The Space, Geelong Grammar School
Festival hosts – The Geelong Chorale
Today’s festival was a celebration of song and the joy that people obtain from singing together in groups. Fourteen choirs participated in an afternoon of fine music making and friendship. It was a chance for choirs to perform at their best. They did not disappoint.
The program began with the host choir, The Geelong Chorale, and was introduced by John Stubbings OAM, who acted as MC throughout the afternoon.
The music ranged from a 16th century madrigal, to folk songs from around the world, through popular songs, songs from musical theatre and old favourites. Even opera had its place, with a delightful rendition of ‘Painless Opera’ by Phyllis Wolfe-White by the Geelong Youth Choir. The smallest group was 8 voices (The Geelong Youth Chamber Choir), the largest around 40 voices (The Geelong Chorale). There were youth choirs, mixed choirs, a female choir (Welsh Ladies Choir), and a male choir (International Harvester Choir). The youngest singers were of primary school age, and the oldest at least 90.
As Geelong is at the eastern end of the WDCF region, many choirs came from the Geelong area. The two groups from further afield, Colac Chorale and Apollo Bay Community Choir were warmly welcomed and greatly enhanced the afternoon’s singing.
The afternoon ended with all singers merging onto the stage for a massed choir performance of “Africa”, conducted by Jodie Townsend, Director of Music at Geelong Grammar School.
It is interesting to note that The International Harvester Male Chorus (formed in 1943) may be the oldest continuously performing choir in Australia in its current form. Raise the Bar, the adult section of The Geelong Youth Choir will be the featured choir for a forthcoming performance of “The Events” at GPAC. Geelong Harmony Chorus are fresh from a very successful Sweet Adelines Convention in Hobart, where they were placed fourth overall, and third in their section.
At the close of the Festival, Frank Sykes, Vice-President of The Geelong Chorale, handed over the Festival to The Merri Singers from Warrnambool who will host the festival in 2019.
Participating Choirs: The Geelong Chorale, Colac Chorale, Wondrous Merry, Apollo Bay Community Choir, Geelong Youth Choir, Raise the Bar Vocal Group, Geelong Harmony Chorus, Welsh Ladies Choir, International Harvester Choir, Sing Australia, Geelong, Vox Box, U3A Geelong Choir, Geelong College Community Choir, The Choir of Geelong Grammar School.
Thanks to The Geelong Chorale, especially their hard working committee, and secretary Angela West, Geelong Grammar School and Jodie Townsend, for accommodating the festival in the excellent performing arts space and all participating choirs and their conductors and accompanists. Thanks also to City of Greater Geelong for their support.
Download a copy of the Western District Choral Festival 2018 program here.
Sunday, April 29th, Wesley Church, Geelong
For the first concert of 2018, the Geelong Chorale selected one of George Frederick Handel’s most challenging works for choir string orchestra and continuo, and soloists – Dixit Dominus (Psalm 109). This work, composed while Handel was working and studying in Rome, is florid and exacting. Handel was 22 and was thriving on the chance to experiment with the richness of the Italian baroque. It is a huge undertaking for the choir, with six very exacting choral movements, punctuated by only two solo movements. These were sung by Lee Abrahmsen, soprano, and Colm Talbot, alto. The other soloists were Emily Swanson, soprano, Terence McManus, tenor, and Will Humphreys, bass. The concert was conducted by Allister Cox, who is also the Musical Director of the Geelong Chorale. The orchestra of 16 fine musicians was led by Kathryn Buttigieg, with the Chorale’s accompanist Kristine Mellens, playing continuo.
The choir, despite sometimes struggling with an extremely high range and intricate counterpoint, showed that it can overcome technical difficulties to make exciting and moving music. De torrente in via, the second last movement, is an example of emotional intensity, with the men of the choir singing in quiet unison under the soaring counterpoint of two soprano soloists, whose intricate part weaving of clashing seconds, resolves into glorious sonority. The sopranos were Lee Abrahmsen and Emily Swanson, Lee bringing a warmth of operatic tone, and Emily and incisive clarity and a feeling for Handelian style. After this quiet movement, the joyous Gloria patri is a celebration of baroque sparkle. The sopranos in particular are to be complimented on their clean singing of bouncing octaves in the extended Amen section – a precursor of many more to be found in Handel’s more mature works. Will Humphreys, who is a regular member of the Chorale, it to be congratulated for stepping in at late notice to sing the bass solo, with a fine tone and excellent technique for the very florid music.
After a brief interval, the music moved forward twenty years, to a mature Handel, firmly established in the English musical establishment. In 1825, at the age of 42, Handel composed four coronation anthems for the coronation of King James II. The orchestra includes strings, The first and best known is Zadok the Priest. This begins with a long ritonello from the orchestra – building up then dying down in a series of broken chords from strings till the anticipation is rewarded with a blast of choral chords with trumpets and timpani – “Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon King”. The joyousness continues as the choir declares “God save the king, may the king live forever. Alleluia, Amen”. Although Zadok was the second Coronation Anthem performed at the coronation of James II, it is now always sung first.
