Sing for the morning’s joy Cecilia…

Our O Sing Aloud! programme covers a broad musical spectrum – and not all of it is about St Cecilia who, unsurprisingly, has inspired many composers to put pen to (paper) score.

Here’s a few examples to whet the appetite for November 23.

Purcell’s Ode to St Cecilia was commissioned in 1692 by the “Gentlemen Lovers of Musick” and, set a poem by the Rev Nicholas Brady, features 13 movements praising the saint, music, and instruments. It’s a bit of a benchmark piece as it heralds the start of the English secular choral tradition. At the time of composition, St Cecilia Day celebrations were civic entertainments staged for the entire population. For musicians it was a commercial venture and the Odes were performed in public concert halls. Our concert features three excerpts from work.

The stars clearly combined when Benjamin Britten came along.s He was born on St Cecilia’s Day (November 22) and so his Hymn to St Cecilia must have been somewhat inevitable. Although it wasn’t an easy process: Britten initially had problems in finding a suitable text which led to a request to poet WH Auden who produced the words in 1940. Much of the music was composed while Britten was in America but when he returned to England in 1942 US customs officials confiscated the first part, believing it was some kind of coded message. Britten had to rewrite the entire first section from memory.

Haydn was only young when he wrote Missa Cellensis in honorem Beatissimae Virginis Mariae – otherwise known as the St Cecilia Mass.  And he also had to write it from memory after the original manuscript was lost in a fire in1768. Seldom performed, it’s a heady mix of intricate fugues and elegant melodic lines.

Herbert Howells wrote his Hymn to St Cecilia using words from poet Ursula Vaughan Williams (aka Mrs Ralph Vaughan Williams) and, harking back to 17th century tradition, was commissioned by the Livery Club of the Worshipful Company of Musicians. Set for four-part choir and organ, it premiered on November 22,1961, in St Paul’s Cathedral.

If anyone was going to get a -er- Handel on all of this it was George Friedrich with his 1739 cantata Ode for St Cecilia’s Day.  He, again went to a poet for the text, this time England’s first Poet Lauret John Dryden, with its theme of music being a central force in Earth’s creation.

Tickets for O Sing Aloud! in St Martin’s Church, Worcester, on Saturday, November 23, are available here.

Serenade makes for a sublime musical heaven

In composing a homage to Sir Henry Wood, Vaughan Williams brought in words from greatest Bard of all time – and the result was sublime musical heaven. 

So what could be a fitting celebration to St Cecilia than Serenade to Music, which is the other highlight of our concert?

Written in 1938 to mark Sir Henry’s 50-year Proms conducting milestone, it features the words from Act V of The Merchant of Venice, in which Jessica and Lorenzo are listening to music.

Opening with ‘How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank’, Shakespeare pens a gloriously poetic discussion about music that stands alone before you add Vaughan Williams’s exquisite score.

The composer set it specifically for 16 leading singers of the time – their initials appear alongside his or her lines – but eventually arranged versions for chorus, soloists and orchestra and for solo violin and orchestra. 

In the original, some parts see the soloists singing as a “choir,” often in as many as 12 parts; in others, they have a solo, some more than others.

Once premiered, it immediately became a Proms staple. Sir Henry himself, wrote thanking Vaughan Williams after that first performance, saying he thought it had “lent real distinction” to it and the work was performed in the following Proms four years straight.

And Sergei Rachmaninov, who was playing his own Piano Concerto no. 2 in C minor in that same inaugural concert, was said to have been moved to tears when he heard ‘Serenade’.

The season has since given it almost nearly 30 airings while Vaughan Williams conducted the original version in the 1951 inaugural concerts of the Royal Festival Hall.

“A fitting ending to 14 minutes of sublime poetry coupled with some of the composer’s most transcendent music: a divine pairing that ascends to heavenly heights and returns to earth with the harmonious strains of the angelic harp hovering in the air,” writes one author.

And what could be a better tribute to the patron saint of music herself? Come and hear it performed in St Martin’s Church, Worcester on Saturday, November 23.  Tickets here.

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

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

Singing the praises of our 20th anniversary

We are so excited as we launch our new season of concerts and events – this is the start of a year-long celebration of 20 years of music making!

A gala dinner, a performance of the Brahms Requiem, featuring the composer’s arrangement for two piano accompaniment, an anniversary Evensong and reception are the highlights of our forthcoming celebratory season, which formally begins with the County Harvest Service in the cathedral next month.

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, who, now Senior Lay Clerk, took up his post as a member of the Cathedral Choir upon arrival from his native Dublin in 1990.

He was given the go-ahead and not only is the rest history, he made history by including women’s voices in the cathedral’s musical life.

The ensuing years have seen us expand from singing at traditional services to successful concert performances, acclaimed CD recordings, touring ventures and even backing Brit Award-winning trio Blake and accompanying rock legend and ‘Grumpy Old Man’ Rick Wakeman.

Much of our repertoire draws on its Anglican church music heritage and includes Bach’s St John Passion, Handel’s Messiah and Vivaldi’s Gloria while its recording career has produced several successful albums. The latest, Royal Worcester – Music for Royal Occasions features music from 500 years of royal ceremonies and was released in 2017 under our own Pink Giraffe label.

There have been visits to Dublin and a key musical role in 2013’s Christmas and Easter’s Gloucester and Worcester Cathedrals’ Mystery Plays while in 2007 we sang in the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass that was broadcast live from the cathedral on BBC1. Our performance of two carols from that evening have, to date, notched up more than 67,000 views on YouTube.

This year we were specially invited to sing the Hallelujah Chorus at the opening ceremony of the prestigious RHS Malvern Spring Show.

“It’s been an amazing 20 years,” says our current Chairman who was there for our very first season, Phil Crowther. “Singing bass with all these talented people, learning new music, performing in the Cathedral and around the country. The choir has become an important part of my life.”

While our big anniversary concert (keep up to date on details by coming back here or follow us on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram) is not until next April there’s still plenty of rehearsing ahead. The harvest service is followed by a concert of Remembrance readings and music, including a special arrangement of Fauré’s Requiem, on November 10 in Worcester and there are plans to perform a choral version of Elgar’s Sea Pictures with the English Symphony Orchestra as part of next year’s Elgar Festival.

Stephen is also working with some local composers on some new commissions for the choir and has some other ideas up his conducting arm’s sleeve.

“Watch this space,” he grins. 

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80 x 2 not out!

Members of the choir celebrated the significant birthdays of two of our number this evening at the end of the rehearsal. Judith and Mary both celebrate their 80th birthday and we marked the occasion with cake and wine. The Precentor was on hand to act as wine waiter and the ladies were presented with cards and potted orchids.