Notes From Our Musical Director

Concert Notes 2019/20

From our Musical Director, Jonathan Willcocks

It is sunny and warm, England’s cricketers are playing Australia for the Ashes and so it must be time to think ahead to the depths of winter, when we will be at the heart of The Chichester Singers” 2019-2020 season.

But you won’t have to wait that long to enjoy great choral music as, from September when we begin rehearsals, we will immediately be in at the deep end with a terrific programme of English music. A Child of our Time by Michael Tippett is recognised as being one of the truly great choral works of the 20th century – inspired by the persecution of the Jewish population by Nazi Germany, it is a moving lament for oppressed people generally with a strong pacifist message of ultimate understanding and reconciliation. This powerful work is partnered by Vaughan Williams’s uplifting choral piece Toward the Unknown Region, and Southern Pro Musica will complete the programme with the very popular Elgar–Enigma Variations.

We have in recent seasons successfully presented concerts in mid-January, rather than jostle for audiences in the busy pre-Christmas period, and Saturday 18th January will see us in the Cathedral with another classical/20th century programme.

Two tuneful Haydn choral works (the ‘Little Organ’ Mass and Insanae et Vanae Curae) and a Mozart orchestral Divertimento form the first half of the concert, followed by Britten–St. Nicolas (the 4th century St Nicolas of Myra, being the original Santa Claus, is an appropriate subject given the close proximity of this concert to the festive season).

We continue the theme of pairing works by great Masters of the past with contemporary composers for our March 2020 Cathedral concert. From the baroque period we will have the much-loved Vivaldi–Gloria, together with J.S.Bach–Suite no. 1, and then we will revisit Elis Pehkonen–Russian Requiem, which the choir very much enjoyed performing back in 1992. This powerful work combines English and Latin texts, but the choir will also have the challenge of mastering some Russian words too! Despite his Finnish ancestry, Elis Pehkonen is actually English and lives in Gloucestershire, and we very much hope that he will be able to attend our performance.

Every three years, the Chichester Singers embark on an overseas tour, and there is already much excitement about our planned trip to Portugal in May 2020, when we will give two concerts and – if past tours are anything to go by – enjoy much social eating, drinking and general merry-making. The repertoire for this tour will be drawn principally from our March and June 2020 Cathedral concerts as, a few short weeks after we return, we have our final Cathedral concert of the season.

This will be focused firmly on the 19th century Romantic repertoire, with Bruckner-Mass in E minor as the major choral work. Unusually, the orchestral accompaniment for this piece is just wind and brass, and so an ideal partner piece for SPM will be the beautiful Dvorak– Serenade in D minor which, in the first half of the concert, will be partnered by the opportunity for the choir to sing some unaccompanied part-songs and motets.

What a varied and exciting feast of music we have in store in the coming season.



Concert Notes 2018-19

From our Musical Director, Jonathan Willcocks

It always happens!  I find myself at the height of (a very hot) summer contemplating concerts that will for the most part come to fruition in various stages of depth of winter. And yet again I find myself sensing in advance the warmth that will emanate from The Chichester Singers when performing four exciting and contrasting programmes in the coming season.

November 2018 will be a moment for sombre reflection on the Centenary of the Armistice that brought to an end four years of bitter conflict which took the lives of so many in the Great War.

To mark this moment of national remembrance, we will perform two highly appropriate and deeply moving works. Ron Corp is one of the UK’s leading contemporary choral composers (and conductors) and his work And all the trumpets sounded combines the words of the Latin Requiem Mass with those of poets such as Rupert Brooke, Edward Thomas and Wilfred Owen, whose work was so affected by their wartime experiences.  Ron will be coming to one of our Wednesday rehearsals to talk about his music and help us with its preparation.

Partnered with this evocative new work will be Brahms–Requiem, truly one of the great masterpieces of the choral repertoire.  And, for our soloists, we will enjoy again the exceptional work of soprano Claire Seaton and baritone Gareth Brynmor John.

In the approach to Christmas, we will revisit a work which always stirs the festive spirit – Handel– Messiah.  Our rehearsal run towards this performance will be short and sharp (only five Wednesdays).   Beware that the familiarity and initial confidence that very many singers have for this work is often matched by a belated realisation of how difficult it actually is to sing well.

