Summer 2014 Newsletter

 

CONTENTS:

 

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From The Chair, Vivien Salisbury

Welcome Everyone to our summer newsletter.

I hope you have all been enjoying the summer weather and delights in the countryside and gardens, sports and music.  Now that Wimbledon and the World Cup are over, our thoughts will be turning again to holidays and the coming music season.

Lionel Largo has returned from his trip overseas to share with us in this newsletter another of his now famous appreciations of our most recent concert, giving the audience perspective.  Feedback so far from the Vaughan Williams Society and others has been very positive and the audience’s response showed their appreciation of this ambitious concert.  At the after concert “rubbing out” of the copies and social event on the following Monday, there was a real buzz amongst the choir from the performance.  We had enjoyed the ever glorious Faure piece and felt we had acquitted ourselves well with the unaccompanied Durufle “Ubi Caritas”.  Our opportunity to attend the workshop in London with Howard Goodall to study and sing his composition “Eternal Light”, gave us greater understanding and acquaintance with the work which came together so well with the St John’s orchestra and the excellent soloists.  The effect of the involvement of the orchestra and soloist when we sang the Vaughan Williams’ “Donna nobis pacem” was electric and many of us who had earlier found the piece challenging thought we would relish the opportunity to sing it again in the future.  Some in the audience said the concert was deeply affecting and our best yet – you will have to see below what Lionel made of it all!

We will be continuing the links with the start of the commemoration of the World War I this year with the inclusion of the Rathbone “Christmas Truce”, as well as undertaking the UK premiere of Andrew Gant’s “PsalmWorld”.  We are delighted with the news that the Finzi Society will be making a contribution to the concert as we are singing “In Terra Pax” and to start the concert we return to J C Bach’s “Magnificat”.  You will find John Cotterill, our Director of Music, has prepared pre-season notes on the music for the coming concerts and these are included with the newsletter.  We are very grateful to him for the work that he puts in to telling us so much of the context of the works and to his careful crafting of the programmes over time.

We are very excited that both composers of the new works will each be attending separately a rehearsal in November.  We are looking to see how we can best share this experience not only with Friends of the choir but also young students of music locally.  If anybody has good contacts with the local schools and colleges and could assist us with this endeavour, please do let us know.

Christopher Boyce, our librarian, does a stalwart job in getting copies of all the music in good time before the beginning of the term’s rehearsals.  I know many people already will have responded to his requests to know who will be singing with us next term.  We are always delighted to welcome back old friends and to see new faces amongst our singers, especially at the beginning of the term.

Everyone should have received notices of the AGM which will take place as usual at the start of our first rehearsal meeting in September.  A number of Committee members are reaching the end of their terms on the committee and we are looking for people to undertake this role.  It is quite a small and friendly body that meets usually only twice a term and once in late spring.  We do like to have fun whilst ensuring that the running of the choir and the concerts goes smoothly and the finances are managed well. If you or you know of any singers in the choir who would be prepared to join the committee, please do tell us, preferably in good time before the AGM.

Looking forward to seeing everyone again in September and wishing you all the best of summer,             Vivien

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FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR, JOHN COTTERILLPre-season Notes 2014 – 2015

Last April’s concert seems to have been a great success with Howard Goodall’s ‘Eternal light’ proving a real hit.  Well done everyone!  We now have another exciting season ahead and I’m sure we will have much to enjoy.

On 6 December we shall have the privilege and honour of singing the UK premiere of a new work by Andrew Gant called ‘PsalmWorld’, and I know most of you have already picked up a CD of it. I hope you will have enjoyed listening to it during the Summer, though it will of course have more meaning when you see the score. This work was commissioned by the organisation Classical Movements, Inc. for the choir and orchestra of Groton School in Massachusetts and was first performed there at Groton in May 2013. Its six movements are set to texts which progress from various translations of the Book of Psalms, the Latin Vulgate and the earliest English versions to Scottish and American Psalters of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The various moods of the psalm-texts (celebration, contemplation and penitence) ensure that the whole world of the human spirit is represented in words from all parts of the world – hence the title.  We should be proud to have the opportunity of giving the first UK performance of this very attractive work before it quickly takes its place among favourites with other choirs and audiences.  Andrew Gant read Music and English at St. John’s College, Cambridge and later gained his MMus. from the Royal Academy of Music where he studied composition and contemporary music.  He is now an established composer and conductor and also a lecturer in harmony and counterpoint at Oxford University. Between 2000 and 2013 he held the post of Organist, Choirmaster and Composer at Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal.

