On Sunday 18 November, the Choir organised the third edition of ‘Sydney Sings Messiah’ in the Sydney Town Hall. Over 400 guest singers, who came from all over Sydney, as well as regional New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria and South Australia joined us for what turned out to be the largest-scale effort to date, challenging Christopher’s musical skills and the organisational skills of Catherine Crittenden and Michael Cahill, who recruited the members of the massed choir, and John Appleby, who took on the unenviable but vital task of getting the whole complement of singers seated in the organ gallery and in the side galleries surrounding the stage. Other members volunteered their services in such tasks as registration and liaison. As usual, the whole exercise went off efficiently and expeditiously. It was notable how faithfully Grads’ members observed the urgings of President, Evelyne de Clercq, and Christopher to make the guest singers (who included nearly 200 altos) feel at home. This has been a hallmark of these events, as can be gauged by the number of former guest singers who have subsequently joined the Choir, and by the number of guests who have returned at least once and, in some cases, have participated in all three editions (December 2007, November 2010, and again this year). It was a pleasure for us to be able to welcome back former members of the Choir and to make new friends.
In 2012, as previous years, the professional performers made an invaluable contribution: Christopher Bowen refused to be pressured or panicked by the challenge of achieving a decent standard of performance with such enormous forces and only one rehearsal. Christopher was on the podium almost uninterruptedly from 9.00 am to 5.00pm, demonstrating great physical and mental stamina. He went about his work with his usual attention to detail, coaxing nuance and precision from his singers and instrumentalists, rather than settling for ‘near enough is good enough’. His sustained good humour and sunny disposition were a revelation to Grads singers like your correspondent, who suffer regularly and undeservedly under the lash of his tongue. The sensitive work done by Vice-President Alan Crameri, who acted as Christopher’s assistant during the event, was no doubt instrumental in achieving this splendid serenity and calm.
The quartet of soloists assembled were a mixture of seasoned professionals and outstanding students. Pascal Herington (tenor) and Alexander Knight (bass), who are still studying at the Sydney Conservatorium and have sung as soloists in a couple of our Great Hall concerts (Pascal most recently in the ‘Heavenly Schubertiade’ and Alexander in the title role in Paulus), while Angela Brun (soprano) has begun a professional career and Timothy Chung (alto) is one of the best-known solo singers of baroque repertoire in Sydney. They did an excellent job.
Our orchestral musicians played at their usual very high level. This ensemble of twenty-odd players held their own against the enormous vocal forces and the quality of their playing served to underline the essential and magical role the orchestra plays in creating the musical experience of our concerts, both for the choral singers and the audience. Stan Kornel led and had the opportunity to play a virtual Handel Violin Sonata in the accompaniment to ‘If God be for us‘. His playing was superb. Melanie McLoughlin gave an outstanding account of the trumpet solo in ‘The Trumpet shall Sound’, while Duncan Thorpe (oboe) and John Benz (cello) gave fine performances of their important parts. It was a familiar pleasure to have Amy Johansen playing the organ, and an unusual one to have Monica Kornel play her harpsichord in the continuo group.
This 2012 Sydney Sings Messiah achieved the goals that the Choir had set for it: it was clearly enjoyed by the guest singers, the decent audience ( I heard a number of comments that people had found the “large chorus” an interesting and exciting way to experience Handel’s masterpiece), and ourselves. These concerts are becoming an important part of the Choir’s identity and profile. The experience and information gained in organising them will be very helpful to us as we prepare for the challenging task of mounting Verdi’s wonderful Messa da Requiem in April next year, in the same venue.
This series of Town Hall Messiah concerts is yet another brainchild of Christopher Bowen’s inventive mind. The grunt in bringing the concept to life was provided by Cath Crittenden, whose Presidency saw the series launched and who has overseen the subsequent concerts in 2010 and this year. Cath now proposes to take a well deserved rest from these particular labours, having done a brilliant job in establishing the Sydney Sings Messiah concerts. Hats off to her!
It is worth recording another signal effort at this year’s concert by Immediate Past President and source of great positive energy in the Choir, Marilyn Gosling. Following a visit to India, Marilyn flew home overnight from Bangkok, arriving on the morning of the performance itself. Undeterred by lack of sleep, she came direct to the Town Hall from the airport and participated in all the activities of the whole gruelling day, motivated primarily by a desire to listen to Angela Brun, whom she had signed up for her debut engagement with the Choir. (Janet and Paul Axon also came direct from the airport on the day and both participated in the rehearsals and performance). It is pleasing to be able to say that Angela’s fine singing justified this extraordinary effort on Marilyn’s part. We can count ourselves fortunate that Marilyn is going to undertake the task of managing the Verdi concert next year.
Dedication of the type shown by Cath and Marilyn makes an enormous contribution to the experience of singing in the Choir for the rest of us.