Grads to perform The Creation by Joseph Haydn

After the high of singing Messiah with a massed choir in the Sydney Town Hall on 13 November, the Choir will be returning to its usual performance space, the Great Hall of the University of Sydney, to perform The Creation (Die Schöpfung) of Joseph Haydn, on Sunday, 4 December at 5.00 pm.  A fine trio of soloists will sing:  Penelope Mills (soprano), Andrew Goodwin (tenor) and Adrian Tamburini (bass).

After Messiah, Haydn’s great work may well be the most popular oratorio in the repertoire.  There are strong connections between the two works. Haydn’s interest in  oratorio was kindled by his attendance at a Handel Festival in London in 1791, which included performances of Messiah with enormous forces.  While in England, he was given a text based on Genesis and Milton’s Paradise Lost, which he took back to Vienna with him and gave to the music-loving Habsburg court official, Baron Gottfried van Swieten, to translate.  Van Swieten translated the text into German and translated his own translation back into English (the original English text having disappeared).  So Haydn’s work was published simultaneously in German and English.

The Creation is marked by a wonderful combination of the sublime and the human.  For example, the spectacular effect Haydn achieves on the words, “Let there be Light!”, exceeds in grandeur anything in Handel. At the other extreme, Haydn’s depiction of the relationship of Adam and Eve is warm and charming. Overall, the work is an outstanding product of the Age of Enlightenment. It promises to bring the Choir’s year of concert-giving to an uplifting close

 

John Bowan

Posted in subscription concerts | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Apology

An apology to those followers of this blog who just received a post entitled ‘Sydney Sings Messiah 2016’. Due to an error in the publication process this post had appended to it several unreviewed and unedited paragraphs that appear to date from a similar performance several years ago.

Please ignore them – they have no relationship with last Sunday’s performance.

On the blog web site itself, the SSM 2016 post has been edited correctly, and stands.

We hope you enjoy the – correct – article!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

SYDNEY SINGS MESSIAH 2016

On 13 November, the Choir organised its seventh Sydney Sings concert, a massed choir performance of Handel’s Messiah in the Sydney Town Hall, under the title, ‘Sydney Sings Messiah’ with support from the City of Sydney  This was the fourth time we had presented Handel’s popular masterpiece  in this format, the others being in December 2007, November 2010 and December 2012.This major undertaking will no doubt be the subject of audience reviews, not to mention internal reporting by our management team.  The present report is merely an impressionistic account by a participant, writing in the immediate aftermath of the event itself.

It was very noticeable that a real feeling of familiarity has grown up around the Sydney Sings events.  The Choir has come to regard the great old building as a home from home and the guest singers have developed into an informal wider community of the Grads.  They came from as far afield as Victoria, Canberra, the Southern Highlands, the South Coast, the Blue Mountains and the Central Coast. Many of them had sung with us before and the fact that they continue to return is a tribute to the musical experience provided by Christopher Bowen, the friendly welcome extended by the Grads, and the conscientious technical support offered from 2007 to 2012 by Catherine Crittenden (alto) and now by Marilyn Gosling (soprano).  The Joubert Singers of Hunters Hill, to whom I also belong, provided ten members of the guest choir, and they once again enthused about the experience. We have built up a reservoir of goodwill with our guests and it should stand us in good stead, as we look ahead to next year’s Verdi Requiem and An Australian War Requiem by Christopher Bowen on Remembrance Day 2018.

The guest choir numbered some 320 and, from inside the performance, seemed to do an excellent job, given the limited rehearsal time (on the morning of the performance – Christopher Bowen had, however, directed a program of detailed rehearsals for the Grads themselves over the prior 8 weeks) and the technical problems set by Handel’s score, with its long semi-quaver runs, so tough for a large body of singers.  There were many favourable comments from both members of the audience and choristers on the clarity of the choral sound and, in particular, the way in which the wide distribution of the choir all across the stage and up into left and right balconies allowed Handel’s choral lines to move around the hall in a strikingly stereophonic manner. Perhaps most dramatic during the final ‘Amen’, this was also most apt in ‘For we like sheep’ where we were not far short of needing  volunteer shepherds at the exit doors.

It is unusual to single out individual choristers but one member of the complement of Grads must be mentioned on this occasion: our music-loving Patron, Professor the Hon. Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO, had from time to time over the years expressed an interest in singing in a performance of Messiah.  Having laid down her responsibilities as Governor of New South Wales and Chancellor of the University of Sydney, she felt able to take our President’s invitation to join the Choir for this performance and did so with evident relish.  She was assiduous in attending rehearsals and studious in the concentration and effort she put into them. It was an honour and pleasure to have Professor Bashir sing with us and we look forward to her doing so again in the future.

