The 2015-2016 season was one of change, as we reluctantly said goodbye to both our Principal Conductor, Nicholas Cleobury and our Associate Conductor, Tim Byram-Wigfield.
After almost 18 years as our Principal Conductor, Nicholas left to take up the appointment of Head of Opera at the Queensland Conservatorium in Brisbane. He is an experienced choral, orchestral and opera conductor, having conducted widely in Europe, USA and beyond. The choir benefited greatly from his experience and performed a wide range of music from the classics of Bach, Vaughan Williams, Elgar and Britten to the contemporary music of such as David Matthews, Nicholas Maw and Jonathan Dove.
Tim has left to concentrate on his post at All Saints, Margaret Street, London, and his freelance career as examiner with the Royal College of Organists, pianist, singer, composer and choral arranger. Tim was Associate Conductor for eight years
and presented diverse programmes such as Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, Handel’s Dixit Dominus and Jerome Kern’s “Showboat”.
We were delighted that Paul Brough accepted our invitation to be our guest conductor for our performance of Verdi’s Requiem in March 2016 at Oxford Town Hall. This was an exhilarating performance with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and soloists Sally Silver, Kate Allen, Luis Gomes and Thomas Faulkner. Paul teaches conducting at the Royal Academy of Music and is Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Singers as well as conducting many orchestras across the UK, and we spent a very happy term becoming reacquainted with the Verdi.
However, we are very much looking forward to the start of a new era with David Crown as our new Music Director from our 2016-2017 season. For more details about David, please click here
SPEM IN ALIUM Come & Sing workshop
Oxford Bach Choir was delighted to welcome back our former Associate Conductor, Adrian Partington, to conduct our latest Come & Sing workshop. He had conducted ‘Spem in alium’ workshops with his choirs in Bristol and Gloucester most successfully. We in Oxford had been keen to run this workshop for some time, not only as a fund raiser, but also as a good excuse to network with our fellow singers, and when we were able to get the conductors, a date and the venue organised, there was no stopping us!
‘Spem in alium’ is a 40-part motet composed by Thomas Tallis, in around 1570, for eight choirs of five voices each. It is considered by some to be the finest piece of early English music. There are several schools of thought as to why this was composed, but whatever the reason, it has given us a wonderful, challenging work.
Despite atrocious weather, around 250 singers arrived (from London, North Yorkshire, Guernsey, Southampton, various other parts of the UK and beyond!). The singers had previously been divided into the eight choirs and into each of the five parts. Sorting out the singers so that the choirs were all well balanced with experienced and not-so experienced singers evenly spread through the ensemble, proved a mammoth task! However, it seemed to work! All the music had been sent out in advance so that singers had a chance to do some initial practice, which seemed to help. The notes themselves are not difficult, but singing together with all the other parts, in all the other choirs means an awful lot of counting and concentration.
We started discussing ‘Spem in alium’ with Adrian well over a year before the event took place, and then managed to acquire the splendid services of Deborah Miles-Johnson, Ben Nicholas and Tom Hammond-Davies to assist with the rehearsals – all most accomplished conductors in their own right. After we all had an initial warm-up with Deborah, the rest of the morning was spent with pairs of choirs rehearsing with their respective conductors in nooks and crannies of the venue. After lunch, everyone came to gether for a warm up and rehearsal of Tallis’ “O Nata Lux” and ‘Spem in alium’ – we then sang them both twice to a small, but appreciative audience.
The feeback for this event has been extremely positive for the conductors, the singing, the organisation and especially for the cake provided in the tea break. Here are a few samples of comments we received:
'Change nothing – it was fab!'
'I thought the organisation was thoroughly professional and extremely friendly – exceptional.'
'Congratulations on amazing organisation – and great cakes!'
'I had never had the chance to sing the Tallis before, so a very special occasion.'
Now, what shall we do next? More cake anyone...?
Oxford Bach Choir took part in the recording of Jonathan Dove’s 'For an Unknown Soldier'.
