Saturday, 29 August 2015

Newton Abbot & District Society of Arts (N.A.D.S.A.) 70th Concert Series September 2015 - April 2016 Press Release & Concert Dates from Anne White

This year nadsaconcerts celebrates its 70th season. For our delight, national and international performers will bring their glorious repertoire and stunning technique and interpretation to the heart of Newton Abbot.

That nadsaconcerts has been in existence for longer than many of us have lived in the area, seems to be one of Newton Abbot's best kept secrets. Yet every year, from September to April, seven professional concerts are staged right here on our doorstep.
Each annual concert series (promoted by nadsaconcerts) includes a piano recital and a string quartet recital. The other five have been of huge variety: harp, voice, groups of brass, strings or wind players, solo instrumental recitals and even opera highlights, jazz and poetry. The musicians are high-calibre, some well established, others ready to be launched into national or international careers.

Many names have shone in the Newton Abbot recitals over the years: Anthony Hopkins, Jacqueline du Pre, Peter Katin, Janet Baker, Julian Bream, Charles Causley, Ted Hughes, and more recently, the Kings Singers, Catrin Finch, the Fitzwilliam Quartet, Tim Kliphuis and Paul Lewis to name a few.

This year's series starts with a bang: a piano recital given by virtuoso pianist, Ron Abramski, playing Brahms, Hindemith, Chopin and Liszt. Starting his performing life as a child prodigy, he's no newcomer to standing ovations! It ends with a flourish: a performance from another brilliant pianist. Viv McLean will play Debussy, Chopin and the monumental Diabelli Variations by Beethoven. Between the two we'll be entertained by harp, violins, cellos, piano, guitar, bass, trumpets, trombone, horn, tuba and viola: the five concerts will range from traditional and contemporary chamber repertoire to jazz and classics by Gershwin, Sondheim and Bernstein.....a veritable feast of delights.

Six of the concerts will be performed at the Courtenay Centre, two of them at 3pm on Sunday afternoons. Such Sunday afternoon performances have proved very popular in the past. The seventh (Saturday 19 March 2016) will be at the Performing Arts Centre in Teignmouth. Do check details on the nadsa website.

Presenting such acclaimed performers is no mean feat, and doesn't come without commitment and considerable financial outlay. Nadsaconcerts is fortunate in benefiting from the sponsorship and support of its Members and from Austins Department Store, Buyrite Tyres, C and M Pike Trust, Rathbones Investment Management, Wollen Michelmore, Newton Abbot Town Council and  individual Teignbridge Councillors. The Society plans to bring wonderful performances to Newton Abbot for (at least) another 70 years. Watch this space!!

Newton Abbot & District Society of Arts
Ron Abramski

Courtenay Centre Newton Abbot
Friday 18 September 7.30pm
Piano: Ron Abramski
Johannes Brahms:
"4 Ballades for Piano" Opus 10
Paul Hindemith:
"Sonata for Piano No 3 in B♭" (1936)
Frédéric Chopin:
"Sonata for Piano No 3 in B minor" Opus 58
Franz Liszt:
Tannhäuser Overture (Wagner)
Helen Sharp
Newton Abbot & District Society of Arts
Courtenay Centre Newton Abbot
Friday 16 October 7.30pm
             - HARP TRIO -
Violin: David le Page
'Cello: Clare O'Connell
Harp: Helen Sharp
Camille Saint-Saëns:
"Fantaisie for Violin and Harp" Op.124Jacques Ibert:
"Trio for Violin, 'Cello & Harp" (1944)
Camille Saint-Saëns:
"2 Romances arranged for 'Cello & Harp"
Henriette Renié:
"Trio for Violin, 'Cello & Harp" (1912)
Newton Abbot & District Society of Arts
Tim Kliphuis Trio

Courtenay Centre Newton Abbot
Friday 20 November 7.30pm
Violin: Tim Kliphuis
Guitar: Nigel Clarke
Double Bass: Roy Percy
Antonio Vivaldi: "Le Quattro Stagioni"
(with gypsy jazz and African embellishment)
Aaron Copland: "Rodeo" - Hoe-Down
Stephane Grappelli  & Django Reinhardt:
Hot Club jazz numbers from the thirties
Newton Abbot & District Society of Arts
John York & Raphael Wallfisch

