Come Celebrate Christmas
Mozart’s charming Pastoral Mass in G major, K. 140, and works by J S Bach, William Billings, J Barnby, Edward Elgar, Jonathan Berkhan and Zoltan Kodaly.
Directed by Jonathan Berkahn
7-00pm Sunday 10 December 2017
St Barnabas Anglican Church
35 Box Hill, Khandallah
Thomas Nikora ~ accompanist
The Festival Players
& special guests
The Northern Chorale.
A koha for Downtown Community Ministry was collected
Settings of William Blake’s poems by Berkahn & Vaughan Williams; and other music of his time.
Directed by Jonathan Berkahn
7-30pm Saturday 16 September 2017
Wesley Methodist Church
75 Taranaki Street, Wellington
Barbara Paterson ~ soprano
Thomas Nikora ~ accompanist
This was the first time Jonathan Berkahn’s suite of eight settings of poems by William Blake had been performed together.
The issues of inequality, poverty and child deprivation that Blake wrote about in London 200 years ago are still relevant today in New Zealand, as we approach our next general election.
“I have for many years been fascinated by William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, by their memorable images, and the lucid and uncompromising language of the poems. The two books are, in a sense, parodies of each other: a reminder that there is always more than one way of looking at a thing,” says composer Jonathan Berkahn
“Two years ago the Festival Singers performed a concert celebrating the animal world: The Peaceable Kingdom, and I took the opportunity to set three of the best-known poems: The Lamb, The Tyger, and Night. Now we have a collection of eight ready to sing for you. The texts and music vary greatly in mood, from the coarse fun of The Little Vagabond to the tenderness of On Another’s Sorrow, to the heartbreaking bitterness of London, and the still-topical cry of Holy Thursday:
‘Is this a holy thing to see / In a rich and fruitful land,— / Babes reduced to misery, / Fed with cold and usurous hand?’
“To journey through Blake’s poems is to journey through Blake’s London, a city of wealth and poverty, green fields and cold stone churches.”
“For this reason, in the concert – which we have called The Blake Project – you will also hear music of Blake’s time: respectable church music from the cathedrals, secular part-songs from the glee-clubs, instrumental music from the concert hall, and possibly a Methodist hymn or two. We will, of course, also sing the best-known Blake setting of all, Parry’s Jerusalem. And then, after an hour or two spent in William Blake’s London, you will be able to return safely to Wellington, 2017.”
A celebration of sacred music by composers better known for their operas.
Featured composers included:
Gounod, Wagner, Puccini, Verdi,
Donizetti, Rossini, Lloyd Webber.
Our performers were:
Barbara Paterson ~ soprano
Heather Easting ~ organ
Thomas Nikora ~ accompanist
& The Festival Strings
Directed by Jonathan Berkahn
2-30pm Sunday 18 June 2017
Waiwhetu Uniting Church
4 Trafalgar Street, Waiwhetu, Lower Hutt
Favourites were rehearsed during Saturday’s gathering and performed that evening when past members from around the country reunited with present members of Festival Singers.
Conductors from the four decades of the choir’s existence featured: Guy Jansen, Rosemary Russell, Jonathan Berkahn, and current accompanist Thomas Nikora (who is also Cantoris’ Musical Director).
We performed works including the John Rutter’s Gloria & Blessing, Jonathan Berkahn’s Te Deum, and Zadok The Priest and The Hallelujah Chorus along with other favourites.
Festival Singers & The Tawa Orchestra
The Last Judgement
by Louis Spohr
With Max Reger’s Variations on a Theme by Mozart,
and works by Felix Mendelssohn, Gabriel Faure, and others.
2 pm Sunday
31 July 2016
Tawa College Hall
38 Duncan Street, Tawa
Palm / Passion Sunday — 2pm, 20 March 2016
at Futuna Chapel, 67 Futuna Close (off Friend Street), Karori.
Festival Singers was delighted to be part of the
Colours of Futuna Concert Series 2016
Programme for the concert included:
Were you there
from Handel’s Messiah:
Behold the Lamb of God
He trusted in God
Since by man
J S Bach:
God so loved the world
Beloved, if God so loved us
If we believe
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Advent Through the Ages
Included music by:
Hans Leo Hassler, Felix Mendelssohn, W Ballet/Geoffrey Shaw,
Hector Berlioz, John Stainer & Jonathan Berkahn
Director: Jonathan Berkahn
Accompanied by: Thomas Nikora
~ Featuring: Ruth Armishaw ~
7.30pm Fri. 4 Dec. 2015
Waiwhetu Uniting Church
6 Trafalgar Street, Waiwhetu
A koha was collected for resettlement of Syrian
The Peaceable Kingdom
Accompanied by: Thomas Nikora and Bernard Wells
A Choral Menagerie
Music from 1250 to 2015,
from Orlando Gibbons
to Flanders & Swann
2.30pm Sunday 17 May 2015
Khandallah Town Hall
11 Ganges Road, Wellington.
Programme – Choral works
O Magnum Mysterium
Chris Artley – 2012
O Praise the Lord of Heaven
William Billings (1746–1800
Sumer is icumen in
John of Fornsete c. 1226
Michael Flanders (1922–1975), Donald Swann (1923–1994)
Flocks in Pastures Green Abiding
JS Bach (1685–1750)
Arranged by Stanley Roper – 1946
The Silver Swan
Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625)
Capricciate & Contrappunto bestiale alla mente from
Three Madrigals from Il Festino nella sera del giovedi grasso avante cena
Adriano Banchieri (1567–1634
Three Settings by Jonathan Berkahn – 2015
of Poems by William Blake (1757–1827)
Ye Spotted Snakes
Text: William Shakespeare (d. 1616)
Music: RJS Stevens (1757–1837)
a South American Christmas
On 28 November 2014, we presented a concert of South American Christmas Music
from the 16th – 21st centuries.
Accompanist: Thomas Nikora
7.30pm Friday 28 November 2014
Island Bay Presbyterian Church
88 The Parade, Island Bay.
Pedro de Cristo (Portugal, c.1540–1618)
(Spain/Peru/Guatemala, c. 1558–c1605)
Christus natus est nobis
Organ pieces from his Sonate d’intavolatura
José Maurício Nunes Garcia
Two responsories from Matinas do Natal:
no. 2 – Hodie nobis de coelo pax
no. 4 – O magnum mysterium
Tangos by Astor Piazolla
Ariel Ramírez (Argentina, 1921–2010)
from Misa Criolla:
Kyrie, Gloria, Agnus Dei
Click here to:
Download a low resolution copy of the Programme Booklet
Enthusiastic review of Feliz Navidad on Middle C
“…a thoroughly enjoyable evening’s music making, where the director had very skilfully put together a programme offering a glimpse into a whole world of South American musical tradition that most of the audience would, I imagine, have been previously quite unaware of. The concert was built around the central theme of Christmas, yet it spanned an astonishing breadth of styles, all of which the musicians took easily in their stride. The enthusiasm of both singers and players was infectious, and it caught up everyone in an evening that was a refreshing celebration of this great Christian festival.”
Mozart vs Salieri
- Vesperae Solennes de Confessore K 339 by Mozart, and
- Mass no. 1 in D major by Salieri
Featured artists were:
Soprano – Imogen Thirlwall
Contralto – Ruth Armishaw
Tenor – William McElwee
Baritone – Jamie Henare
Organist: Rafaella Garlick-Grice
with String Accompaniment
Sunday 21 September 2014
at St John’s Anglican Church
18 Bassett Road, Johnsonville.
A Rising Tide: Easter Music
Director: Jonathan Berkahn
Accompanist: Rafaella Garlick-Grice
Baritone: Jamie Henare
2.30pm Sunday 6 April 2014
at St Peter’s Anglican Church
Willis Street Wellington
The Third Day – Jonathan Berkahn
While there were plenty of musical works whose subject was Christ’s Passion and Death, there were few dealing with the Resurrection. Using texts taken from the Gospels and recast into different kinds of song-forms, Berkahn’s “Resurrection” cantata recounts the story from Christ’s death and burial to his rising from the tomb and reappearance to his followers, charging them with “The Great Commission” of going forth and teaching all nations. The music is set for baritone soloist, choir and instrumentalists, including violin, accordion, electric guitars, bass and drums. As with Baroque performing practice, the instrumentalists are given melodic lines and the occasional chordal cadence around which they are expected by the composer to fill in appropriate textures and interlocking rhythmic patterns.