Oxford Bach Choir were delighted to take part in the recording of For an Unknown Soldier, a powerful new work by Jonathan Dove commemorating the outbreak of World War 1. This was commissioned by Portsmouth Grammar School (PGS) and the London Mozart Players (LMP). The first two performances took place on their respective home grounds (Portsmouth and Croydon) in November 2014 and the third was performed in Oxford by OBC in March 2015 with the LMP and a children’s choir from Oxfordshire Schools – all conducted by OBC’s Principal Conductor, Nicholas Cleobury. When it was mooted that this work should be recorded, it was met with great enthusiasm, as we all felt that it was an important work which should be made available to a much wider audience on CD, download and any other recorded medium.
The original plan was to Crowdfund via Kickstarter, but sadly this route did not reach the target by the specified date, and a feeling of gloom pervaded all to think that this recording would never happen. However, as if by magic, a substantial amount of funding was procured from various sources, and the recording session was once again on.
Because of the high costs of hiring recording studios and recording engineers, the work had to be done on one day, in two long sessions, which happened on Sunday 13 September. After an early start by OBC members from Oxford, and the Portsmouth Choir from the south coast, we all met up ready to record, together with soloist Nicky Spence, in the depths of Blackheath. The children’s choir who had sung in the Croydon performance had an easier time, with a short journey and not being required until after lunch! Being involved with the exacting standards of the recording team, hearing the orchestra rehearsing their sections and listening to one another in the various parts of the work, made it feel very real, and we felt we were in the trenches, or sitting at home worrying about the men folk at the front. The powerful, if upsetting, words set by Jonathan seemed to become even more real than in the concert. After nearly eight hours of recording Jonathan Dove seemed pleased, as did the recording team.
It was a privilege to work with Jonathan, and an experience for many to be involved in a recording session who had not done so before. An early start is tiring enough, but singing for several hours ensured that there was a lot of snoozing on the coach on the way home!
Another fabulous Vice President for Oxford Bach Choir
Hot on the heels of James Gilchrist, we are all absolutely delighted that Roderick Williams has also recently kindly agreed to become associated with the Choir as one of our Vice Presidents.
Roderick is much sought after as a soloist and composer. He is busy singing around the world, and encompasses a wide repertoire from baroque to contemporary music, in the opera house, on the concert platform and in recital. As a composer, he has had works premiered at the Wigmore and Barbican Halls, the Purcell Room and live on national radio.
He has agreed to sing with the Choir during the 2016-2017 season, so watch this space for further news in due course.
16 May 2015
Mahler Resurrection Symphony No. 2
Oxford Bach Choir and Merton College Choir
Members of the Oxford Bach choir were once again delighted to have been invited by Benjamin Nicholas, Director of Music at Merton College, to join Merton College Choir and the Kodaly Choir for a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No 2 “The Resurrection”. David Briggs (Artist in Residence at St James Cathedral, Toronto, and Organist Emeritus of Gloucester Cathedral) played his own organ transcription of the Mahler in the glorious acoustic of Merton College Chapel, on the chapel’s new Dobson organ. This was indeed a different performance from Mahler’s original, but it was much appreciated by the audience and choir alike. The choral movement was conducted by Benjamin Nicholas, with soloists Rachel Bowden (soprano) and Grace Durham (mezzo), and provided a spectacular end to this concert, which showed David Briggs’s great virtuosity.
The Oxford Bach Choir values the association with Merton College Choir and the Kodaly Choir, and there are plans for future collaborations.
Vice President appointment and a fundraising recital
Earlier in 2015 the choir was delighted to announce that James Gilchrist became one of our Vice Presidents.
James’ extensive concert repertoire has seen him perform in major concert halls throughout the world, and we were thrilled that James, and his accompanist Anna Tilbrook, kindly agreed to perform at St John the Evangelist Church, Iffley Road, in support of the Choir in September.