Courtenay Centre Newton Abbot
Sunday 24 January 7.30pm
'Cello: Raphael Wallfisch
Piano: John York
Robert Schumann:
"5 Stücke im Volkston" Opus 102
Johannes Brahms:
"Sonata for Cello & Piano in D"
(Arr. from Violin Sonata in G, Op. 78)
Ludwig van Beethoven:
"Sonata for Cello & Piano No. 4 in C" Op.102/1
Rebecca Clarke:
"Sonata for Cello & Piano" (1921)
Newton Abbot & District Society of Arts
Northern Brass Quintet

Courtenay Centre Newton Abbot
Sunday 21 February 7.30pm
Trumpet & Flugel Horn: David Moore
Trumpet & Fugel Horn: Katharine Curlett
French Horn: Georgi Boev
Trombone & Euphonium: Lewis Musson
Tuba: Ben Millest 
Victor Ewald:
"Brass Quintet No 1 in B flat minor" Op. 5
Samuel Scheidt:
"Galliard Battaglia (Battle Suite)" SSWV59
Georges Bizet: "Carmen Suite"
Michael Kamen: "Quintet" (2002)
Newton Abbot & District Society of Arts
Sacconi String Quartet

Performing Arts Centre
Teignmouth Community School
Saturday 19 March 7.30pm
Violin: Ben Hancox & Hannah Dawson
Viola: Robin Ashwell
'Cello: Cara Berridge
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart:
"String Quartet No. 20 in D" K499
Graham Fitkin: "Servant" (1992)
Franz Schubert:
"String Quartet No.15 in G" D887
Newton Abbot & District Society of Arts
Viv McLean

Courtenay Centre Newton Abbot
Friday 20 November 7.30pm
Piano: Viv McLean
Claude Debussy:
"Suite Bergamasque for Piano" (1905)
Frédéric Chopin:
"Nocturne Nos 2 & 20" "Ballades Nos. 1 & 3"
Ludwig van Beethoven:
"33 Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli" Op. 120 
All Tickets: £15 (advance £13, member £10)
(student £2, accompanied schoolchild FREE)
Newton Abbot TIC: 01626 215667
Teignmouth TIC: 01626 215666
Dawlish TIC: 01626 215665
Arnold's Hardward in Bovey Tracey: 01626 832359
Membership: single £20 couple £30 corporate £50
Season Tickets: single £56 couple £112 student £10
Membership and Season Ticket Details:
Contact Gillian Taylor

Blackdowns Early Music Projects Singers & Band: JanJoost van Elburg directs GRAND BAROQUE II Exeter Cathedral Monday 31 August 2015

JanJoost van Elburg

Blackdowns Early Music Projects

Exeter Cathedral

Monday 31 August 7.30pm


Director: JanJoost van Elburg

Soprano Soloists: Sally DunkleyAmy Haworth

Alto Soloist: Hannah Cooke

Tenor Soloists: Paul PhoenixMark DobellJulian Stocker

Bass Soloists: Jonathan ArnoldThomas Flint


Chamber Organs: Steven Devine & Martin Perkins

Monteverdi String Band
Violin: Theresa Caudle, Julia Black
Viola: Rachel Stott, David Brooker
Bass Violin: Mark Caudle
Violone: Peter McCarthy
Theorbo: Eligio Quinteiro

His Majestys Sackbutts and Cornetts
Cornett: Jamie Savan, Helen Roberts
Alto Sackbutt: Abigail Newman
Tenor Sackbutt: Miguel Tantos Sevillanos
Bass Sackbutt: Steve Saunders

Altenburg Ensemble
(baroque trumpets)
First Clarion: Jean-François Madeuf
 Second Clarion: Katie Hodges
Tromba: Russell Gilmour, Stephen Bailey, Stephen Gibley,
Tympani: Stephen Burke

(See the instruments: Grand Baroque 2013)


Heinrich Biber:
"Sonata à 7" (six trumpets & continuo)

Jacobus Gallus:
"Alleluia, In resurrectione tua Christe"

Heinrich Biber:
"Vesperae à 32" - Dixit Dominus

Antonio Bertali (arr. Adam Woolf):
"Sonatas No 2 & 4, à 5" - for Sagbutts & Cornetts

Heinrich Biber:
"Vesperae à 32" - Magnificat

Jacobus Gallus:
"Pater Noster"

Heinrich Biber:
"Missa Allelujah à 36" - Kyrie & Gloria

Heinrich Biber:
"Sonatae tam aris quam aulis servientes" - Sonata III for strings

Heinrich Biber:
"Missa Allelujah à 36" - Credo

Heinrich Biber:
"Partita in D for Organ"

Heinrich Biber:
"Missa Allelujah à 36" - Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei

Front Nave £25 (student £20)
Centre Nave £20 (student £16)
Rear Nave £15 (student £12)
Unreserved Side Aisles £12 (student £10)

Cathedral Box Office: 01392 285983

Taunton Tourist Info: 01823 336344

Blackdowns Early Music: 01884 849172

Friday, 21 August 2015

Counterpoint Choir & David Acres Farewell Concert Buckfast Abbey Saturday 20 June 2015

from the 'Sensory Garden'

David Acres
For more than a quarter of a century, a former Exeter Cathedral choral scholar has been making sensational music, both sacred and secular, with his own unique choir - The Counterpoint Choir.