The other coronation anthems are Let Thy Hand be Strengthened, The King Shall Rejoice and My Heart is Inditing which was originally sung during the coronation of the Queen Caroline. This movement is the only one which includes soloists. For this performance, the final anthem sung was The King Shall Rejoice. The final movement “Halleluia, Amen” made a most fitting finale to this fine concert of Handel music.
To register your choir, please contact Angela West, Secretary, The Geelong Chorale. (03) 5244 7285
All choirs are invited to present 10 minutes of their own music. The concert will begin with massed singing of Advance Australia Fair and conclude with massed singing of The Hallelujah Chorus (Handel).
All Saints Church, Noble Street, Newtown. Saturday, December 2nd, 5pm.
Allister Cox conducted a choir of 37 singers in a program of carols from around the world. The Geelong Chorale was accompanied by Kristine Mellens (piano) and Frank De Rosso. The guest artists for this concert were the Geelong Handbell Choir.
The concert began with Australian bird song imitations from the choir placed at the rear of the church. The work was If Christ had been born in another time composed by Australian Matthew Orlovich. This set the tone for music of high quality and audience appeal. Carols ranged from traditional English and European, to modern works including Of a Rose, a Lovely Rose (Colin Brumby), Jewel Carol, composed by New Zealander Christopher Marshall and Shepherds Pipe Carol (John Rutter). There were several songs for audience participation.
As is usual for the Geelong Chorale’s Christmas concerts, the concert ended with We Wish You a Merry Christmas (English West Country carol) in a spectacular setting by Arthur Warrell.
This Christmas concert continues the Geelong Chorale’s Christmas tradition of carol concerts. These started in 1981 – the Year of the Disabled*. Originally, a free gift from the Chorale to the community, the aim was to present a short, easily accessible concert of traditional and new carols to the community, particularly targeting people who find attending outdoors ‘carols by candlelight’ events difficult. The first concerts were held in the Geelong Art Gallery, and later the foyer of the Geelong Performing Arts Centre. Children sat on the floor, and the venues were easily wheel-chair accessible. Several aged care centres brought busloads of people to attend.
With the local ‘carols by candlelight’ cancelled due to bad weather, it’s a pity that the Chorale’s alternative offering was not better advertised. The rather small audience certainly enjoyed the concert.
*Prior to 1981, the Gama Singers (now the Geelong Chorale) gave annual Christmas cafe concerts.
Read Colin Mockett’s review of Christmas Around the World at Entertainment Geelong.
The Geelong Chorale
All Saints Church, Newtown
It is some time since the Geelong Chorale presented a concert at All Saints Church. Since the last time, the church has been carpeted, with flexible seating. The new configuration is much more comfortable than the original wooden pews. However, the carpet has adversely effected the liveliness of the acoustics.
In order to redress this, the choir was placed in the chancel, which retains its tiled floor. This meant some loss in volume, but enhanced the blend of the choir, which has rarely been better.
The music was contemporary: all the composers are still living. Allister Cox has directed the Chorale since 2012. The choir have blossomed under this directorship.
The first three items were by Australian composers. The concert began with Kooraegulla, by Stephen Leek in 2002. The text, Kooraegulla, means ‘meeting place’. Leak’s setting exploited the rhythmic potential of the one word text most effectively.
Malcolm John was in the audience to hear his lovely setting of Let Your Song Be Delicate, a setting of a poem by John Shaw Neilson. This work is a favourite with the Chorale.
Three Bush Songs, by Iaine Grandage followed. This work evokes the atmosphere is the Australian bush, and has challenging harmonies, and a requirement that singers make bird and insect noises. The third movement, ‘Sunset’ evokes the searing heat of last rays of the sun and the cooling relief of the coming of night after a torrid summer’s day.
American composer Eric Whitacre’s first foray into composing followed – a setting of Go Lovely Rose composed in 1991 for the choir in which he was singing at Nevada State University. This piece has challenging harmonies, considerable splitting within parts, and requires a full range of dynamics. I hope that the Chorale consider adding some more songs by Eric Whitacre for future concerts, despite the challenges they pose.
The final three pieces in the first half of the concert were by British composers, the carol My Guardian Angel by Judith Weir (the text is a poem by William Blake), Welsh composer Karl Jenkins’s Healing Light and Scottish composer James MacMillan’s traditionally harmonised motet O Radiant Dawn. The Chorale produced exciting crescendos and some lovely harmonic colour.
The second half of the program was Lux Aeterna, by American composer Morten Lauridsen’s, originally scored for choir and orchestra. The version for this performance was for choir and organ (played in the Chorale’s performance by Frank De Rosso). The performance was most successful when the choir and organ performed separately. When working together, the organ overpowered the choir. Hopefully, the choir will present this work in a future concert, where there is a better choral acoustic and more time to work on balance. The text for this sacred work comes from sections of the Latin mass. The theme is ‘light’. There are contrasts in dynamics, harmony and unison, and polyphony and homophony, and a gentle Alleluia ending.
Much of the music in this concert was challenging for the choir, made more difficult by the challenging venue – extremely cold on this icy winter’s afternoon. Despite this, it was a most satisfying concert for the small audience. The Geelong Chorale are to be congratulated for stepping outside their comfort zone to present contemporary music.