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Massive sing with Chorus OZ, June 6-7, 2015!

Chorus OZ, run by Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, provides an annual opportunity for choristers to sing a major work in the Sydney Opera House, with rehearsals and a performance over the course of one weekend.

ChorusOZ_2015_flyerI couldn’t resist joining in this year: it is their 10th anniversary, and what a program it was to celebrate the occasion:

Orff Carmina Burana: O Fortuna
Handel Zadok the Priest
Mozart Requiem: Introitus, Dies Irae, Recordae, Confutatis, Lacrimosa
Rachmaninoff All Night Vigil Bogoroditse Devo
Haydn The Creation: In Splendour bright, The Heavens are telling
Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem: Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen
Mendelssohn Elijah: O Lord, thou hast overthrown, Thanks be to God
Sculthorpe Requiem: Canticle
Verdi Missa da Requiem: Libera Me
Beethoven Symphony no. 9: Finale
Encore: Handel Messiah: Hallelujah Chorus

Now that has to be the ultimate huge sing! We had almost 1000 choristers, who overflowed from the choir seats behind the orchestra into all the boxes around the side of the concert hall!

Conductor Brett Weymark did an amazing job of pulling it all together over two days for rehearsals, without for a second losing his great sense of humour, enthusiasm and energy.

After the Saturday rehearsal, we sang O Fortuna and the Hallelujah Chorus on the steps of the opera house, and drew quite a crowd of passers-by!
Thanks to Danielle Bellas for putting it on YouTube…

The main performance on Sunday night was a fantastic experience, playing to a packed concert hall. I’ve always thought it would be amazing to sing in the chorus of Beethoven 9 at the Sydney Opera House, so that was a dream fulfilled!

Premiere of Missa Brevis by Penelope Thwaites

Internationally regarded pianist and composer Penelope Thwaites has written a new mass setting, which our choir at St John’s, Canberra, premiered at a concert in honour of the centenary of her late father, the poet Michael Thwaites, on Friday May 29 2015.

The Thwaites family have had a long connection with St John’s, and as a result we have enjoyed singing music by Penelope on several occasions.

Missa Brevis performance

St John’s choir with Penelope Thwaites (piano) conducted by Sheila Thompson

On this occasion, we augmented St John’s choir with some very talented additional singers from other Canberra choirs. After several weeks of practice, the performance of this new Missa Brevis, with Penelope accompanying on a grand piano, went off exceptionally well and drew much applause from a packed church!

It is a terrific piece, wonderfully melodic, and deserves to be heard again in the future – it would work in both in a concert or liturgical setting. I’m looking forward to hearing the recording made by ArtSound FM!

RSCM Summer School 2015

Took part in the annual RSCM Summer School in the first week of January.

This year it was held in Brisbane, and the Queensland branch did a great job organising everything. Music director was Andrew Reid, Director of the RSCM in the UK headquarters. He proved himself an excellent choir director and organ recitalist. I particularly enjoyed a workshop he held on improvisation at the organ!

I even presented a small workshop myself, on the topic of creating a website for your choir.

I joined the composition stream, and we were lucky to have Robert Davidson coordinating the group. Rob is a composer, lecturer at the University of Queensland, and a member of the contemporary music ensemble Topology. We had some interesting discussions on approaches to composition.

Lots of singing in the Brisbane cathedrals, and a good week generally. I made notes, as we’re holding the Summer School next year in Canberra…!

So what else happened in 2014?

So much for using WordPress to maintain this website instead of hand-coding – I still can’t seem to find time to keep it up to date!

So now, just remembering a couple of other things that happened in 2014…

In August, I was invited to be part of the ‘My Love Is A House’ concert of music by Canberra composers (see clipping below from Canberra Weekly). Apart from enjoying hearing my own piece performed so well by Vanessa Driver (violin), Annette Hiu (cello) and Grant Roberts (piano) – who made it sound better than it is! – it was a delight to hear such varied and interesting works by other composers from the Canberra region.

Here’s the video of my contribution, Bach Stands His Ground:


RCO150 !

And it was the 150th anniversary year of the Royal College of Organists. To mark the occasion, the RCO invited members to hold a recital in support of the college, aiming for 150 organ recitals in the course of the year. In the end, there were over 200! Mostly in Britain, of course, but we joined in at St John’s, Canberra, on April 24.

I teamed up with Gemma Dashwood (also an RCO member), Sheila Thompson (St John’s music director) and flautist Rosemary Shepherd. The program included a flute sonata by CPE Bach, who turned 300 in the same year – twice as old as the RCO! We backed up Rosemary with a full continuo: Sheila on organ, Gemma on cello and myself on harpsichord (electric), for a nice baroque sound that was a little different for the occasion.

Couldn’t resist doing CPE300 in RCO150!

Royal College of Organists conferment ceremony

Well, I made it… a whirlwind trip to England to receive my CertRCO at the RCO’s ceremony in Southwark cathedral on May 8. I was in England just four days! (Then I had to come back to my day job.)

