2017-18

Read on to find out more about life in the Choir of Royal Holloway, as told by its' members:

A busy start to the academic year...

We kicked off the start of this busy term by meeting for our annual choir camp. This was an opportunity for us to get to know our new choral scholars and sing together for the first time. As well as full choir rehearsals, we utilised this weekend to sing in our smaller groups, ending in a short workshop to the rest of the choir of a wide-range of music for one-a-part ensembles. We finished our weekend of rehearsals with our first Sunday worship of the term, to welcome new students to College and Chapel life.

The next week was a whirlwind of rehearsals for the welcome week Chorus and orchestra but we continued with our usual rehearsals, with Choral Evensong on the Thursday with music by Stanford. We performed our first Midweek Music concert of the year entitled 'Music of the Spheres'. The programme reflected the sun, moon and stars and included two solo pieces sung by Laurence Padfield and Jack Yates, and also works by Ben Parry, Ola Gjeilo, Arturs Maskats and Eric Ešenvalds. We are now looking forward to upcoming events including music by Ben Parry for a recording in January.

Chloe Wedlake, 2nd Year Alto & Music Student

 

Vaughan Williams and Faur├ę in October

On Sunday 22nd of October, the choir were invited to sing Mass at St Bartholomew-the-Great in London. The setting of this service was the Mass in G Minor by Ralph Vaughan Williams, written for double choir with 4 solo parts, and is a piece that the choir loves performing. The motet at the Offertory was The Deer's Cry by Arvo P├Ąrt. The text in this very atmospheric piece is taken from the prayer of St Patrick, or the Lorica - a prayer for protection. We thoroughly enjoyed singing this service; it was a beautiful space to sing in and we were made to feel most welcome.

The Chapel Choir’s first external concert of the year saw a great attendance in St Martin-in-the-Fields. Trafalgar Square. Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music began the concert, featuring members of the choir as soloists. The concert continued with two orchestral pieces performed by the Brandenburg Sinfonia, Elgar’s Sospiri and Debussy’s Danses sacr├ęe et profane, the latter of which saw Royal Holloway alumnus Cecily Beer as harp soloist. The second half of the concert featured Faur├ę’s Requiem, with soloists again drawn from the choir. An encompassing atmosphere was created from the violin soloist performing from the balcony and soprano soloist (Danielle O'Neill) performing from the rear of the church. After performing the piece in our Midweek Music concert the day before with organ accompaniment, it was a great pleasure to perform the piece with orchestral accompaniment in such stunning surroundings, with a very appreciative audience. The choir look forward to singing Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music again in January, and a return visit to the Brandenburg Festival and St Martin-in-the-Fields in March.

Caroline Woods, 3rd Year Soprano & Music Student and Chloe Wedlake, 2nd Year Alto & Music Student

 

St. Cecilia's Concert & Feast

The annual St Cecilia concert is one of the choir’s favourite concerts of the year where we celebrate our patron saint of music, St Cecilia, and this year we performed alongside members of the Bristol Ensemble. We opened with Purcell’s Welcome All Pleasures which combined instrumental movements with full choir movements and featured some soloists from the choir. Whilst performing the next piece, Philips’ Cecilia Virgo, we split into an upper voices group and a lower voices group. The lower voices group sang from further down the chapel whilst the upper voices remained near the altar which was very effective for this piece. We were able to sit and listen to Chaconny in G Minor by Purcell played by the orchestra so beautifully. Following on with the theme, we performed a newly commissioned work, as part of our partnership with the Choir and Organ Magazine, by American composer Daniel Knaggs. We were very lucky to have had a piece commissioned for this concert and we very much enjoyed learning and performing this alongside our organ scholar Liam Condon. It was a really fresh approach to the text, and seemed to suit us as a choir very well indeed!The concert ended with 3rd year soprano, Kirsty O’Neill giving a wonderful rendition of Handel’s Eternal Source of light divine accompanied by the orchestra, followed by the Ode to St Cecilia by Handel, a jolly end to the concert celebrating music's patron saint, who looks down on us from near the altar in the College Chapel.