David Acres' love of music began when he enrolled at the Cathedral School at the age of seven - and has never abated. In adult life, as a successful professional singer and musical director, David returned to Exeter and sang as a regular member of the Cathedral choir. He also became a member of the Torbay Singers, and the Loosemoor Choir in Buckfastleigh, and eventually became a 'lay vicar' singing counter-tenor at Buckfast Abbey.

Buckfast Abbey
In the late eighties, while relaxing in the Buckfast Abbey bar (now offices) after Midnight Mass, David conceived a plan to create a most splendid choir - and that was to be the Counterpoint Choir. David's many connections allowed his to recruit the very best musicians to sing for him. With David's direction, the choir became the pride of the South West of England - and equally respected in the North West of France, where they regularly joined 'Le Groupe Vocal Jef le Penven' on their tours of Brittany.

In recent years the choir have been joined at Buckfast Abbey by operatic counter-tenor James Bowman. After formally retiring from the stage with his final Wigmore Hall perfromance, James returned to Buckfast Abbey to sing with the Counterpoint Choir again - and again.

David and Judith Acres
with James Bowman
In 2012, just as David was experimenting with a reduced line-up for the choir, life took an unexpected and thrilling turn. During a UK tour by The Trinity Chamber Choir from Cleveland's Trinity Cathedral, David was invited to join their counter-tenor section for a week of singing the services at Wells Cathedral. Returning the favour, David invited counter-tenor John McElliot and soprano Judith Overcash to sing with Counterpoint at a concert celebrating the music of Henry Purcell in 2013 - at Buckfast Abbey of course. James Bowman was also there - for "The Remarkable Mr Henry Purcell" in October.

David in Ohio
(Photo: Judith Overcash)
Later that year David moved to Cleveland Ohio, formally joined the choir of Trinity Cathedral, became a member of the Trinity Chamber Singers, joined Quire Cleveland, and founded a new high voice ensemble - 'Contrapunctus' - with, as Artistic Director, Judith Overcash. Judith is perhaps as well-known in her native country, as James Bowman is here. She was born in Charleston, South Carolina, where she took her BA in vocal performance before working throughout the states as an operatic singer and stage actor. A PhD took her to Ohio, where she joined 'Quire Cleveland' and 'Apollo's Fire'.

After weathering the severe Cleveland winter of 2013/14, David and Judith moved south to enjoy the far more temperate South Carolina climate of Charleston, where they were married in October. (Congratulations!) They also founded a new choir, 'The King's Counterpoint', to continue the pursuit of their mutual professional fascination - sacred and secular polyphonic music through the ages.

Lantern Tower
Through all this excitement and upheaval, the loyal Counterpoint audience in Devon were not forgotten. David and Judith returned to Buckfast Abbey on Saturday 20th June this year to give a 'farewell' concert, and were joined once again by James Bowman. The Abbey was, understandably, packed with well-wishers on the night. David had some reassurance to offer. The Counterpoint Choir is still very much in existence, and will tour Brittany again next year, and further UK concerts are still a possibility.

For the time being, the audience had two glorious hours of music to look forward to. After some deliberation, the concert featured a thrilling and nostalgic selection of pieces, which had been performed by the Counterpoint Choir in the preceding twenty six years. The choir was back up to full strength, with thirty members, including Judith with the sopranos - not to mention James Bowman singing with the choir and solo. To accompany James, counter-tenor Shaun Pirttijarvi doubled as baroque organist.

The music began with "Vox Dicentis, 'Clama'" (A voice said, "Cry out!"). This motet was written in 1911 by the organist of Emmanuel College Cambridge, Edward Naylor. The text comes from the Book of Isaiah in Hebrew Scripture. The sense of a lone voice crying out in supplication in the wilderness was perfectly evoked by the whole choir, introduced by the male voices. The ensuing exegesis was a masterpiece of interplay between voices, and the perfect introduction, or re-introduction, to the wonders of such a prestigious choir.

