Spring Concert: An evening with Farnham Youth Choir, St Andrew’s Church, Farnham

Hard on the heels of the ‘Sounds of Spring’ concert at the Anvil the previous weekend, the senior choir returned to the more familiar surroundings of St Andrew’s Church to show off their sacred and secular repertoire in front of a large audience. This concert was generously supported by the Lions Club of Farnham whose President, Phil Alexander, was in the audience for the occasion. We were also delighted to welcome Councillor David Attfield, Mayor of Farnham, as a guest at this event.

A spring storm was rattling the windows but there was a striking stillness inside the church, the audience noticeably holding its collective breath at times. This was particularly the case during the account of Adoramus Te by Orlando Lassus which opened the concert. FYC rose to the challenge of singing this while positioned in small groups around the church, conjuring a beautiful sound that set the tone for the rest of the evening. The concert perfectly showcased the choir’s versatility across different languages and musical idioms. Added to this, there were opportunities to hear the solo voices of FYC ‘veterans’ Jess Miller and Izzy Cole, and a welcome chance for the first time to hear a solo piece beautifully sung by Bear Crawford. 

Review by Helen Cole

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Sounds of Spring - with the Basingstoke Symphony Orchestra

Sounds of Spring: A Combined Concert, Basingstoke Symphony Orchestra and Farnham Youth Choir at the Anvil, Basingstoke

It’s a while since the Youth Choir has sung with a full orchestra and Saturday evening’s concert provided a very welcome reminder of what this feels like, as ‘Sounds of Spring’ was a combined concert with Basingstoke Symphony Orchestra. Working with the BSO under Stephen Scotchmer was clearly a great pleasure.

The venue was a relatively unfamiliar one, the Anvil in Basingstoke, and this was a useful chance to perform in a large concert hall. If the venue influenced FYC’s performance, this wasn’t surprising. Accompanied by Matthew on the piano, the choir’s programme was sung with focus and precision (Croce, Cantate Domino), maturity (Schubert, Gott ist Mein Hirt) and an exquisite sound (everything – but perhaps especially Fauré, Cantique de Jean Racine, with a harp threading its way through the orchestral part). The relatively intimidating setting may have made it trickier than usual for the singers to access their exuberant side, yet Kerry Andrew’s Charm was especially captivating and Ivo Antognini’s Wah bah dah bah doo bee! notably well-received.

In the first half of the concert, FYC had the chance to perform two pieces from Vaughan Williams’sFolk Songs of the Four Seasons with the orchestra, the combination producing some soulful colours. The centrepiece of the orchestral concert was Dvorak’s Symphony no. 7 which made up the second half, giving the young singers a chance to relax in the auditorium and soak up the BSO’s fine performance.

Review by Helen Cole

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Christmas Gala Concert

Farnham Maltings, Saturday 15th December 2018, 6pm

There was an excited buzz rising above the hubbub from a packed house for the FYC Christmas Gala. The warmth, light and welcome of the Maltings was a welcome refuge from a windswept and rain-soaked December night.

The concert began with a haunting opening solo and some beautiful harmonies during Once in Royal David’s City, followed by a sequence from Benjamin Btitten’s ‘A Ceremony of Carols’, during which the Youth Choir exhibited great blended tones; dramatic flourishes; clear articulation; and wonderful control of the down note at the end of the first piece. The closing Deo Gracias was a particular joy.

The Training Choir took to the stage next. Their singing was lovely and the foot stomping during Amani Utupe was perfectly syncopated. It was delightful to see every individual following their choir director’s lead with such intensity throughout Orange and Yellow and Brown. There was Christmas magic in seeing their upturned faces reflecting the stage lights so brightly as the lyrics of Walking in the Air echoed around the room with such clarity.

The Junior Choir also opened with some dramatic Benjamin Britten pieces before moving on to Hushabye Mountain. Their voices carried this peerless tune beautifully, while their animated faces reflected the sentiment of the lyrics delightfully.

When the Youth Choir returned it was to sing Joubert’s Torches - with exact emphasis on all the appropriate stresses. Rutter’s Star Carol had an uplifting brightness and In Dulci Jubilowas hauntingly lovely – blended tones, great enunciation and articulation and a sense of awe-filled sacred worship, entirely appropriate for a carol which I’ve since discovered translates as Sweet Rejoicing. Jolliffe’s On This Day was similarly joyful.