In March 2019 we will perform another of the great pillars of the repertoire – J S Bach–St. Matthew Passion. This provides the challenges of much double-chorus work and some wonderfully vivid sections where the choir take on the mantle of a vengeful mob, contrasting with the dignified chorale settings and reflective solo arias.  And we will again have the terrific dramatic tenor James Oxley as our solo Evangelist – I am sure that very many of you will remember his marvellous performance (from memory) of the same role in the St John Passion a few years ago.

As a contrast to three concerts in which we will perform large-scale major works, our June 2019 concert will be a French/English programme of shorter lesser-known pieces.

We will be joined for this concert by a small number of singers from Chartres, to mark the 60th anniversary of the formal twinning of Chichester and Chartres.  From across the Channel we will explore Vierne–Messe Solennelle, alongside two more familiar little gems – Fauré–Cantique de Jean Racine and Franck–Panis angelicus, while from closer to home we will give the first UK performance of Chichester University Professor of Composition Jonathan Little’s

Crucifixus, John Rutter–Gloria and my own work for baritone solo, chorus, brass, percussion and organ, From darkness to light.

I am very touched that The Chichester Singers will be performing one of my own works exactly 40 years on from my very first concert with the choir in 1979.

Concert Notes 2017-18

Another year of fantastic concerts has come and gone, encompassing established classical and romantic works by major composers, the first performance of a newly-commissioned work by Peter White, a terrific tour to Spain and culminating in the huge fun that we had with jazz and spiritual musical idioms (as well as singing unaccompanied Whitacre) in our June concert.

But now a new season beckons and the fare awaiting us is just as varied and tasty. First up will be one of many people’s favourites (singers and audience alike – if not percussionists who have to limber up to aim mighty swipes at a large bass drum!) Verdi–Requiem. For this concert on Remembrance Day, November 11th, we have a terrific team of soloists lined up – led by one of our very favourite singers, soprano Claire Seaton.

At Christmas we return to St. Paul’s Church for a concert of seasonal music, including Christus natus est, which the politically correct amongst us will be delighted to see is not only a contemporary work but also by a female composer, Cecilia McDowall! To support our singing in this concert, we will have the lovely soprano Harriet Eyley and the assorted twenty fingers/thumbs and four feet of Richard Barnes and Tony Froggatt – the former now fully re-equipped with new joints and raring to go.

Our March 2018 concert combines the much-loved music of Handel with the truly beautiful and expressive mid-20 century setting of the Requiem words by Duruflé, and we have also found space in this programme to include a short work, Hear my words, ye people, by English composer Parry (he of Jerusalem and I was glad fame) to mark the centenary of his death in 1918.

On Saturday May 12 , we will be holding another Singing Day in Oving Jubilee Hall, which is an excellent chance for us all to have some choral fun and also introduce friends and acquaintances who do the choral thing to the joys of The Chichester Singers.

And then we really ‘go big’ for the culmination of our 2017-2018 season, with Walton–Belshazzar’s Feast, for which we will combine with my other choir, Guildford Choral Society, to perform in Guildford Cathedral. In addition to the great Walton masterpiece (which some of you may have heard at the Proms in early August) we will also sing Vaughan Williams–Five Mystical Songs and enjoy between these works Elgar–Cello Concerto,with Pavlos Carvalho as solo cellist. And (very temporarily) forsaking our very good friends the Southern Pro Musica for this grand concert, we will be accompanied by the very distinguished Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO).

Get all the concert dates and key rehearsals into your diaries – you will so regret it if, for any reason, you find yourself unavailable for any of these lovely concerts.


Concert Notes 2016-17

For us all there are familiar landmarks that herald the passing seasons (tinsel appearing in shops as Christmas approaches, supermarkets desperately flogging off over-stocked chocolate eggs when Easter has just gone by etc etc) and for me I always know that it is early August when Jill starts pestering me for an article about the coming season for the choir.

But any slothfulness that I may feel is quickly dissipated when I remind myself of what there is in store. For the 2016-17 season we have a great series of concerts to prepare for, with repertoire ranging from the 18th to the 21st centuries and the additional dimension of the tour to Spain as well. Every one of the great choral masterpieces of the past began as an unknown piece receiving its first performances, often made possible as commissioned music.

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