Rheinberger – A Christmas Concert

At 5pm on Sunday, 8 December, the Sydney University Graduate Choir, conducted by its Music Director, Christopher Bowen OAM, will present a concert of German Christmas works in the Great Hall of the University.  The soloists will be Elke Hook (soprano) and David Hidden (bass).

The Christmas festival plays a very important role in German culture, with Christmas markets flourishing in town squares all over the country, Christmas angels decorating public spaces and private homes, and favorite Christmas food and drink helping to spread good cheer.

The larger of the two German works we are performing, Der Stern von Bethlehem Op 164 (the Star of Bethlehem), subtitled a Christmas Cantata for Choir, Soloists and Orchestra, is by Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger (1839-1901). It  tells the Christmas story in loving and picturesque detail. Rheinberger  had a career in Munich, as an important organist, teacher and composer in the late nineteenth century.

The composition of The Star of Bethlehem was a labour of love for Rheinberger.  His wife, Franziska ‘”Fanny” von Hoffnaass, was a widely cultured person and gifted poet, whose texts he frequently set to music, as is the case with this work.  Composed in 1890, The Star of Bethlehem is a  lyrical and moving account of the Christmas story in nine scenes. In the movement, Der Stern (The Star), for example, the music conveys the trot of the camels, the arrival of the wise men in Jerusalem, their despair at the temporary disappearance of the star and their joy when it reappears and settles over the stable in Bethlehem.

Rheinberger’s work will make a  charming and rewarding launch of the Christmas season.

The other German work on the program is the Weihnachts Ouvertuere (Christmas Overture) of Otto Nicolai (1810-1849).  This is a stirring, impressive product of the early Romantic age (composed in 1833) but it takes the listener back to a much earlier times, as it is a setting of the chorale, Vom Himmel Hoch, with words and music by Martin Luther.  In English. Vom Himmel Hoch means from Heaven above.

In recent times, the Choir has performed a number of works by Nicolai and has found them to be very pleasing.  The  Weihnachts Ouvertuere is no exception.

In addition to the German works, the program will also include a number of Christmas carols.


John Bowan

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Sydney Sings…™ Brahms A German Requiem

On Sunday, 10 November, at 3.00 pm, in the Sydney Town Hall, the Sydney University Graduate Choir, conducted by its Music Director, Christopher Bowen OAM, will present, as its  Sydney Sings…™ concert for 2019,  music of Johannes Brahms, featuring his wonderful Ein Deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem), and also including an orchestral work of the composer, his Tragic Overture Op. 81.

Ein Deutsches Requiem was Brahms’s first major success with the public.  As with many of his works, it was composed over many years. At the beginning of the process, the death in tragic circumstances in 1856 of his friend and mentor, Schumann, was an important stimulus.  The loss of his mother in 1865 also left a deep impression on him.  In that year, he sent the first four movements to Clara, Schumann’s widow, remarking that he was thinking of composing “a kind of German Requiem”.

The first performance of the work in its final, seven-movement form took place in Leipzig in February 1869.  

Although Brahms called the work a “requiem”, he does not use the Catholic liturgy but takes as his text various readings from Luther’s translation of the Old and New Testaments and the Apocrypha; the “German” of the title essentially makes the linguistic contrast with the traditional Latin Requiem.  The work’s message is one of consolation for those who survive the dead , rather than emphasizing the life to come of the dead themselves.

Throughout, Brahms succeeds in finding words of uncommon emotional beauty and power.  For a century and a half, audiences have shared Clara Schumann’s enthusiasm for the work, which she expressed to Brahms in 1867: “Your Requiem is an immense piece that takes hold of a person’s whole being like very little else.  The profound seriousness, combined with all the magic of the poetry, has a wonderful, deeply moving and soothing effect”. While the music conveys a strong spiritual feeling, it seems that the composer himself did not actually believe in the after-life; he commented at one point that he would have liked to call the work a “human” requiem, and resisted pressure from friends to include any reference to the redemptive death of Christ.  Although Brahms writes passages of great drama and force, particularly in No. 6, “Denn wir haben hie, keine bleibende Statt” (“For we have here no lasting state”), when the Last Trump resounds with a truly shattering blast, the message of A German Requiem is fundamentally one of consolation and comfort for those who mourn the dead.