In a poignant reminder of the commitment of many Counterpoint members to the musical life of the Abbey, and Exeter Cathedral, the choir moved on to Psalm 130 - "Out of the depths I cried unto thee, O Lord". With it's soothing tones, and gentle doxology, this formal piece of liturgy reprised the preceding theme in a beautiful form, perfectly suited to the ecclesiastic atmosphere of the Abbey.

Thomas Tallis & William Byrd
James Bowman sang two solo pieces in the first half of the concert, both from musicians of the sixteenth century Chapel Royal, "O Nata Lux, de Lumine" (O Light, Born of Light) by Thomas Tallis and "Ave, Verum Corpus" (Hail, True Body) by William Byrd. Tallis and Byrd held the monopoly in polyphonic music for two decades under Elizabeth I. In these two liturgical songs, they set out to impress listeners abroad with the delicacy and complexity of English music. Accompanied by Shaun Pirttijarvi on the baroque organ, James expounded those principles all over again with his splendidly controlled counter-tenor voice.
Sergei Rachmaninov

The choir took liturgy in a different direction next, with the deeply sad (and angry) rendition of "Ave Maria" written by Sergei Rachmaninov for his 'All Night Vigil' for the fallen soldiers on the Eastern front in 1915. "Богородице Дево" (Hail, O Virgin) is initially ethereal, but then threatening, as the full force of the voices charge the music with emotion.
Morten Lauridsen

The mysterious sound of Rachmaninov's Russian lyrics led straight into Morten Lauridsen's 1994 version of the Christmas responses, "O Magnum Mysterium" (O Great Mystery). The devotional words express the transcending delight associated with the mystery of a human mother giving birth to a divine being.

Eric Whitacre
The celestial brilliance of Lauridsen's mystery was sustained as the choir moved on to another piece, composed for Christmas in 2000 by Eric Whitacre, "Lux Aurumque" (Golden/Warming Light). The words are from Edward Esch's contemporary poem "Light and Gold", translated and adapted by Charles Anthony Sylvestri. The voices of the choir, however, joined so seemlessly, and modulated so seductively, that the mood Eric Whitacre intended was conveyed in delicious sound, as much as through the words.

John Sanders
To lead to the intermission, the choir sang an extended piece of music composed by John Sanders in 1993, "The Reproaches". John Sanders wrote this musical setting of the liturgy for Good Friday the year before he retired as organist at Gloucester Cathedral. The text combines the words of the Passion, "O my people, what have I done to you?" with the words of the Eastern Orthodox "Trisagion" (Thrice Holy), and prayer of supplication.

Matt Cann conducts Antiphon
(countertenor David Acres, centre)
Counterpoint baritone, Matt Cann, has recently recorded this piece with the Antiphon Choir as part of their new album on the Willowhayne Records label - "O My People". Matt describes "The Reproaches" in this way, "One of the glories of music for Passiontide, you'll hear the Sanders Reproaches sung in nearly every cathedral on Good Friday. The Sanders Reproaches is quite simply the most sublime piece of music." A perfect description of the Counterpoint performance.

Orlando Gibbons
As midsummer's day was rapidly approaching, the audience were able to enjoy the gardens in the late summer sunshine during the interval. They returned in the perfect mood to enjoy two more pieces performed by James Bowman.

The first was the highly emotional "Drop, Drop Slow Tears" by Orlando Gibbons, a younger contemporary of Tallis and Byrd who joined the Chapel Royal under James I. Orlando Gibbons died only two years after William Byrd, who lived to be eighty three. Forty years earlier William Byrd had mourned the loss of his mentor Thomas Tallis (who had himself lived to eighty years of age) and composed his famous "Elegy on the Death of Thomas Tallis". As Shaun Pirttijarvi continued his gentle organ accompaniment, James proceeded into the Elegy. With inexorable grace he invoked the sacred muses to come down to earth and join in the lament, "Tallis is dead, and Music dies."

John Tavener
Suddenly the choir took us to 1981, and the music of John Tavener (knighted, 2000) who was at that time not much younger than William Byrd was when he wrote his Elegy. John Tavener wrote "Funeral Ikos" four years after his conversion to the Greek Orthodox Church. The text is the liturgy for the funerals of priests, and a very appropriate adjunct to the elegy that preceded it. The pained and plaintive entreaty of the words, to understand the mystery of death, is interspersed by the reassuring repetition of the chorus - four drawn out Alleluias.