The evening culminated in the three choirs combining for The Holly and the Ivy – with the parts sung beautifully; the definition of the echo kept crisp; and the harmonies a delight - before leading a crowd-pleasing rendition of Twelve Days of Christmas – featuring some very enthusiastic participation from various sections of the highly appreciative audience.

This was a wonderful start to the Christmas season for an audience of all ages. Tom (14) from the group seated beside me was clearly dismayed that the concert was over – “Oh. Is that it?” David (42) had most enjoyed the closing 12 Days of Christmas and Ceremony of Carols from near the beginning, but when Sheila (73) was asked for her highlights she could only respond “to be honest, all of it. I thoroughly enjoyed everything.”

Review by David Fowler

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FYC Junior Choir concert with Brockham Choral Society

St Nicolas, by Benjamin Britten 

On 1 December a packed attendance at St Martin’s Church, Dorking heard – for many of them possibly for the first time – a performance of Britten’s early cantata, St Nicolas. Appropriately, since Britten had composed it in 1948 for amateur musicians, except for the tenor solo and a small string ensemble, it was performed by members of the Brockham Choral Society and the Junior section of Farnham Youth Choir (FYC), both under the direction of Patrick Barrett, with the support of the British Sinfonietta String Ensemble. 

The cantata tells the legendary story of the life and travels of St Nicolas, who became Bishop of Myra in Palestine and performed many “marvellous works”, including the miraculous restoration to life of three boys who had been killed, “pickled” and served up on an inn menu. To guide us through this saintly life’s journey Britten’s music progresses through a striking variety of instrumentation, vocal style and musical feature, with the personal narrative of the Saint himself interspersed with contrasting choruses, of differing balance, sonority and texture, by the two choirs. The weight and gravity of the experienced Brockham adult choir contrasted with the vibrantly fresh response of the eager young voices of the FYC sopranos and altos. The substantial role of Nicolas as an adult was sung from the pulpit movingly and magisterially by the Welsh tenor, Rhys Batt, in an outstanding performance of which Peter Pears himself would have been proud. To complement this we were treated to the piercing vocal purity of a solo performance by Oliver Brelsford as the young Nicolas, and by Jaya Passington, Evelyn Keys and Molly Hunter as the three resurrected “boys”. Accompanying the choirs, soloists and accomplished string ensemble throughout on a single piano Brockham’s Marion Lea and FYC’s Susan Holmes brilliantly maintained the rhythm, atmosphere and pace of the narrative, not least in the storm scene which almost brought the wind and rain of the cold December evening right into the church itself. As a fitting and more familiar finale, and in no sense an anti-climax, the cantata finished with a combined choir-audience rendering of that old-favourite hymn, “God moves in a mysterious way”, accompanied resoundingly by Ben Giddens on the organ. 

After the interval both choirs combined in a welcome Christmas programme of well- known carols, in which the audience were allowed to participate and try to maintain the basic tune as the choirs soared into their respective descants. 

To allow the audience to draw breath Brockham choir also entertained with less familiar renderings of Away in a Manger, the Candlelight Carol and The Holly and The Ivy, while the FYC Juniors displayed their vocal and physical agility in three two-part songs by Benjamin Britten. 

It was a very successful evening, displaying the virtuosity of two well - rehearsed and contrasting choirs in an important but less familiar work, and with due respect to the first class professional performers, showing why Britten’s confidence in writing for amateur musicians was fully justified. 

 

Review by Brian Unwin (Brockham Choral Society)

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FYC have The X Factor

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On 1st December 2018, Farnham Youth Choir took to the stage at one of the biggest live televised events of the year as part of the Live Final of ITV’s ‘The X Factor’ at Wembley Arena.

Forty choir members sang alongside finalist Scarlett Lee as she performed Sir Elton John’s Your Song, also featured in this year’s John Lewis Christmas advert and popularised by Ewan McGregor in the Baz Luhrmann film, Moulin Rouge.

FYC on stage with Scarlett Lee at Wembley Arena

FYC on stage with Scarlett Lee at Wembley Arena

With only 24 hours’ notice, FYC’s senior choir raced to join forces with Thames TV, recording a full studio version of the performance at Metropolis Studios, Chiswick. The following day, Saturday 1st December, the choir piled on to a coach for Wembley Arena, rehearsing during the day and singing in the live final at 7.30pm.

Performing as part of the first hour-long series finale, FYC shared the billing with the contestants, series judge Robbie Williams, global superstar George Ezra, Emile Sande and former X Factor winner Leona Lewis. Despite the watchful gaze of the series judges and music business supremo Simon Cowell, the choir’s performance lit up the arena.

