For the latest amateur classical music listings in and around Portsmouth, including Fareham, Petersfield, Chichester, Havant and Hayling Island

Portsmouth Choral Union returns to ‘in person’ rehearsals

After more than six months, Portsmouth Choral Union held its first live rehearsal on Tuesday October 20th, at St. Mary’s Church Portsea.

The practice was ‘live-streamed’ for those members still unable to attend. During ‘lockdown’ the choir had been holding regular ‘online’ rehearsals, along with a number of social activities, including a quiz night and even an ‘online’ wine tasting event.

After last night’s practice, an enthusiastic David Gostick commented that it was excellent to at last see singers in the flesh, and hear that tone and musical quality had not diminished over the past months. The rehearsal was very much enjoyed by all who attended. The choir are particularly grateful to the Staff of St. Mary’s Church for their help and cooperation in making this possible.


Profile: Jonathan Willcocks, composer and conductor

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career?

Music was in my family from the beginning and I used to watch my father, David, conducting rehearsals. At an early age I was fascinated as he used his baton to bring in various parts – I originally thought that this was entirely to show me which instruments or singers I should watch!

My early musical training as a chorister at King’s College, Cambridge from the age of 8 to 13 has been the most important influence on my musical life and career as a composer and conductor. Life as a chorister involves full immersion for at least 4 hours a day preparing for around 8 services a week. Quite apart from the obvious superb musical foundations, other spinoffs include self-discipline and the building of self-confidence.

I’ve had the fortune of conducting some wonderful choirs and ensembles over the years. I moved to the Portsmouth area in 1975 to take up the post of Director of Music at Portsmouth Grammar School. This led to my also being appointed as conductor of the Portsmouth Choral Union and then in 1979 the Chichester Singers, I agreed to stand in at short notice to conduct a concert when Anne Lawrence, its founder, had to retire suddenly as the result of illness. Over forty years later I am still enjoying making music with them!

Again, some fortune led me into composing: I started writing music not out of any burning urge to compose but because friends at school and university asked me to. One of my earliest large-scale works was “Voices of Time” commissioned by Portsmouth Choral Union in 1980 on the occasion of its centenary, and published by OUP. This led to further commissions. You can visit my website to see a list of all the works that I have composed.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

Every rehearsal is a challenge! Concerts work well if rehearsals do. Rehearsals lay the foundations for excellent achievement but they can be hard work, and you have to be both organised but also imaginatively flexible.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

A musical performance is very much a team effort – everyone has something potentially to offer. I get a lot of pleasure in enabling others to perform uplifting music, sometimes to a standard quite beyond what the individual may think they are capable of. That’s one reason why I particularly like working with amateur musicians.

How would you describe your musical language?

My background is in classical music written for an ecclesiastical setting. I try hard to make the piece technically match the ability of the ensemble that commissioned it and to make whatever I write challenging but accessible.

How do you work?

I sit at my desk with a pencil and manuscript, and work in shorthand. I can hear the music more clearly in my head if I don’t use the piano. I then transfer this initial draft to my computer using Sibelius software; this is very much part of the creative process, and it enables me to revisit and revise my work to develop it nearer to its completed form.

Time management skills are useful here, it has never worked for me to wait for inspiration to strike. When working on a composition I force myself to work in a disciplined way and I’ve never missed a commission deadline.

With choral compositions, I’ll start with the text. The mood and message of the words need to be mirrored in the music. With instrumental pieces there are different constraints but the music must still suit the occasion and ensemble for which it is being written.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

My interest in counterpoint means that I have a strong affinity with the music of J.S. Bach (for example his B Minor Mass), Mozart (for example his Requiem or the final movement of his Jupiter Symphony) and Elgar, who skilfully knits together various different voice parts using one rhythm. With composers like Wagner, for whom harmony is more dominant, I feel that the listener is missing a vital dimension of the subtle interrelation of voices and instruments.

Which works or performances are you most proud of?

Performing what in my opinion are the truly great masterpieces, for instance by Bach (as above), Brahms (for example his Requiem) and Britten (for example his War Requiem).

What are your most memorable concert experiences?

Conducting Dame Janet Baker in The Dream of Gerontius, and (on several occasions) Sir Willard White in Elijah and other works count among my most memorable concert experiences. Also there have been a number of instances where I have been asked to be guest conductor for what seemed like an unpromising group of players or singers, which brought unexpected joy and satisfaction in the end.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

As a former director of the Junior Academy, Royal Academy of Music in London I was always candid with students: while encouraging them to strive to fulfil their potential I would also counsel them to consider making a career out of doing something other than music, and keeping their exceptional abilities as players or singers as a lifelong amateur love, rather than trying to earn a living at it. Music is an extremely tough and competitive career, and you have to be exceptionally good at what you do but also have a lot of luck. You also need to have other attributes, you need to develop associated business skills, such as in how to market yourself effectively, and be entirely reliable. The music profession is very unforgiving of sloppy time-keeping or unreliability. For many, it may be a better idea to extract pleasure from music as a serious hobby rather than endure the uncertainty and stress of trying to earn a living from it.

