Sing On Report – Joan Carden Award 2017 Final Concert

On 13 August, the Choir presented for the second time the finals of the Joan Carden Award as part of a Great Hall concert with orchestra, in tandem with a performance of Mozart’s Requiem.

It is always a pleasure and privilege for choristers to sit on the risers, while others perform, and in this case, the three young finalists each sang two arias, one each by Mozart and others by Gounod, Massenet and Meyerbeer. Your correspondent had the afternoon off – on the basis of a dodgy doctor’s note – and enjoyed the entire concert as a member of the audience. It was a beauty.

In a week when the Korean bass, Kwangchun Youn, was giving a remarkable performance as Gurnemanz in Opera Australia’s Parsifal, it was particularly appropriate that two of the three finalists, Barbara Jin (mezzo) and Haotian Xi (baritone) were of Asian background.   These two singers were joined by Joshua Oxley (tenor) in a close, artistically high quality competition for the judges’ approval. On this occasion, great soprano Joan Carden AO OBE and Christopher Bowen OAM, the Choir’s Music Director, were assisted by distinguished Australian baritone, Geoffrey Chard AM.

The arias performed by the young singers were ambitious and challenging.  Mozart can appear straightforward but has that “nowhere to hide” dimension.  The French romantic repertoire required vocal power and pyrotechnics.  The performances were all of high quality and the judging must have been very close and difficult.  The judges awarded the first prize of $6,000 to Joshua Oxley, while the audience’s choice was Barbara Jin.  Congratulations to all three contestants.

As a member of the audience in a packed Great Hall, which included our esteemed Patron, Prof. The Hon. Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO, I was struck by the evidence of high level organization that had clearly gone into the event.  This was far beyond what might ordinarily be expected from a volunteer operation. It was a credit to Jackie Rotenstein and the Committee and especially to David Moser, closely assisted by Inta Heimanis, who had the task of putting it all together, and had the opportunity to draw on the pioneering work done by Cath Crittenden, who managed the 2015 edition.  The Choir can be very proud of what it has achieved through the Joan Carden Award.

In August 2015, the last (and first) time the Choir presented the Joan Carden Award in its new, expanded form, the concert program was rounded out by choral works by Brahms and Fanny Mendelssohn that were new to practically all of us.  On this occasion, the concert program was rounded out by a performance of one of the most familiar works in the choral repertoire, Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor, K.626.

Four fine soloists were engaged and did an excellent job: Morgan Balfour (soprano), Anna Yun (mezzo), John Longmuir (tenor), and David Greco (bass).  By a nice coincidence, Morgan was the winner of the audience vote in the 2015 Joan Carden Award final.

As usual, the orchestra was outstanding.  Kirsten Williams, who had been busy with the SSO’s recent exceptional performances of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande and Mahler’s Third Symphony, was Concertmaster and was supported by lovely woodwind playing from Deborah de Graaff (clarinet), Duncan Thorpe (oboe) and Leah Lock.  This concert with its requirement for the orchestra to switch rapidly between different styles was a further reminder of how fortunate the Choir is in its talented orchestral musicians.

Your correspondent is normally reluctant to offer warm praise for the Choir.  But let me throw modesty to the winds and say that the Grads’ contribution was first-class and was commented on positively by a number of fellow-audience members with whom I spoke.

John Bowan

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