Season Begins 20-21

Choir AGM 18 May 2020: Music Director's Report

Annual report by the Director of Music for the 2019-20 season

“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” – Buddha

Little did we think when we began our journey last September that we were destined not to complete it. With its usual sense of enthusiasm and anticipation, the CMS Choir convened to begin rehearsals for two British works of the 20th century, alike in some ways but worlds apart in others.

Finzi’s “Intimations of Immortality” uses the words of William Wordsworth
- a deeply thoughtful, introspective poetic reflection. The music is a sublime response to the text and is demanding in so many ways; technically, emotionally, and stylistically. The growing understanding of both words and music during the rehearsal period was tangible and, with Paul Smye as tenor soloist and some sensitive playing from Liverpool Sinfonia, we brought a convincing and persuasive performance to our audience. It may well have been a new work to many of them, but the stillness in many of the quiet moments showed a rapt engagement.

Many of our appreciative audience were there, of course, because of Karl Jenkins’ “The Armed Man” – an enduringly popular and exciting work. Comparatively straightforward to sing, and sometimes tedious to rehearse due to the amount of repetition of material, it exploits many musically and textually different ingredients, from plainsong, through Islamic chant, pastiche Renaissance polyphony, to more commercial idioms. There is much drama, pathos, and joy to be found and the Choir delivered all that was required with obvious enjoyment and commitment. The vast orchestra, especially in the percussion department, that is required was equally as effective and Helen Anne Gregory, singing all the SATB solos (!), joined us in a stimulating performance. The whole concert was highly successful, despite the lamentable and inadequate staging arrangements forced upon us.

Joined by the Chester Philharmonic Orchestra and poet Roger McGough, our “Christmas Crackers” concert attracted the usual enthusiastic audiences, although the reduced seating capacity and similar staging arrangements to our November concert were not helpful. Despite that, both evenings were great fun and clearly enjoyed by everyone involved in the common purpose of entering into The Christmas Spirit. We were also joined by the Head Chorister of Chester Cathedral, Rhys Duffty, who gave us a beautiful “Walking in the Air” as well as the ever-atmospheric “Past three a clock”, traversing the Cathedral as he sang, complete with lantern. There was plenty of metaphorical tinsel from choir, orchestra, and Roger McGough who, disarmingly, was anxious to know if he’d “done alright” after the first performance! He certainly had and I know he would love to return in the future.e were all at sea in February for our usual Choir Day at King’s School, maritime-referenced music being the focus, with particular emphasis on Vaughan Williams’ magnificent “A Sea Symphony” at the centre. Damian O’Keefe kindly joined us in the afternoon to sing in the baritone solo sections to give the whole thing a sense of cohesion. Everyone seemed to enjoy the range of other material, and we almost succeeded perfectly with Britten’s round “Old Joe has gone fishing” from his opera “Peter Grimes”. Pieces by Ireland, Stanford, Dunhill, and even Ellis, got an airing and the relaxed and cheerful day was, as usual, accompanied by Graham Eccles and master-minded by the indefatigable Becky Ford.

All this provided a day of light relief in the midst of the serious efforts we were all putting in to rehearsing Beethoven’s towering “Miss Solemnis”. This monumental work is not often performed being notoriously difficult and demanding of choir, orchestra and soloists. The sheer positivity and determination of the CMS Choir right from the outset of the rehearsals I found deeply encouraging, especially the soprano section who, so often, have to operate for sustained periods up on the telegraph wires. If anyone didn’t go home from rehearsals without a sense of exhilaration but exhaustion, I would have been surprised. Gradually the piece gathered competence and confidence right up until the final weeks and I could see a stunning performance on the horizon.

Then came the cruel blow when, had we not cancelled it ourselves on the Monday before the performance, it would have been cancelled for us by the Cathedral on the Wednesday, along with all subsequent events that were due to take place there. Everyone was shocked and saddened. We then had the job of dismantling all the arrangements that had taken a year or so to put in place. Soloists’ contracts cancelled, an orchestra of 62 players contacted and informed that they would not be required, and, of course, arrangements to be made for refunding tickets.

In all of this, I really must pay tribute the brilliant leadership of Clive Cooper and all the Committee in having to make a series of exceedingly difficult decisions. Along with Society Chairman David Woods and the Executive Board, they have always been optimistic, positive, but realistic in what we were facing and have all worked so hard to make this lockdown of the Choir, and indeed, all the Society, as palatable as possible. Clearly the decision to suspend the 2020 – 2021 Season in its entirety has turned out to have been very wise, in the light of the information that has transpired since. Singing has been recognised as a high-risk activity and social distancing makes rehearsal and performance impossible for the foreseeable future. We all hope that live music can be restored to make our lives more bearable at some point in 2021 and, until then, I send you my warmest wishes.

“There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.” – Laurence Binyon

Graham Jordan Ellis 14 May 2020