The Choir successfully concluded a ground-breaking and musically satisfying year with its December Great Hall performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt. Following our initial encounter with Dvořák’s choral music in May, and the logistical challenge of organizing the final of the Joan Carden Award before an audience and with orchestra for the first time in August, it might have been expected that reverting to a famous Handel oratorio would have been a straight-forward matter.
This was not the case. The work is very long and has an unusually large proportion of the music devoted to the choir. Moreover, Christopher Bowen, with his penchant for the novel and unusual, had elected to perform the work in its three-part original version, with the inclusion of Handel’s reworking of his funeral anthem for Queen Caroline, The Ways of Zion do Mourn, as the First Part. So the task of getting all the notes under our choral belts in the few weeks available was particularly tough. Christopher managed to soften the blow with a few judicious cuts and the allocation of substantial parts of the choral score to the Chamber Choir. Ros Moxham (soprano) once again provided yeoman service in assisting with training the Chamber Choir.
A particularly pleasing aspect of the performance was the participation of six excellent soloists: Anita Kyle and Emma Moore (sopranos), Anna Dowsley ((mezzo), Richard Butler (tenor), and David Hidden and Simon Lobelson (basses) Four amongst these are old friends of the choir: Emma was the 2011 winner of the Joan Carden Award and is coming to the end of several years of study in Berlin; Anna has sung with us on a number of occasions, including in our memorable Verdi Requiem in 2013, and has begun a very promising career, singing principal roles with Opera Australia; Richard was an impressive Evangelist in our Johannes Passion of 2013,while Simon was a soloist in the same performance. This sextet made an important contribution to a successful concert.
Our orchestral players were also once again an invaluable element in the success of the performance. Regular Leader, Stan Kornel, was unable to play, but sent a warm message, indicating that pressures on his time will make it difficult for him to play for us in the future but that he had greatly enjoyed his association with Christopher and the Choir and wishing us well. When Choir President, David Moser, read Stan’s message out to a rehearsal, it was greeted with warm applause by the Choir. The orchestra was effectively led on this occasion by Maria Lindsay. Other old orchestral friends played in the strings: Inge Courtney-Haentjes (violin), Robert Harris (viola), John Benz (cello), and Dorit Herskovits (double bass). The wind section included Leah Lock and Bronwyn Needham (flutes), Duncan Thorpe and Anna Rodger (oboes), and bassoon legend John Cran, whose just-in-time arrival on concert day threatened to produce panic.
The brass section included regulars like David Pye (trumpet) and Michael Wyborn (trombone). They and Steve Machamer (tympani) had opportunities to blaze forth in the more martial passages. Peter Kneeshaw was kept busy on the organ throughout the performance.
The performance was well received by the packed Great Hall audience. This included our Patron, Professor the Hon. Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO, who has now stood down from her important positions as Governor of NSW and Chancellor of the University but continues to enjoy high respect among the State’s music community, not least us. Another of our admired friends, the great Joan Carden AO OBE, was also present. Both ladies joined the Committee for a post-concert reception in the Senate Room, which the soloists and their guests also attended.
The Choir’s path-finding role in Sydney’s musical life is underlined by the fact that Israel in Egypt is scheduled for performance in 2016 by Sydney Philharmonia. Next year, Grads will have the chance to renew acquaintance with Handel’s most popular work, the iconic Messiah, to be performed with guest choristers in the Sydney Town Hall in November as part of our ‘Sydney Sings’ series. Those parts of Israel In Egypt, which Handel reused in Messiah, were an interesting preview of that event.
It is also noteworthy that the Sydney Symphony’s publicity for next year highlights the orchestra’s ‘return to our former home’, the Sydney Town Hall, with its ‘spectacular acoustics’, for performances in August of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. Once again, Christopher Bowen is ahead of the curve.