In Tune - September 2019

The Newsletter of Basingstoke Choral Society

Edited by Karen West


Welcome back to the Autumn term - not that it feels like autumn as I sit here, looking out of my kitchen window on a simply glorious Bank Holiday Monday. My late summer garden still looks at its best, reminding me of the wonder that is creation - a somewhat contrived link to the music that we are singing this term! Haydn’s piece will be a new one for me - I’m not even sure I’ve ever heard it, let alone sung it before, so, after what seems like a very long break from rehearsals, it will be good to “get my teeth” into some new learning

Classic FM’s website provides a link to The Creation from the Hallelujah Chorus that we sang in our most recent concert. As Fiona also notes below, Haydn was inspired to create the work following visits to the UK where he heard the oratorios of Handel being performed by huge choruses of singers. The author of the website comments that “once in the flow of composing, Haydn is quoted as having begged God to let him be able to finish the work – clearly knowing he was onto a corker. At one particular performance, just a year before he died, Haydn had to be carried into the hall on a chair to hear his music. As the audience billed and cooed at various sublime sections, Haydn was forced to take the spontaneous applause. He is said to have pointed to the sky, smiled and said, ‘It’s not from me: everything comes from up there!’”

Be warned, another spurious link coming up…. You’ll be glad to know that not (quite) everything is from me, down (up?) there in Sherfield on Loddon in this edition! My plea to hear more from you rather than me didn’t go completely unheard, so enjoy reading Clarissa Palmer’s account of a musical workshop she attended locally and Yvonne Smith’s photographs from holiday time in Malta. However, there’s still not quite enough to avoid the inevitable mention of your editor’s favourite composer, Richard Wagner - albeit along the way connecting him with our very own Musical Director, David Gibson and Leonard Bernstein, together with an interview with our soon-to-depart Chairman, Fiona Wright. Thank you for the various and encouraging feedback following the Spring edition of the newsletter please keep those comments (and articles) coming.



Chairman’s Report

by Fiona Wright

Welcome back to all of you. I hope your summer involved some or all of the following - watching your favourite sporting event (sorry cricket fans*!), listening to wonderful live music and theatre as a member of the audience, cooking up a storm on the BBQ and enjoying a glass of something chilled, especially on a Wednesday evening! There is so much to do and enjoy in the British summer, but, of course, all good things must come to an end. As the evenings draw in I hope you are all looking forward to returning to rehearsals and the three very different concerts we have planned for our 2019/20 season.

Our programme begins in the Anvil with a performance of Joseph Haydn’s Creation. This oratorio is one of his later works and was inspired on hearing some powerful performances of Handel oratorios whilst visiting the UK. Many believe it to be his greatest masterpiece and as we last performed it in 2004 it is certainly time to give our audience another chance to hear this impressive work.

The last Saturday in March 2020 marks the day when Croydon Philharmonic Choir will finally host us for our long overdue joint concert. Planned again and again, the over-running of the refurbishment of Fairfield Halls was just the latest in a long line of reasons why our “away” visit to sing with CPC has been so long in coming. The good news is that the 3 year wait is over. Fairfield Halls rises again as the renamed Phoenix Concert Hall (see what they did there!) and this is where we will join CPC in a programme with Orff’s Carmina Burana and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The new concert hall has been designed as a scaled-down version of the Royal Festival Hall with an acoustic to match and so this will be an amazing venue in which to perform Orff’s famously dramatic piece.

In June we will be returning to Winchester Cathedral for a concert featuring the works of Duruflé, Lauridsen and Poulenc. The Duruflé Requiem was composed in 1947 and is an expressive, tender work along the lines of the Fauré Requiem with which we are all so familiar. Morten Lauridsen is a prolific choral composer and we have chosen his Lux Aeterna, a piece with a Latin text and which, like the Duruflé, takes the principles of Gregorian chant as its starting point. The programme will be completed with a performance of Poulenc’s Organ Concerto. Winchester Cathedral is a marvellous venue for this concert of 20th Century liturgical choral music and I’m sure we all look forward to tackling something a bit different in a familiar setting.