 

Following the Concert is the Feast, for which senior members of the choir sing for their supper and entertain the guests. The programme for this was very different from the music which we performed at the concert and included folk-themed pieces from across the British Isles, including Swansea Town arr. Holst, Rutter’s It Was a Lover and His Lass and a very fun arrangement of Bobby Shaftoe which even featured some beatboxing! 

 

The Pearl of Freedom

Preparing for this concert at St John’s Smith Square was very exciting for both the choir and the Royal Holloway Chamber Orchestra as we had been given the opportunity to perform the world premiere of The Pearl of Freedom by Joanna Marsh. It was also lovely to be able to perform alongside our fellow students and to also join forces with the London Mozart Players. 

The programme opened with Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music and featured soloists from the choir. The orchestra performed Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor led by Rebecca Miller before we re-joined them to perform a new commission by Joanna Marsh, The Pearl of Freedom. This piece was written to celebrate the centenary of the Representation of the People Act in 1918, where Royal Holloway alumna Emily Wilding Davison famously collided with the King’s horse. The piece was challenging to learn but we thoroughly enjoyed learning it and we have since gone on to record this alongside the London Mozart Players in Ealing, London.

 

A return to St. John's, Smith Square

The choir were delighted to perform at St John’s, Smith Square on the opening evening of Tenebrae’s Holy Week Festival. The event marked the 100th anniversary of the Baltic States becoming independent counties after the First World War, and the series featured works by Baltic and Nordic composers, including the music of Arvo P├Ąrt, Pawe┼é ┼üukaszewski and ─ĺriks E┼íenvalds. Our programme was entitled ‘Into the Night’ and featured a mix of sacred and secular music by composers from the USA, Lithuania and Latvia. Appropriately for Holy Week, the programme united the images of death and the night. We began with Evening by E┼íenvalds followed by A Clear Midnight by Ren├ę Clausen, two works which set American poetry by Walt Whitman and Sara Teasdale. We moved on and performed Morten Lauridsen’s Nocturnes which contain songs in English, Spanish and French. For this we were joined by fellow student of Royal Holloway Flynn Sturgeon who accompanied us brilliantly on the piano. This was followed by a choir favourite Dum Medium Silentium by Mi┼íkinis and then his setting of the Tenebrae responsory. For the penultimate number, we performed a setting of contemporary Latvian poetry with the song Lugums Naktij (Prayer to the Night). To conclude the programme, we performed Long Road by ─ĺriks E┼íenvalds, which included sections for two recorders and chimes. It was a real joy to return to St. John's for a completely different style of concert, and to a very appreciative audience. Although much of the music was downcast, there was a real buzz and energy in the performance, and it rounded off yet another busy term for the choir.

 

Easter in North America

The Easter holidays were a busy time for the choir. With many of us working on essays, assignments and dissertations, we embarked on an exciting two-week tour of North America, with performances in western Canada and Texas. The 'around the world' themed programmes allowed us to present a broad variety of music which the choir enjoys and specialises in - including Tudor anthems, music from Estonia, Finland and Latvia, songs from our Ola Gjeilo CD, a mass setting by Castagnet, and contemporary works by Lauridsen which proved very popular with our American audiences. 

Our first project was a memorable concert in conjunction with the University of Alberta Madrigal Singers in the crisp acoustics of Edmonton's Winspear Centre. We were delighted to rehearse and workshop some pieces with them before performing alongside them in such an inspiring space. We then flew to Vancouver, and following an afternoon of sightseeing on the ferry, prepared for our concerts at Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria and St. James Anglican Church in Vancouver. It was great to see the audiences' positive reactions to music which was new to them, as well as the more popular choral favourites by Brahms and Holst. 

