Introducing OBC’s 2019-2020 season

What a wonderful evening! On Monday 23 September, OBC members (and some very new members hot from their audition), OBC Friends as well as our President of the Friends, Sir Jonathan Phillips KCB, were treated to a glorious couple of hours in Merton College Chapel.

Benjamin Nicholas introduced us to our new season’s music, and he began by playing on the Chapel’s wonderful Dobson organ Bach’s Fugue in E flat which was performed by Basil Harwood at Sir Hugh Allen’s first ever concert of the choir in 1901! Benjamin then said a few words about the pieces which we were going to sing in our new season, not least that many of them were first performed by the OBC under Sir Hugh’s baton.

In particular, Benjamin somewhat alarmed us by showing that choirs and audiences a century ago were made of strong stuff! So, we first performed “The Dream of Gerontius” in 1920 alongside Holst’s challenging “Hymn of Jesus”, whilst in 1910 we sang in the same concert Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis” and most of Mozart’s Requiem. He also reminded us that, when the OBC performed “Gerontius” in 1946, the part of the Angel was sung by no less a performer than Kathleen Ferrier!

Benjamin then finished by playing an organ transcription made by Elgar’s friend Herbert Brewer of the Prelude and Angel’s Fairwell from “Dream of Gerontius”. For the latter piece he was joined – as a complete surprise to us! – by Lila Chrisp (former Merton Choral Scholar). Her beautiful singing of the final solo, ‘Softly and gently, dearly-ransom’d soul’ probably brought a few tears to eyes…

After the music-making, and hearty applause for Benjamin and Lila, it was time to adjourn to the Antechapel for drinks and a chance for us all to catch up with old friends after the summer, and to welcome our new members.