Dvořák’s Stabat Mater: A brilliant start to the year

Dvořák Stabat Mater

Dvořák’Stabat Mater

The Choir’s 2015 concert season got off to a brilliant start with a Great Hall performance on 3 May of Dvořák’s wonderful Stabat Mater. Dvořák marked a new direction in Grads’ repertoire and a thoroughly satisfying one at that.

In the deliberations of the Programming Committee in October 2014, Christoph Kaufmann (tenor) and some ring-in desperado (bass) argued strongly for a Dvořák work, Christoph specifying the Stabat Mater, which he had sung in his East German choir in Saalfeld. (According to his account, that performance had made little impact, because it took place almost simultaneously with the fall of the Berlin Wall). There were understandable concerns on the part of some members of the Committee that mounting the work, with its large orchestra, might be very expensive. But, persuaded by Christoph’s thoughtful arguments, and ignoring the wild ravings of the above-mentioned desperado, the group decided to take a punt, shelve any financial reservations, and put the Stabat Mater on the program. (Another signal service of Christoph to the Choir—it was very cheering to have his four month-old son, Finlay, an extraordinarily well-behaved and obviously musical child, present at the orchestral rehearsal. Fin thoughtfully brought his Mum, Ann Marie, along with him.)

When rehearsals began in February, the Choir quickly fell in love with the Czech master’s work, with its plentiful, effortless melody, technical mastery and drama. It was an unusual experience for us to sing such uninhibitedly romantic music.

An excellent quartet of soloists was engaged:

Lucinda-Mirikata Deacon (soprano), the inaugural winner of the Joan Carden Award in 2005, who subsequently studied at the Guildhall School in London, and has experience performing with Welsh National Opera, Scottish Opera and Glyndebourne Education.

Ashlyn Skye Timms (mezzo), a young singer, who came across from Perth to do the gig. Ashlyn has been awarded a scholarship to undertake the Masters program at the Royal College of Music, London, in 2015-16.

David Hamilton (tenor), who has considerable experience in opera and concert performance in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Germany, where he has sung in two performances of Dvořák’s Stabat Mater.

Finally, Adrian Tamburini (bass), a Principal with Opera Australia, who had performed with distinction in our premiere of Christopher Bowen’s An Australian War Requiem in August 2014.

It was a great pleasure for us to work again with Lucinda-Mirikata and Adrian and to get to know Ashlyn and David.

When we gathered in the Great Hall for the orchestral rehearsal on the day before the concert, the 44 players made an impressive sight. This was the largest instrumental ensemble we have ever assembled in Blacket’s sandstone Gothic masterpiece. Our regular Orchestra Leader, Stan Kornel, was unavoidably out of town with his Sydney Consort, and Michele O’Young ably deputized for him. Our distinguished Principal Clarinettist, Deborah de Graaff was also unavailable and Nattanan Low filled in for her. Otherwise many of our regular players were on duty: Inge Courtney-Haentjes (violin), Robert Harris (viola), John  Benz (cello), Paul Laszlo (double bass), Bronwen Needham (flute), Duncan Thorpe (oboe), Gillian Smith (bassoon), Graham Nicholls (horn), Melanie McLoughlin and David Pye (trumpets), Michael Wyborn (trombone), and Steve Machamer (timpani), who had a much more restrained part than he has had recently, in such works as Verdi’s Requiem and Christopher’s An Australian War Requiem. It was a great pleasure to have Amy Johansen back in the organ loft after a recent illness.

The orchestral musicians obviously revelled in Dvořák’s graceful instrumental writing; Robert Harris and the viola section found themselves in an unprecedentedly large six-person section, to permit them to do justice to the divided sections of the score by this viola-playing composer. The orchestra sounded marvelous, as usual.  Christopher Bowen consistently coaxes them into superb playing.

Despite the overcast, drizzly weather on concert day, the Great Hall was packed out. We were delighted that our Patron, Professor the Hon. Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO was present. Professor Bashir had recently graciously accepted our request to remain on in the role, after stepping down as Governor of New South Wales and Chancellor of the University. Miss Joan Carden, the Czech Consul, Mr Hani Stolina, and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ann Brewer were also in the audience.

The audience reacted with enormous enthusiasm to the performance, not surprisingly in view of the masterly way Dvořák moves from the generally restrained, sorrowful mood of most of the music into the triumph and tumult of the overwhelming Finale, surely one of the most exciting conclusions to any work. On the way to that conclusion, there were outstanding moments for Lucinda-Mirikata Deacon and David Hamilton in their duet ‘Fac, ut portem Christi mortem’, for Adrian Tamburini in his solo ‘Fac, ut ardeat cor meum’, and for Ashlyn Skye Timms in her solo ‘Inflammatus et accensus’.  As well, the singing of this solo quartet in concerted passages was of a very high standard.