Choir member Elliott Keys (11) who only joined the choir this year, said, ‘this is such a surreal experience, standing on the X-factor stage was breath-taking.

For nearly 40 years Farnham Youth Choir have performed at the highest levels of choral excellence, singing at both The Vatican and Notre Dame in the past two years. FYC will be entering the Grand Prix of Nations & European Choir Games in Gothenburg in August 2019.

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FYC Autumn Concert

St Peter’s Church, Old Woking - 13th October

After saying goodbye to long-standing FYC members and welcoming a new intake of singers (15 this September), the autumn concert provides the first opportunity to hear a newly-blended choir. The venue this time was particularly special because St Peter’s in Old Woking is the local church of FYC’s accompanist, Matthew Rickard. It also dates back over nine hundred years, making it contemporary with Hildegard von Bingen whose O virtus sapientiae made a hauntingly beautiful opening to the concert as the choir processed through the church. 

The first half of the concert showcased some of FYC’s sacred repertoire. In the interval, the large audience was able to enjoy drinks served by some of the team of volunteers who ran the evening so well. The second half of the programme then mixed contemporary pieces with music influenced by folk traditions.

Highlights included the choir’s first performance of Schubert’s Gott ist mein hirt (which required the singers to memorise a lengthy German text!) and what might well have been the first performance anywhere of The Silver Swan by Oliver Tarney, from the newly-published collection As You Sing editedby Neil Ferris and FYC’s Joanna Tomlinson. Three very accomplished solos by Megan Holmes, Charlotte Gill and Jessica Miller completed an evening that hinted at wonderful things to come as the choir begins to prepare for the European Choir Games next summer.   

Review by Helen Cole

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FYC Summer Gala Concert

It was a beautiful Summer’s evening for an equally fabulous concert featuring all three FYC Choirs, the Trainers, the Juniors and the Youth choir who are starting their journey towards the World Choir Games in 2020.

Directed by the wonderful Jo Tomlinson, the Youth Choir opened the concert and their first set of sacred music with two FYC favourites: the dramatic Joshua and the contrasting sweet sounding Lift thine Eyes. Then we moved into two pieces by the French composers Faure and Poulenc, giving the Youth Choir the chance to show off their linguistic prowess and their vocal control, right to the very last note of Poulenc’s Ave Verum Corpus. The set drew to a close with the still waters and beautiful melody of Todd’s The Lord is My Shepherd and ended with the wonderful harmonies of Steal Away.

The audience then welcomed the young training choir, led brilliantly by Lucy Morris, onto the stage looking and sounding angelic. They sang four pieces, all contrasting and wonderfully sung. Kenny the Kangaroo was full of the required energy and “boing” and won the prize for best ending pose. In the Training Choir’s finale, Lemonade, the children brought the movement and lyrics together to great effect. What a complicated ending with multiple parts and movement. Wow!

The combined voices of the Trainers and juniors combined forces to tell us all Why we sing – a wonderful reminder of why singing is so fantastic whatever your age.

This Gala concert significantly marked the retirement of FYC Chairman Graham Noakes who has given his full commitment to FYC over the last decade. He has steered the choirs through a period of extraordinary change and under his stewardship FYC has become an exemplar for other youth choirs. Graham was presented with a fabulous framed Platinum FYC vinyl disc to say thank you for all he and the Noakes family have contributed to FYC.

Next it was the turn of the Junior Choir who have flourished under the leadership of Patrick Barrett. The energy that these youngsters have on stage is infectious and was very palpable in their opener Feel Good. They lowered the tempo with Child of Peace, their expressive faces showing how strongly they believed in the words they were singing: “Let us be children of peace, bringing light and love instead of darkness and hate”. This contrasted with Britten’s modern and rather witchy sounding The Ride by Nights, which was breathtaking in its complexity and brevity. The Juniors finished with Bernyanyi Bersana by Jim Papoulis, a wonderful rhythmic piece accompanied at short notice by two youth choir members on bongos and descant.

In the final set the Farnham Youth Choir showed us just how versatile they are. They started with a new arrangement of Scarborough Fair by Michael Higgins for upper voices, this the first time it had been performed. It was extremely beautiful; The lilting melodies flowed and the words were crystal clear.