In addition to our three concerts, we will also be taking part in the North Hampshire Medical Fund Christmas Carol Service on Thursday 5th December, an event that as a choir we are very keen to support. As ever, there will be lots of other singing opportunities throughout the year, including a BFoC concert and another chance to sing with Voices for Hospices. We will keep you updated with everything you need to know so as to enjoy another marvellous year of singing. Do please check the Dates for your Diary section at the end of the Newsletter for all concert and other dates. *Clearly, Fiona penned this article following England’s disastrous 1st innings of the 3rd Test, but ahead of Ben Stokes’ rescue of the game! Fingers crossed for the remaining two matches


Can I just say that you are bloody amazing?” - an interview with our Chairman, Fiona Wright.

by Karen West

As you will probably already know, Fiona has announced her intention to stand down from this role in October, following the forthcoming Annual General Meeting. Therefore it seemed only right to put her in the spotlight for this edition of In Tune (along with her faithful friend, Trilby who had been to the doggy hairdresser to ensure looking at his best for his close-up!

Fiona described spending nine years as Chair as a “ridiculously long time, since I had only intended to spend three, or at most four years in the role” and so “it seems only right to welcome new blood to the role”. Describing the role as “the glue that helps things to happen and “flexible, to make it what you want to make it to be”, she’s most enjoyed “getting to know everyone in the choir” and “working with the fantastic Committee”.

Her biggest satisfactions? The launch of the first website in her first year as Chair, following three years of discussion, maintaining choir numbers and playing a part in launching the Basingstoke Festival of Choirs. She’s especially enthusiastic about us continuing to sing as part of the BFoC since it’s “important that we meet with others from smaller choirs and counter our reputation that we’re a bit snooty”.

And challenges “Bringing together all the elements of the choir’s programme and getting our publicity out there”, but Fiona commented that “there is a really good foundation for  the incoming Chair, especially with the Spring concert with Croydon being sorted and a happy,brilliant and dedicated Committee made up of people with different talents”.

Fiona was eager to stress that the new Chair doesn’t require prior experience as a Committee member, nor do they need a vast musical knowledge. She commented that for her the role provided a “great way to give something back to the choir of which I had been a member for 18 years” and it’s been a “fantastic experience”. As we all know, she certainly has given something back - and more besides. She remembers one piece of unsolicited feedback from a choir member who put it “can I just say that as Chair you are bloody amazing?” - and so say all of us!

Fiona has been a member of BCS for “25 - or is it 26 years?” and she’s very proud of the fact that in all that time she has only missed singing in two concerts. Her very favourite work to sing is Brahms’s German Requiem - “both the language and the music”, but she also loves Bach’s Magnificat. She remembers with special pride BCS’s performance of the Magnificat, together with the Vivaldi Dixit Dominus at Douai Abbey and, more recently, the “amazing” occasion of Britten’s War Requiem which “I had always wanted to sing, but the size, the number of singers and timing with the anniversary of the ending of World War One made this an altogether fantastic experience”.


"What we did on our (musical) Spring and Summer holidays"

Not so very far from home - a singing workshop with Emily Dickens

By Clarrisa Palmer

On Saturday 11 May a few of us from BCS joined other singers at a workshop for female voices run by the singer and choral conductor Emily Dickens at Christ Church, Chineham. The tone of the day was set by Emily from the beginning. We were there to enjoy singing together and to have fun, as a group. This would mean listening to each other, learning to balance and blend our sound (which included hearing the spaces between the notes) and, above all, allowing ourselves to be brave and free with our voices. Mistakes were of no consequence.

We began with a warm up which led into learning a song about freedom. Less than an hour later when we broke for coffee, we were making a beautiful sound together, singing in harmony, having learnt the piece by ear. It felt wonderful. Suitably refreshed we returned to learn the lovely Irish folk song Carrickfergus, following a score. Emily had cleverly warmed us up and we now had to tackle long phrases, legato singing and emotional truth in our performance. An audience, she reminded us, will feel the music’s emotion through our interpretation. Our ability to transmit that emotion depends on us expressing our response to the text. Without that commitment performances can become bland, not doing justice to composer or librettist.

After lunch we created a 7 part rendition of Bob Marley’s One Love, some of us singing percussive vocal bass lines while others sang the tune and its harmonies. It took some concentration — and a lot of fun — to keep all the rhythms and tunes in place, but we did. Our version of the great reggae classic was a treat. We ended the day by reprising Carrickfergus and managed to produce a beautiful final chord which we were assured was a perfect blend of great harmonies.

Our thanks to Ooh Mama Ladies' Choir for organising the workshop. Emily, with her beautiful voice and warm talent, offered us a day of encouragement and learning. We left having sung with one heart, one love, one voice and certainly lived the lyrics ‘let’s get together and feel all right’.