The other main work in this concert will be ‘Christmas Truce’ by Jonathan Rathbone who is well-known as a prolific composer with over 50 carols to his name as well as four Christmas cantatas of which ‘Christmas Truce’ is one.  For 8 years he was Music Director and arranger for the Swingle Singers, and for some of that time my daughter-in-law, Nikki, was the ‘stratospheric’ soprano in that group. The story of this work is well documented. On Christmas Eve 1914, the guns of the First World War fell silent, and the troops from both sides ventured into No Man’s Land, swapped Christmas gifts, perhaps played a friendly game of football and sang carols amidst the destruction around them. It must have felt so hopeful – surely the war could not last much longer.  Jonathan has taken a libretto by screen-writer, Graeme Curry, which draws on the soldiers’ eyewitness accounts from letters and memoirs detailing the gifts they exchanged , the carols that were sung, and telling of the joint burial services as they were at last able to honour their friends and colleagues who had fallen in No Man’s Land.  These texts are bound with poignant reminiscences of Christmasses past – snow, late-night cocoa around a homely fire, their families – and with contemporary poetry, traditional carols sung in English and German and the 23rd Psalm,the Lord is my Shepherd.  As well as the baritone soloist, a narrator, taking the part of a soldier in the trenches, unravels the story. How fitting this beautiful and emotional work will be in December 2014, marking the centenary of this extraordinary event.

Andrew and Jonathan have both agreed to attend our performance and to each take an earlier Monday rehearsal of their respective works, Andrew on 10 November and Jonathan on 17 November, so I do ask all members of the Choir to do their utmost to attend on both these dates and not to miss any rehearsals right from the start on 8 September, so that you are all fully conversant with all the music before they come.

Although these two works are the main items for this concert, it is not to say that the other two shorter pieces in the programme have less stature.  The Magnificat by Johann Christian Bach, the youngest son of the great Johann Sebastian, is a sparkling setting of Mary’s song of praise, a great joy to sing, and a fine example of the composer’s wealth of music so admired by Mozart. It will provide a wonderful opening to our programme and will introduce the soprano and baritone soloists as well as yourselves. The soprano will then take part in ‘PsalmWorld’, but will be joined by the baritone again after the interval for Gerald Finzi’s ‘In Terra Pax’.  This is a delightful Christmas scene set to words by Robert Bridges skilfully juxtaposed with a familiar passage from St. Luke.  With a simple sincerity of style, the piece unites all its feelings, images and familiar events into one shapely musical narrative. The seasonal theme and Finzi’s unique writing have made this a favourite for me among his many attractive choral compositions, and if you have not sung it before, I know you will enjoy it.

After this concert and the religious content of both concerts last season, I thought it would be good to turn to more secular music for the second half of this coming season.  The Choir has not sung a Handel oratorio for ages, so in the New Year we will embark on his wonderful ‘Alexander’s Feast’ for performance on 25 April.  This is Handel at his best, full of marvellous choruses and brilliant solo arias for soprano, tenor and bass. It was written in 1736 to words by Dryden in celebration of Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music. It describes the celebration feast after Alexander the Great’s conquest of Persia, at which feast the main entertainment is provided by Timotheus with his lyre. His music influences changes in Alexander’s emotions and actions, from vanity and pity to love and drunkenness, whereupon he is induced by the Greek courtesan, Thais, wantonly to burn down the palace of the former Persian monarch, Xerxes, at Persepolis in revenge for the Grecian soldiers killed in the Persian wars. The remainder of the poem is by way of a commentary in the light of Saint Cecilia’s sanctification of the art of music and its influence on mortals. The oratorio is in two parts, the second being shorter than the first, so when Handel conducted the first performance, he had the orchestra play his Concerto Grosso No. 7 in C before the start of Part 2.  I have asked the St. John’s Chamber Orchestra if they will do the same and the whole performance will therefore be very authentic!  The Orchestra have played for nearly all our concerts for almost 20 years now, and it seems fitting to give them this opportunity for a short item on their own.

