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The Choral Recital as Emotional Sucker Punch - Three Choirs 2017

[A blog from August 2017 reflecting on the NYCGB Fellowship performance at the Three Choirs Festival, originally]

From left to right: Robert Brooks (baritone), Clare Sutherland (alto), Elspeth Piggott (soprano), Jamie Wright (bass), Ana Beard Fernandez (soprano), Ben Inman (tenor), Hannah King (soprano), William Searle (tenor)

For pretty much our only summer event together before we dispersed across the country to coach on NYCGB residential courses, it was such a pleasure for the Fellowship to be invited to perform at the Three Choirs Festival. It is one of the most welcoming environments imaginable for any musician, but with its choral heritage and associations with behemoths of British composition such as Hubert Parry, Edward Elgar and Herbert Howells, it was a particular honour for us to be giving a recital here.

We were without Helena for this project, so in her place sang Clare Sutherland, who, a few days after our recital, became Gloucester Cathedral’s first female choral scholar. She goes with our best wishes for the year ahead and we hope that her introduction to the vibrant world of singing between Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester Cathedrals was an exciting one.

The day before the concert, we met in London to put the finishing touches to our programme, re-familiarising ourselves with some of the repertoire while an eagle-eared Ben Parry prowled in the background. After a hectic schedule of performances, education workshops and solo opportunities over the last few months, it was so rewarding to have a full rehearsal day with time to discuss and experiment with new ideas, dynamics and effects.

We arrived at Malvern Priory the next day and, even during our sound check, the sense of excitement from the people milling around was tangible, with church wardens and tourists interrupting to find out who we were and when the performance would be. By the time we got to the afternoon recital, the church was full through the nave, the transepts and the choir, so we eight, standing under the central tower, were totally surrounded.

We took ourselves to opposite ends of the beautiful Benedictine building for Britten’s 'Hymn To The Virgin', but mostly, drawing on some advice from our session earlier in the year with The King’s Singers, we stood close and central and allowed the music to do the talking. Over the course of our ten months together, we have developed a beautiful concert programme with a satisfying arc of intensity, beginning with lively Monteverdi madrigals and closing with some folk and pop songs, via some really passionate pieces in the middle section. These central works touch on hard-hitting themes, particularly Kenneth Leighton’s 'God’s Grandeur', a setting of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem about mankind’s relationship with nature, and Owain Park’s 'Four Shakespeare Love Songs'. The 'Love Songs' themselves build towards the final verse of 'So Sweet A Kiss' and it is so satisfying to lose ourselves in the luscious suspensions, before moving into the reassurance of ‘Love Is Not Love When It Alteration Finds’. There is a noticeable ripple of relief that works its way through the audience as they recognise the words and realise that this miniature set will not end in anguish. Unfortunately they are usually too moved by this experience to be capable of resisting Rob’s beautiful arrangement of 'Shenandoah', so by the time we hit them with the sucker punch of Billy Joel’s 'Lullabye', it ends up being a very emotional programme indeed, for listeners and performers alike. And that’s why we have a swing arrangement of 'Spider-Man' as an encore!

This was a lovely chance to put together all of the lessons we have learned during our Fellowship experience, whether from masterclasses with Harry Christophers, The King’s Singers and Kitty Whately or from our workshops with Greg Beardsell, Dominic Ellis-Peckham and Tom Guthrie. It was such a joyful concert to sing and we hope that the concert-goers enjoyed it as much as we did. To the Three Choirs Festival, thank you so much for having us, we hope NYCGB might be back soon!

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