Thursday, July 5, 2018

Gallipoli to the Somme in the UK

Gallipoli to the Somme, London, 13 June 2018  Photo: Ian Thomson
By all accounts the two performances of Anthony Ritchie’s Gallipoli to the Somme at the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford on 2 June and at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London on 13 June 2018 we brilliant, to say the least. 

Simon Over conductor 
Anna Leese soprano 
Jon Stainsby baritone 
City Choir Dunedin (New Zealand) 
The Parliament Choir 
Southbank Sinfonia 
Concertmaster and solo violin: Tessa Petersen (Dunedin Symphony Orchestra)

It was an honour and a privilege for 30 members of City Choir Dunedin to travel to the opposite end of the world to participate in these performances and enjoy the generous and warm hospitality of the Parliament Choir singers and the Southbank Sinfonia players.


‘The concert was absolutely magnificent and Gallipoli to the Somme a most moving and inventive combination of words and music. Who knew that extracts from war diaries could be such an effective foil against the very varied patchwork of poetry and lyrics. Absolutely incredible and no wonder it got a standing ovation.’ 

Jenny Lewis, poet and author of ‘Taking Mesopotamia’

‘Congratulations to all who conceived and then realised such an aurally, textually and metaphorically even monumentally perfect event with which to end the Series formally (although there remains the poetry evening on Tuesday). It was a superb programme. The Lark Ascending began with unprecedented saxophone accompaniment which didn’t deter the soloist and orchestra one bit, and then ended with real birdsong as the final violin strains faded away – a moment of pure enchantment, so English, so right for the occasion. To my shame, I had never heard of Augusta Holmès, but I loved her orchestral piece, rich and sonorous, uplifting and operatic. As for the Ravel, rarely can a performance have had such poignancy and power, despite the light-hearted nature of some of the movements, generating contrasting emotions which seem to have regularly surfaced during the year. All three pieces were hugely enhanced by Kate Kennedy’s illuminating programme notes. 

However, Anthony Ritchie’s personal, colossal, majestic, ironic, heartbreaking piece was what took all our breath away. The programmatic selection of texts – many of which were little-known and may now become deservedly less so – was itself given new depth through that compelling music, somehow conveying a glimpse of the unfathomable. The symbolism of that violin suddenly became clear to all, too. The bitter juxtaposition of jolliness and catastrophe, of dreams and shattering reality: all was encompassed in the infinite range of vocal, choral and orchestral expression. On a personal note, Vive la Compagnie! brought back to mind a performance of the stirring original for male voices that I had conducted early in my career, without, of course, knowing anything of its being sung just before the Battle of the Somme. Last night’s version was overwhelming, the utterly unexpected disintegration of both words and music at the end evocative of the end of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony or Das Lied von der Erde, in both of which words and music, finally, give way to silence, because that’s all we are left with. And to close with that intimate setting of Ataturk’s embracing, almost comforting sentiments was nothing short of 

My apologies for rambling. I will not be the only one to have been profoundly affected by last night, and not least by the UK-NZ cooperation with all its symbolism.’ 

John Dunstan, musician and educator

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Review: Grief to Joy, Music For Easter

City Choir Dunedin, 7 April 2018. (Photo: Carlos Silva)
Grief to Joy, Music for Easter
Saturday 7 April 2018, Knox Church

City Choir Dunedin opened their 2018 season on Saturday evening with a varied and engaging programme of music for Easter. Led confidently by music Director David Burchell and accompanied on the organ by Douglas Mews the choir began with Verdi’s setting of Stabat Mater Dolorosa. Beginning perhaps a tad too enthusiastically the choir soon found their voice settling nicely into Verdi’s vivid depictions of the Crucifixion. While in some sections the choir seemed unsure of the specifics of Verdi’s more complex harmonies, in others, particularly some of the more lamentful sections, they achieved a pleasing warmth of tone.

Following this the audience was introduced to the guest choir for the evening. The Main Street Singers hail from Los Altos High School in the San Francisco Bay area. The Choir have been doing annual international tours for many years and this year’s brought them to New Zealand and Tonga. Their first bracket contained three works by American composers juxtaposed with a 16th century Madrigal and an African American Spiritual. While their performance of John Bennet’s Weep, O Mine Eyes at times lacked the clarity and confidence demanded by complex renaissance polyphony, their other works were executed sensitively and effectively with the moving Felices Ter by Randall Thompson a particular highlight.

Following this the City Choir returned to sing Lo, the Full, Final Sacrifice by Gerald Finzi. For this the choir’s forces were augmented by soloists Benjamin Madden (Tenor) and Malcolm Leitch (Bass) who sang not just the solo roles but in the choir throughout. This was a masterstroke and greatly secured the smaller Tenor and Bass sections of the choir that in turn led to a more confident and well blended sound overall. Finzi’s setting of the text by Richard Crashaw is at times both powerful and sensitive and the choir proved adept at portraying both with the support of Douglas Mews from the Organ. The solos from Madden and Leitch as well as Caroline Burchell (Soprano) from the choir were effective and provided an excellent contrast to the powerful and moving central section of the work.

The second half began with a second bracket of songs from the Main Street Singers. This bracket included a similar selection to the first beginning with energetic and contrapuntal Cantus Gloriosus by Josef Swider and ending with two enthusiastically received spirituals. Overall the choir proved themself an impressive group of young singers evidenced both through the high level of proficiency in the singing and the impressive quality of their soloists. Their commitment to contemporary repertoire must also be noted and commended (although the fact that of five original 20th century compositions none were by women must be questioned).

The evening was concluded with Bach’s Cantata 66 ‘Erfreut euch, ir Herzen’ for this the City Choir were again joined by Madden and Leitch as well as Claire Barton (Mezzo-soprano) and a small, seven piece chamber ensemble from the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra. The opening chorus was declamatory and effective as the choir implores the audience to “rejoice” at the news of Christ’s resurrection. This was followed by a series of arias which displayed the virtuosity and tone of voice of the three soloists. The DSO ensemble was effective throughout with the pair of oboes dazzling in the opening chorus, a beautiful Violin obligato solo complementing the voices of Barton and Madden in the final aria. The final chorale was a fitting if brief conclusion both to the cantata and the concert.

By Nathaniel Otley, The Wave, 10 April 2018

Nathaniel Otley is a third year Music Student at the University of Otago studying Performance Violin and Composition. As a singer Nathaniel has sung in roles for both Opera Otago and Little Box of Operas. He has also sung in choirs including the New Zealand Secondary Students Choir and is a current member of the New Zealand Youth Choir.