How would you define success as a musician?

Feeling fulfilled and enabling others to feel fulfilled. Leading a rehearsal or a concert in which amateur musicians have achieved more than they thought that they possibly could continues to give me great satisfaction.

What are your observations about the current pandemic situation?

It’s pretty dire. There’s little or no work for professional singers and instrumentalists, many of whom are not eligible for Government support, yet they need to keep practising. Cathedral and church choirs are faced with a huge break in the continuity of choristership: they need day-in, day-out practice, and for skills to be passed on from older to younger singers. Some amateur choirs are faced with the danger of “evaporation” if they are unable to meet and rehearse in the near future. A Government may be able to stop and start the economy, but you can’t do this with music for which continuity is so vital.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Willcocks’ published music includes major choral works, music for children’s choir, many shorter pieces (including anthems and secular choral music), orchestral and instrumental works. Jonathan’s has many recordings, and his music is frequently performed and broadcast in many parts of the world.

Jonathan is currently Musical Director of the Guildford Choral Society, the Chichester Singers, the Leith Hill Musical Festival and the professional chamber orchestra Southern Pro Musica.

For a full biography of Jonathan, please visit http://www.jonathanwillcocks.com.


Accompanist/Assistant Musical Director for the Solent Male Voice Choir

Solent Male Voice Choir has a vacancy for an Accompanist/Assistant Musical Director as from 1st September 2020.

Working closely with our new Musical Director, Huw Thomas, who takes over from Geoff Porter on 1st September, you will accompany practices and concerts. There is an opportunity as Assistant Musical Director to train the Choir in some songs and to conduct a smaller Choir at some private events.

We offer a small remuneration, to cover travelling expenses, for practices and additional payments concerts.

The Choir meets every Tuesday evening between 7.30pm and 9.30pm in Havant. If you are interested in becoming part of a friendly and sociable group who enjoy their singing please send a brief CV to chairman@solentmalevoicechoir.org.


Profile: Peter Gambie, conductor

Who have been the main influencers on your decision to pursue a career in music?

My father was an enthusiastic if flawed tenor and my mother was an accomplished pianist who won scholarships to the Royal Academy of Music and Royal School of Needlework. She chose the latter.

Mike English, my music and organ teacher and choirmaster, was my mentor. I recall him showing me the score of Spem in Alium at the age of nine. It was nearly as tall as me and immediately went on my bucket list. He introduced me to conducting Tudor church music from the age of fourteen. He gave me my first professional engagements as a countertenor, performing the standard repertoire of Purcell.

In more recent years, I’ve been delighted to come full circle by engaging Mike’s son Jon who is a very fine professional tenor.

With his encouragement I applied to and got a place at Dartington College of Arts. I studied composing under the dominating figure of Helen Glatz, who was a disciple of Gustav Holst. My principal studies were composing and choral conducting. My sitar tutor, Ustad Imrat Khan, had a profound influence on me, introducing me to the philosophy and poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, as well as the aural challenge of Indian music, which has 22 divisions in each octave.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

I’d like to recount two completely different concert experiences as conductor.

The last time I conducted St Matthew Passion with the Southampton Choral Society (SCS) and players from the BSO and the Royal Phil, the Evangelist suddenly became unavailable one week before the concert. His deputy then pulled out just 18 hours before the concert, leaving me scrambling through the night for a replacement. I did find a substitute for him but I was exhausted by the time of the concert.

I have always been fascinated by JS Bach’s B Minor Mass. It’s a vast work which encompasses the human spirit, communicating hope and faith, and transcends all cultures. It may be something to do with maturity and understanding the human condition – but the last time I conducted it (in 2007) was perhaps the first time I fully understood it.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

There’s often a titanic struggle between a conductor and soloists, which is not always completely resolved. Mood, style and ornamentation don’t appear to be problematic, but tempi are often an issue. It can be quite difficult to make the transition from the rehearsal, where the conductor calls the shots, to the performance, where the conductor has to follow the soloist.

I love working with the mezzo-soprano Diana Moore: she has the rare combination of a very pure voice with the ability to always wanting to listen and learn. We worked together on a Verdi Requiem where we were able to produce a quite different interpretation after I’d asked her to view it as an opera, rather than as a sacred piece.

And I love working with amateur groups such as the Renaissance Choir, which I’ve described as a “marriage made in heaven”. Our close relationship means that the choir responds willingly to me and we achieve an excellent output as a result. Empathy is key.

How would you describe your musical language?

I would describe it as “heartfelt”. I aim to communicate the composer’s original intent through extensive research. Knowing music “from the inside” means that you have to understand the composer as a person and then communicate that to your audience.