Our little ‘Three Choirs Festival’
After the summer concert, around 20 members started rehearsing, under the baton of Tom Hammond-Davies (Director of Music at St Michael at the North Gate, Oxford), for a series of joint concerts with two choirs from Belgium, the Iepers Kamerkoor and Music Nova from Boom near Antwerpen. In the first concert, on 5 July in the University Church in the High Street, the OBC group sang three of Parry’s Songs of Farewell and the Belgian choirs performed Duruflé’s Requiem and Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna.
After a few further rehearsals in September, the OBC contingent set off for Belgium, where the three choirs performed the whole programme together, firstly in Sint Michielskerk in Antwerpen on 20 September and then in Ieper (Ypres) Cathedral the following afternoon, the latter being an exceptionally appropriate venue for a concert with a remembrance theme, as the town had been virtually razed to the ground in the First World War. In the Belgium programme, the music was interspersed with readings from Kipling, Owen, Remarque and Feis, giving a sober reflection on the realities of armed conflict.
For all who took part, these were very memorable events and we are grateful to Tom Hammond-Davies for directing us so ably and for accompanying us to Belgium, to James Brown, organist at The University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, who played in all three concerts, and to our Treasurer for organizing the joint venture.
1949 - 2014
It is with deep sadness that OBC reports the death of Martin Peters, its Artistic Administrator, after a long battle with cancer. He will be sorely missed, not only by members of the Choir, but by the whole of Oxford’s classical music world, in which he was heavily involved.
As well as with OBC, he worked with Music at Oxford and the Oxford Lieder Festival, and also forged a special relationship with the orchestras and soloists with whom we all worked. Many of OBC’s achievements over the past few years could not have taken place without him.
It was a measure of the great love and affection that so many felt for Martin - from all parts of his life including his time in teaching and his life in music - that his funeral at Christ Church on 3 May, was absolutely full. The amazing service had been planned by Martin down to the last detail – which was absolutely typical of his methodical organisation!
He had a zest for life and we will miss him, his marshalling skills at concerts and his organisation but, most definitely, his outrageous sense of humour!
Oxford Bach Choir and Merton College
During 2014, Merton College is celebrating its 750th anniversary. One of the events to mark this occasion was a performance of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius in the Sheldonian Theatre on Saturday 1 March 2014. Merton College’s Director of Music, Benjamin Nicholas, invited the Oxford Bach Choir to join the Choir of Merton College and the Kodaly Choir to sing at this prestigious event. The Oxford Philomusica, under the baton of Benjamin Nicholas, and an exceptional team of soloists, including Sarah Connolly, made the event a special concert to remember. We felt very privileged to collaborate with Merton College Choir on such an occasion and we hope that this venture will be the first of many collaborations.
OBC on BBC Radio 3
On Sunday 27 January 2013 the Oxford Bach Choir could be heard on BBC Radio 3 in a recording of a concert given in the Sheldonian Theatre in December 2012 with the English Chamber Orchestra. This concert launched the Britten in Oxford season - a festival to mark the centenary of the composer's birth - and featured the rarely-heard Ballad of Heroes, composed to commemorate the British soldiers who had fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, and The Building of the House, written to mark the opening of the new Snape Maltings concert hall in Aldeburgh in 1967.
The concert also included the world premiere of two psalm settings written by Britten as a student but which had remained unperformed.
Passiontide at St George's, Windsor
In March this year, OBC was invited to take part in a concert of Passiontide music in the beautiful setting of St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. For this we were privileged to join the Choir of St George's in a concert which included Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem and Rheinberger's Cantus Missae, conducted by Tim Byram-Wigfield, OBC's Associate Conductor, who was also until recently Director of Music at St George's.
Organ Recital at Keble
In May, OBC members, friends and other audience members were treated to a concert given by Timothy Byram-Wigfield on the new Kenneth Tickell organ in Keble College Chapel, Oxford. The programme was diverse, and included music by Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn and Copland, interspersed with Bach musical "sorbets". We are very grateful to Tim for generously giving this recital in aid of Choir funds.