Singing Christmas at St Michael's

Enlarge Image The junior percussionists shake their sleigh bells | Picture: Sally Hall
The junior percussionists shake their sleigh bells | Picture: Sally Hall

December 2014: This year's Sing Christmas! concert was held on 20 December in the wonderful setting of St Michael's church in Highgate. It had been a few years since the choir last performed there, and the venue more than lived up to the singers' memories.

Starting off in traditional fashion with Once in Royal David's City, the well-attended concert was an informal mixture of audience-participation carols such as Oh Come, All Ye Faithful and beautiful choral works such as John Tavener's The Lamb and Morten Lauridsen's Ave Maria. The concert also saw the first performance of the rousing Chanticleer by Richard James Harvey, winner of the inaugural Crouch End Festival Chorus carol competition.

There was a strong turnout from families with young children, who enjoyed the upbeat secular numbers Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and Walking in a Winter Wonderland. Conductor David Temple even invited the little ones up to the front to join in with Jingle Bells by shaking sleigh bells.

As well as providing top-notch festive entertainment for the north London audience, the annual Sing Christmas! concert always raises money for charity, and this year's good cause was The Brain Tumour Charity. Peter Selley (the husband of CEFC alto Juliet) gave a powerful speech, full of self-deprecating humour, about his own experiences of living with a brain tumour, and the audience dug deep for the charity collection as a result. On the night, the amazing whip-round brought in over £2,000 for brain tumour research and patient support - but that wasn't all. Thanks to additional donations and the choir's 6 December carol-singing day in the streets of Crouch End, the fundraising total eventually reached a hefty £2,511.55.

Amazing autumn

Enlarge Image CEFC with Hans Zimmer at the Hammersmith Apollo
CEFC with Hans Zimmer at the Hammersmith Apollo

November 2014: Crouch End Festival chorus has had the most fantastic run of engagements in October and November this year, peforming with well-known names on stages large and small - and just as importantly, supporting our local community.

10 and 11 October saw a select group of CEFC singers onstage with film composer Hans Zimmer at the Hammersmith Apollo. The set list included music from Driving Miss Daisy, Madagascar, Crimson Tide, Gladiator, Pirates Of The Caribbean, Rain Man and Inception. As an unexpected bonus, the choir, orchestra and maestro were joined on the second night by special guest Pharrell Williams, who performed in Zimmer's music for The Amazing Spider Man 2 and his own worldwide pop hit Happy (featuring Crouch End Festival Chorus in a new guise as gospel choir).

CEFC soprano Genevieve Helsby was one of the singers at the Zimmer shows. She said: "It was such a privilege to be part of Hans Zimmer’s concerts. High up at the back of the stage, with individual spotlights on each singer, the choir was a major part of the show. And what a musical challenge! Breathless 7/8 offbeats for Crimson Angel, stratospherically high notes for Spider Man 2, an incredible breadth of styles... we couldn’t switch off for a second, and we relished it!"

Jumping ahead to 20 and 21 November, the choir became an operatic chorus for tenor Andrea Bocelli at the O2 Arena in London and LG Arena in Birmingham. This is a repeat gig for CEFC, which was also engaged to sing with Bocelli on his last three UK tours. The singers were thrilled to be back performing in front of audiences of 20,000 and more, lending their voices to popular classical numbers such as Nessun Dorma from Puccini's Turandot.

Quickly changing genres again, the choir next joined rock band Procol Harum at London's Dominion Theatre on 24 November, a warmly-reviewed concert which was recorded for Radio 2's Friday Night is Music Night. Catch it on BBC iPlayer throughout December.

Last but very much not least in this string of engagements, CEFC singers teamed up with choirs from Rhodes Avenue and Coldfall primary schools for the Precious Moments concert at St James Muswell Hill, in support of local charity Noah's Ark. In an informal evening compered by actress Caroline Quentin, the chorus reprised the spirituals from Tippett's A Child of Our Time (recently performed at the Barbican), and gave rousing performances of Beach Boys classics such as God Only Knows and I Get Around.

The winner is announced...

Enlarge Image CEFC carol competition winner Richard James Harvey:
CEFC carol competition winner Richard James Harvey: "I didn't want to write a typical Christmas carol..."

November 2014: Congratulations go to the winner of the Crouch End Festival Chorus carol competition: the composer Richard James Harvey, for his carol Chanticleer.