Ein Deutsches Requiem is a moving and profound work and a masterpiece of the choral repertoire. As with previous concerts in the Sydney Sings…™ series, the Choir will be joined by some 100 guest choristers from other choirs around Sydney and New South Wales. The soloists will be Amy Moore (soprano) and Simon Lobelson (baritone), both of whom have international experience.

Our program also includes a short orchestral work of Brahms, the Tragic Overture Op. 81.  It dates from later in the composer’s life, 1880.  The overture is not lugubrious in feeling but severe and grim and has the character of the first movement of a dramatic symphony.  Along with A German Requiem, it is a worthy example of the mature mastery of the music of Johannes Brahms.


John Bowan

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Guest Choristers for Sydney Sings™ Brahms ‘A German Requiem’

On November 10th Sydney University Graduate Choir and Orchestra will be performing Brahms ‘A German Requiem’ in the magnificent setting of Sydney Town Hall. This concert is part of the choir’s Sydney Sings™ concert series, and will include a large guest choir.

Over 100 guest choristers have already signed up for this event but the Town Hall is large, so we can accommodate a few more for any part including sopranos and altos, and in particular tenors and basses. Those who have sung this work before, and all experienced choristers, are most welcome.

Brahms ‘A German Requiem’ is a beautiful work, with a combination of text and music that places it among a handful of the leading great works in the choral canon.

Register here to sing with us, and your friends and family can purchase tickets here.

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Your Joan Carden Award Finalists for 2019!

We are presenting three wonderful soloists for your enjoyment and deliberation – two sopranos, Jessica Blunt and Sandra Liu, and a baritone, Tristan Entwistle. On Sunday August 11th at 3pm, the first half of our concert will feature each of these talented young singers performing two pieces, accompanied by our orchestra conducted by Christopher Bowen OAM.

The main Award, with a prize of $6000, will be judged by a panel led by opera legend Joan Carden OA OBE herself, along with the great Australian baritone Geoffrey Chard AM and Christopher Bowen.

There will also be a ‘Peoples’ Choice Award’ presented on the basis of a vote of audience members. So you will be able to have your say!

Soprano Jessica Blunt will be performing the aria ‘Come scoglio’ from Mozart’s ‘Così fan tutte’ and ‘Nun eilt herbei’ from Otto Nicolai’s ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’.

Jessica is currently completing the Master of Music Studies (Opera Performance) after graduating with a Bachelor of Music Performance (Voice) at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, studying with Maree Ryan AM. A recipient of the Diane Wishart and Elizabeth ‘Bud’ Brown scholarships, and the Patricia Lucas Music Achievement Award, Jessica has performed in ConOpera’s productions of Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tiresias (Thérèse), Mozart’s Don Giovanni (Donna Elvira), and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortileges (Le Feu). Jessica was also twice awarded the Henderson Traveller’s Scholarship, and performed in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (La Contessa) at the 2018 Mediterranean Opera Studio & Festival in Sicily, and Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (First Lady) at the 2019 Manhattan Opera Studio, New York. Whilst in New York, she performed in BareOpera and 360-Degrees-of-Opera’s pop-up concerts in Central Park and Bryant Park for the Sing For Hope Foundation, and in 2017 performed in a series of chamber music concerts as part of the ESTIVO program in Verona, Italy.

Locally, Jessica is a regular soloist for St Mary’s Cathedral’s ‘Red Mass’ (2017-19), performed in Operantic’s season of Strauss’ Die Fledermaus (Ida), and in their original cabaret for the Sydney Fringe Festival, and was awarded 3rd place in the JSRB Foundation’s inaugural Sydney Song Prize, adjudicated by Maestro Richard Bonynge. In October, Jessica will perform ‘Arminda’ in ConOpera’s season of Mozart’s La Finta Giardiniera. Most recently, as part of the Manhattan Opera Studio, Jessica was thrilled to perform as a soloist at their opera gala in the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York City.

Soprano Sandra Liu’s competition pieces will be ‘Padre, germani, addio’ from Mozart’s ‘Idomeneo’ and Offenbach’s ‘Elle a fui, la tourterelle’ from ‘The Tales of Hoffmann’.