“The whole progressed with a sweep and momentum that I for one found quite exhilarating.”
(Based on an independent review of the 2009 premiere by Peter Mechen for http://middle-c.org)
Stabat Mater op. 138 – Josef Gabriel Rheinberger (1839-1901)
A fine, moving setting for choir and organ of the Latin text describing Mary’s lament for Jesus after he is taken down from the cross. In four sections: Stabat Mater dolorosa, Quis est homo, Eja Mater fons amoris & Virgo virginum praeclara.
The concert also featured Greater Love Hath No Man by John Ireland.
A Victorian Christmas
4.00 pm Sunday, 15 December 2013
at St Ninian’s Uniting Church,
208 Karori Road, Wellington
An enthusiastic crowd joined us for an afternoon of old favourites and recent rediscoveries: carols, anthems, parlour songs, recitations, afternoon tea and other
Conductor: Jonathan Berkahn
Accompanist: Rafaella Garlick-Grice on piano and organ
Soprano: Ailsa Liscombe
A collection was taken up and we were delighted to make a donation of $400 to the Wellington City Mission
A joint concert with Cantoris (www.cantoris.net.nz),
celebrating the seasons with works by
& Lauridsen, Rutter, Artley, Vaughan Williams, Brahms
Thompson, Shank, Tavener, Applebaum, Hogan
Director: Brian O’Regan
Click here for the excellent concert review on Middle C
Friday 1 Nov. 2013
St Andrews on the Terrace, Wellington
Sun 3rd Nov 2013
St Mark’s Uniting Church
The programme included:
1. Eric Whitacre – Alleluia
2. Brahms – Wie Lieblich sind deine wohnungen
3. John Tavener – The Lamb
4. I’m a train – King’s Singers
5. Robert Applebaum – Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day
6. Moses Hogan – Elijah Rock
7. Autumn – Joshua Shank
8.. Eric Whitacre – Cloudburst
9. Ralph Vaughan Williams – The Cloud Capp’d Towers
10. R. Thompson – Stopping by woods on a snowy evening
11. Brahms – Waldesnacht
Missa in C by Franz Xaver Schnizer
Conductor – Monika Smith
Accompanist – Jonathan Berkahn
Sunday 16 June 2013, 2:30pm
St Johns Anglican Church, 18 Bassett Road, Johnsonville
The Northern Chorale and the Festival Singers of Wellington combined on 16 June to perform the lovely but seldom heard Missa in C by Franz Xaver Schnizer.
The composer wrote this exciting organ mass around 1770. Born in 1740, Schnizer was by that time both priest, and organist and choir master at Ottobeuren, a Bavarian monastery renowned for excellent and innovative music making, and in possession of two world-famous Riepp organs, which would certainly have been used for the Mass.
Following the Ottobeuren motto:
“As the house of God, that is, the church, should represent heaven on earth, thus also should church music present to the faithful a foretaste of the joys of eternal life”,
Schnizer’s Mass combines a lively dialogue between instrument and voices with polyphonic and homophonic sections contrasting simplicity with dramatic expression.
Monika Smith conducted the combined choirs, while the imaginative and lively organ part was played by Jonathan Berkahn, who was also the acting conductor of the Festival Singers.
A Sound Came from Heaven
A sparkling concert of music for Pentecost by Mews, Billings, Tallis, Stainer, Bekahn and others.
The music ranged from a 9th century hymn through to a new setting of a poem James K. Baxter, composed by our acting musical director Jonathan Berkahn this year.
We also featured celtic musicians Bernard Wells and Elisabeth Auchinvole.
2.30 pm Sunday 26 May 2013
at St John’s Anglican Church, 18 Bassett Road, Johnsonville
Click below to download the programme booklet for this concert:
4 page PDF (230kb) A_Sound_came_from_Heaven_prog_for_web
From Shadow to Light
We journeyed through 400 years of music from Henry Purcell to John Rutter.
This varied programme moved from the sombre, hauntingly beautiful Funeral Sentences composed by Purcell on the death of Queen Mary, through Purcell duets and recorder music and on to the joy of Christmas captured by Rutter’s Gloria.
We were also delighted to premiere a new Christmas composition by choir member Evan Dumbleton.
Click here to download a 230kb PDF of the Programme Booklet Shadow_to_Light_programme_for_web
Jonathan Berkahn: Organ
Barbara and Lesley Graham: Sopranos
Bernard Wells recorder ensemble
4.00- 5.30pm Saturday 1 December 2012
St Ninians Uniting Church, 208 Karori Road, Wellington
Festival Singers & Wellington Organists Assn
Paul Rosoman: Organ
Jonathan Berkahn: Organ
James Adams: Tenor
Linden Loader: Contralto
Vierne: Messe Solennelle Op 14, Tantum Ergo, Ave Maria by the Festival Singers
French songs by James Adams and Linden Loader
French Romantic organ works played by Jonathan Berkahn and Paul Rosoman.
The Festival Singers and the Organists have collaborated several times before, performing Masses for two organs and choir by Saint Saens and Widor. In each case the organists have been Jonathan Berkahn who is the accompanist for Festival Singers and Paul Rosoman who is currently chair person of the Wellington Organists Association, as well as a busy concert organist.
The Messe Solennelle Op 14 in C# Minor was written by Vierne, a pupil of Widor and played by them together for his audition to become the organist at Saint-Sulpice in Paris. Vierne was given the job and later became organist at Notre Dame in Paris.
The five movement work (no Credo) is romantic, with smooth and soaring vocal lines and warm chromatic accompaniment. Interesting textural changes are a feature of the work. The parts are shared between the Grand and Petit Orgue, as they are between the vocal lines with attractive solo lines for each of the choir’s parts interspersed through out the work.
Vierne, whose death is remembered this year, 75 years on, died probably from a heart attack at the organ toward the end of his 1750th concert performance, thus fulfilling his wish to die at the organ.
2.30pm Sun. 9 Sept. 2012, Sacred Heart Cathedral, Hill Street, Wellington
You can read a superb review of our French Delights concert on Middle-C here:
Download the programme booklet here PDF 316kb
Click the thumbnails below to see bigger images:
(photos by Alexander Garside)
2.30pm Sunday 20 November 2011
at St Andrews on the Terrace, Wellington
Lesley Graham – Soprano
James Adams – Tenor
Roger Wilson – Bass
with members of:
The Wellington Chamber Orchestra
This is Haydn’s last major composition, describing the four seasons with all their delights.
A wonderfully lyrical and inventive work with a lot of imagery depicting scenes of rustic country living, The Seasons is not often performed, due in part to the rather quaint English libretto which has been adapted for this performance. The three soloists represent a farmer, his daughter and another young farmer. The choruses on themes such as the sun, a storm, sleep, toil, spinning, the hunt and a wily young girl are great fun.
Click the thumbnails below to see bigger images
(photos by Alexander Garside)
at Salvation Army Citadel, Vivian Street
An exciting programme of folk songs and music from around the world.
Guest Artists: Chilli Jam
The Festival Singers presented 20 folk songs from around the world…a great variety of styles, accompaniments and arrangements….from the favourite Shenandoah to the unusual New Zealand Gumdigger, the crazy Mexican Hat Dance to Sweden’s jazzy Domardansen…new and old, fast and slow.