How do you work?

Industriously. I am busy around 3 hours a day, 365 days a year: I’ve already mentioned my interest in researching the repertoire. Besides that, I will be investigating new music, working out novel programming and so on.

Which performances are you most proud of?

During its week-long tour to Rome and the city of Palestrina in 2016, the Renaissance Choir both visited Palestrina’s house and sang in Palestrina Cathedral.

Going to Palestrina’s house was an enormous privilege – it felt a bit like a pilgrimage – and standing in his living room, singing his music, was a truly magical moment. The manager of the museum was clearly very moved.

I believe that the choir’s later performance in the exquisitely beautiful and acoustically perfect Palestrina cathedral was simply the best concert it has ever given. We received a standing ovation from the entire audience, which included members of the elite Palestrina Federation. It was wonderful to have visited the cathedral which the great man oversaw the design from an acoustic perspective.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

I have a love of many works by Victoria, Palestrina, Tallis, Byrd and Lassus, derived from my early days singing in my church choir, as well as Mozart, Poulenc and Stockhausen. The interest in Stockhausen derives from my studies at Dartington, which possessed a studio filled with superb synthesisers where I composed a lot of experimental music.

Which works do you think you perform best? Why?

Obviously, renaissance music.

But Poulenc’s eccentricity appeals to me. His appeal derives from the fact that he is emotionally contradictory with himself: his frequent bi-tonality (writing in two keys at the same time) might suggest that he is unsure of his religious faith. He is always a challenge and a joy to perform.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I can recall going to my first opera, The Marriage of Figaro, at the age of 12, with Tito Gobbi, Joan Carlyle and Geraint Evans. I recall the huge genius in Mstislav Rostropovich as he gave the world premiere of Lutoslawski’s cello concerto. Also while at Dartington I remember sitting at the feet of Ustad Imrat Khan, as he played sitar in the dark.

My worst concert experience was when I was performing Mozart’s Laudate Dominum with the SCS with Dame Emma Kirkby. In the first movement I realised I’d taken the wrong score with me to the podium. Instead of trying to conduct the work for another 40 minutes from memory, I stopped the orchestra, walked off and grabbed the score. It was highly embarrassing but Dame Emma was very gracious about it.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

I have taught hundreds of students, but to my knowledge only three of them have actually made it as professional musicians. Don’t embark on this career unless you are really sure!

How would you define success as a musician?

In my opinion, if a musician is happy, they are successful, and I have been blessed with a great deal of happiness. Unfortunately, this is not a given, as some musicians become unhappy and injured.

Susan Yarnall Monks’ daily singing videos

Do go and have a look at these short videos, which choir member and singing teacher Susan Yarnall Monks produces every day. She’s got a huge range of skills, and contributes greatly in rehearsals, yet she is very humble about herself.

 

Peter Gambie studied music at Dartington College and Reading University. In the 1970s, Dartington was a unique mixture of hippy culture and fans of Renaissance music, so Peter learnt to be a conductor as well as a sitar player. He also spent many hours in an electronic music studio, much to the despair of his singing and violin tutors.

His early career was a mix of teaching in schools in Hampshire and composing weird-sounding electronic music, some of which was performed at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (often to audiences of less than ten people). Radio 3 also broadcasted Peter’s compositions but it is not known whether anyone listened.

Realising that electronic music wasn’t catching on, Peter focussed on teaching, establishing a method of music education which became a model for secondary schools across the county and beyond (until successive governments decided that music in schools was a luxury). But he was still searching for something…. until he became The Renaissance Choir’s conductor in 1992, which has provided him with some of his richest musical experiences.

“A marriage made in heaven” is his summary, describing the many wonderful moments they share in their quest for musical perfection. The choir seeks professional standards and understanding, constantly challenging themselves with music of increasing complexity. Empathy between conductor and choir is central to high-quality performances: both parties are fortunate that this quality is developed to an advanced degree. Even a twitched eyebrow brings the appropriate response.

Peter is also proud of his long association with Southampton Choral Society. His nine years on the podium have included performing with Dame Emma Kirkby; scooping a £10,000 Community Arts Award from the BBC which resulted in the commission of a major work about slavery; and performances of the standard classical repertoire for orchestra and large chorus, including an original version of Orff’s Carmina Burana involving video images, Bach’s B minor mass and St Matthew Passion, Mozart’s Requiem and many more.

Peter and his wife, Mary, are the busy and proud grandparents of nine grandchildren.


How to get the most out of singing online – a guide for singers

Given that it will be just you singing at a screen, what can you do to get the most out of an online singing session?

It can be scary singing by yourself, especially if you normally sing in a choir. Suddenly you find yourself at home staring at a screen without much feedback and without hearing the other singers.

Read more at the link below.


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