Sandra is a young soprano currently in her first year in the Masters of Music Studies (Opera Performance) at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, the University of Sydney. She has been awarded the Helen Myers Scholarship for singing by the University of Sydney and is a Soprano Scholar at St. Stephen’s Uniting Church. She has recently performed as ‘La Chauve-Souris’ in Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges with the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. During her Bachelor of Music (Performance) in Voice, she performed in SCM’s productions of Les Mamelles de Tirésias, Bernstein Mass in the Sydney Opera House, as well as Opera Carnevale’s Mahogonny Songspiel and Pagliacci in both Wollongong and Sydney.

Upcoming engagements include the roles of ‘Micaëla’ in Bizet’s Carmen and ‘Lisette’ in La Rondine by Puccini with the Mediterranean Opera Studio. She will also be performing the role of ‘Ramiro’ in Mozart’s La Finta Giardiniera with the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

International experience includes performing as a soloist in concert with the Heilongjiang Opera company and the Thüringer Symphoniker Orchester, as well as the role of ‘Ida’ in Lyric Opera Studio of Weimar’s production of Die Fledermaus. Participation in vocal and lieder masterclasses at the Mozarteum, in Salzburg, Austria in their Summer Academy have also added important experience and insights.

She has performed for Art Gallery NSW’s National 2017: New Australian Art biennale as a part of a sculptural installation – futurist opera for Sydney Contemporary in ‘A Sonorous Body’ and ‘A Metal Cry’ by Justene Williams, in association with Carriageworks and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Sandra is also an Artist/Presenter for Get Arty, a children’s program on the Seven Network.

Baritone Tristan Entwistle’s chosen pieces are ‘Hai gia vinta la causa’ from Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro’ and ‘L’orage s’est calme’ from Bizet’s ‘The Pearl Fishers’.

Sydney born Entwistle recently completed a Masters of Music Studies (Opera Performance) at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music under the tutelage of Ms Maree Ryan AM, where he was awarded the Bud Brown Memorial and Patricia Lucas Music Achievement Scholarships.

Tristan’s operatic roles include Escamillo (Carmen), Papageno (Die Zauberflöte), Guglielmo (Così fan tutte), Leporello (Don Giovanni), Nardo (La Finta Giardiniera), Barone Douphol (La Traviata), Dottor Grenvil (La Traviata), Dr Falke (Die Fledermaus), Elder McLean (Susannah), Edmund Bertram (Mansfield Park), Old Yue (Chang’E and the Moon), Giove (La Calisto), the Drunken Poet/Corydon (The Fairy Queen), Alcindoro (La Traviata), Old Man/Husband (Miss Brill) and Giuseppe Palmieri (The Gondoliers).

With a passion for new music, Tristan has been involved in a number of Australian premieres, including Mansfield Park (Dove), Miss Brill (Hoadley), Chang’E and the Moon (Fox), Gentlemen’s Island (Horovitz – Director/MD), and Luzifers Tanz (Stockhausen).

Tristan is a founding member and artistic advisor to Operantics, with whom he has been a performer, director, composer and conductor. Most recently he performed the part of Christus in Bach’s St Matthew Passion, for which he was also chorusmaster.

Tristan was a finalist in the 2017 German Australian Opera Grant, and in the 2018 IFAC Handa Australian Singing Competition (“The Mathy”). He currently performs with the Opera Australia chorus.

And as if this wasn’t enough talent for one afternoon, there’s more! The second half of the concert will feature our choir performing Puccini’s ‘Messa di Gloria’, with soloists Simon Kim (Tenor) and Adrian Tamburini (Bass). See our previous post about Adrian Tamburini here.

Tickets for this wonderful concert are available online today!


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Gossec’s Messe des Morts – Concert Reflections

On Sunday, 5 May, the Choir presented its first subscription concert of the 2019 season, the Australian premiere of the Messe des Morts (Requiem) of the little-known François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829).

The initiative for the choice of this work came from the Choir’s Immediate Past President, Jackie Rotenstein (sop), who had heard and been impressed by it during researches into less well-known composers.  This turned out to be an inspired choice, as Christopher Bowen, the choristers and, importantly, the Great Hall audience were all much taken by Gossec’s music, despite never having heard it before and in many cases not having heard the composer’s name at all.

