Parenthesis Choir – Year April 2017 – April 2018 Musical Directors Report
I write this at the end of year two as Musical Director of Parenthesis. I looked back at the report from this time last year and reminded myself where we had started our work together in April 2016 and where we had arrived by April 2017. It was a leap of immense proportions musically. The choir made a sound that was more vital and expressive than before and I felt that this would enable us to tackle a broader more stimulating palette of repertoire in the coming year.
When planning a year of music making and how we build upon the foundations that have been set there are many musical directions in which I could have taken the choir. It so happened that the success of the Psalmfest concert in February 2017 proffered opportunities for the choir, which, at the time I thought would be an extraordinarily ambitious leap in the performance standard of the choir. In many aspects my job was made significantly easier and in some, more difficult. We had to, at first; contend with another postponed visit from La Stephanelle and my involvement in the 2017 season at Garsington Opera. This made the summer term 2017 challenging with large periods of leadership from Ian Westley, for which I am immensely grateful and Martin stepping up to give the continuity in delivery of the preparation for the concert. We tackled a diverse and challenging repertoire, which I realise some members perhaps found, at times, testing. Nevertheless, I continued to see improvement in the reading of music and eventually the performance of our programme. Rutter’s The Sprig of Thyme offered a beautiful window in the English pastoral music. It was performed with vigour and subtlety in equal measure and was a credit to both the poetry and its setting in music. Martin’s Suns, Sky’s & Clouds presented a significantly more difficult challenge, and, on the day came together beautifully. I was particularly impressed by the different musical colours explored in the piece, and how we might go about painting these in our vocal production! We also mastered some English miniatures in the process and gave a performance of credit. The choir and audience also saw Martin and I with our soloist hats on. I personally found this a joy to be able to show the choir what I get up to when not waving like a traffic conductor! It was great pity that more audience members were not able to join us for what was an excellent evening.
In September 2017 we returned with our homage to all things Germanic. Beethoven’s Choral Symphony is a masterpiece. For once, I will accept the choir’s critique of Beethoven’s vocal writing, it is extremely challenging. The tessitura of the vocal lines is often at the extremity of what is possible. I can only comment that it was another step in the development of the choir, particularly when it comes to pronouncing the German language! I was impressed how people stuck at the task set for them and thankful to everyone who helped with pronunciation! We are greatly indebted to have been asked to perform by Frances Jones and Windsor & Maidenhead Symphony Orchestra. I also would like to thank Paul Ayres and the London College of Music for their outstanding contribution to the evening, we were extremely lucky to be able to perform at Eton College! Another rung on the ladder of musical progress was successfully climbed and this put us in a good position to tackle the next part of the choir year!
As always in December our thoughts turned to carol singing and I was thrilled with the quality of the work we achieved in such a short period of time! I know that the committee and I are committed to making more of our carol singing as both a charitable enterprise and fundraiser for the choir. 2017 was a good step towards us realising this, and I am sure that there might be more to write in my 2019 version of this report! I am sure that both The Oracle and station will be pleased to have us back in 2018.
In the January we began the most ambitious and challenging work which the choir has looked at during my time as Director. It would be a fair observation that I was extremely reticent about thrusting the choir into such a difficult challenge less than two years into my tenure! I once asked my school Director of Music Tim Johnson (now DoM at Eton College) if we would ever perform this work whilst I was at school. He replied that no one who was sane would ever give it to an amateur group and I took his warning seriously! I consider the work difficult, not necessarily because of the language or the music, but because of the committed operatic style of the work. It is a significant step up for a choir to sing in a heavier, sustained, legato and lyrical style. This piece requires it in spades. We also had to contend with my appointment as Musician in Residence at St. Cuthbert’s Society, Durham University. Again this presented logistical problems in rehearsal so I was thrilled to pass much of the musical preparation to Paul Burke of South Chiltern Choral Society, who we worked in collaboration with. It suffices to say that by the time I returned at the end of term to take the final Saturday rehearsal of term the choir had worked exceptionally hard and carefully through everything. I had the joy of adding some spice to the performance both in this rehearsal and on the day. When the day of the performance arrived, we were lucky to be blessed with excellent playing from Reading Symphony Orchestra, the calm and encouraging baton of Stefan Hofkes and the talent of LCM and Paul Ayres excellent preparation to further augment the large chorus. I also should mention that we had four excellent soloists who carried the bulk of the performance beautifully. Sarah (Baillie), Katie (Stevenson) Oliver (Johnston), Matthew (Buswell) were superb and commented on how well the chorus performed. We were also rewarded with an excellent review in the local press.
So where to now? We have begun on our preparation for La Stephanelle to visit us in July. We have a diverse programme to present which encompasses music from over four hundred years of European composition. I hope to report on a successful trip, new friendships forged and future plans for collaboration in the future. We then look from September onwards towards a concert in February 2019, Christmas 2018 – where I hope we will have a more comprehensive programme of performances and Summer 2019, where I am currently taking soundings from the choir about repertoire they might like to tackle in the coming academic year.
I present this report with confidence that the choir is continuing to successfully develop and evolve. Musically we are improving month by month and this is encouraging new members to join us. I look forward to making another positive statement in April 2019.