Alonso Lobo
Continuing the theme of mourning, the choir moved back to 1598 and Alonso Lobo's funeral refrain for the death of England's Prince Consort, Felipe II of Spain, "Versa est in Luctum Cithara Mea" (My Harp turns to mourning). We must recall, at this point, that the concert was heading rapidly towards its close. An era was ending and long-standing members (including founder members), as well as those who joined the choir more recently, were feeling the emotion of the words particularly strongly. Needless to say, their voices were as strong and clear as ever, but now a distinct mood of sadness and loss infused the words more than ever before, "Spare me, O Lord, for my days are nothing."

Sir Edward Elgar
As a fitting coda to the sequence of funeral music, David led the choir in a very familiar setting of the communion music for the requiem mass "Lux Aeterna Luceat Eis, Domine" (Let everlasting light shine upon them, O Lord). In 1899 Edward Elgar (knighted in 1904) used the music from his successful orchestral composition of the previous year, "The Enigma Variations", as a setting for "Lux Aeterna". The ninth variation, an adagio, is dedicated to his editor Augustus Jaeger, and represents Nimrod, son of Cush, who was the mighty hunter in the Book of Genesis. (In German 'jäger' means 'hunter', of course.) This was the perfect opportunity for David to conduct a full orchestra of vocal expression - and for the choir to regain their composure in a refreshing tumult of sound.

James Bowman made his final solo appearance, and most lasting impression, with a further two impassioned laments from the sixteenth and seventeenth century. The first was composed by a contemporary of William Byrd at the Chapel Royal, Richard Farrant. As well as providing music for royal ceremonies, Richard Farrant was also a playwright and founder of the Blackfriars Theatre on the site of a Dominican Priory in London as a venue for child actors associated with the Chapel Royal.

"Hide not thou thy face from us, O Lord" is loosely based on the words of Psalm 102, elaborating on its message with an offer to confess all sins, in return for deliverance. James projected just the right air of abject obeisance as he sang these deferential words of entreaty, evoking the religious fervour of the Tudor Royal Court.

Henry Purcell
(John Closterman 1695)
Finally he sang the piece for which he is perhaps most famous. When he was at Exeter Cathedral (exactly three years before this concert), to receive his Fellowship of the Royal School of Church Music at the Celebration Day Service, James was accompanied by David Davies playing the baroque organ in a performance of Henry Purcell's "Evening Hymn". Purcell was at the Chapel Royal a century later than William Byrd and Richard Farrant. He attended the coronation of Charles II and wrote music for the funeral of Mary II.

Unlike Farrant's public display of piety, Purcell's hymn is a more private expression of devotion. The words, "Now that the sun hath veiled his light" refer to settling down for a good night's sleep, rather than anticipating death. (Henry was only twenty nine when the hymn was published.) The hymn is almost a lullaby, culminating in a soporific iteration of the final word, "Hallelujah". It was a very special treat for everyone to hear James perform this delightful piece so sweetly once again.

Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla
The choir closed the concert with music from the New World. Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla moved from Spain to the Caribbean as a young man in 1620. His works are preserved in Puebla de Los Angeles in Mexico, where he became Director of Music at the Cathedral when he was thirty eight. There is a distinctly transatlantic flavour to "Circumdederunt me Dolores Mortis" (The Sea of Death), where he felt doomed to damnation in hell. In a fitting echo of the opening music of the concert he ends, "A Deum meum clamavi" (To my God, I cried.)

Eric Whitacre
The systematic winding-down of emotions in the closing pieces reached its reassuring and enrapturing nadir in one last piece of modern - and secular - music. Despite the summer sun still being firmly above the horizon, the choir sang "The evening hangs beneath the moon", opening another setting of poetry by Eric Whitacre, "Sleep". The original words by Robert Frost were "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening", but copyright shenanigans meant that Eric had to ask Charles Anthony Sylvestri to step in again and write a completely new set of lyrics to his music. When the work was completed, Eric preferred Charles' version and eschewed Robert Frost's verses - giving him the cold shoulder, as it were.

As a finale to an evening of heart-breaking music of mourning, "Sleep" was just the tranquilliser needed to settle the tortured breast. The gentle ululation of the closing word, 'sleep', repeated hypnotically, and perfectly mirroring the 'Hallelujah' of Purcell's hymn, provided a perfect respite for reflection and nostalgia. What a beautifully thoughtful and well-considered choice of programme by David Acres.

     Just one more . . .
Counterpoint audiences know not to applaud after each piece (although they would often like to). However, at the close of the concert the audience took the opportunity to show their heart-felt appreciation. During the prolonged ovation many were aware that there was more to come. To reflect the choir's French connection, David had prepared a captivating encore in the form of a dance.