Throughout, Gossec conveys a strong impression of knowing what he wants to do and a sure-footed sense of how to do it.  He is technically accomplished and produces some brilliant fugues that stretch the capacity of the Choir.  The influence of the Mannheim school makes itself felt in some of the soprano arias, which could almost be by Mozart. Gossec’s love of spectacular sound effects is strongly on show, not least in the dramatic timpani solo, which opens the work, and later in the Berlioz-like off-stage wind band, which comes into its own in the Tuba Mirum.

An additional pleasure the Choir had from doing the work was the experience of using the French pronunciation of Latin (le Latin Gallican), as taught to us by our resident French linguist, Annette Lemercier (sop).  An audience member told me that she could identify some of the sounds of this in the performance, so Annette’s work paid off..

An excellent quartet of soloists joined us for the concert – Anita Kyle (soprano), Keara Donohoe (alto), Matthew Reardon (tenor) and Christopher Richardson (baritone) – and sang outstandingly. The smallish orchestra was led by Alastair Duff Forbes as Concertmaster and included such regular players of ours as Heather Burnley and Inge  Courtney- Haentjes (violin), Michelle Urquhart (viola), John Benz (cello), Paul Laszlo (double bass), Bronwen Needham (flute), the legendary John Cran (bassoon), Graham Nichols (horn), Melanie McLoughlin and David Pye (trumpet), Michael Wyborn (trombone) and Steve Machamer (timpani), who went to town on the opening solo mentioned above.

Perhaps put off by the unpredictable weather, the Great Hall audience was down in numbers. but included our admired Patron, Professor the Hon. Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO, whose support for and interest in the Choir are so appreciated, Joan Carden AO OBE, who continues to give her name and time to the Joan Carden Award, the singing competition organized by the Choir, and distinguished baritone, Geoffrey Chard AM, who has acted as a judge of the Award on a number of occasions.  New President, Ken Dray, made a short, warm welcoming speech before the start of the work and hosted a post-concert reception in the University Senate Room for VIPs, soloists etc.

The audience loved Gossec’s Requiem and, from the risers, one could feel their attention and interest gripped to the end.  The applause was generous and sustained and the comments afterwards enthusiastic.  There was a feeling that this composer and work represent a real find.  We will await with interest the results of Greg Ghavalas’s recording, to see how far we might be able to spread the results of our find.  At all events, we can feel gratified that our 2019 concert season has kicked off on a very positive note.


John Bowan

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Gossec’s Messe des Morts

François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829) was a highly original composer, difficult to classify, because his career straddled the Baroque and classical eras. Gossec played an important role in French musical life for more than 50 years.

He was born in a province of what a century later was to become Belgium. After childhood studies in his native area, including violin, keyboard and composition, and a stint as a chorister at Antwerp Cathedral, Gossec went to Paris in 1751, where he was to spend the rest of his life, becoming a protégé of the great French Baroque master, Jean Philippe Rameau. In Paris, Gossec also became close to Johann Stamitz, the famous musician of the Mannheim School, which played an important role in the development of the classical style.

In 1769, he founded the Concert des Amateurs, where he was the first to introduce Haydn’s symphonies to Parisian audiences. From the 1760s, he composed a substantial series of stage works and became an ally of Gluck, the great composer for the stage, who straddled the Baroque and early Romantic eras and was an inspiration for the ultra-romantic, Hector Berlioz. In 1784, Gossec was appointed head of the Ėcole Royale de Chant, which became the Conservatoire de Musique in 1795.

The Revolution of 1789 saw Gossec emerge to the forefront of musical activity in France and he became one of the official musicians of the new regime. He helped create a ‘civic music’, in which songs, choruses, marches and wind symphonies, designed for outdoor performance, served as the voice of the new regime. His Te Deum, for example, was performed on 14 July 1790 by 1,000 choristers and a very large orchestra with 300 wind instruments alone. He is also the author of the first orchestration of the Marseillaise.

With the ascension of Napoleon in 1799, Gossec’s career as a composer was effectively ended. In 1815, after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, the Conservatoire was closed for some time by Louis XVIII and the eighty-one year old composer had to retire. He was supported by a pension granted by the Conservatoire and lived in the Paris suburb of Passy, where he died in 1829, in his mid-nineties.