But wait there’s more…to add to the foot tapping night, the folk band Chilli Jam surprised and delighted with celtic, klezmer and other folk pieces with a lovely mix of instruments in several sets during the evening.
The Third Day
At 7.30pm on Saturday 21 May 2011 in Palmerston North at St Andrew’s Church and at 2.30 pm on Sunday 22 May 2011 at the Presbyterian Church in Waikanae, we performed The Third Day again.
In the period after Easter, it is timely to bring this work to people, as unlike the classical Passions of Bach and others, the text of Jonathan’s cantata focuses on the days after Jesus’ crucifixion and on the events surrounding his resurrection.
The first half of this concert was an exciting adventure through folk music from many countries. Beginning in the Appalachian mountains of America, songs from Europe, United Kingdom, South America and New Zealand are presented. Folk songs are often memories of wonderful moments of sadness or joy in people’s lives, captured often in lament or dance form.
Proceeds went to Presbyterian Support Central www.psc.org.nz
Petite Messe solennelle
Director: Rosemary Russell
Piano: Jonathan Berkahn ~ Louisa Joblin
Harmonium: Thomas Gaynor
Soprano: Lesley Graham
Alto: Linden Loader
Tenor: Jonathan Abernethy
Bass: Roger Wilson
7.30pm Saturday 20 November 2010
Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Hill Street, Wellington
Press Release 26 October 2010
The Festival Singers of Wellington
Director: Rosemary Russell
Petite Messe solennelle by Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)
Saturday Nov 20th at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Hill St Thorndon
Soloists: Lesley Graham, Linden Loader, Jonathan Abernethy and Roger Wilson
Pianos: Jonathan Berkahn, Louisa Joblin
Harmonium: Thomas Gaynor
“Good God – behold completed this poor little Mass – is it indeed sacred music [la musique sacrée] that I have just written, or merely some damned music [la sacré musique]? You know well, I was born for comic opera. Little science, a little heart, that is all. So may you be blessed, and grant me Paradise!
Written basically for himself, this wonderfully joyful mass was the last larger composition that Rossini wrote that was publicly performed. He called it one of my “pêches de vieillesse” (sins of old age). It was sung for the dedication in 1864 of the private chapel of the comtesse of Pillet-Will.
It is not petite, an average performance lasting about ninety minutes of about 15 different sections. A fascinating Preludio Religioso for piano and a wonderful O salutaris hostia for soprano solo are added to the usual mass format.
Nor is it solemn…there is a wonderful array of good tunes, harmonic invention, and funky rhythmic patterns. The piano 1 part is quite a workout! There is some super interplay between the harmonium and the pianos.
Rossini was particularly proud of his contrapuntal writing, believing even Bach would have approved. In his retirement, he studied Bach’s writing closely. The Cum Sancto Spiritu and Et Vitam Venturi are magnificently composed.
About the singers, Rossini said, “Twelve singers of three sexes, men, women and castrati will suffice for its execution: that is eight for the choir, four soloists, in all twelve cherubim”. It has also been said that all this piece requires is a small hall, two pianos, a harmonium, eight choristers and the four greatest singers on earth. We have not been able to strictly follow all these guidelines (!) but really do offer the piece in a great venue, with two pianos and harmonium (specially hired from the museum in Woodville!), a well-rehearsed choir and four of Wellington, New Zealand’s greatest soloists!
Join us for a wonderful evening!
Combined Choirs with Orchestra
– Music of Antonio Salieri
Festival Singers & Wainuiomata Choir
with members of the Wellington Chamber Orchestra
Antonio Salieri – Mass in D and other works
2:30pm Sunday 15 August 2010
at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Hill Street, Wellington
Mass in D ‘Hofkapellmeister-Messe’ (1788)
Overture – La tempesta di mare (1778)
Overture – Armida (1771)
Coronation Te Deum (1790).
Antonio Salieri was a fine musician and, according to those who knew him (including Mozart!) a decent person. During his lifetime he enjoyed great success as a composer (particularly of operas and church music), a performer (stepping in on more than one occasion to conduct premieres of Mozart’s music when Mozart was unwell) and a teacher – of Beethoven, Schubert and Liszt, among others.
His personal and professional reputation took a dive a few years after his death, when Pushkin published a poem fabricating the idea that Salieri poisoned Mozart. This was the 1830 equivalent of today’s celebrity gossip columnists interviewing their word processors to create juicy copy to sell magazines, and was at least as destructive. This sorry nonsense was carried on by several 19th-century composers of operas based on the Pushkin piece, and has continued into our own time thanks to Schaeffer’s play, also rendered as a film, Amadeus.
The Festival Singers and the Wainuiomata Choir, along with members of the Wellington Chamber Orchestra offered Wellington concert-goers a chance to enjoy a selection of Salieri’s music, both sacred and secular.
When appointed Kapellmeister of the Imperial Court in Vienna in 1788, Salieri wrote his Mass in D, which is lovely, tuneful, appropriately dramatic in places, with imaginative use of varied orchestral and choral textures. This opened the concert and was being performed from an authentic edition with the full orchestral forces, including four trumpets. It seems almost certain that this was a NZ premiere.
The concert concluded with another sacred work, rather different in character, the Te Deum composed for the coronation of the new Emperor in 1790 – it is altogether grander, befitting such an occasion.
In between, the Orchestra played two of Salieri’s opera overtures; firstly La tempesta di mare (‘The storm at sea’) which he used for two different operas, and Armida, which is specific to the opera of that title, as it sets up the opening scene with a musically descriptive depiction of events.
David Beattie, the Musical Director of the Wainuiomata Choir who conducted this performance, says:
“Antonio Salieri was the boy from the town of Legnago in Northern Italy who came to the Viennese Imperial Court and made himself an outstanding career there, retaining his Chapel appointment until 1824 – the longest tenure in the centuries this position existed. As someone who, a few years ago, discovered his own North Italian ancestry, I feel privileged to present this beautiful, expressive music.”
Click the thumbnails below to see bigger images
(photos by Alexander Garside)
Saint Saens, Psalms and Spirituals
Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, Hill Street, Wellington
Featuring: Saint Saëns Mass Op. 4
and works by:
Mendelssohn, John Rutter, René Clausen, Zsolt Gárdonyi,
Moses Hogan & William Henry Smith
Jonathan Berkahn & Paul Rosoman ~ organists
Clarissa Dunn ~ soprano
Bianca Andrew ~ mezzo soprano
Chris Anderson ~ tenor
Kieran Rayner ~ baritone
Mass Op 4 by Saint Saëns written in 1856 is conceived for a large organ (grande orgue), a small organ (orgue d’accompagnement) four soloists and a choir. The presence of these two organs in many cathedrals in Europe creates an opportunity to create a work of this nature. In this mass, the choir is always accompanied by the smaller instrument while the larger organ creates another dimension and source of different sound. Musically, the Mass is full of youthful enthusiasm and charm. Throughout there are elements of plainsong, fugue, choral prelude, waltz, march and romantic melody. The constantly changing interplay between the organs, soloists and choir creates some surprising textures. Not often performed, it is a delightful work and will be especially pleasurable to perform in the particular acoustics of the Wellington Cathedral. Paul Rosoman plays the larger instrument and Jonathan Berkahn accompanies the choir on the smaller instrument.
Bianca Andrew joins the three other soloists Clarissa Dunn, Chris Anderson and Kieran Rayner in her first outing with the Festival Singers. Bianca and Clarissa are also presenting a Saint Saëns duet.
In the second half of the concert, an exploration of psalm texts by Mendelssohn, Rutter and Clausen is followed by a range of spirituals to warm the heart.
Come and join us for a night of beautiful and uplifting music.