An excellent quartet of soloists was engaged:  Anita Kyle (soprano), Tim Chung (alto), Andrew Goodwin (tenor) and David Hidden (bass). Anita had sung in our Israel in Egypt performance in December 2014 and our “Saxon Baroque” concert in August this year.  Tim had sung in an earlier Sydney Sings Messiah with us. Andrew had sung in our 60th Anniversary performance of Mendelssohn’s Paulus in May 2012, while David had also sung in Israel in Egypt.  These four singers sang beautifully and made a splendid contribution to the success of the performance.

A small but expert orchestra was engaged for the performance.  Kirsten Williams (Concertmaster) played with us in the Town Hall for the first time and she was joined in the first desk of the violins by the SSO’s Stan Kornel.  Michele O’Young and Inge Courtney-Haentjes completed an excellent First Violin section. Regulars, John Benz and Margaret Machamer (cellos) and Paul Laszlo (double-bass),  played once again, as did Duncan Thorpe and Anna Rodger (oboes).  Stan Kornel’s wife, Monika, played the harpsichord, while Peter Kneeshaw was the organist.   The Last Trumpet was sounded challengingly and faultlessly by Colin Grisdale.  Once again, the orchestral players gave an outstanding performance.   The Town Hall showed itself again to be an excellent performance space.

Christopher Bowen put in a heroic display on the podium. He was on duty from about 8.30 am until 6.00 pm and maintained a cheerful humour throughout, while he worked to obtain the sort of singing he required and went through points of detail with the orchestra.  And nary a cross word or a dark look.  And he conjured up what seemed like an outstanding performance.  Speaking personally, this was one of the most satisfying Messiahs with which I have been associated.  Bravo Christopher!

These ‘Sydney Sings’ concerts in Sydney Town Hall require an enormous amount of organisation, almost all carried out by SUGC volunteers. Over the months leading to Sunday the guest choristers were organised with characteristic friendliness and courtesy by a team led by Marilyn Gosling. Much of the logistics of the big day fell to Concert Manager Jackie Rotenstein and her large team of volunteers, with an extended Front of House team (including many from outside the choir) ensuring that the audience were properly looked after. A further team spent many hours over the preceding weeks ensuring that the program was of a suitably high standard. In fact there were far too many contributors to name. Overall at least 50 SUGC volunteers worked together to  make this event the success it undoubtedly was.

In this large space, the audience was modest but decent.  The Town Hall was more than half-full and those present clearly enjoyed the performance.  A number of our leading benefactors were present.  The indications are that Messiah will continue to attract singers and listeners for many years to come.

John Bowan

Posted in Concert reviews, Mass Choir Events, Sydney Sings | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

News from our Orchestra

In addition to the engagement of Kirsten Williams as Concertmaster, another recent development serves to underline the exceptional quality of our orchestral players.

In May, when a cellist had to drop out late and at short notice from the orchestra for the von Suppé Requiem, our Orchestra Manager, Pamela Traynor was able to engage  Hyung Suk Bae, an SSO Fellow for 2016.

In the past few days, the great violinist, Pinchas Zukerman, has been in Sydney, playing a series of concerts with the SSO.  On 11 November, your correspondent went to the Opera House to hear Zukerman lead a performance of chamber music, including Mendelssohn’s Octet. The other performers included Andrew Haveron, the SSO’s Concertmaster, and Roger Benedict, the viola Principal.  Hyung Suk Bae was one of four SSO Fellows who joined this stellar group to play Mendelssohn’s  masterpiece, probably the greatest piece of music composed by a teenager (Felix was 16 at the time!)   The young cellist was clearly in his element in this company and we may hope that he will grace another of our performances before too long.

 

John Bowan

Posted in Orchestra | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Handel’s Messiah – An Interview with Christopher Bowen

It’s easy to imagine performing Handel’s Messiah as a routine venture. After all, nearly all of the 450 choristers will have sung it before, most of them many times. The orchestral players are professional musicians with impeccable credentials – SSO, Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra – and Messiah is a standard part of the soloists’ repertoire.

That is not how Music Director and conductor, Christopher Bowen, sees it though. “Messiah is the best known classical choral work, which means that audience expectations are that much higher. Basic competency is simply assumed and tuning is scrutinised as listeners anticipate each melody.”

The choristers of Sydney University Graduate Choir – one of whom claims to have publicly performed Messiah over 100 times – have therefore been practicing the work hard since late August. “Part of my role is to renew singers’ commitment to this great work,” says Bowen, “whilst not allowing its sweeping emotional and spiritual power to ever shift their focus from very, very tight technical delivery. Ultimately it’s the audience who are paying for a great musical and emotional experience, whilst the choir should feel just enough to inspire.”