"Tourdion" translates literally as "The Twist". In this case, however, the sound, and the driving sense of the music, has a more gentle and sensitive feel than the Midnighters' modern version. The minimal sound of the sopranos was like a distant voice calling across time - and from the opposite coast of the English Channel. The continuo was soft and melting, carrying everyone away on a wave of soft murmering magic.

David applauds the choir
The 'farewell' concert (or rather, we hope, 'au revoir') was as fitting a send-off as one could possibly imagine. David Acres directed the choir with simple grace, and his familiar ear for detail. Every one of the thirty voices rang out in the lofty confines of Buckfast Abbey with spine-tingling clarity and overwhelming emotion. Every piece was a gem in itself, and each contributed to the building of that very special aural environment which is a Counterpoint concert.

Particular thanks must go to James Bowman for making a special journey to Devon to sing for us once again. In his introductions David Acres (a counter-tenor himself) was at pains to point out what an illustrious role model James had been for him. Twenty years ago David regularly made a special journey to see and hear James on stage. How amazing to see the two together now, entertaining us with their incomparable music over the past few years.

Go slowly. Come back quickly!

Together again - David Acres & James Bowman
(far left - Judith Acres, far right - Mary O'Shea)

Monday, 22 June 2015

Jonathan Schranz and the Selwyn Consort on tour St Michael's Mount Dinham Monday 29 June Buckfast Abbey Tuesday 30 June 2015

Jonathan Schranz

The Selwyn Consort - on tour

St Michael's Church Mount Dinham
Monday 29 June 7.30pm

Buckfast Abbey

Tuesday 30 June 7.30pm


Conductors: Jonathan Schranz / John Bachelor

18 Selwyn College Choral Scholars
from Selwyn, Homerton, Trinity & Churchill
& The Selwyn College Chapel Choir
(Musical Director Sarah MacDonald)

    William Byrd: "Ne irascaris Domine
                                       - Civitas sancti tui"
Nicolas Walker: "Tantum Ergo"     
(Nicolas is a first year music student         
          and a member of the Selwyn Consort)
Graham Keitch: "Ave Maria"            
           Graham Keitch: "Audivi Vocem" (premiere)
                 Hubert Parry: "My Soul, there is a country" 
   William Harris: "Faire is the Heaven" 
   Benjamin Britten: "A Hymn to the Virgin"

Admission: FREE (retiring collection)

(Hear Jon Schranz' recording of 
Britten's "Hymn to the Virgin"
with members of the Selwyn Consort
 on 'Soundcloud')

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Voces8 St Michael and all Angels Mount Dinham Friday 19 June 2015

Soprano: Andrea Haines, Emily Dickens
Countertenor: Christopher Wardle, Barnaby Smith
Tenor: Sam Dressel, Oliver Vincent
Baritone: Paul Smith & Bass: Dingle Yandell

Alex West
Organ scholar and trustee of the Exeter Festival Chorus, Alex West, marked the end of his tenure as Musical Director at The Church of St Michael and All Angels, Mount Dinham, with an inspiring workshop and spectacular concert by international choral stars, Voces8.

Both events were sold out. Music lovers and music makers from across Devon rushed to the church for the afternoon's two hour workshop. Voces8 Musical Director, Barnaby Smith, demonstrated professional warm-up and rehearsal techniques, and let the students in on some of the secrets of creating the perfect balance of sound from a polyphonic choir. The other choir members demonstrated enthusiastically, and answered many interesting questions about choral music. They also directed the students, in four sections, to produce beautiful music of their own.

In the evening the church was equally packed, with many of the students from the workshop joining the capacity audience. The extra seats at the front of the nave were at a premium for a close-up experience of the choir, and the perfect acoustic rendering of their music.

Impressive accoustics
and sensational harmonies
Needless to say, the lofty barrel roof of the Sanctuary provided the perfect resonance for their opening sacred motets. William Byrd's antiphon "Haec dies quam fecit Dominus" (Psalm 118, O give thanks to the Lord) was a beautiful canon for six voices, skilfully shared between eight. Immediately, the underscoring of Dingle Yandell's bathyscaphic basso profundo voice added its mellifluous and sensual foundation to the 'pyramid of sound'.

"Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes" (Psalm 19, The heavens are telling the glory of the Lord) by Heinrich Schütz predated Bach's version by nearly a century. This very early experiment in Italian opera-style a cappella singing corresponded to the orchestral version, with the different voices taking the parts of the instruments. After a brief introduction, the choir burst forth with full force in a spectacular and impressive symphony with every voice shining out both individually and in concert - just as advertised.

