Richard Cook, the evening promises to be a right royal musical feast.

Venue: St Martin’s Church, London Road, WR5 2ED. 19.30pm. Tickets: £10/£5(under 16s & students). 01386 860389

I was Glad poster

Concert focuses on hope and remembrance

THE theme of Hope and Remembrance is very much behind Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir’s concert, taking place in St Martin’s Church on November 7.
Fauré’s Requiem, could not be more fitting for Remembrance Weekend, while JS Bach’s Jesu Meine Freude, containing passages from the scriptures which speak of Christ freeing man from sin and death, represents hope.
Both also offer some of the most sublime music.  Musical director Stephen Shellard conducts the choir, accompanied by Christopher Allsop on the organ.
The concert begins at 7.30pm and tickets (£10 or £5 to students and under 16s), are available on 01386 860389 or on the door.