And how will Bowen be judging the success of the performance? “Well, I’m delighted with the soloists we have been able to secure, and it’s always a privilege to conduct musicians of this calibre. Sydney Town Hall is a tremendous venue that has heard many Messiah performances in its 125 years and I would like this to be one that the audience feels is fresh and full of vigour. It is in many ways a universal work, deserving of all of the energy that we can provide. I hope that is what our audience takes home with them.”

Christopher Bowen OAM will be conducting the Sydney University Graduate Choir and Orchestra with guest choir and soloists Anita Kyle (soprano), Tim Chung (alto), Andrew Goodwin (Tenor) and David Hidden (bass) in ‘Sydney Sings Messiah’ at Sydney Town Hall on Sunday November 13th at 3pm. Tickets from the Seymour Centre Box office or on the door $45-$25.

 

Posted in Mass Choir Events, Sydney Sings | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

SSO Plays Mahler at the Sydney Town Hall

As an organization, which in recent years has staged concerts in the Sydney Town Hall, and will do so again with Handel’s Messiah in November, the Grads  took particular interest in the news that the SSO and Philharmonia Choir, under David Robertson, were to perform Gustav Mahler’s Second  Symphony “Resurrection” in two performances in this grand old building in August.  Your correspondent was interested enough to attend the first of these on Saturday evening 27 August.

The instrumental forces on show were considerable, with some 120 players involved, including 65 strings and 17 woodwind.  There were also 10 horns and 10 trumpets, a good number of whom spent considerable time playing offstage. So this was a much larger orchestra than we deployed in our Verdi Requiem and Christopher .Bowen’s Australian War Requiem performances. The Mahler chorus, at 110 was smaller than ours for Verdi, but the large orchestra imposed a big space problem.

The solution was probably quite expensive but quite ingenious: the first dozen rows of seating in the stalls were removed and replaced by a temporary stage, on which the bulk of the orchestra was seated.  This temporary structure adjoined the choir stalls, which accommodated the chorus and the large timpani/percussion battery.

This temporary arrangement worked very well. The old building’s acoustic is outstanding and the performance looked spectacular. Back in the early 1960s, when Pamela Traynor (sop), the Choir’s Orchestra Manager, and I worked as very young officers in the ABC’s Concert Department and the SSO was an ABC body, the orchestra used to give all its Sydney concerts in the Town Hall. So this Mahler performance was like a pleasant trip down Memory Lane. The orchestra and chorus were excellent and the two female vocal soloists, Kiandra Howarth (sop) and Caitlin Hulcup (mezzo) outstanding.

The performance enabled one to imagine that evening in 1950, when the SSO and the Hurlstone Choral Society (from which the Philharmonia Choirs developed), with Valda Bagnall (sop) and Florence Taylor (alto), gave the Australian premiere of this symphony in the same venue, under the legendary Otto Klemperer. This might appear a little belated for a work that had existed since 1895 but it should be remembered that Mahler’s music, so fashionable these days, was little known until the 1960s. It was kept alive by the efforts of conductors like Klemperer and Bruno Walter, both of whom had worked as assistants to the composer. Leonard Bernstein was a major force in popularising Mahler’s music. Bernstein described his experience of having to promote it to an uncomprehending and unsympathetic Vienna Philharmonic, who had lost connection with it during the Nazi era, when it was banned because of Mahler’s Jewish origin.

The the SSO  Mahler concert confirmed that the Sydney Town Hall is acoustically, visually and historically an outstanding venue for concerts and that the Grads are fortunate to have established a foothold there.

John Bowan

Posted in Concert reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Saxon Baroque

The Choir’s August Great Hall concert for 2016 presented a program of two religious works from eighteenth century Germany: the Missa No.9 in D by the little-known Johann David Heinichen (1683-1729) and the Magnificat by the impressive but difficult to classify Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788), of whom Brett Dean has made the inspired comment that ‘he would be much better known if he had a different surname’. The Magnificat was not entirely new to us but Heinichen and his music were. Emanuel’s fast and florid fugal writing proved a great challenge to us, leading Christopher Bowen to say, on several occasions, that Baroque music was not suitable for a large choir like Grads.