Review – by Peter Mechen for Middle C
“Camille Saint-Saëns was wracked with pains,
When people addressed him as “Saint-Saynes”;
He held the human race to blame,
because it could not pronounce his name.”
Readers who remember Ogden Nash’s verses will sympathise further with Camille Saint-Saëns in his predicament at being known as a composer primarily for his zoological fantasy “Carnival of the Animals”, though his “Organ” Symphony and several of his concertos for violin, for ‘cello and for piano, have always figured in concert programmes. All gratitude, therefore, to the Festival Singers here in Wellington, for presenting in concert a relative rarity, the composer’s Mass Op.4, written in 1856 when Saint-Saëns was twenty-one, and working as an organist at the church of St-Merry, in Paris. Originally written with orchestral accompaniment, along with the two organs (grand and petite), the work was performed by the Festival Singers in the composer’s later arrangement made without the orchestra. Always his own man in whatever he did, Saint-Saëns largely ignored the more “operatic” vocal style of the liturgical music of his contemporaries, instead choosing to emulate various “historical” precedents, such as the exchanges between the two organs which open the work, and the alternating of organ and choir immediately following, called “alternatum”. Other influences on the work are those of plainchant, of renaissance-like polyphony, of Bachian counterpoint and the sense of drama expressed in the masses of Haydn and Mozart.
At first, the opening alternating statements by the two organs were puzzling – though nicely antiphonal and varied, there was little sense of forward movement or projected focus, which in itself created a kind of tension. The entry of the voices for the Kyrie then seemed to uncover a hitherto concealed pathway along which the music could then move. Whether the youthful composer had this almost “cut adrift” effect in mind at the outset which could then be energised in a specific direction, I’m not sure; but a sense of expectation-cum-bemusement was engendered by the organ dialogues at the beginning, making the entry of the choir a moment of real frisson, of sudden enlightenment and compelling forward motion.
As with the performance of the Dvorak Mass last year, I thought the Singers revelled in presenting to its audience music that ought to be far better known. The work of both soloists and chorus constantly delighted the ear, the full choir able to set the voluminous spaces of the cathedral resounding, even if some of the singing of the sections, through dint of lack of numbers, couldn’t manage the evenness of tone required by some of the exchanges (the women outnumbering the men, and their lines consequently rather more consistently full-toned and secure). Each of the four soloists, soprano Clarissa Dunn, mezzo Bianca Andrew, tenor Chris Anderson and baritone Kieran Rayner, gave particular pleasure with their work, and blended their voices beautifully throughout. Both Jonathan Berkahn and Paul Rosoman contributed stirring organ solos, the latter setting the spaces thundering and shaking with the larger instrument’s grandeur of utterance in places, and setting off the delicacy and poise of Jonathan Berkahn’s playing of the “petite orgue”, accompanying the choir throughout most of the work. Rosemary Russell’s direction seemed to me to be exactly what the music asked for at all times – one could imagine a more tautly-conceived introduction, perhaps, but such a course may well have gained little for the work and lost that air of expectancy which both the silences and the natural flow of the organ-playing built up.
After the interval came the “Psalms and Spirituals”, a sequence whose success surprised and delighted me, as I thought it worked well. The Psalms were begun with Mendelssohn’s energetic and festive “Jauchzet dem Herrn”, the unccompanied choir confident, secure and accurate, and the solo soprano voices from the body of the choir spectacularly good. Somewhat less compelling as a work and as a performance was John Rutter’s “I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes”, the ethereal tones of the “petite orgue” blending sweetly with the small but properly plaintive tenor voices, the full choral passages confident, if occasionally over-balanced on the women’s side. I thought the fragmented vocal lines towards the end (broken up by frequent organ passages, albeit beautifully played) made it difficult for the choir to maintain its tones securely, though forgiveness was forthcoming at the very end with the delicately-floated “Amens”.
American composer René Clausen’s “All That Hath Life And Breath Praise Ye the Lord” featured lively unaccompanied singing, with a striking “many tongues” effect towards the end of the piece, not completely accurate in pitch, but with a real sense of bubbling excitement in the textures – again some sonorous, well-focused work came from a solo soprano choral voice, while the rest of the sopranos brought off a lovely ostinato-accompanied reprise of the main theme midway through. I liked the second John Rutter Psalm “The Lord Is My Shepherd” better than I did the first one, the singing well-rounded (tenors keeping their line despite a touch of strain) and a delicious organ solo sounding as though poet Christopher Smart’s cat Jeffrey had wandered into the work from one of Benjamin Britten’s pieces. Another Rutter Psalm-setting “O Clap Your hands” evoked a dance-spirit with occasional bell-like descending figures, though I thought either the composer or the performers could have given the work’s last couple of pages a little bit more energy and “ring”.
Saint-Saens’s music made a reappearance with his “Ave Maria” sung as a duet by Clarissa Dunn and Bianca Andrew, a welcome change from the over-performed Gounod setting, and one which again enlarged one’s appreciation of the composer and his work. Accompanied by some sensitive piano-playing from Jonathan Berkhan, the singers captured the joyous radiance of the first part of the prayer, and the clouded-over, minor-key supplication of the second. Bianca Andrew took a strong and heartfelt canonic lead through the latter episode, before easing gratefully back into major-key mode together with her equally melifluous-voiced soprano partner for a beautifully-floated “Amen”. The composer might or might not have approved of his music being juxtaposed with such a bluesy number as “Somebody’s knockin'”, the first of the Spirituals, and probably the funkiest of the selection, the piano accompaniment being particularly moved by the spirit in Jonathan Berkahn’s capable hands. I liked the variation of atmosphere from piece to piece underlined by the different accompaniments, a capella alternating with piano, and a primitive-sounding African-style beat for “Keep Your Lamp”, which conductor and percussionist launched into successfully after a “ready-steady” first attempt. The groundswell of feeling engendered by the final item “There is a Balm in Gilead” satisfied on all counts, appropriately featuring a sweetly dignified soprano voice from the choir and a gently-rocking piano accompaniment – a warm and engaging way to end an enjoyable concert.
Chorus & Keys
Concert at St John’s in the City, Willis Street, Wellington
7.30pm Saturday 12 September 2009
Combined concert with Wellington Organists
Featured Dvorak’s Mass in D major and works by:
Purcell, Matthias, Sweelinck, Mendelssohn, Benjamin Britten, JC Bach and Eugene Gigout
About the concert
The concert was shared with the Wellington Organists Association. Festival Singers are singing Mass in D by Dvorak accompanied by organ, with four soloists.
Clarissa Dunn – Soprano
Rosel Labone – Alto
John Beaglehole – Tenor
Kieran Rayner – Baritone
It is a beautiful and lyrical work, approximately 40 minutes in length.
In addition we sang Rejoice in the Lord Always by Purcell and an anthem Let the People Praise Thee O God by William Mathias, written for the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.
The programme also featured pieces played by some of our excellent Wellington organists: Paul Rosoman, Judy Dumbleton & Jonathan Berkahn
Chorus & Keys Concert photos (taken by Alexander Garside)
Click the photoa for larger images
“The Third Day”
And works by other Wellington composers:
Andrew Baldwin, Pepe Becker, Jack Body, Jonathan Crehan,
Stuart Douglas, Felicia Edgecombe, Gareth Farr,
Maurice Faulknor, Jenny McLeod & Carol Shortis
8pm Saturday 27 June 2009
St Andrew’s on the Terrace, Wellington
About the concert
The Festival Singers of Wellington was proud to present a concert of works by Wellington Composers. This concert was devised in the spirit of promoting and celebrating locally birthed works. This was the choir’s first performance in the refurbished St Andrews on the Terrace.