Baritone Paul Smith then took things in a different and unexpected direction with a wartime jazz number by Nat King Cole. Paul playfully introduced all the choir members in turn (starting with Dingle), in the style of the wonderful Viv Stanshall. Each singer was welcomed by the audience with whoops and wild applause. They each responded with a skilful exposition of scat singing building a wall of sound.

Sam Dressel sings "I've got the world on a string"
accompanied on 'double bass' by Dingle Yardell
Once the full chorus was in action, tenor Oliver Vincent sang the solo. He opened with an even more unexpected lyric from the turn of the twenty first century, by Axl Rose, "Take me down to Paradise City", echoed by Andrea Haines, and playfully redirected into Cole's "Straighten up and fly right". This delicate confection was a far cry from "Guns N' Roses"!

Tenor, Sam Dressel, who had delighted the workshop students with his version of "Twist and Shout" in the afternoon, now sang a very special solo for the evening audience. Harold Arlen's Cotton Club Parade number, "I've got the world on a string". The choir members broke with choral tradition by walking and singing, mingling like friends at a cocktail party - and mingling their voices perfectly. Dingle took the voice/instrument cross-over to a new level, playing an invisible double bass while providing a scat soundtrack. His antics were endlessly fascinating, and the sound delightful.

Solo Tenor: Oliver Vincent
"The Luckiest"
Soprano Emily Dickens opened the choir's most popular number, Ben Folds' "The Luckiest". After a sensual introduction of melting chords, tenor Oliver Vincent sang a commanding solo, with the icing on the cake provided by the spectacular countertenor voice of Christopher Wardle.

Barnaby Smith took us back to a more sombre and sacred mood with choruses from two transcendent twentieth century "All Night Vigils". The first was Sir John Tavener's anthem "Mother of God here I stand" (setting the words of Mikhail Lermontov) from his oecumenical masterpiece, "The Veil of the Temple". During the seven hour performance this anthem is repeated many times, with ever-rising pitch. The choir chose a 'sensible' key, and repaired to the alter for a more distant and mysterious sound.

"богородице дево"
a moment for reflection
Without a break the choir moved into "богородице дево" (Ave Maria) from Sergei Rachmaninov's "1915 Vespers" for the victims of war. The deft expansion from soft grief to explosive rage was perfectly executed, dying away to leave once more the soulful and comforting tones of Dingle Yandell's bass voice.

The first half closed with another visit to the exciting world of Italian renaissance polyphony. From Russian, the choir switched adroitly to Latin for Giovanni Gabrielli's grand motet, "Jubilate Deo". Andrea Haines and Emily Dickens opened with a celestial soprano duet, for the extreme left and right of the stage. The men ranged between them with the tenors in the centre, a perfect set-up for the waves of corruscating sound rising and falling gently between the different voices - which sometimes sounded impossibly as if they came from more than eight people. Alternately celebratory and mournful, the music was perfect to send the audience away wanting more.

While the choir rested, Alex invited the audience to help themselves to free wine and soft drinks. The audience was so large that two bars were needed, one at each end of the church. Even then the queues took quite a time to get to the goodies, while everyone marvelled at the music they had just enjoyed.

Soprano Duet: "Fire! Fire!"
Emily Dickens & Andrea Haines
with Sam Dressel,
Barnaby Smith & Dingle Yardell
The choir returned for the second half without ceremony, and gently re-established the contemplative mood of the first half with the opening track from their latest Decca recording, "Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est" (Where grace and love are, there God is) by contemporary Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo.

Emily Dickens and Andrea Haines provided another sweet soprano duet, and it did not go unnoticed that during the interval they had changed into the two new outfits. The men still sported the same stylish royal blue whistles and winkle-pickers - a very impressive look.

Oliver Vincent gave a little background on Ola Gjeilo, and the exciting news that Ola has agreed to become the 'composer in residence' for Voces8.

Lightening the mood slightly the choir sang Bob Chilcott's arrangement of the traditional spiritual "Were you there?" back-to-back with the modern spiritual "Underneath the stars" by Kate Rusby. The combination was perfect, and the delivery simple and gently religious.

The soft opening canon by the sopranos led into a caressing quartet in collaboration with the countertenors. Without increasing the volume or force, the full choir joined in with their ululating echo. The move from "Were you there?" to "Underneath the stars" was almost imperceptible, starting with Emily Dickens' opening solo "O go gently" against the melting harmonies of the men. A very special surprise was the complementary bass solo by Dingle Yandell. The evocation of a starlit night, and the promise and disappointment of love, were expounded with crystal clarity by the clearly distinguished and diametrically opposed voices of soprano and bass.