With a very high standard of entries, the competition has been a great success, and has provided a fitting end to the choir's 30th anniversary year. Musical director David Temple said: “Richard’s winning carol Chanticleer has a wonderfully festive feel and will prove popular with singers and audiences alike. I feel that we have uncovered a real gem!”

Chanticleer will be performed at the CEFC Sing Christmas concert at St Michael's Highgate on 20 December. The new work will take its place alongside festive favourites including Once in Royal David's City and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, as well as modern classics such as Lauridsen's Ave Maria and Tavener's The Lamb.

Book your Sing Christmas tickets now to hear the world premiere of Richard James Harvey's Chanticleer and raise your voice in song with Crouch End Festival Chorus: www.ticketsource.co.uk/cefc

Precious Moments

November 2014: Crouch End Festival Chorus will be joining singers from Coldfall and Rhodes Avenue schools later this month for a magical evening of festive music in support of the Noah's Ark Children's Hospice. Held at St James church in Muswell Hill, the Precious Moments concert will feature Christmas carols and well-known songs in a beautiful setting.

CEFC musical director David Temple said: 'We have had a fantastic response from choir members wanting to take part in this community concert, and we urge everyone in the area to come along and support an amazing local charity.'

Precious Moments
Thursday 27 November
St James Muswell Hill
Doors open 6pm for festive drinks reception; concert starts 7pm

Tickets: adult £15 | child £8 | under-fives free
Book now: Eventbrite online booking 

A child of our time...

Enlarge Image Kate from Hornsey School for Girls reads out Malala's message
Kate from Hornsey School for Girls reads out Malala's message

October 2014: Seldom has a piece of music had such a timely premiere. James McCarthy's Malala was commissioned by Crouch End Festival Chorus over a year ago when conductor David Temple became interested in the story of teenage education campaigner Malala Yousafzai. The Barbican premiere of McCarthy's work had long been in the diary for 28 October 2014, but only weeks before, Malala's profile was hugely raised when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

It was more important than ever that the new piece did justice to Malala's staunch principles and courageous campaigning, but both the Barbican audience and the critics agreed that McCarthy and librettist Bina Shah had come up with a fitting tribute. Malala herself sent a message of support and thanks for the concert, which was movingly read out at the start of the performance by a member of the girls' choirs taking part alongside CEFC.

David Temple told the audience that Malala was very much "a child of our time", and her struggle in the face of adversity had echoes of Tippett's masterwork of the same name. So in the second half of the concert, the adult and teenage singers again joined forces to perform A Child of Our TimeCEFC has long cherished this work: the choir sang it in the presence of the late composer, and gave its first ever performance in Poland. But the atmosphere and theme of the 28 October concert pushed the singers' interpretation to new heights: more accomplished, more heartfelt.

Many audience members were seen rising to their feet as they applauded during the concert, and the critics were equally enthusiastic. Rob Barnes of Classical NE1fm said McCarthy and Shah had forged a work of "significant musical substance". He added: "The orchestration was perfectly judged, and the Crouch End Festival Chorus rose to the occasion superbly, abetted by over 100 girls of Malala’s age from three London schools, who sang with tunefulness and clarity." And the Tippett, he said, had been excellent in all respects: "a performance that would rank with any, anywhere."

Meanwhile, Bernard Hughes of The Arts Desk said that the choir was in "excellent voice", using "exemplary diction" to tell Malala's powerful story. The high quality performance was sustained to the end of the concert, he noted: "The final passage [of A Child of Our Time], a general ensemble of hope and self-knowledge, followed by a hushed and gorgeous Deep River, was superb, and conductor David Temple was able to hold a long and rapt silence at the end."

The concert even attracted attention from Fleet St, with The Sunday Times carrying a news item on 19 October highlighting the upcoming performance, and its sister paper The Times printing a thoughtful review on 29 October stating that "the singing was magnificent".                          

The making of 'Malala'

October 2014: Watch the dramatic promotional video for the CEFC commission Malala, by James McCarthy.

Vibrant Verdi

Enlarge Image The vast Verdi forces at the Palm Court | Picture: Paul Robinson
The vast Verdi forces at the Palm Court | Picture: Paul Robinson

September 2014: The 13 September Verdi Requiem concert in Alexandra Palace really lived up to expectations - both as a community event and as a top-notch performance of a famous choral work. The regular singers of Crouch End Festival Chorus were joined by a 100-strong community chorus, the Forest Philharmonic Orchestra and four professional soloists - with eleventh-hour replacement bass Callum Thorpe making a particularly strong impression.