Most of the pieces were written after 2000 and Jonathan Berkahn’s Cantata was especially hot off the press, being commissioned by the Festival Singers for this concert, following his successful Te Deum for choir and Irish Folk Band that we recorded a couple of years ago on our Spirited People CD.
The concert featured Jack Body’s rhythmic Nowell and Gareth Farr’s Tangi te Kawekawea, which celebrates the annual arrival of the Shining Cuckoo and announces the time to begin planting in earnest. Both these pieces are energetic and attention grabbing. Chanticleer by Stuart Douglas and Pied Beauty by Felicia Edgecombe are also joyful, celebratory pieces.
A bracket of solo items included an organ piece by Pepe Becker and a flute & Piano piece by Maurice Faulknor and three quirky songs about Wellington by Jonathan Crehan sung by Frances Moore (soprano) and accompanied by the composer. The choir then returned to sing Ave Maria by Andrew Baldwin and Psalm by Carol Shortis, both lyrical and flowing contemporary settings. The well known Light of Lights by Jenny McLeod closed the first half.
The second half was dedicated to performing the premiere of Jonathan’s Resurrection Cantata: The Third Day. A fine organist, piano accordion and whistle player himself, not to mention singer and pianist, as a composer, Jonathan provides very satisfying music for the choir to sing, whilst maintaining that delicious characteristic of folk music – our humanity shared. This is a wonderful journey through the lives of the witnesses of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. It also ends on a note of celebration of course.
This concert appealed to a wide range of choral music lovers. Styles represented range from avant-garde classical through declamatory and chant-like to gentle and folk-like. We are privileged to live in a city where the creative spirit is so obviously alive and well.
Praise for Wellington Shines
The following is an independent review by Peter Mechen for http://middle-c.org
(Re-published here with permission of the reviewer.)
“Some people might react to the expression “community music-making” with condescension bordering upon snobbery; but I can’t think of a better, more appropriate way to convey in words the remarkable scope and atmosphere of this joyous concert put on by Wellington’s Festival Singers, appropriately titled “Wellington Shines!”. A simple, cursory look at the names of some of the composers who contributed works to the concert would have been sufficient to alert concertgoers regarding the possibilities of a richly rewarding musical evening; and in fact, if not absolutely full- to-bursting St.Andrew’s on-the-Terrace had a satisfyingly “well-peopled” feeling about it, which must have gratified the concert’s organisers. This feeling was reinforced in the most appropriate way imaginable by the standing ovation that greeted the conclusion of the evening’s most substantial item, Jonathan Berkahn’s Resurrection Cantata “The Third Day”.
But what better way to begin such a concert than with music by one of the most people-orientated of composers, Jack Body? His “Nowell, in the Lithuanian Style” required the singers to approach from a distance, gradually forming two groups on the platform and creating a charming overlapping vocal effect, the groups eventually merging as one, physically and musically (a metaphor, perhaps, for the evening’s bringing together of diverse peoples to enjoy a concert of music?). Just as engaging, but often in a sheerly visceral sense, is Gareth Farr’s work, his 1998 “Tangi te Kawekawea” based on a Maori chant announcing the beginning of the kumera-digging season engaging both choir and percussionists, with beautiful solo singing by Lydia McDonald in particular. Stuart Douglas’s 2003 work “Chanticleer” was another rhythmically infectious piece, featuring an attractive soprano line and snappy rhythmic support from the choir’s middle and lower voices. A simpler, more direct treatment of words was provided by Felicia Edgecombe’s attractive setting of G.M. Hopkins’ well-known “Glory Be To God For Dappled Things”, in which women’s, and then men’s voices by turns intone the melody before harmonising together.
A complete change of mood was provided by Pepe Becker’s piece for organ solo “Organis Plagalis”, using note patterns and intervals relating to birthdates, written for Douglas Mews, and played here by Jonathan Berkahn, an obsessive, even claustrophobic work which spent most of its time trying to fight free of the key of G to reach a D pedal note. Jonathon Crehan’s recently-composed “Three Songs” (2009) were great fun to listen to, the singer Frances Moore’s smallish, but responsive voice making the most of her opportunities to inflect the text and convey what the composer called the “fun, excitement and drama” of the pieces. Both singer and pianist-composer particularly enjoyed the second song, “Schadenfreude”, an amusing feline-phobic mini-drama. I thought the piano part a bit too heavily textured for the third song, everything needing a lighter touch for Eileen Duggan’s “Low Over Tinakori” to come clearly and engagingly through. But I liked Frances Moore’s singing, and found myself wondering how she would do Gershwin. Still ringing the programme’s contrasts, Maurice Faulknor’s “The Lonely Seagull” for flute and piano pleasantly and poignantly explored melancholic realms, with episodes of flurried passagework from both Bernard Wells’ flute and Jonathan Berkahn’s piano providing added interest.
Andrew Baldwin’s setting of “Ave Maria” won the New Zealand Secondary Schools Choral Composition Award in 2005. I was particularly struck by the music’s rich harmonies at “Blessed is the fruit” with full flowering on the word “Jesus”, and by the “rounding-off” effect of the first line’s repetition and “homecoming cadence” at the end. Carol Shortis’s setting of a text based on Psalm 128 “Show Us Your Ways” followed along similar richly-upholstered harmonic lines, its direct appeal linking strongly in effect to one of Jenny McLeod’s “Sun Carols” which came immediately afterwards. Entitled Indigo II: “Light of Lights”, this was another lovely work, whose rocking motion and direct simplicity of utterance linked past and present with great strength and candour, as if we were listening to the collective voice of a faith-based community.
In a programme note Jonathan Berkahn made the point that, while there were plenty of musical works whose subject was Christ’s Passion and Death, there were few dealing with the latter’s Resurrection. Using texts taken from the Gospels and recast into different kinds of song-forms, Berkahn’s “Resurrection” cantata recounted the story from Christ’s death and burial to his rising from the tomb and reappearance to his followers, charging them with “The Great Commission” of going forth and teaching all nations. With Kieran Raynor’s sonorous bass voice, the full Festival Singers choir and a group of instrumentalists that included violin, accordion, electric guitars, bass and drums, everything seemed set for a colourful, rip-roarin’ traversal of one of the world’s great stories. As with Baroque performing practice, the instrumentalists were given melodic lines and the occasional chordal cadence around which they were expected by the composer to fill in appropriate textures and interlocking rhythmic patterns, which they all seemed to do so in the manner born. The whole progressed with a sweep and momentum that I for one found quite exhilarating.
Particularly striking throughout was the ease with which the composer fused the music’s sometimes jagged rock elements with a gentler, more lyrical character, in particular the extended exchanges between the two in the “Do you remember?” section near the beginning, the accordion at times imparting an almost Klezmer-like ambience to the proceedings. Berkahn used these contrasts to great effect in different ways, the choir voices soaring over the top of the instrumentalists’ fierce rhythmic energies in “He descended to the dead”, and in the dramatic change of ambience from number to number, as with “Early in the morning” which followed immediately afterwards, guitars gently rolling over a folk-ballad rhythm appropriate to the text’s aftermath of mourning and quiet tragedy. And the sudden effervescence of realisation that death has in fact been overcome in “Did you hear the angels?” – the voices almost falling over themselves with urgency and delight – suggests that the story contains far more drama, tension and excitement than one would guess from its relative neglect as a subject by composers over the years.
Another memorable effect was the use of a folk-fiddle at the beginning of the work’s finale, where the instrument’s dance-like rhythm blended with the chorale-like theme sung by the choir – very Bachian, and skilfully put together. At the very end the organ spectacularly added its antiphonal voice to the proceedings, giving splendour and tremendous weight to the words “Christ is risen: he is risen indeed: Alleluiah!” After such a tumultuous finale, no wonder the composer and musicians received a standing ovation! – most richly deserved.”
Concert Photos (by Alexander Garside). Click the thumbnail to see a larger image.