Solo Soprano: Andrea Haines
with Christopher Wardle,
Sam Dressel & Dingle Yardell
'the gossiping women'
Baritone, Paul Smith, re-introduced a classical flavour with an English madrigal and a French secular 'chanson', by Thomas Morley and Pierre Passereau.

Paul explained that Morley's "Fire! Fire!" was somewhat risqué (being about the 'fire' of love). At some time in the past, the more inflammatory words have been replaced by the mediaeval equivalent of 'expletive deleted' - the nonsense sounds "Fa-la-la".

Armed with this knowledge, the audience were highly amused to discover that nearly all of the song had been converted to "Fa-la-la", including the drawn out final words - whatever they had been!

"Fire! Fire!" was a song for two sopranos with just one each of tenor, countertenor and bass - Sam, Barnaby and Dingle.

Solo Soprano: Andrea Haines
with Christopher Wardle,
Sam Dressel & Dingle Yardell
'the clucking chickens'
For Passereau's "Il est Bel et Bon", Andrea Haines sang solo with tenor, countertenor & bass. This time, the countertenor was Christopher Wardle, who explained the onomatopoeic tricks of the song (which might be inferred from the title), where the high register is used to represent gossiping women in the marketplace, or alternatively clucking chickens! Against Dingle's gently reproving tones, the 'ladies' chattered enchantingly.

As the concert progressed, the programme slipped gently off-piste. Oliver Vincent started a systematic deviation from the script, which continued for the remainder of the concert. He returned to the programme of the first half, and the promised Jimmy Van Heusen number (arranged by regular Voces8 contributor Jim Clements), "Ain't that a kick in the head". In this tenor showcase, Oliver was Dean Martin opposite Sam Dressel's Frank Sinatra. In a fitting tribute to 'Old Blue Eyes' and 'The Rat Pack', the choir provided a six-piece orchestra to embellish Oliver and Sam's syncopated crooning.

Oliver Vincent: "Mrs Robinson"
Barnaby Smith took us further afield with something by Simon and Garfunkel. After a brief mention of their work with the Voces Cantabile Music teaching programme at the Gresham Centre in London, and the Voces8 'Friends' scheme ( - please do sign up!), Barnaby introduced the song requested for their Christmas tour in Japan: "Mrs Robinson". Emily Dickens, Andrea Haines and Dingle Yandell provided the backing for another solo performance by Oliver Vincent, with a cameo appearance by Emily Dickens - "Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes, Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home." A sentimental trip down memory lane.

"I won't dance!"
Emily Dickens & Sam Dressel
are Ginger Rogers & Fred Astaire
Emily got another chance to shine, this time as Ginger Rogers opposite Sam Dressel's Fred Astaire in "I won't dance" by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II. Contrary to the sentiment of the words, the singers do dance - very elegantly, with no loss of projection or balance in their voices. As they neared the end of a long and demanding programme, this was no mean feat.

Dingle gave the last introduction - with a brief plug for the choir website and facebook page. Their last song was a peach, an arrangement for the Swingle Singers, by Ben Parry, of Duke Ellington's "Don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing." This fabulous collection of variations, delivered with huge energy and inventiveness, took the concert across the finishing line in top gear.

Called back to the stage by a delighted audience, Barnaby reassured us all that Voces8 will be back in the West Country again soon. Look out for them in the Milton Abbey Festival (Blandford Forum in Dorset, Monday 27 July - Sunday 2 August).

Do what?
Emily Dickens is 'The Queen of the Night'
Voces8 will be open the festival on Monday night - and close it in a concert of Purcell and Handel with the Gabrieli Consort on Sunday afternoon. (See festival website for details.)

Just to polish off the evening, Voces8 took to the stage one last time for a medley of opera arias and choruses, an opportunity for each singer to show off their exceptional skills one last time. Skipping between operas with ease, the choir kept the pace going, and impressed us with each 'turn'. However, one extract threatened to stop the show, "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen" (The fury of hell boils in my heart) from Mozart's "Magic Flute". This comic pastiche for coloratura went once again to soprano, Emily Dickens.

Alex West was warm in his praise of the visiting musicians, described by St Michael's incumbent, Father Tom Honey, as the climax of the concert series (with no disrespect to the other artists). The entire audience agreed, and showed their sincere gratitude to the church committee for arranging such an auspicious event and ensuring such a good audience - and to Voces8 for a first class evening of music.

Many thanks to all involved.