A stark contrast then followed with the Poison Tree – the piece’s dissonance and wrath were dramatically displayed by the choir. Sweet Georgia Brown had us all toe tapping, and the beauty of the Seal Lullaby came across so effortlessly. Two further FYC favourites, Yo Le Canto and Paloma Faith’s Upside Down demonstrated the perfect blend of effective choreography, tight harmonies and a well-rehearsed choir.

The grand finale – Juntos (meaning Stronger together), with its Latin American rhythms - was an uplifting and fitting conclusion to a wonderful concert that included so much young talent.

Review by Sara Acworth 

 

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FYC Junior Concert with All Saints Choir, Marlow

On a glorious Summer’s evening, in All Saints Church on the banks of the river Thames, basking in the afterglow of the Royal Wedding, FYC Juniors and All Saints, Marlow Choristers treated us to an uplifting concert. In preparation, both choirs had an enjoyable rehearsal throughout the afternoon and even managed to find time for a riverside photo shoot moment before taking to the stage!

All Saints Choir, which has a lovely mix of girls and boys of all ages performed their mainly sacred choral pieces with professionalism and harmony. Their repertoire included Totney’s Magnificat from the Durham Service and Hutchings’ We are one Voice but perhaps the highlight of the All Saints repertoire was Waring’s piece, At night, which featured a young cellist, Thomas Bull. The combination of the mellow tones of the cello and the wonderful choral melodies was truly beautiful.

FYC Juniors were on fine form and brought their energy and charm to the stage and worked together to produce a wonderful overall sound.  They met the technical challenges of Kodaly’s Ladybird and literally sang their hearts out to Why we sing by Greg Gilpin. The choirs sang two joint pieces: the moving, A child of Peace by Wagner and the uplifting Feel Good by Tyson & Scott, both becoming firm favourites with the choirs and the audience.

All credit to the conductors: FYC’s Patrick Barrett and All Saints, Martin Seymour, the accompanists: FYC’s Susan Holmes and All Saints, Rhidian Jones and all the children for their hard work. Their commitment really showed.

Review by Sara Acworth

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FYC Spring Concert with St Bartholomew's CofE Primary School Choir

The Spring Concert held on 10th March at St Bartholomew’s Church, Haslemere, had a new dynamic to it. The children from St Bartholomew’s CoE Primary School joined FYC and walked on poised, and with a great air of professionalism for such young singers. Together they opened with Festive Alleluia by Lyn Williams, with every performer transfixed on conductor Joanna Tomlinson.

The younger children then joined the audience to experience the most beautiful choral blend of O Virtus Sapientiae (Hildegard von Bingen) by candlelight. In stark contrast was Joshua (arranged by Kirby Shaw); the impact of such a powerful sound was dramatic and with such precision a sea of faces communicated so earnestly. 

And Then We Knew Peace was specially commissioned for FYC, and speaks of being “united by music” as these singers certainly are! It was especially moving. The Seal Lullaby (Eric Whitacre) was performed with the most beautifully exquisite lilting phrases, and its effect was spine-tingling and full of emotion.

The finale was Alleluia Jubilate by James Whitbourn and was sung by both the school choir and FYC. They made a rousing sound. What a wonderful experience for these young singers!

By Carolyn Smith

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Christmas Gala Concert

The Gala Concert at the Maltings in Farnham is a memorable occasion each Christmas that brings together the girls’ choir, the boys’ choir and the main youth choir. When the three join forces, for the first few moments the youngest singers at the front are often visibly startled by the wall of sound behind them! The stage is always brilliantly lit, and thanks to the stage decorations the effect is very festive – although unknown to the audience, the heat from the lights presents a challenge for the singers and there tends to be a casualty or two (expertly gathered up and spirited away by volunteer first-aiders). Things like this demand professionalism from the choirs and they always cope extremely well. Jo Tomlinson, Jo McNally and Patrick Barrett led the singers through a varied programme that showed their range, supported throughout by accompanist Matthew Rickard.

Two soloists opened the concert from the auditorium, getting proceedings off to a traditional, spell-binding start with the first verse of Once in Royal David’s City. When the audience rose to join in with the rest of the carol, the gentleman sitting next to me had to be coaxed to his feet – ‘do I seriously have to sing?!’ – but as the concert went on he found his confidence and relaxed into his new performing role. By the time Jingle Bells came around at the close and everyone was asked to shake their keys in time to the music, he was reluctant to sit down again. His party had come to the concert out of curiosity to see what Farnham Youth Choir was like. His verdict? ‘I think they must do a serious amount of work to achieve all this’, he said. 

Review by Helen Cole

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