8pm Saturday 28 March 2009
at Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Hill Street, Wellington.
This concert featured:
Bach Cantata No 174 WhitMonday
Stabat Mater Rossini
Plus selected arias for Soprano and Tenor.
Guest Conductor: Michael Vinten
Frances Moore – soprano
Rosel Labone – alto
Edmund Hintz – tenor
Orene Tiai – bass
Festival Singers, under Guest Conductor Michael Vinten, presented a wonderful Easter concert featuring the controversial Stabat Mater by Rossini, Bach Cantata no 174 and 2 arias and a Chorale from the St John Passion by Bach.
With excellent young soloists, the choir and a 30 piece orchestra in the Sacred Heart Catholic Cathedral in Hill Street, the scene was set for a moving event with an operatic spin.
Rossini’s Stabat Mater is full of glorious music despite its solemn 13th century text. It has an interesting history, with some movements originally written by Rossini’s friend Giovanna Tadolini but passed off as Rossini’s work. However, when a Parisian publisher wanted to publish the work, Rossini managed to prevent this and to complete the work with another four movements himself in 1842. It was an enormous success with 29 performances in its first year.
The Bach Cantata BWV 174 “I love the highest with my whole heart” is a later work composed for Whit Monday in 1792. This short Cantata is prefaced with an expanded version of the opening version of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No 3 with some rich instrumental additions. After arias for alto, tenor and bass, the work concludes with a four part harmonization of Martin Schalling’s hymn “Herzlich lieb hab ich dich “ (1569)
we joined with Capital Choir and Queens Singers
to present a sing-a-long
Messiah by Handel
at St John’s Presbyterian Church, Willis Street, Wellington..
Members of the public were invited to come and listen or sing-along with 9 of the choruses.
This was a rewarding opportunity to revisit a classic Christmas favourite, with a large chorus in the beautiful St John’s Church.
Surely He was the Son of God
8pm Sunday evening 16 March 2008- Concert
at Wesley Church, Taranaki Street.
8pm Wednesday evening 19 March 2008 – Concert
at Johnsonville Salvation Army, Johnsonville Rd
Musical Director’s Notes from the Programme
“I came across Matthew Raymond’s Cantata at a conference exploring current understandings and practices of worship last year. Listening to his demo CD, I was again moved by dramatic emotional highs and lows of the Easter story and could visualise us presenting this with projected artworks. I have enjoyed sourcing these and I hope these add to your reflection as you listen to the performance tonight.
The text is taken directly from Scripture and I felt that the melodies were immediately accessible and memorable.
Festival Singers has really enjoyed singing with the added energy of the band. Thank you for choosing to listen with us! We wish you a blessed and holy Easter.”
A lively, lyrical, dramatic work accompanied by a rock band, piano and synthesizer. It was composed in 2002.
The music is interspersed with readings from the NIV Bible
Edmund Hintz, Tenor, sang the role of Jesus.
The reader was Rev Danny Te Hiko.
Photos from rehearsal at Wesley Church on Thursday 13 March 2008
Click the thumbnails for bigger images.
Wings of Song
On 1 & 2 December, Capital Choir & Festival Singers presented joint concerts at St Lukes Anglican Church in Greytown and Sacred Heart Cathedral in Wellington.
The featured soloist in Greytown was soprano Janey Mackenzie, supported by soprano Ellen Watts.
The featured soloist in Wellington was 2002 Mobil Song Contest Winner soprano Anna Leese. She was supported by sopranos Janey Mackenzie & Ellen Watts
Directors: Felicia Edgecombe & Rosemary Russell
Accompanists: Robyn Jaquiery & Jonathan Burkahn
Hear My Prayer F. Mendelssohn
Et Misericordia J. Rutter Magnificat
Hine E Hine Te Rangi Pai arr D. Buchanan
The Heavens Are Telling J. Haydn
A La Nanita Trad Spanish carol, arr N. Luboff
What Shall I Give? Trad Spanish carol, arr D. Wagner
How Lovely Are The Messengers F. Mendelssohn
Willow Song and Ave Maria. Verdi, Otello
I Waited for The Lord F. Mendelssohn
A Star Shall Rise F. Mendelssohn
This Holy Christmas Night Jonathan Santore
Il est ne, le divin enfant Trad French carol
Je veux vivre Gounod, Romeo and Juliette-
Song to The Moon Dvorak, Rusalka
Verleih Uns Frieden F. Mendelssohn
O Holy Night A. Adam
Silent Night F. Gruber/J. Mohr, arr R. Poley
Toccata in C. Widor, arr Willcocks
Mozart Missa Brevis K. 275
Festival Singers combined with Schola Sacra of Wanganui to perform the Missa Brevis in concerts in Sacred Heart Cathedral Wellington and the Central Baptist Church in Wanganui in November 2006. The choirs also performed many shorter choral works with composers ranging from baroque to contemporary New Zealanders.
To our ears the Missa Brevis is a bright, attractive work, but it was considered too frivolous to perform in church when it was written. The photo shows our conductors Roy Tankersley and Rosemary Russell looking duly shocked at the “iniquitous” score.
It was a pleasure to perform with Schola Sacra. A few years ago Festival Singers had another link with them when Mark Leicester was conductor for both choirs.
Praise Be recording
In April 2006 Festival Singers recorded 8 pieces for TVNZ’s Praise Be programme broadcast on Sunday mornings.
Several of the songs were composed by current or past members of the choir:
A challenge to not only sound good but look good. The recording session went well with just two takes of each piece:
Set me as a seal. (David N Childs). Jonathan Berkahn ~ piano • Rachel Cashmore ~ oboe.
Ride the chariot. (Trad. arr. William Henry Smith).
Who can sound the depths of sorrow. (Graham Kendrick, arr. Rosemary Russell). Felicia Edgecombe ~ piano • Rob Edgecombe ~ bass • Jonathan Berkahn ~ organ.
Steadfast in faith. (Words: Albert E West. Music: Alan H Spinks). Jonathan Berkahn ~ organ • Felicia Edgecombe ~ piano.
Let all mortal flesh keep silence. (Words trans. G Moultrie, arr. Gustav Holst.) Jonathan Berkahn ~ piano.
It’s how you live. (Rosemary Russell, arr Russell/Felicia Edgecombe).. Felicia Edgecombe ~ piano • Rob Edgecombe ~ bass • Jonathan Berkahn ~ organ.
He is our peace. (Jonathan Berkahn). Jonathan Berkhan ~ piano accordion • Heather Garside ~ guitar.
Blessing. (Felicia Edgecombe). Felicia Edgecombe ~ piano • Rob Edgecombe ~ bass.
Hummel succeeded Haydn as the Austrian Esterhazy Court composer. His seldom performed Mass in D Major is in a lively classical style, which anticipates the harmonic richness of the romantic period.
Brio: Janey MacKenzie, Jody Orgias, John Beaglehole and Justin Pearce, accompanied by Robyn Jaquiery, gave a sparkling semi-staged performance of favourite extracts from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro.
The finale was J S Bach’s Magnificat. This is a rousing, cleverly written festive work for choir & soloists, supported by the orchestra in full Baroque splendour. The Brio vocalists were supported by emerging soprano Olivia Fraser.
Celebrating English Music
On Sunday 3 July 2005, Capital Choir, Festival Singers and Queens Singers performed two sell out concerts at the newly completed St Joseph’s Catholic Church – a dramatic and serene church.
This three-choir festival of English music was the inspiration of friends, conductors Felicia Edgecombe, Rosemary Russell and Vicky Thorpe. Their choirs combined to perform Rutter’s Magnificat, a lyrical work accompanied by orchestra with vibrant percussion. Other works which span the centuries included pieces by composers from Elgar, Harris, and Tallis to The Beatles and Lloyd Webber.