It is extraordinary that a work of this quality, by one of the most popular and approachable composers, is so infrequently heard in Australia, particularly when we consider Dvořák’s complaint to his publisher in February 1886:

The Stabat Mater has become popular in England and has also been performed in America and Australia [it was performed in Melbourne in the early 1880s] to great acclaim, but what of Germany and Austria? Well, let’s hope for the best!

So it appears that Dvořák’s great work was heard in Melbourne before Vienna.  So much for the tyranny of distance!

Professor Bashir presents the Patron's Award to Marilyn Gosling

Professor Bashir presents the Patron’s Award to Marilyn Gosling

Before the performance began, President, David Moser, took the opportunity of Professor Bashir’s presence to arrange for the presentation of a Patron’s Award to Marilyn Gosling (soprano).  David spoke eloquently of Marilyn’s outstanding contribution to the Choir as President from 2009 to 2011, and subsequently. Professor Bashir warmly congratulated Marilyn, and spoke enthusiastically of the musical contribution of Christopher Bowen and the Choir, thus confirming how lucky the Choir is to have her in continued association with us

All in all, this was a brilliant start to 2015 for the Choir.

 

John Bowan

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Career Progress of Grads’ Soloists

Members may be interested in the promising career progress being made by a couple of our younger soloists.

Baritone Alexander Knight has sung with us on a few occasions: in Handel’s Messiah in the Sydney Town Hall and Saul; and most notably in the title role of Mendelssohn’s Paulus. He has made a fine impression with his cultivated voice production and artistry, an impression underlined by an outstanding performance of Schumann’s song cycle, Dichterliebe, in a recent Sydney recital at the Pitt Street Uniting Church.

Alexander’s career takes a step up at 6.30 pm on Tuesday 5 May, at the City Recital Hall, when, with the support of the SSO Sinfonia conducted by Richard Gill, he performs Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer, one of the iconic orchestral song cycles. It will be fascinating to see how Alexander rises to this challenge. Appearances suggest it will be a breeze for him.

Anna Dowsley and Christopher Bowen

Anna Dowsley and Christopher Bowen

Another favourite young soloist of the Choir’s is mezzo Anna Dowsley, who was honourably mentioned in the Joan Carden Award in 2012, sang in our Vivaldi and Zelenka concert in December 2013 and most memorably in our Town Hall performance of the Verdi Requiem in April of that year. As a young artist with Opera Australia, Anna has sung some small roles and will do so again in Elijah Moshinsky’s new production of Verdi’s great Don Carlos in July – August this year.

A big moment for Anna comes in August, when she takes the role of ‘Cherubino’ in The Marriage of Figaro, one of the major characters created in Mozart’s partnership with Lorenzo da Ponte. Anna sings the role in all performances except those on 14, 21, 23, 27 and 29 August.

It should also be mentioned that Eva Kong, who as Jinhee Uhm won the Joan Carden Award in 2008 and sang in the Choir’s performance of the Saint-Saëns Requiem in August of that year, is also singing regularly with Opera Australia. She has, for example, sung the role of ‘Pamina’ in The Magic Flute, and will sing ‘Barbarina’ in the upcoming Marriage of Figaro.

Our relationship with each of these young singers has largely developed through the Joan Carden Award, which we sponsor, and they have played a significant role in the Choir’s musical success in recent years.

John Bowan

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Entries are now open for the Joan Carden Award 2015

Joan Carden Award 2015

Joan Carden Award 2015

Are you a talented young singer, aged between 22 and 35? The Sydney University Graduate Choir is pleased to invited you to be part of this exciting and prestigious event.

Entries can be submitted online at the Joan Carden Award website, with audition recordings to be submitted by mail on CD. Entries close 1 May 2015.

The adjudicators for the 2015 competition will be Miss Joan Carden AO OBE, Mr Christopher Bowen OAM (Music Director of the Sydney University Graduate Choir), and Mr Anson Austin OAM.

In June, six semi-finalists will participate in a masterclass with Miss Carden, with three finalists being announced at the conclusion of that event.

The finals will take place as part of the SUGC subscription series concert, at the University of Sydney Great Hall on 16 August 2015. Finalists will perform two arias with orchestral accompaniment, after which the adjudicators will select the winner. The audience will also have an opportunity to vote for the ‘People’s Choice’ prize.

The Award has a cash prize of $6,000 and the opportunity to perform as a soloist in one of the Choir’s forthcoming concerts.