Returning to my roots in Valletta, Malta

By Yvonne Smith

My annual visit to Malta occurred in June this year. It was a special pleasure this time since one of our three daughters came along with her husband and three little daughters. Incidentally, some choir members sang at their wedding seven years ago. It was fun revisiting places we went to when our children were small and introducing our grandaughters to local delicacies, just as we had done with our children.

Music is an important part of Maltese culture and Valletta is proud to have two band clubs which perform regularly and process through the streets at Easter and other feast days. My great grandfather played the clarinet in the ‘Kings Own’ Band Club and his brother rivalled him and played the clarinet in the ‘La Valette’ band Club. He also played the oboe d’amore in the Royal Opera House. Sadly this once beautiful and imposing building was destroyed during the Second World War.

These pictures were taken in Valletta, Malta the place where my grandparents were born and the city where my great grandparents came to live from Sicily.

- Outside St John’s Cathedral – Valletta

- A side street in Valletta, with a little glimpse of the Grand Harbour

- My favourite church It is called Our Lady of Victory and was the first church of Valletta erected in 1566 by Grand Master Jean de Valette in thanksgiving to the Blessed Virgin for the victory of Malta and the Order of the Knights of St John in the Great Siege of 1565. It is a special place for me as my grandparents were married there.

On any day music of all kinds can be heard in the streets and on a sultry hot afternoon when everyone is resting, if you take a walk through the quiet streets don’t be surprised to hear the sounds of opera drifting from a window.

I have only taken photos in Valletta, but at the end of June, just outside this walled city, Malta hosts a lovely annual open air concert where the best classical musicians, including the current gifted tenor, Joseph Calleja, perform. Music both classical and modern is enjoyed by all in Malta and I look forward to going back for more.


Linking one of Richard Wagner’s favourite conductors with Leonard Bernstein and David Gibson, Columbia University, New York.

By Karen West

Ask even a serious Wagnerite about their opinion of Anton Seidl the Hungarian conductor (1850 - 1898) and you’re likely to get a blank face. Our late BSC photographer (aka my Dad), Peter West considered him to be the finest conductor of Wagner’s music that the world hadn’t recognised, despite the fact that the composer trusted him with early performances of his operas at Bayreuth; the New York Philharmonic appointed him as one of their youngest ever musical directors and Anton Dvorak asked him to conduct the world premiere of his New World Symphony. In his later years Dad had made a collection of Seidl memorabilia and, following his death, Mum decided she would like to donate it to the conductor’s archive which I had discovered is housed at Columbia University, New York. As luck would have it, this summer found me in New York and so it was my privilege to deliver the collection on her behalf.

Columbia University is one of the oldest in the United States, having been founded as King’s College before the American Revolution, but, for obvious reasons, changing its name post 1783. As well as housing Seidl’s archive (he died suddenly at the age of 48 and so to help his widow and young family, his friends offered to sell to the University his personal papers and musical scores), the collection also houses an impressive range of records of other important American musicians, including Leonard Bernstein.

Maybe now you’ve ahead of me and have already made the link mentioned in my introduction to the newsletter between Columbia University and David Gibson? If you’ve been a member of BCS for less than four years then you can consider yourself excused… But, if you have sung Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms with us you will probably remember that at the piece’s premiere in July 1965, the boy alto soloist was none other than our very own Musical Director!

Jennifer Lee, the head of the musical archive at Columbia University (left of picture) was therefore doubly delighted - not just to receive the new items for the Seidl archive, but also to make a link between another of the collections she looks after (incidentally her personal favourite composer/conductor) and Basingstoke Choral Society.

First year undergraduate students in both the arts and science faculties are required to study a semester of music (If that was the same here in the UK I wonder what difference this practice might make to choir and audience numbers?) and so part of Jennifer’s work involves her working with teaching staff to illustrate their classes through access to archive material, as well as supporting postgraduate and doctoral students in their more detailed research. Therefore it’s great for us to know that Dad’s collection will be viewed and used for generations to come.


News from the Voices for Hospices Choir

Via Jackie La Ward Pointe

Thank You! Thank You!

We have just heard that we have been awarded £2000 in the recent Tesco Bags of Help scheme.

Huge thanks go to all the wonderful Voices for Hospices Choir friends and supporters for shopping at Tesco and putting their blue tokens in the VfHChoir box.

We are well on our way to raising enough money to put the concert on in the beautiful Winchester Cathedral. This means that all ticket money and donations on the day go to our seven Hampshire Hospices. A wonderful result. Thank you again.

We can begin to sleep soundly at night!

VfH Choir Team