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

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