Nigel in Southwark Cathedral

Nigel in Southwark Cathedral

I knew I would always regret having missed the experience if I hadn’t gone, and it lived up to all expectations. Southwark Cathedral is not the largest cathedral in Britain, but it is an impressive setting, rich in history, with origins dating back to the year 606.
Simon Preston and John Rutter

Simon Preston (L) and John Rutter (R) with RCO President Catherine Ennis

This year’s ceremony was particularly special, falling in the 150th anniversary year of the College.

Those of us receiving the College’s Diplomas and Certificates were in esteemed company: the College also awarded Medals in recognition of outstanding achievement in organ and choral music to organist-composers John Rutter and Simon Preston.


Diploma recipients posing for group photo

At the conclusion of the formal proceeding, we were treated to a recital by Daniel Hyde (FRCO) of Magdelen College, Oxford. Then following an afternoon tea break, we enjoyed a service of Choral Evensong sung by the Cathedral Choir under the direction of Peter Wright, during which the roof was duly raised with the anthem I Was Glad by Parry.

A very full and inspiring day!

So I’m not a total disaster as an organist after all…!

Recently learned that I passed my CertRCO (Certificate of the Royal College of Organists).
This is a level that was only introduced a few years ago.

While there are quite a few ARCOs and FRCOs (Associates and Fellows) in Australia, I, and one other in Queensland, have just become the very first holders of the CertRCO in Australia!
Conferment of diplomas is happening in Southwark Cathedral on March 8.

The Cert may be the RCO’s most junior diploma, but there’s no guarantee I’ll make it to ARCO, and this may be my only chance to experience being presented with a diploma from the Royal College of Organists in an English Cathedral… so a whirlwind visit (extended weekend!) back to UK is in order for next week!

A feast of music for Christmas 2013 in Canberra

First there was the service of Nine Lessons and Carols with St John’s choir (with which I sing regularly). We held it early on December 8, so as not to clash with other churches on the weekends closer to Christmas, and also the landmark performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio by the ACO on December 15. (We wouldn’t want to steal any of their audience away – ha-ha.)
At St John’s, we pulled off some interesting newer works by Australian composers this year, notably Nativity by contemporary Sydney composer, Matthew Orlovich – a beautiful, atmospheric setting of a poem by James McAuley. Also Malcolm Williamson’s This Christmas Night, and two of my own carol arrangements: To Us In Bethlem City and Ding Dong Merrily On High.

The following week I attended the Christmas Oratorio performed by the Australian Chamber Orchestra with The Choir of London. What a rare treat to hear this entire work, comprising six cantatas, originally written by Bach for performance in Leipzig on six separate days during the Christmas season. The ACO, along with this excellent UK choir, performed the lot in a marathon session lasting nearly four hours (including a one hour interval). An amazing effort, maintaining their superb standard and precision for the duration, especially when a lot of the music was quite complex. They performed on period instruments, and the choruses with baroque trumpet and timpani were moments of pure joy. Bach at it’s best!

Finally, on December 21, I’ve been invited to join in with the choir of All Saints’ Church for their Nine Lessons and Carols service. They have a fine choir and a great musical tradition. Looking forward to it.

RSCM Composition Finale 2013

June 22, 2013:  Another fun finale for the ACT Branch of the Royal School of Church Music’s annual Composition Competition. Adjudicator this year was Ross Cobb, director of music at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney. We are grateful for his insightful comments!

The theme this year was to write an anthem suitable for the feast day of St Francis of Assisi.  My entry, Most High Omnipotent Good Lord (score downloadable here) used words adapted from St Francis’s Canticle of the Sun. I came in third place, after some deserving entries by NSW composers Brett McKern (2nd) and Heather Percy (1st).

Thanks once again to the Canberra RSCM Chorale for rehearsing and performing all the finalists’ entries. Hear them singing my piece:

Autumn Choral Workshop in Auckland, NZ

April 12-14, 2013 : Wonderful weekend in Auckland attending a choral workshop directed by Malcolm Archer.
Several Australians, myself included, took this opportunity to cross the Tasman to attend this ‘Autumn Choral School’ directed by the distinguished British composer and choral director, Malcolm Archer, and organised by the Auckland Branch of the RSCM. Not only did we experience the expert guidance by Malcolm Archer, our accompanist was the highly accomplished organist, Timothy Noon, music director at Auckland’s Holy Trinity Cathedral, also from an English Cathedral background.
Inside Auckland Cathedral

Over the three days, we practiced music for an Evensong in the cathedral, including a rousing anthem by Malcolm Archer, All Creatures of our God and King. For the final Evensong, we were joined by the Cathedral Choir, making a combined sound of some 100 voices. All in all, a first-class experience of the cathedral tradition.
Malcolm Archer (right) is thanked after Evensong by Neil Schroff (left), Chair of the Auckland RSCM Branch