We featured soprano Jaimee Marshall in the Magnificat. She left soon after the concert to study at the prestigious Guildhall in London.
New Zealand Composers Hymn Service
On Sunday 29 May 2005 Festival Singers led a special morning service at Khandallah Presbyterian Church featuring the music of New Zealand composers.
The service was the inspiration of Festival Singers member Nancy Jones who is also director of music at the church.
We performed these pieces.
Sing no sad songs today. Words by Shirley Murray to the tune Nun Danket
Nothing now can separate us. Words and music Felicia Edgecombe
In You, we rest Lord. Words and music Rosemary Russell
Gentle is the way of Jesus. Words by Shirley Murray, Music by Jillian Bray
Psalm 63 Words and music Philip and Heather Garside, adapted and arranged by Rosemary Russell
Lord’s Prayer. Arranged by Guy E Jansen
Great Ring of Light Words and music by Colin Gibson
Te Deum. Words and music by Jonathan Berkahn. Performed with his folk band.
Leading the music for services at local churches is an important and enjoyable part of our work. We aim to attend 3 or 4 services per year.
Selections from G F Handel’s Messiah with dramatic poems from The Witnesses series by Clive Sansom
We presented this Easter Meditation in March 2005 at Wesley Methodist Church, Taranaki Street and St Martin de Porres Catholic Church in Lower Hutt.
Members of Festival Singers took on the roles of people who had met Jesus by reading and acting the poems.
Extract from the programme notes:
If you were to identify with one of Jesus’ contemporaries… who would it be?
Tonight Festival Singers offers you an opportunity to meditate on the Easter events through poetry and the marvellous choruses from Messiah.
We combine favourite selections from Handel’s Messiah with dramatic poems from The Witnesses series by Clive Sansom.
These skilfully crafted, evocative poems, published in the 1950s, tell of the personal impressions of the Bible characters involved in Jesus’ life. They are full of descriptive detail, but still leave room for you to imagine what it would have been like to live in Jesus’ time.
The choir hopes that listening to the music and reflecting on the poems will deepen people’s experience of the Easter story, which is at the heart of Christian faith.
While it has become traditional in New Zealand to perform Messiah in Advent, leading up to Christmas, Handel intended this work to be performed in Lent, the season leading up to Easter. The earliest performances of Messiah used small orchestras and choirs. The fashion for using full orchestras and massed choirs developed later. Tonight we return to the earlier tradition and hope you will find this to be an intimate and rewarding experience.
We wish to thank Wesley Church and St Martin de Porres for making their venues available to us. We are also grateful to Drama Christi, based at Wesley Church, who have lent us costumes and props.
Acting the poems with Drama Christi in the past inspired Philip Garside to suggest the concept for this show.
Bach Dvorak Berkahn
In December 2004 Festival Singers presented at Sacred Heart Cathedral a concert featuring Bach’s Cantata BWV 192, Mass in D Major op. 86 by Antonín Dvorák, Three Celtic Folk Tunes arranged for string quartet by Lisa Beech, and the world premiere of Jonathan Berkahn’s Te Deum.
Here are Jonathan’s notes from the programme:
Every Monday night I play piano for the Festival Singers, alternately banging out the notes of their parts and pretending to be their orchestra. On the dot of nine, however, I find a convenient telephone box, slip into my alter ego, and mild-mannered Jonathan Berkahn, organist and pianist, becomes Accordion Man, faster than a speeding step-dancer, louder than a drunken singalong, able to empty tall glasses in a single draught. I then catch the number 43 bus to the Irish session at Molly Malone’s pub, Taranaki Street.
It has long been my ambition to attempt to combine these two very different ways of making music, and the Festival Singers’ commission gave me the opportunity to see what might happen if they were brought together. I had my eye on the Te Deum text for some time, partly because of its scope (it is quite long as liturgical texts go), partly because of its obvious potential for musical contrast and drama.
There is a tradition that, as St Ambrose was baptising St Augustine, this hymn was spontaneously improvised by the two saints. Unfortunately this tradition is quite groundless, but it is a pleasant thing to imagine. In fact, like many other important liturgical texts, the Te Deum seems to have been assembled out of a number of prayers from different sources.
In this spirit, the piece uses several different approaches to the text. After a Latin plainsong introduction, the first movement follows the text of the 1662 prayer book (which is a very close translation of the Latin). The band’s accompaniment consists largely of a reel, written for the purpose, against which the choir sings mostly in unison or block harmonies. The second movement is a slow air (tempo indication: “as slow as you like”). I wanted an effect of the utmost clarity and directness here; unfortunately, at this point the 1662 version followed the Latin all too faithfully through one of its knottiest, most difficult passages. I therefore used a paraphrase of my own, free of all archaism and verbal complication, which fitted the metre of the tune.
After a short choral introduction “O Lord, save your people,” the third movement continues mostly in a jig rhythm. The language remains modern, but it follows the Book of Common Prayer a little more closely. The phrase “Day by day we magnify you…” is used as a refrain, partly to save trouble, partly because it’s a nice tune. After the final petition “Let me never be confounded,” which has always seemed to me something of an anticlimax, the jig rhythm returns: “Ever, ever, world without end.” The Te Deum draws a picture of the saints, apostles, martyrs—the whole company of heaven—singing praises to God eternally. I see no reason why they shouldn’t dance as well.
Voices in Harmony
In June 2004 Festival Singers and Vox Serbicus presented a choral concert of New Zealand and Serbian composers at St Andrews on the Terrace.
Extract from the programme:
It is with great pleasure that Festival Singers and Vox Serbicus present this joint concert tonight.
The two choirs really first met each other at the New Zealand Choral Federation’s inaugural Classic Sing Finale in Rotorua last Labour Weekend. As both groups were the only ones from Wellington, there formed an immediate bond between them as they barracked for each other in the competition. It was around about this time that a plan was hatched to present a concert together for the pleasure and musical benefit of both groups.
We have experienced both a social and musical richness in combining our voices. The process of together learning and singing music that another group has chosen is at first rather scary, but then just becomes exciting. The Festival Singers have enjoyed the Garland VIII piece very much as the style is so appealing and different to their ears. Vox Serbicus have enjoyed singing with accompaniment in the David Hamilton piece, especially both organ and piano, as most of their repertoire is a cappella.
Mima and Rosemary have enjoyed seeing a little into each other’s musical worlds, as conductors tend to fly solo and do not often see other conductors at work. It is stimulating and challenging to be exposed to another conductor’s often self-built repertoire of gestures and language.
We particularly appreciate having the string quartet led by Lisa Beech with us tonight to add flavour to our New Zealand/Serbian mixture. It is wonderful that Lisa had previously arranged the East European Dances, as they fit so well into our theme. Flute, cor anglais, organ and piano playing enhance our musical offering.
We hope that as a result of this evening’s performance you the audience, as well as enjoying the richness of the various instrumental timbres, will have a new appreciation for the vocal colours, moods and effects that can be achieved by different groups of Voices in Harmony.
Rosemary Russell and Mima Nikolic
We presented two concerts of Messiah at 7.30pm Saturday 13 Dec 2003, and 2.30pm Sunday 14 Dec 2003 at St Andrews on the Terrace.
Soloists were the ensemble Brio comprising: Janey MacKenzie ~ soprano, Jody Orgias ~ contralto, John Beaglehole ~ tenor and Justin Pearce ~ bass
The orchestra was The Chiesa Ensemble, with Douglas Mews ~ organ, Harpsicord
A special feature of these performances was the projection behind the choir of a slide show of paintings by old masters on sacred themes.
Notes from the programme:
From the Conductor
Handel left no definitive version of Messiah. Basically he responded to the availability of certain singers and frequently altered the work to meet different conditions of performance, as have we. The Festival Singers of Wellington are delighted that Brio and The Chiesa Ensemble have agreed to help them present Handel’s Messiah, with Rennaissance art works that explore some aspect of each musical number and also written reflections that may provide food for thought for either first time goers or those who have been to many performances of Messiah.
