St Cecilia sister act …

One of our soloists’ role in our forthcoming concert makes it not only celebration of the patron saint of music – it’ll be a family affair too.

Our soloist Sarah Kings.

Soprano Sarah Kings will be taking the lead in one of our music for St Cecilia’s Day pieces from across the centuries – Meditations, composed by her brother.

It’s not the first time she’s performed sibling Steven’s music but she always finds every opportunity a proud moment, even if it does bring an additional pressure to those that come with being one of the choir’s regular soloists. 

“I want to give my best,” she says, “but I’m also aware the audience won’t necessarily know the piece, which can take the pressure off a bit!”

It’s obviously a help having your composer on hand for any performance tips and, says Sarah, a choir member for 18 years, Steven is always happy to help.

“Although it tends to be more about what he means and is trying to achieve than the mechanics of singing, which he leaves (in this case) to our conductor Stephen Shellard.” she adds.

Steven and Sarah are Worcester born and bred. He attended Kings School and, now living in Bristol, his roles include accompanist and assistant chorus master to the Bristol Choral Society and the BBC National Chorus of Wales. He also conducts several choirs and is a seasoned pianist, soloist and chamber musician.

He has earned several awards and nominations for composing and his works have been performed at Worcester’s Three Choirs Festival, around Bristol and beyond.

Sarah went to the girls’ grammar school before gaining a music degree and pursuing careers in stock broking and IT. She is currently a carer for her father. 

A conducting engagement means Steven can’t attend Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir’s O Sing Aloud! concert in St Martin’s Church, London Road, but Sarah knows he’ll be there in spirit. “He does do the proud brother bit,” she grins. “The sibling pride is usually mutual!”

O Sing Aloud! is on November 23 and also includes works by fellow Worcester composer Ian Venables, an arrangement of American classics by former Worcester Cathedral Director of Music, Dr Donald Hunt. 

Performing Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending is violinist Shula Oliver and readings will be delivered by Gabrielle Bullock.  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 Fauré, Mozart 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.

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

‘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 Worcester – CD & concert dish up a majestic musical feast

Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir is to royally entertain the entire nation with the release of a majestic new CD.

Royal Worcester – A Celebration of Music for Royal Occasions, goes on UK release

after its official launch at a special concert in the city on Monday, July 24.

The regal occasion, in St Martin’s Church, London Road, will be a crowning moment of two appearances during Worcester’s Three Choirs week by the singers who come from across Worcestershire and Herefordshire.

The disc, recorded in Worcester Cathedral earlier this year, is the brainchild of the choir’s Musical Director Stephen Shellard who wanted highlight the building’s centuries of connection with Royalty.

“In the last year we have celebrated the life of King John, who was the catalyst for the celebrated Magna Carta and is buried at Worcester Cathedral, which is also the resting place of Prince Arthur whose death, at just 15, paved the way for his brother to inherit the throne as Henry VIII,” he explains.

“The CD’s title also reflects references the world-famous Worcester Porcelain factory which was granted the Royal Warrant in 1789 by George III.

“We are very grateful to the Portmeirion Group for allowing us to use Royal Worcester as  the disc’s title.”

The disc – and concert – features music spanning 500 years of royal ceremonies, ranging from the eternally popular Coronation favorites such as ‘Zadok the Priest’ by Handel  and ‘I Was Glad’ (Hubert Parry and Henry Purcell), to the lesser known but equally powerful ‘Behold O God Our Defender’ (Howells) and ‘O Hearken Thou’ (Elgar) as well as ‘Blest Pair of Sirens’ (Parry), which was sung at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Royal Worcester also features organ solos from Worcester Cathedral’s Assistant Director of Music Christopher Allsop and newly appointed Sub Assistant organist Richard Cook who joins the choir for the concert which is due to begin at 7.30pm.

It will be the second consecutive performance in two days for the Chamber Choir, which is also leading the Three Choirs Festival opening Evensong on Saturday, July 22nd at 5.30pm.

Concert tickets cost £10 (U16s half price) and are available from 01386 860389 and on the door.

Copies of the CD can be bought during the evening, from the Cathedral shop or ordered from the choir’s website. In the near future the CD will also will also be available for online streaming.

This is the first recording to be released under the Chamber Choir’s own Pink Giraffe label.  The name has been inspired by the pink giraffe depicted as being held by Adam in one of the medallions of the West Window which illustrates the Creation of Animal Life (see photo).

 

 

Stephen Shellard with the Royal Worcester CD

Stephen Shellard, Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir’s Musical Director next to King John’s tomb, with a copy of the new CD which is being launched in a concert in St Martin’s Church, Worcester, on June 24.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two special concert guests

Our music director Stephen Shellard was delighted to welcome the Mayor of Worcester Councillor Paul Denham and his wife Lynn as our special guests to our concert I Was Glad, in Worcester’s St Martin’s Church on Saturday, October 15. It was the first time we had invited the city’s mayor and mayoress to one of our performances and their attendance was much appreciated by all of us.

 

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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