The Gossec work performed by the Choir today, the Messe des Morts (Requiem), was composed in 1760, apparently without a commission, the first of many religious works. The first performance was given in May 1760 at the Jacobins’ Church in the Rue Saint-Jacques. It is not clear if this first performance was for a religious service or a concert. We believe that our performance today is the Australian premiere of this extraordinary work.

Gossec reveals his contrapuntal skills in two large-scale fugues on Et lux perpetua in the Introit and the Communion and in the Amen on a plain-chant subject in the Pie Jesu concluding the Dies Irae sequence.

The fortissimo entry announcing the Last Judgement in the Tuba Mirum was the most remarkable and overwhelming effect noted by listeners in the eighteenth century and continues to be so. In a note published many years after the event, Gossec recalled the following audience response to the Tuba Mirum at a performance of the work in 1784 in the St. Eustache Church in Paris:

The audience was alarmed by the dreadful and sinister effect of the three trombones together with four clarinets, four trumpets, four horns and eight bassoons hidden in the distance and in a lofty part of the church, to announce the Last Judgement, while the orchestra expressed terror with a muted tremolo in all the strings.

In his love of spectacular sound effects, Gossec may be seen as a pathfinder for the great Berlioz.

John Bowan

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Joan Carden Award 2019 – Applications open

Applications are currently open – closing April 26th – for entries for this year’s Joan Carden Award.

Conducted with the gracious support of Miss Joan Carden AO OBE, this Award aims to:

  • identify and encourage young singing talent
  • strengthen the Choir’s relationship with the University of Sydney and the Sydney music community, and
  • honour the contribution of Joan Carden to music in Australia

This year the finals of the 2019 Joan Carden Award will be held in the Great Hall of the University of Sydney on August 11th, accompanied by a full orchestra. The audience will once again participate in the judging through a ‘People’s Prize’.

If you enjoy the performances of the soloists at our concerts, this concert (which will also feature the Choir performing Puccini’s Messa di Gloria) is definitely a date for your diary. And if you are – or have a friend or relative who is – a young professional soloist, then this could be your/their chance to perform and to win a prestigious Award with a significant cash prize.

Young singers aged between 22 and 35 years are invited to become part of this exciting event! The Award has a cash prize of $6,000 and the opportunity to perform as a soloist in one of the Choir’s forthcoming concerts. Apply here – the closing date for applications is Friday April 26th 2019.

Joshua Oxley, Tenor

Following his success in winning the 2017 Joan Carden Award, tenor Joshua Oxley performed as a soloist at the Choir’s May 2018 performance featuring works by Mendelssohn and Nicolai, was a finalist in the City Of Sydney Opera Scholarship 2018 and has performed for Opera Australia as Bathasar Zorn in Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg and as Tamino in the Magic Flute. You can read more about previous winners here.

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SUGC Chamber Choir to perform at Shoalhaven

On Sunday 17 March 2019, the Sydney University Graduate Chamber Choir, conducted by Christopher Bowen OAM will present a performance for Music Shoalhaven in Nowra.

Christopher Bowen has selected a wide range of repertoire for the concert, including popular contemporary pieces as well as selections from choral masterpieces.  These include two famous and beautiful choruses from Elijah by Mendelssohn (1809-1847) being He Watching Over Israel and He That Shall Endure to the End. These two choruses are examples of Mendelssohn’s flair for writing music that is beautifully sweet, and help to explain why Elijah, which dates from 1846 and had its premiere in Birmingham, was as popular in Victorian England as Handel’s Messiah. Mendelssohn’s music is less venerated in our day than it was in the nineteenth century but it is still popular and an essential part of contemporary concert programs.

The program will also include Mendelssohn’s setting of Psalm 42, Wie der Hirsch Schreit, (As Pants the Hart).   After a performance of this Psalm in Leipzig in 1838, Robert Schumann wrote that it showed that Mendelssohn had become the leading composer of church music in Europe.

The concert will also include Wie lieblich Sind Deine Wohnungen from Brahms’s A German Requiem. Brahms’s work is not a setting of the Catholic liturgy of the Requiem but takes as its text various readings from Luther’s translation of the Bible. “German” in the title refers to the work’s language.  The excerpt to be performed is perhaps the high point of the work, a chorus of rapturous, quiet beauty.