As well as choosing a winner, the adjudicators have from time to time identified other young singers for encouragement and these competitors have also been engaged to sing solos with the Choir. They include Andrew Finden (baritone) in 2007, who sang in the Choir’s performance of Haydn’s The Creation in that year and is now a contracted principal with the important opera house in Karlsruhe, Germany; Amy Corkery (soprano) in 2012, who sang in the Choir’s performance of A German Requiem by Brahms in that year and is now much in demand as a soloist around Sydney; and Anna Dowsley (mezzo soprano), who was also singled out for encouragement in 2012, sang the mezzo solo in the Choir’s performance of the Verdi Requiem in 2013, and this year is singing the role of Siébel in Gounod’s Faust and will sing the role of Cherubino in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro for Opera Australia, with whom she is a Young Artist.

For more information and to enter the Joan Carden Award 2015 visit the Joan Carden Award website.

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Sydney University Graduate Choir—our 2015 subscription series

 

2015 concert series

2015 SUGC Concert Series

Rehearsals have begun for our 2015 concert season, and it is already shaping up to be a terrific series of performances.

Our first offering of the year is Dvořák’s intensely moving Stabat Mater. Completed in 1877 and underpinned by Dvořák’s grief at the untimely death of his daughter, the work was premiered in Prague in 1880, and quickly established Dvořák’s reputation throughout Europe, America and also in Australia. Scored for soloists, choir and orchestra, our concert will take place in the atmospheric Great Hall of the University of Sydney on Sunday 3 May 2015, commencing at 3pm.

In August a very special event will take place. This concert will feature finalists of the 2015 Joan Carden Award, who will perform solo arias accompanied by large orchestra. The winner will be announced at the end of the concert. More information about the Joan Carden Award will be made available shortly.

The Sydney University Graduate Choir and orchestra will also perform works by Fanny Hensel-Mendelssohn (Hiob) and Johannes Brahms (Nänie, Schicksalslied, Gesang der Parzen) dwelling on the theme of mortal destiny. Mark 16 August 2015 at the University of Sydney Great Hall in your calendars as this concert is not-to-be-missed!

On December 6 at 5pm, also at the University of Sydney Great Hall, we will present our final concert of the year: Handel’s Israel in Egypt. This spectactular and colourful work contains more choral movements than arias, and depicts the plagues of Egypt and Exodus of the Israelites.

Tickets for the first concert of the season— Dvořák’s Stabat Mater —will be on sale soon. You can find more information about how to purchase tickets under ‘Hear us’.

You might consider circumventing the queues by purchasing a subscription to the whole 2015 concert season. The total price for the 3 concerts is $120 (a saving of up to $15), and you also have the opportunity to order your programmes at a discounted price. In addition you will have a seat reserved in the Subscribers seating area, and may enter the Great Hall through a separate entrance.

For more information download the subscription brochure here.

We hope you’ll enjoy another memorable year of great choral performances with the Sydney University Graduate Choir.

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Chamber Choir celebrates 10 years of harmony

Last night the Chamber Choir met for a special pre-season dinner to celebrate its 10th birthday.

Conducted by Music Director Christopher Bowen, with membership refreshed through annual audition, and with quality supported through extra rehearsals and its very own rehearsal conductor (leader and founder the very wonderful Ros Moxham), the Sydney University Graduate Choir chamber choir has for a decade provided extra opportunities for singers and audiences alike to experience diverse choral music.

The chamber choir has performed at many Sydney University events; the ABC Choir of the Year (2006) in which they were NSW finalists; at Music Clubs, charity events and celebrations; several times at extensions to the Maritime Museum’s Welcome Wall; and of course singing sections of major works at SUGC subscription concerts in order to provide extra colour and intimacy to the performance of the main choir.

The dinner at Leichhart’s Café Gioia – thanks Pamela! – was thoroughly informal and light on speeches and ceremony (none actually!), a group of friends catching up on stories of the summer holidays, the trauma of returning to work and anticipation of the year of singing ahead. Not to mention close monitoring of the Queensland election results and, of course, the Asian Cup Final! In fact it was so much fun, we shouldn’t wait 10 years for the next one ….

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Leader and rehearsal conductor, Ros Moxham (right) with co-ordinator Jan Axon

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When Music Director Christopher Bowen (right) and repertoire and graphics guru Christoph Kaufmann put their heads together, great things follow…..

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The Chamber Choir includes awesome altos…

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… sweetly smiling sopranos …

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… and boyish basses (with Ros!)

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… there is experience and wisdom …

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… youth and glamour …

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Chamber Choir singers are generous (look – we left you some pizza!)

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… and some can even fly!

 

Many thanks to aerobatic photographer Catherine O’Doherty!

 

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The Joan Carden Award—a brief history

A highlight of this year’s Sydney University Graduate Choir concert series will be the conduct of the prestigious Joan Carden Award. As we prepare to open the application process for prospective competitors, it is timely to provide a brief history of the Award to date.

One of the objectives of the Sydney University Graduate Choir is ‘the encouragement and promotion of choral music in Australia through…the development and sponsorship of young singers’. With this in mind, in 2004 an award was established to provide financial encouragement to an outstanding young Australian classical singer, and Australian soprano icon Joan Carden AO OBE graciously agreed to lend her name and, most generously, her time as judge to the award.