We will also have an additional treat at the end of the season. It is well known that the Church provides popular afternoon cream teas on Sunday afternoons in the Spring and Summer, and we have arranged to sing at one of these on Sunday 17 May. It seems a golden opportunity to revise Eric Thiman’s ‘A Spring Garland’ which we rehearsed for one of our concerts a few years ago but didn’t perform because the publishers had mistakenly destroyed the orchestra parts! It can still be beautiful with piano accompaniment, and should be just right for a Sunday afternoon in May.

I hope these notes excite your eagerness for rehearsals to begin again on 8 September.  What a season – fantastic music, passion, privilege, pleasure and pride!!  See you then,   John

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 BOB GERHARDI

You will be sorry to hear that Bob Gerhardi has just resigned as President of the choir due to ill health.

He joined Herta Grove’s music course in 1948 with his parents. They and other members of the course persuaded Herta to form a choir which became GMCS. They rehearsed in Bob’s father’s electroplating works in Great Missenden before moving to the current rehearsal site, Oldham Hall. Bob became President, taking over from his father Victor in 1969, and is now the one remaining founder member. Until very recently he was a mainstay of our small band of tenors. We miss his ready smile and good humour every week but are glad to greet him and his sons again at our social gatherings. They never miss our concerts!

The Committee will recommend to the choir that Bob be made a Patron of the Society. The Gerhardi family have always supported not only the choir and its performances but educating people and developing their interest in music and choral singing, especially the young.  We thank them most warmly.                       Tony

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 SHIRLEY JUDGES

We are very sorry to have learnt of the death of one of our singers, Shirley Judges, after a short illness.  She not only brought strong singing ability to the choir but also her great sense of fun and commitment to the community.  Our thoughts are with her partner, Rod Passant, who has been such a support to Ron Gordon in management of the concerts, and to all the family.

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 John Shirley-Quirk (28 August 1931 – 7 April 2014) – a personal memory

 I was saddened to learn of the death on 7 April at the age of 83 of the legendary bass-baritone, John Shirley-Quirk, who I know had been a soloist with GMCS in former times.  When he and I were much younger, I had the privilege of conducting one of John’s earliest performances when he was a soloist in Purcell’s ‘King Arthur’ with the Waverley Singers at Farnham, Surrey.  This was in November 1961 and he was then wondering whether he should give up his chemistry teaching for a career as a professional singer.  I can see him now on our sitting room sofa at teatime musing as to the pros and cons. Of course, I and everyone who heard him knew he should go for it and that if he did he would go far. We worked together on a few more occasions after he had made that decision, but long after he had achieved greatness, he always told me he never forgot those early days. He was also amused by how, when he was not so well-known, his name was often misspelt such as ‘John Sirily-Quick’ or, as one poster had it, ‘John Shirley (Quirk-Baritone)’!    A great loss to those of us who knew him and to all music, but what a wonderful legacy he has left behind in his numerous recordings and so many other recollections.                      John

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 A View From the Pew

In general terms there seem to be groups of musicians, singers, dancers and actors who hope that their latest production will run for days, weeks, even months.  Then there are other groups who rehearse for pleasure perhaps once a week, possibly ending in a one off concert performance.  Question : how do these apparently disparate groups judge how well they are doing.  The answer probably falls into the category of the blindingly obvious : ticket sales.  The former groups will be able to measure this almost on a daily basis and  tweak the content or performance of it as necessary.  Advertising material thus presents itself ; we have all seen the quotes like ” Great Show 5 Stars” and “If you only go to a show once this year, make it this one ”

The latter group however sails more difficult waters.  Much depends on content, which, once decided, is not easily changed.  Performance is important, but arguably will influence the next show rather than the current one.  Advertising opportunities are limited to the normal posters and a website.  And we all know that fickle Joe Public likes what he knows and knows what he likes.  Witness the number of classical music concerts ending with the 1812 Overture plus fireworks !  Sells tickets you see.