The Choir’s very satisfying recent record of engaging excellent soloists for our performances was maintained in spades on this occasion, with the participation of an outstanding solo quartet, all of whom had sung with us before. Anita Kyle (soprano), who sang in Handel’s Israel in Egypt with us in December 2015. Ashlyn Tymms (alto), winner of our 2015 Joan Carden Award (JCA), who had sung in our performance of Dvorak’s Stabat Mater in May of that year; Ashlyn was back briefly in Australia from her studies at the Royal College of Music in London – she was delighted to be with the Choir again and we were delighted to have her back. Richard Butler (tenor), a specialist in this repertoire, had also sung in our Israel in Egypt and had been the Evangelist in our St. John Passion of August 2013. And Simon Lobelson (bass), who is also a veteran of our Israel in Egypt and our St. John Passion, who managed to fit in our gig, while appearing in Sydney Chamber Opera’s current production run of Notes from Underground. Unlike us, they had no technical problems with the vocal demands of the music; and, collectively and individually, gave irresistible performances.

L-R Christopher Bowen OAM, Richard Butler, Anita Kyle, Simon Lobelson, Ashlyn Tymms

L-R Christopher Bowen OAM, Richard Butler, Anita Kyle, Simon Lobelson, Ashlyn Tymms

Yet again, our orchestral players were exemplary. And so it was wholly appropriate that the Choir’s President, David Moser, took advantage of the presence at the concert of our esteemed Patron, Professor the Hon.Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO,  to organise the presentation of the Patron’s Award to Pamela Traynor (sop), the Orchestra Manager. Pamela had been severely tested over the preceding few days by the sudden and unexpected news that the designated organist would not be able to perform. After an intensive search and negotiations, she was able to offer the gig to Ross Cobb, organist and Music Director of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, who seamlessly and skilfully took over this important role with virtually no rehearsal. We are very grateful to him, as we are to all our instrumental players. Kirsten Williams, our new Concertmaster, led for the second time and is clearly enjoying the role. The playing of the strings was very fine. In both works, Bronwen Needham, our Principal flutist, gave ravishing performances of solos for her instrument. Heinichen’s Mass makes virtuoso demands of the horns and Graham Nicholls (Principal) and Paul Stiles met these with style.  Our trio of trumpeters, Leanne Sullivan (Principal), Owen Morris, the newly appointed Principal trumpet of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra who flew across from Adelaide to take part, and David Pye took the opportunities provided by this Venice-trained composer’s brilliant brass writing to shine.

Patron's Award 2016

Pamela Traynor, presented with the Patron’s Award 2016 by Professor the Hon.Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO

Performers and audience alike were very taken by the Missa of Heinichen , whose music was a revelation to pretty well everyone – one exception to this was Christoph Kaufmann (tenor), who had suggested pairing it with CPE. Bach’s Magnificat. Christoph’s advocacy for Heinichen nicely paralleled Christopher’s enthusiasm for another Dresden court composer, Zelenka, whose Missa Dei Patris we performed in December 2013.

The audience was decent but short of a sell-out, despite David Moser’s urging on of the Choir to sell tickets. We were delighted to welcome Professor Bashir, who was very enthusiastic about the concert, and Joan Carden AO OBE,  who was particularly keen to hear Ashlyn Tymms again, the current holder of the eponymous JCA. Audience members to whom I and others spoke were particularly impressed with the Heinichen and generally enjoyed the concert, including the performance of the Choir.  This is no doubt a tribute to Christopher’s relentless insistence on correct muscular control and voice placement. We were perhaps a little daunted by the complexities of some of the singing demands made by these two Saxon masters, notably Emanuel’s long, nightmarishly difficult fugue on Sicut erat in Principio, which concludes the Magnificat. On the day of the concert, the omens were suddenly very positive, when some of us heard Colin Fox on ABC Classic FM’s Sunday breakfast program give a detailed, expansive plug for it. The bright, sunny day gave the lie to the generally gloomy forecasts. Professor Bashir’s warmly enthusiastic comments about Christopher, the orchestra and Choir in her remarks during the presentation to Pamela also helped to lift morale. In any event, we performed these works with great gusto and not a little skill. Final judgment will, as usual, await the recording. The Chamber Choir, with Ros Moxham once again taking some of the rehearsal load off Christopher’s shoulders, was given some of the more exposed passages to sing and did so beautifully. (One of the less salient outcomes of the concert is that, from now on, the Geelong Football Club will be known to Stephen Mills (bass) and your correspondent as the MagnifiCats).

All in all, this was a very successful venture by the Grads into unfamiliar but rewarding territory, following the exploratory journey in May into the terra incognita of von Suppé’s Requiem. It will put us in good shape to charge down the autobahn towards Handel’s Messiah and Haydn’s Die Schöpfung at the end of the year.

John Bowan

 

Posted in Concert reviews, Patrons Awards, subscription concerts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment