Young voices of the Three Choirs Festival
PUBLISHED: 01:16 18 June 2011 | UPDATED: 19:33 20 February 2013
The Three Choirs Festival needs fresh voices to keep it going. Juliette Kemp went to a rehearsal of the youth choir to see, and hear, their contribution to the historic event
The sound soaring from College Hall and across Cathedral Green was like the day itself glorious.
Incredibly, this was the Three Choirs Festival Youth Choirs first rehearsal and, if Beethovens Mass in C is sounding sublime only hours in, the concert in Worcester Cathedral is destined to be stunning.
Certainly, conductor Adrian Partington is encouraged by what he has heard.
They made a beautiful sound, he muses during the lunchtime break on day one of four, day long intensive rehearsals for August 11.
I thought they sounded fine, this is a great start.
It wasnt just a great start to this years festival, it was also a great way to continue nurturing the centuries-old events newest baby which, as artistic director at last years Gloucester festival, Adrian launched to bring younger singers into the Three Choirs chorus.
A former chorister and assistant cathedral organist at Worcester himself, he admits rather ruefully that: When I came back to Three Choirs country in 2008 I reckoned a lot of the people singing in it were exactly the same as when Id left in 1990 and I thought a youth chorus would be a good way to get young blood into the festival, to show young people what brilliant fun it is and I hoped that some would then graduate into the main chorus.
And it seems that hope has been borne out, with some of Adrians own Gloucester young people asking to sing in this years main chorus, while there are some familiar faces in this years group of 40 or so 16 to 25 year-olds.
There are many reasons why the main chorus lacks younger singers: Adrian cites a lack of any kind of choral/musical background; those who do sing only do so in small groups and prefer to remain in them; the commitment to the extensive rehearsal weeks and the festival week itself neither of which marry with exams and university terms but hes passionate about the need to bring young people in and carry Three Choirs into the future.
We cant let this get old, he insists. The youth choir has brought a new vibrancy and I think its the way forward for the festival.
Hes also delighted that his fellow artistic directors Adrian Lucas (Worcester) and Geraint Bowen (Hereford) have picked up the baton, so to speak, as, while hed hoped the youth choir would continue beyond its Gloucester debut, originally there were no guarantees.
But starting with this year, it will rotate, with the previous years festival director leading the following years young singers.
Its absolutely excellent, declares the youth choirs innovator. Adrian Lucas has been bold and brave and good and I was so delighted after the success of that first Tewkesbury Abbey afternoon concert, which was completely packed and a great success.
I dont think Id have dared given them an evening concert in their first year and it wasnt a foregone conclusion that theyd come in to Worcester but hes given them a main evening concert with the Philharmonia and the Bruch Violin concerto; I think hes been terrifically encouraging and Im really grateful to him.
Crucially, Adrian Partingtons excitement about the forthcoming concert and the Three Choirs Youth Choir, is shared by the young singers themselves.
For 17 year-old Emma Jenkins, head girl chorister with Worcester Cathedral Choir. Its good to be part of a big thing with people of your own age, she says. Its also good experience to sing with a different conductor. Adrian Partington is very different to Adrian Lucas in the way he does things but its fun.
Another participant from last year is Hereford soprano Sandie Middleton, who is delighted at being asked back. I really enjoyed it, says the first-year Cardiff University music student whose only experience of Three Choirs was helping backstage and at information points at two previous festivals.
Its wonderful getting to know the young people from other counties and its really nice to be part of this festival which has to keep going in the future.
The fact that the young people themselves are all singing from the same hymn sheet is music to the ears of Three Choirs Festivals general manager Dr Paul Hedley, who acknowledges the choirs importance to the event.
We are continually trying to connect with different tranches of the population in terms of audience and participation, and its very difficult, logistically, for young singers to be part of the festival chorus. It rehearses between Easter and summer at least once a week, so for anyone doing their A-levels or away at university its extremely difficult for them to be part of it, he says.
We dont want to lose them, particularly people, ex-choristers, youth choir members and ex cathedral-type singers who have been part of it during earlier school time and then have had no opportunity to be part of it again until, essentially, theyve left university.
Thats not only a great shame for them, its also a big loss for festival. A huge amount of musical expertise and input can be gained from them.
By having concentrated weekend rehearsals we can enable young singers to be part of something exciting and give them the opportunity to perform on an international stage with an international orchestra and give something back to them, such as vocal and choral technique training.
Its about the future of the singers and the festival and the future of choral music. Were all up against an aging population and classical music is perhaps even more exposed to that than other sectors, he admits.
Its that vision that last year helped the choir to become the first classical music organisation/festival outside London to receive the Inspire mark from London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, which deemed it an outstanding project that would contribute to the lasting legacy of the 2012 Olympics.
It has also picked up strong sponsorship from the likes of the Derek Butler Trust, the DOyly Carte Charitable Trust, the Rowlands Trust and the Honourable Company of Gloucestershire.
So it seems the Three Choirs Festival has plenty to look forward to. The plan for next year is for the youth choir to perform a new commission.
Its reputation is growing and its the word-of-mouth recommendation by current members, which Paul says is invaluable to its future.
As a 16 or 17 year-old, if you had a great experience being in the youth choir, youre going to want to come back and youre going to talk to your friends about it, he says. Thats future building in terms of audience development and audience development and participation. You cant buy that.
For Adrian Partington, the ultimate is when a young singer asks to go into the main festival chorus. Youth choirs job done maybe?
He nods emphatically. Exactly. Exactly.
Three Choirs week is filled with talks, workshops, recitals, lectures and services throughout each day. Below is the programme for the main evening choral concerts. For full listings and booking information, go to www.3choirs.org.
Three Choirs Festival box office: 0845 6521823, from 10.15am to 1.30pm (Monday to Friday), from 10.30am to 1pm on Saturday, July 30 and during ticket office hours in the festival week.
Saturday, August 6
Dream of Gerontius. Elgar. Sarah Connolly, John Graham-Hall, Alan Opie, Philharmonia Orchestra. Conductor Adrian Lucas.
Sunday, August 7
Adagio for strings, Barber; On the Transmigration of Souls, Adams; Adagietto, Mahler; Requiem, Mozart. Roderick Williams, Simon Wall, Philharmonia Orchestra. Conductor Adrian Partington.
Monday, August 8
Pre-concert lecture Big is Beautiful Mahlers 3rd Symphony, with Peter Medhurst.
Symphony No 3, Mahler. Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Philharmonia Orchestra. Conductor Susanna Mlkki.
Tuesday, August 9
Music from the Orthodox Tradition, The Sixteen conducted by Harry Christophers.
Late night organ Recital Elgar Symphony No 2 (transcription), David Briggs. World premire and festival commission.
Wednesday, August 10
Caractacus, Elgar. Judith Howarth, Peter Savidge, Matthew Best, Philharmonia Orchestra. Conductor Sir Andrew Davis.
Thursday, August 11
Overture Coriolan, Mass in C, Beethoven; Bruch Violin Concerto. Tai Murray, Three Choirs Festival Youth Choir, Philharmonia Orchestra. Conductor Adrian Partington.
Friday, August 12
An Oxford Elegy, Vaughan Williams, Ein Deutches Requiem, Brahms. Elizabeth Watts William Dazeley, Philharmonia Orchestra. Conductor Geraint Bowen.
Saturday, August 13
A Night at the Opera with Sir Thomas Allen, Three Choirs Festival Chorus, Philharmonia Orchestra. Conductor Adrian Lucas.