And the point of this pre- ramble?  Well, in my opinion, anyone who chose not to buy a ticket for the ” Lead, Kindly Light ” concert on 12 April 2014, missed a real treat.  Only one performance – this show could run and run !

The theme of the concert could be summed up as War and Peace, with particular reference to the start of WW1.  The highlight for me was Howard Goodall’s “Eternal Light – A Requiem”, but there was much to enjoy before that finale.

Beginning with “Cantique de Jean Racine” by Gabriel Faure, this short work was sung beautifully.  Often recorded with a simple organ accompaniment, in this instance the orchestra provided a sympathetic backing, predominantly strings and harp.

Following this gentle opening, the next work, “Dona Nobis Pacem” by Ralph Vaughan Williams made us sit up and take notice.  The concert featured two soloists and after a fairly restrained opening by the soprano the choir were soon providing some lusty singing in ‘Beat! Beat! Drums’, followed by the baritone in ‘Reconciliation’.  More excellent singing from the choir in the ‘Dirge for two veterans’, diction being particularly impressive.  Another wake up call in ‘The Angel of Death’, the work ending in a beautifully sung thrice repetition of the title.  Superb ! All concerned certainly earned their interval drinks.

Post interval the choir sang unaccompanied the motet “Ubi Caritas” by Maurice Durufle.  I always enjoy hearing the choir sing a capella and this short work did not disappoint.

And so to the aforementioned highlight “Eternal Light”, first performed in 2008 for the 90th anniversary of the ending of WW1.  As a modern work it perhaps unsurprisingly contains some rather catchy tunes, for example the Litany ‘Belief’, the hymn ‘Lead, Kindly Light’, the Dies Irae ‘ In Flanders fields where poppies grow’, and the ‘Agnus Dei’.  The choir also did extremely well with the fast Revelation ‘Angels of the Apocalypse’, sung in Latin.

All in all quite an adventurous work to take on, and excellently sung by  choir and soloists.

So, was the concert a success?

Well, you just had to have been there!                                                                                  Lionel Largo

DATES FOR YOUR DIARY 

 SEPTEMBER 2014

8th – Choir AGM and first rehearsal, starting (for the AGM) at the earlier time of 7.30pm

27th – Wooburn Singers “Come and Sing” day.  Please see flyer which is being sent out with this Newsletter

 !! NOVEMBER 2014 !!

The dark days of November may seem a long way away, but we have some wonderful musical dates to brighten up our diaries!  They start, of course, with our unmissable (please!) Monday evening rehearsals on the 10th and 17th, as described by John in his pre-season notes.  Just to reiterate, and underline their importance, they are:

10th: rehearsal conducted by Andrew Gant

17th: rehearsal conducted by Jonathan Rathbone

These evenings will be a fantastic experience for us and we are highly privileged that John is able and willing to invite composers to come to Great Missenden to support us.  Many of us will remember the earlier sessions with Jonathan Willcocks and Cecilia McDowall.

Then, on 22nd November, we have:

CHILCOTT DAY

Along with the Newsletter, you have received a flyer concerning an exciting “Come and Sing” Day, 22nd November 2014, to be run by Bob Chilcott (you have earlier been sent this by Emma too).  The music to be introduced, rehearsed and performed are his Nidaros Jazz Mass and On Christmas Night. 

 This is a great opportunity to learn what will for many of us be a new style of music, under the instruction of a man who was described by the Observer as “a contemporary hero of British Choral Music”.  This is the very first Come and Sing event on the jazz mass.  See www.bobchilcott.com for further information about this composer.

It is requested that if you wish to take part, you apply individually.  We hope that many of you will take up this opportunity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 22nd, 2014