The Choir will give a performance of Brahms’s complete work in the Sydney Town Hall on Sunday, 10 November.

The concert at Nowra on Sunday 17 March will also include:

  • Madrigal – D’Indy
  • Tu Es Petrus – Camille Saint-Saens
  • Kyrie eleison – Durante
  • Weary Land – Spiritual. arr. Bowen
  • Les Miserables (various) – Schönberg
  • I am so deep in day – Bowen
  • The ladies of Brisbane – Australian Folksong. arr. Bowen
  • Love changes everything – Lloyd-Webber
  • and others…..

Nowra School of Arts 22 Berry St. Nowra
Sunday 17th March 2pm
Tickets: $35 (members $20)/$25 (concession/senior). Children free.
Tickets available at the door.


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Sing On Report – An Australian War Requiem

In his insightful analysis of the coup d’etat that brought Louis Napoleon to power in France in 1848, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Karl Marx famously commented:

“Hegel says somewhere that all great events and personalities in world history reappear in one fashion or another.  He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce”.

The premiere performance of An Australian War Requiem, written by our generously gifted Music Director, Christopher Bowen, and set to a libretto by Pamela Traynor, that was held in Sydney Town Hall in August 2014, was a hugely important and very successful event for the Choir. In giving the second performance, in the same venue, on the significant date of 11 November 2018 as part of SUGC’s Sydney Sings™ series, the Choir and Christopher were perhaps tempting fate. If so, the result was a great vindication of the decision, and a repudiation of Marx’s bon mot.

The work’s exceptional artistic quality and emotional power were once again unambiguously acclaimed, and the performance confirmed that An Australian War Requiem deserves to be recognised as a masterpiece of Australian music. The Choir deserves to take great pride in having commissioned it.

An augury of success appeared some years ago, when we learned that the centenary of the First World War armistice, on 11 November 2018, would fall on a Sunday and we were able to book the Sydney Town Hall for the occasion. We were fortunate to recruit excellent musicians to perform with us, including five terrific solo singers, Taryn Fiebig (soprano), Ashlyn Tymms (mezzo soprano), Andrew Goodwin (tenor), Adrian Tamburini and Wade Kernot (basses).  Taryn and Wade were making their debuts with the Choir and will be certainly be welcomed back in the future, while Ashlyn, Andrew and Adrian are favorite regulars of ours.

The large orchestra played magnificently. Stan W. Kornel returned as Concertmaster and was joined in the Strings section by regulars Inge Courtney Haentjes and Dominique Guerbois (violins), Robert Harris (viola), John Benz (cello) and Paul Laszlo (double bass), while the woodwind included Duncan Thorpe (oboe), Deborah de Graaff (clarinet) and the legendary John Cran (bassoon). Steve Machamer played the important timpani part. Our talented rehearsal pianist, Noah Peres, had an opportunity to go on stage, playing the celeste.  There were important solos for Simon Wolnizer (trumpet) playing the Last Post, and for Richard McGregor (bagpipes), who played the Lament of the Lone Piper, which concluded the Requiem.

There were singers from two children’s choirs: Waitara Voices, directed by Jenny Bell, and Mercy Catholic College Chamber Choir, directed by Kathryn McGreal.  The children sang beautifully and were a ‘big hit’ with the audience. The Choir was also enhanced by nearly one hundred guest singers, who are important contributors to the success of our Sydney Sings™ series concerts and many of whom perform regularly with us in this capacity.

The audience was substantial, largely filling the body of the hall. We were very pleased that the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney, Dr Michael Spence as well as the Choir’s very generous benefactors, Mrs Annie Corlett AM and Mr Bruce Corlett AM were present. Our good friend, the great soprano, Joan Carden AO OBE who has given her name and time to the Choir’s biennial singing competition, the Joan Carden Award, was present with distinguished baritone, Geoffrey Chard AM, who has sat on the Award’s judging panel in recent times. We received goodwill messages from many foreign missions in Australia including Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Turkey and the United States, and we were delighted that a number of representatives of these missions were in the audience.

