Farnham Lions celebrates its 50th anniversary in song

There was not a spare seat to be had in St Andrew’s Church, as Farnham Lions hosted Farnham Youth Choir in a concert of sacred and secular music spanning 900 years as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations.

The evening started in magical fashion, with the church in darkness as the choir entered from the rear of the church with a suitably atmospheric performance of O Vitus Sapientiae by the 12th century composer, mystic and philosopher Hildegard of Bingen.

Lions President Andrew Lodge then welcomed everyone, thanking all for their support in this special year for the Farnham club (which coincidentally marks the centenary of Lions Club International). Among the many highlights in 2017 he especially pointed to the ‘Summer Spectacular’, 18 months in the planning, which had raised over £40,000 for four local youth-based charities.

It was then on with the music, as FYC journeyed through the centuries with sacred pieces by Croce, Pergolesi and Mendelssohn. Motets by Maurice Duruflé and Francis Poulenc - complete with typically French crunchy harmonies - represented the 20th century and the first half finished bang-up-to-date with three modern works - David Hamilton’s O Vos Omnes, an FYC favourite, James Whitbourne’s Alleluia Jubilate and the jazzy inflections of The Lord is My Shepherd by Will Todd, perhaps best-known for his Mass in Blue.       

After a short interval, the mood changed again as the choir grabbed the audience by the ears with Lyn Williams’ Festive Alleluia, followed by two other FYC ‘classics’, Michael Neaum’s gentle arrangement of the traditional Scottish ballad, Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go and David Brunner’s infectious Yo le Canto.

Composer Janet Wheeler was in the audience to hear the choir’s sensitive performance of her And Then We Knew Peace, a special commission first performed by FYC at the Farnham Festival in March. In contrast to its comforting, reflective mood, this was followed by the angry, more aggressive tone of A Poison Tree, including body percussion: also written by her for FYC, this was being given its world première at the Lions’ concert. “FYC’s energy, rhythmic precision, wonderfully clear diction and professional presentation were awesome,” she commented. “I really enjoyed the performances of my two pieces, which the choir delivered with supreme musicality in the two very different styles they demand. Congratulations to Joanna and to all.”

The lighter, secular mood of the second half concluded appropriately with three popular songs, including Bob Dylan’s Make You feel My Love, more recently a hit for Adele, and ending with Paloma Faith’s Upside Down, in a really crowd-pleasing arrangement by Michael Higgins. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening however was Ivo Antognini’s Wah bah dah bah doo bee!, a fun piece in which we were encouraged ‘not to listen to the lyrics’ (no surprise) but ‘listen to the music’, which we most certainly did given the choir’s evident relish and infectious enthusiasm in performance.

Not only did the young singers’ voices blend perfectly under conductor Jo Tomlinson’s direction, but there are also outstanding soloists within the choir, as solo performances by Charlotte Gill, Annia Grey, Jessica Miller and Millie Brake throughout the concert showed to great effect.  

Jo was clearly delighted with the performance of her young singers, nearly one quarter of whom joined the choir at the start of term just six weeks ago. It was evident that the choir continues to show a rare ability to get under the skin of an extraordinarily wide range of repertoire and convey the essence of every piece - and their ability to communicate this to the audience just gets better and better.     

FYC Chairman Graham Noakes thanked Farnham Lions and Farnham Institute Charity for sponsoring the concert and outlined some of the plans for the FYC family of choirs over the next three years. In helping achieve this ambitious momentum, he was delighted to announce that David Whelton MBE, a Director of the Three Choirs Festival and until recently Chief Executive and Artistic Director of the Philharmonia Orchestra, had agreed to become FYC’s Honorary President.

In praising the choir for an excellent evening’s entertainment, Farnham Mayor Mike Hodge echoed the audience’s gratitude for Farnham Lion’s unique contribution to town life and wished the organisation every success for the next 50 years!

Review by Graham Noakes

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