The objectives of the award are to:

  • identify and encourage young singing talent
  • strengthen the Choir’s relationship with the University of Sydney and the Sydney music community, and
  • honour the contribution of Joan Carden to music in Australia.

The winner of the inaugural Joan Carden Award in 2005 was soprano Lucinda-Mirikata Deacon. The judging panel was chaired by Ms Carden and included Music Director Christopher Bowen OAM. The prize of $1500 was drawn from a fund that the Choir, with support from the Chancellor’s Committee of the University, had set up primarily for this purpose. Ms Deacon was invited to perform with the Choir at its next concert, Brahms’ Requiem, where she was greeted with enthusiasm by the audience in the University’s Great Hall.

Over the years, interest in the Joan Carden Award has grown, and the participants, drawn from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music (which has also regularly provided senior staff as judges), have made a significant contribution to Australia’s classical music culture (see the Roll of Honour below).

As a result of this success, the Choir in consultation with Ms Joan Carden AO OBE, and with help from classical music station, Fine Music 102.5, has extended the format of the Award from 2015. The intention is to broaden the pool from which competitors are drawn and to bring the pleasure of hearing these wonderful young voices to a much larger audience. It is expected that the Award will be conducted biennially. The prize for 2015 has been increased to $6,000.

The terms and conditions for the Award and the application form for the 2015 Joan Carden Award will be provided here soon.

If you would like to receive an email alert when the application form is available, please click here.

Joan Carden with Amy Corkery, Agnes Sarkis and Anna Dowsley - Joan Carden Award 2012.

Joan Carden with Amy Corkery, Agnes Sarkis and Anna Dowsley – Joan Carden Award 2012.

Joan Carden Award Roll of Honour

2012 Agnes Sarkis, mezzo-soprano

2011 Emma Moore, soprano

2010 Rachel Bate, soprano

2009 Simon Gilkes, tenor

2008 Jinhee Uhm, soprano

2007 Victoria Wallace, mezzo-soprano

2006 Jae-Hyeok Lee, baritone

2005 Lucinda-Mirikata Deacon, soprano

 

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Christmas at the Town Hall

Christmas at the Town Hall has become the traditional ‘end of year’ celebration for the Grads, and so it was on this past Tuesday night (16 December).

Rehearsing 'Silent Night, Holy Night', with candles

Rehearsing ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’, with candles

The tragic circumstances of the 24 hours prior had prompted a last-minute reshaping of the program—the Waitara Voices Children’s Choir were unable to attend, and their absence was keenly felt.

However, by spoken word, and by heart-felt song, the Town Hall rang out with messages of hope and peace on earth—‘Good will to all men’.

The Sydney University Graduate Choir was joined by the Central Coast Chorale, the choir of St Johns at Wahroonga, the Orange Regional Conservatorium Symphonic Choir, and the Sydney Community College Choir. The program also featured soprano Elke Hook, the Royal Australian Navy Band, led by Lieut. Steven Stanke, and harpist Karen Hickmott. Grads Music Director Christopher Bowen conducted (aka ‘crowd-controlled’) with grace, style and a goodly dash of humour. Presiding over all, maestro Robert Ampt on the Grand Organ, the driving force behind the event.

The audience is seated, the concert is about to begin

The audience is seated, the concert is about to begin

Interspersed with readings on the nativity, some of which gave a beautifully Australian flavour to the proceedings, were some which marked the anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War. These told the story of the Christmas truce in 1914, when soldiers on came out of the trenches to exchange small tokens, and to sing the songs of Christmas that were common to both sides.

The readings were given by members of the Grads, by the Stage Manager John Maizels and the Compere Geoff Shalala.

We also paused, in silence, to remember the victims of the siege in Martin Place and our thoughts went out to their families, friends and colleagues. The contrast between these reflections and the yearning for peace so beautifully embodied in the carol that followed, ‘It came upon a midnight clear’, provided a deeply-felt conclusion for choir and audience alike to this section of the evening.

D Moser - Vice President SUGC

D Moser – Vice President SUGC and one of the evening’s readers

It was an evening that wouldn’t have been the same without Elke Hook, whose lovely soprano voice graced a number of planned musical pieces and readings, plus others that were to have been filled by the absent children’s choir. Harpist Karen Hickmott also stepped in, performing extra pieces at very short notice. The ever-enjoyable Navy Band actually found themselves with slightly less to do, but did it with a characteristic energy and style that had the whole Hall happily joining in.

The concert closed with the thunderous sound of the combined choirs and audience singing ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’—a brilliant and positive message for the Christmas season and for the New Year.

The Sydney University Graduate Choir wishes to thank you for your support this year, and look forward to seeing you again in 2015.

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