In the coverage by the Ham & High Broadway [see pages 8 and 9 of link], singers told of their great enjoyment of the event. Community singer Wendy Dempsey was able to sing alongside her CEFC father Mike for the first time; Susan Critchlow and Marianne Antonis commented on how rewarding the experience had been; and Julian Small said that singing in the concert had been one of the best feelings of his life.

Conductor David Temple and CEFC general manager Pinky Millward say that they have had nothing but positive feedback about the event, and it is now highly likely that the choir will plan another major community concert within the next few years.

All set for our anniversary

Enlarge Image Verdi rehearsals in 1984 and 2014
Verdi rehearsals in 1984 and 2014

August 2014: The Bells have rung at our second Prom this summer, and we at Crouch End Festival Chorus are now eagerly looking forward to our 30th anniversary concert. Featuring a performance of Verdi's Requiem, the event will celebrate the choir's local roots by including a large community chorus - no audition required...

Find out what the community chorus members and CEFC singers think of the project in their entertaining blog about tackling the Requiem this summer. And you can also read about the project in our local paper, the Ham & High Broadway.

The concert is at Alexandra Palace at 17.30 on Saturday 13 September, which was the nearest available date to the choir's first ever performance in 1984. Book your place now!

Prom double

Enlarge Image CEFC at the Royal Albert Hall (November 2013) | Picture: Paul Robinson
CEFC at the Royal Albert Hall (November 2013) | Picture: Paul Robinson

July and August 2014: Crouch End Festival Chorus is back at the Royal Albert Hall for two BBC Prom concerts this summer - and they couldn't be more different.

Sunday 20 July will see a new venture for the annual music festival: the BBC Sport Prom. This lighthearted concert will feature TV and radio sports themes from shows such as Match of the Day, Wimbledon and Test Match Special. During the performance, the voices of CEFC will soar in Carl Orff's O Fortuna and beloved sports anthems We are the Champions and You'll Never Walk Alone. Catch it on Radio 5 Live at 10.30am on 20 July - more info here.

The chorus will return on Monday 18 August, joining the BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra for Rachmaninov's The Bells, in an all-Russian programme also featuring the Stravinsky violin concerto and Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture

The seats sold out long in advance for this vibrant evening of late-Romantic music, but as always with the BBC Proms, up to 1,400 promming (standing) tickets will be available on the day, and the concert will also be broadcast on Radio 3 - more info here.

Waltham wonder

Enlarge Image Rehearsing at Waltham Abbey | Picture: Ros Bell
Rehearsing at Waltham Abbey | Picture: Ros Bell

June 2014: If the first CEFC summer concert this year could be described as having gone well, then the repeat performance at Waltham Abbey was an absolute knockout. On 21 June, the choir's performance of Tallis's Spem in Alium found a new power and cohesion in the composer's own church, and the revised running order chosen by David Temple saw the programme build to a stunning climax with the Bruckner motets Locus Iste, Os Justi and Ave Maria.

Audience members wary of contemporary music were heard speaking approvingly of the Tavener Annunciation and Song for Athene, and there was praise for the Bernard Hughes piece Salve Regina. And at the end of the concert, the capacity crowd couldn't stop applauding, with three - or was it four? - recalls for conductor and choir to take a bow.

Southwark sensation

Enlarge Image

June 2014: Crouch End Festival Chorus was pleased to welcome not one but two composers to its concert in Southwark Cathedral on 17 June. The evening saw the premiere of Salve Regina, a beautiful new choral work commissioned by CEFC from Bernard Hughes and dedicated to the late choir member Paul Haddon. The chorus also reprised a commission from past years: It Doesn't Matter Anymore by Orlando Gough.

Both pieces were warmly received by the audience, who gave the two composers enthusiastic rounds of applause. And the works sat well in a programme of a capella music featuring Tallis's Spem in Alium, the Vaughan Williams Mass in G Minor and three Bruckner motets. There was also an opportunity to remember the recently-deceased John Tavener; the choir sang his Annunciation and Song for Athene, and musical director David Temple said how proud he had been to represent Crouch End Festival Chorus at the composer's memorial service.