We were very grateful to receive official support from, amongst others, the French Government through its office of the Mission of the Centenary of the First World War (La Mission du Centenaire); the Australian Government through the Australian War Memorial and the Department of Veterans Affairs; the Government of NSW through the Department of Premier and Cabinet, and the City of Sydney.

An enormous amount of work was required to stage the 2018 event, nearly as much as for the world premiere of the event in 2014. Marilyn Gosling ably led a committee that has overseen every aspect of the project from sponsorship and marketing to assembling the guest choir. Choir President Jackie Rotenstein organized all aspects of the event for the day of the performance itself and Kent Broadhead, Vice-President, oversaw its delivery, supported by a team of volunteer choristers, their friends and family who covered front of house, choir organisation and management, and all aspects of staging.

All of these Choir members have the gratitude of their colleagues for ensuring the delivery of a seamless performance. A more tangible reward for all participants was the sight of the entire audience on their feet and all applauding generously after the work came to a close.

The overwhelming response of listeners to An Australian War Requiem was unqualified enthusiasm.  This is as true of those who had experienced it in 2014 as for those to whom it was quite new.  Many referred to its emotional power, which left them wrung out.  Joan Carden put this eloquently: “I felt as if I had not drawn breath from the beginning to the end, so involved was I…… The powerful poignancy and reverence for the sacrifices made in that war are fully realized in Christopher’s work of genius.  Bravissimo – particularly to Christopher for marrying the music so perfectly to Pamela’s moving and lucid text.”  Annabel Baxter of the University of Sydney’s Alumni Council commented that she did not think she had ever experienced anything to match the performance.

John Bowan

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Sing On Report – Beethoven’s Joseph II Cantata and Mass in C

The Choir’s second Great Hall concert for 2018 comprised two rarely performed works by one of the most admired and popular composers of all, Ludwig van Beethoven.

In the first half of the program, Christopher Bowen led us in the little-known, early Cantata on the Death of the Emperor Joseph the Second, which the choir last performed in May 2006, probably the Australian premiere. The major work presented was the Mass in C Op. 86, composed in Beethoven’s maturity during his Vienna years.

A fine quartet of soloists performed with the choir: Anita Kyle (soprano), who has appeared with SUGC on a number of occasions; Agnes Sarkis (alto), winner of the Choir’s Joan Carden Award in 2012; Nicholas Jones (tenor), making his debut with us and: Simon Lobelson (bass), whose career is developing successfully here and overseas. Simon recently appeared in the principal role in Opera Australia’s production of Metamorphosis, Brian Howard’s setting of Franz Kafka’s famous story.

The excellent orchestra was led by Alastair Duff-Forbes and included a number of fine musicians who regularly perform with us, such as John Cran (bassoon), Deborah de Graaff (clarinet), Duncan Thorpe (oboe), Graham Nicholls and Tina Brain (horns), (Tina is the niece of Dennis Brain, the most famous horn player in history), Melanie McLoughlin and David Pye (trumpets), Inge Courtney-Haentjes and Dominique Guerbois (violins), John Benz (cello), Paul Laszlo and Steve Machamer (timpani). Once again, the skill and professionalism of these players and the relationship that Christopher Bowen has built up with them over the years were important in giving choristers and audience alike a memorable musical experience.

The sizeable audience comfortably filled the Great Hal on a sunny winter’s afternoon. Our patron Professor, Dame Marie Bashir, for whom it is always inspiring to perform, was present and enthused about the performance at the post-concert reception. It was a pleasure also to see a number of retired Grads choristers present at the performance.

Of the music, your correspondent was struck, as was Brahms 150 years before him, by the foreshadowing of Beethoven’s later style in the Cantate. But the power and mastery of the Mass in C was the real revelation. It is extraordinary that this great work is so under-rated. It is telling that legendary bassoonist, John Cran, was playing it for the first time in a professional career of some 70 years: equally telling is that Christoph Kaufmann, our very experienced German tenor, was also performing it for the first time. The work has perhaps been sacrificed to the egotism of great conductors, who have preferred the grandiosity of the Missa Solemnis to its more modest predecessor. The Mass in C is in no way inferior to the later work, which has so overshadowed it in the choral repertoire.

John Bowan

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