After repositioning to San Antonio, Texas, and adjusting from Canada's chilly -18 to nearly 30 degrees by enjoying a morning of sightseeing, we prepared for our concert in St. Mark's Episcopal Church - which was gloriously air-conditioned... The next day saw a transfer to Dallas, where we were invited to sing mass at the Church of the Incarnation before our afternoon concert. Both events were extremely well attended by supporters and well-wishers.

Our final stop was Houston, where we visited Rice University before our concert at St. Martha's Catholic Church. We were delighted to work with Texan composer Daniel Knaggs, performing his piece 'Ode to Saint Cecilia' as the finale of our concert, and the tour. 

We thoroughly enjoyed our visits to Canada and Texas, made all the more memorable by our generous hosts at each venue and in each city. Many were congregation members and their friends/family who had taken the trouble to give us tours of the local area, recommend local attractions and provide authentic local food ranging from Canadian Poutine to real Tex-Mex barbeques! 

Bradley Gill, Bass & Post-graduate Music Student

The choir rehearsing in the Winspear Centre, Edmonton, preparing for their first performance of the tour.

A summer's evening in Bristol

On the 9th of June, the choir travelled to Bristol to perform with the Bristol Ensemble in Trinity-Henleaze URC as part of the Henleaze Concert Society 2017-18 series. As part of a programme for summer (fittingly performed on a beautiful evening), the orchestra treated us to the St. Paul’s Suite by Holst. We joined them to perform the beautiful Cantique de Jean Racine by Faur├ę before singing the very contrasting unaccompanied and lively Regina Caeli by McDowall. The first half finished with Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music with solos sung by members of the choir, which has become something of a favourite of the choir's this year. After an interval, the second half commenced with ─ĺriks E┼íenvalds’ Evening featuring soprano soloist Isabella Gibber, followed by Sure on This Shining Night by Lauridsen. The programme concluded with K├Árvits’ Kreek’s Notebook which pays homage to Cyrillus Kreek whilst presenting a contemporary view of folk melodies. We are looking forward to performing the Kreek’s Notebook again when we travel to Wales for the festival Presteigne.

A return to the Welsh Marches

Three years after our last appearance, the choir were delighted to return to the Presteigne Festival which is held on the border of Wales and England. Our first concert was a complete performance of Arvo P├Ąrt's Passio which is his setting of John's account of the Passion of Christ. Scored for choir, a quartet of evangelists and soloists, and a collection of instruments, it makes for very stark listening. It was fantastic to see a full church in Pembridge who were enthralled by the composer's sound-world. It is always a treat to perform with instrumentalists who slotted into the difficult score with ease. The following morning we sang a Eucharist for the Festival, which was the first chance to perform David Bednall's Regina caeli which was commissioned for us by the Festival. It uses two choirs, one of soloists, which we placed at the rear of the church, giving a stereo effect, and some thrilling interplay between the two ensembles. In the evening we performed with the Festival orchestra, again in the beautiful surroundings of St. Andrew's in Presteigne of music by P─ôteris Vasks and Kreek's Notebook by T├Ánu K├Árvits. This piece really comes alive with the orchestra. In choir rehearsals it appears quite simplistic (apart from singing in Estonian!), until the colourful instrumentation brings the collection of folk songs vividly to life. The audience were thrilled by the music too, which always gives us a buzz.

 

Our final concert of the residency, as well as for the choir for the academic year, was a programme of contemporary music in praise of the Virgin Mary. We continued the Baltic theme with music by Rihards Dubra and Vytautas Miškinis, but also sang pieces by James MacMillan, Cecilia McDowall and Ola Gjeilo. We also had the opportunity to perform Gabriel Jackson's Ave Regina coelorum scored for choir and electric guitar. The diversity of sounds the guitar can make was completely new to me, and so to also see the audience experience these too was absolutely thrilling. Overall, a wonderful way to spend the bank-holiday weekend in a beautiful corner of the UK.