David Temple (left) applauds Orlando Gough (centre); and Bernard Hughes (right) welcomes the audience's warm reception for his new work | Pictures: Lucy Robinson and Paul Robinson

Classic FM interview

April 2014: CEFC musical director David Temple is interviewed by Jane Jones just before the 29 April Classic FM Live concert (which thankfully went ahead without a hitch this time).

Spectacular spring

Enlarge Image Classic FM Live fire evacuation 2013 | Picture: Davina Ross-Anderson
Classic FM Live fire evacuation 2013 | Picture: Davina Ross-Anderson

April 2014: Fresh from the success of their own 22 March concert at the Barbican, the singers of Crouch End Festival Chorus will be appearing again soon in two exciting engagements at London's biggest concert halls.

First up is the April Fools Comedy Concert on 21 April at the Royal Festival Hall. Led by manic maestro Rainer Hersch, the show promises to "bring together American comedy legend Rich Hall, Oompah Brass, stars of classical music plus a full symphony orchestra and choir [Crouch End Festival Chorus, of course] for another afternoon of comedy, music and mayhem."

No less entertaining will be Classic FM Live at the Royal Albert Hall on 29 April. Fans of popular classics have been waiting eagerly for this rescheduled event, which was dramatically abandoned in September last year when a fire alert led to the full evacuation of the venue (pictured). Happily, all the enjoyable features of this annual extravaganza will be back on 29 April, with performers including violinist David Garrett and soprano Hayley Westenra, and a programme of well-loved pieces that concludes with Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.  

New music, new heights

Enlarge Image David Temple and Will Todd celebrate a world premiere, Barbican March 2014 | Picture: Claire Haddon
David Temple and Will Todd celebrate a world premiere, Barbican March 2014 | Picture: Claire Haddon

March 2014: The second concert of the CEFC 30th anniversary season saw the world premiere of Rage against the dying of the light, by Will Todd. Todd has worked with David Temple many times before, but the power and sophistication of this new piece took the CEFC musical director by surprise. He predicted that the work would see Todd raised into the top rank of living composers, and the stunned Barbican audience on 22 March clearly agreed.

Following the new commission was the self-proclaimed highlight of David Temple's career - the opportunity to conduct Mahler's 2nd Symphony. A sterling performance by the Forest Philharmonic Orchestra and wonderful solos from CEFC regulars Erica Eloff and Jennifer Johnston were rounded off by a thrilling and nuanced chorale finale that earned shouts of "Bravo!" among the tumultuous applause that followed.

Modern masterpieces

Enlarge Image Barbican, January 2014 | Picture: Paul Robinson
Barbican, January 2014 | Picture: Paul Robinson

January 2014: Crouch End Festival Chorus kicked off its 30th anniversary year with the kind of performance that most choirs can only dream of. In an audacious piece of programming typical of musical director David Temple, the choir’s 18 January Barbican concert featured works by three contemporary composers associated with the choir: Fripp, Bedford and Gold.
 
First came three of the ethereal Soundscapes composed by King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp. Some of the singers had performed these works before in an Amsterdam engagement, but with the full chorus available for this rendition, the sound at the Barbican was sublime. Andrew Keeling, who arranged the Soundscapes, was in the audience, and praised a “magnificent concert” in his blog. He added: “It’s a real shame Robert Fripp was away so couldn’t hear it. He’d have been most encouraged.”
 
The next work was Twelve Hours of Sunset, by David Bedford, a long-standing friend of the choir who has been much missed since his death in 2011. The choir wholeheartedly embraced this dreamlike work, which was inspired by the shimmering light surrounding an evening flight from London to Los Angeles, and were pleased to perform it in the presence of Bedford’s family. Allison Bedford said: “We were all absolutely thrilled by the quality of the performance – so clear and beautiful.”
 
Finally, it was time for the world premiere of Murray Gold’s when my brother fell into the river…, a moving tribute to Jolyon, who lost his life on a visit to India. Gold composes the music to the BBC’s Doctor Who, and therefore regularly works on soundtrack recordings with singers from CEFC. Having been commissioned to write this new work by Crouch End Festival Chorus, he showed that his talents could apply just as well to a standalone work as to film and TV soundtracks, and the concert ended on a standing ovation. 

Hobbit anticipation

December 2013: Once again, the voices of Crouch End Festival  Chorus add mystery and excitement to a Hollywood film trailer…