Charles Jennens, who compiled the libretto for Messiah said, “I hope I shall persuade him to set another scripture collection… I hope he will lay out his whole genius and skill upon it… as the Subject excels every other Subject.” In fact Jennens himself laid out his whole genius… the libretto sets out the central truths of the Christian faith with a concision and balance never equalled before or since: it was surely inevitable that Messiah would become more significant than its creator intended. (Nicholas Kenyon, 1983)
Messiah was written in a wonderful three week burst of frenetic activity beginning 22 August 1744 and finishing 12 September. Handel himself was enraptured during the writing of it and declared he had seen into the vault of heaven itself.
Jennens intention appeared to be to provide a meditative framework. At the front of the printed word book he quoted from 1 Timothy 3 and Colossians 2:
“And without Controversy, great is the Mystery of Godliness:
God was manifested in the Flesh, justified by the Spirit, seen of Angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the World, received up in Glory.
In whom are hid all the treasures of Wisdom and Knowledge.”
I have been keen to present a passionate and energetic performance of Messiah, exploring the emotion and meaning of the text. It is my hope and prayer that on some plane or other, whether purely musical, artistic, spiritual or hopefully a combination of all three, your motivation for coming to this performance of Handel’s Messiah, will have been satisfied.
Background to Messiah
Messiah is a work on the grand scale. It tells the story of the redemption of the human race, beginning with the voice of God promising salvation and ending with the chorus of angels celebrating its completion. It is, in short, the story of the infinite purposes of God in history, of God’s purpose in sending his anointed one to the rescue of a lost and enslaved people, the story of our sin and God’s grace, the story of the triumph of love over all the powers of evil.
The libretto is drawn from the Authorised Version of the Bible or the Psalter of the Book of Common Prayer.
From the time of Moses and the giving of the Ten Commandments, around 1300 BC, the people of Israel have been repeatedly warned that if they forsake the ways and teaching and appropriate worship of God, he will remove his presence, his protection and blessing from them and they will be at the mercy of their enemies. For centuries, they have increasingly fallen prey to their own waywardness under a succession of vainglorious kings. Finally the Babylonians come, around 580 BC and a century after the prophet Isaiah has predicted catastrophe, and the people are captured, dispersed and enslaved. Who will be their “messiah”, their saviour; who will lead them in battle and save them from their enemies? Where is he, the Promised One? Who will save them now?
The opening words of Messiah are taken from Isaiah chapter 40, the story of God’s promise of eventual deliverance for the Jews after repeated subjection by Assyrians and Babylonians. God has not forgotten them and he will send them another Messiah, another prophet in the Isaiah school, with a new message. The simultaneous, longer range vision is of a more splendid and expected Messiah for all the world: deliverer, redeemer, saviour, Lord and King, reconciler of God and people everywhere.
Celebrating St Cecilia
(Célébration de Ste.Cécile)
Mark Leicester — conductor; Paloma Bruce — soprano; Brendon Mercer — tenor; Jamie Frater — baritone; Jonathan Berkahn — organ
8pm Saturday 9 November 2002 at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Hill Street
Festival Singers thanks its sponsors for this concert:
Embassy of France • Wellington City Council• Terawhiti Licensing Trust
Olivet to Calvary
Festival Singers presented an evening of fine Victorian Easter music
Olivet to Calary by J H Maunder Reminiscent of Stainer’s Crucifixion
7.30pm Sunday 24 March 2002 at Old St Paul’s, Mulgrave Street
Soloists were: James Rodgers — tenor and Craig Beardsworth — baritone.
Notes from the programme:
Our theme for this performance was:
Evoking a Wellington Easter of 100 Years Ago
“Old Saint Paul’s is a unique example of Colonial Gothic architecture constructed of totara, matai, rimu and kauri timbers. It was consecrated in 1866 and over the years it was altered and enlarged several times by several architects. The church features a superb timber interior, stained glass windows and memorial brasses, with a carved oak pulpit in memory of popular Premier Richard Seddon, whose body lay in state at Old Saint Paul’s after his death.”
There’s something special about the feel of Old Saint Paul’s. In a young country like New Zealand any 140 year old church has seen quite a large proportion of our history. Old Saint Paul’s is an opportunity to connect with Wellington’s past; an opportunity not so readily offered as you walk down Lambton Quay.
J. H. Maunder’s Olivet to Calvary is a fine example of music written for the late Victorian/early Edwardian Anglican church. Needing only organ, choir, bass and tenor soloists, it is music simple enough for almost anyone to perform, even in a burgeoning colonial capital where the musicians were all imported.
In Wellington 100 years ago Old Saint Paul’s would have been the centre of many things. It would have been the parish of many of the important figures in the country’s early history. State weddings and funerals would have been held there.
So, we asked the audience to imagine they were listening to a brand new piece of music — just off the boat from England — in time for the town’s most important Easter ceremony. Imagine the excitement you would feel being in the audience with just about everyone in Wellington; the parliamentarians, the land owners, the teachers and the dock workers.
Back then there would have been a greater community focus, a mingling of all classes of colonials. The hymns that reminded us of home would be sung with great feeling; lifting the roof of Old Saint Paul’s as much as any Wellington southerly could.
We recreated a Wellington Easter 100 years ago.
About our soloists
Craig Beardsworth — baritone
Craig completed his Opera Performance degree at Victoria University in 2000 and is now kept busy as a soloist in the Wellington region. He has several leading roles to his credit including The Count in The Marriage of Figaro, Schicchi in Gianni Schicchi, Escamillo in Carmen and Carmontel in the premier of Wekerlin’s salon opera Carmontel. Craig has also appeared with a number of North Island choirs as an oratorio soloist.
Last years’ highlights included Beethoven’s Mass in C major with Festival Singers, Brahms’s Requiem and Orf’s Carmina Burana. He also sang Mendelssohn’s Die erste Walpurgisnacht with the NZSO and Anglican Cathedral Choir. For the past two years Craig has sung at Opera in the Woolshed in the Wairarapa. At Easter 2001 Craig sang the bass solo in JS Bach’s cantata Christ Lag in Todesbanden with Festival Singers in their joint production with Drama Christi.
Last year Craig was invited to New Caledonia to sing Honeggar’s Christmas Cantata and conduct singing masterclasses. He is returning this year to sing Durufle’s Requiem. This year Craig sang a small role in the Festival 2002 production of Der Rosenkavalier, After A Beleaguered City he will be touring New Zealand and travelling to Korea with ‘Sings Harry Vocal Ensemble’ a Wellington a cappella group.
James Rodgers — tenor
James started performing in the choir and in musicals and plays at Marlborough Boys College. Now 20, he is in the third year of study at Victoria University School of Music, training with Emily Mair.
In 2001 James made his opera debut as Jean Coccase in Carmontel, produced by Jeremy Commons. He also sang the baritone solo for the Wellington Youth Choir’s production of Faure’s Requiem as part of the cathedral festival. Later that year he sang tenor in the Mozart Requiem and Vaughan-Williams’ Hodie for the Kapiti Chorale. He also sang the role of Gherado in the Victoria University 2001 production of Gianni Schicchi.
This year James has enjoyed and learned from his experience taking part in the International Festival of the Arts production of Der Rosenkavalier.
He was delighted to be invited by Festival Singers to help “evoke a Wellington Easter 100 years ago” and is always keen to sing at Old St Paul’s
Here are photos of our Easter 2001 performance which featured JS Bach’s Cantata BWV 4 — Christ Lag in Todes Banden
Drama Christi and Festival Singers in rehearsal for their Easter Celebration 8 April 2001