Prima Vocal Ensemble and York Railway Institute Brass Band reunite for Christmas Classics concert at Selby Abbey on Dec 11

.Prima Vocal Ensemble performing with York Railway Institute Band in Selby Abbey in 2018

YORK choir Prima Vocal Ensemble and York Railway Institute Brass Band are uniting for a Christmas concert on December 11 at Selby Abbey.

The two groups last collaborated in 2018 to perform Karl Jenkins’ Armed Man at the same church to a sell-out audience and are looking forward to working together again.

Prima Vocal Ensemble, under the musical direction of the ever-energetic Ewa Salecka, have been active throughout the pandemic, progressing from the ubiquitous Zoom rehearsals, through small and then larger outdoor gatherings, and onwards to indoor rehearsals with Simulcast participation for those unable to meet in person.

This time last year, the choir was one of the few in the UK preparing for a live recording session, shortly before lockdown.

In a ” “very emotional step forward” for members, the choir gave a live concert in September, performing material largely learned in isolation during lockdown.

“Having missed Christmas celebrations last year, this year means and feels even more important to us,” says Prima Vocal Ensemble director Ewa Salecka

Later this autumn, they were honoured to be asked to sing again with Russell Watson at Buxton Opera House and Harrogate Royal Hall on the Salford tenor’s 20thAnniversary Tour in another milestone for the choir on its journey back to normality.

The Christmas Classics for Voices & Brass concert at Selby Abbey will be special for choir and band alike.  Ewa says: “Having missed Christmas celebrations last year, this year means and feels even more important to us. David Lancaster, director of the fantastic musicians of York Railway Institute Band, and I have prepared a very special Christmas programme and invite everyone to join us.”

Traditional carols and Christmas songs will be performed alongside the directors’ favourites. The choir will sing classical pieces by Morten Lauridsen, Gabriel Faure and John Rutter, while the band has chosen wide-ranging festive music, such as Shepherd’s Song and Eric Bell’s Kingdom Triumphant, based on Christmas themes.

The 7.30pm concert will end with choir and band together performing Gordon Langford’s joyous Christmas Fantasy, woven from the most popular Christmas carols.

Tickets cost £20, £5 for children and full-time students, on 07921 568826, in person from Selby Abbey or at primachoralartists.com/events/christmas-classics-for-voices-and-brass.

The poster for Prima Vocal Ensemble and York Railway Institute Brass Band’s Christmas concert at Selby Abbey

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on The Elysian Singers, Late Music, St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel, York, November 6

The Elysian Singers: “Intelligent programme linked settings by different composers of the same or similar texts”

ALTHOUGH unable to welcome back Late Music last month due to an unfortunate clash, I do so now with open arms.

Steve Crowther has had to work miracles to keep Late Music afloat and bring it back into action, and he will doubtless feel amply rewarded by the appearance of the London-based Elysian Singers and the excellent turnout they elicited.

Their intelligent programme, directed by Sam Laughton, linked settings by different composers of the same or similar texts. The result stretched back as far as the 13th century, but was brought right up to date with three new commissions.

Part of Psalm 95, taken from Rachmaninov’s Russian orthodox treatment of the All-Night Vigil, inspired Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s effective Bogoroditse Devo (Rejoice, O Virgin), which was essentially tonal and included a gently rolling alto line underpinning a soprano melody. Both were sung in Russian.

The anonymous mediaeval setting of Edi Beo Thu, Hevene Quene (Blessed Are You, Queen Of Heaven) was picked up in Kerry Andrew’s setting, which she additionally framed with the words ‘O virgo splendens’. Her spare harmonies, although unmistakeably modern, reflected the early setting’s approach. The choir treated its triplet figures smoothly.

There were echoes of the past, too, in the next piece. Tom Armstrong’s setting of Emily Brontë’s poem No Coward Soul Is Mine, here enjoying its premiere, uses antiphons from Vespers for Whit Sunday, so that the text emerges in striking unisons, thereby gaining emphasis, an extraordinarily powerful effect.

Brontë enjoyed a strong Christian faith, fearless about death; Armstrong clearly senses this. He uses techniques of imitation and overlapping lines, sometimes giving the plainsong slow treatment in the men’s voices with contrasting momentum in soprano and alto lines. The Elysians were especially persuasive here.

Thea Musgrave’s witty juxtaposition of poems by Herrick and Edwin Morgan with the anonymous I Saw A Peacock With A Fiery Tail, in her imaginative journey On The Underground (Set 2), made a pleasingly comic interlude, the reprise of Herrick’s Dreams making a rueful postlude to the perky staccato of the other poems.

The choir was equally alive to Britten’s word-setting in his Five Flower Songs, which have deservedly become choral staples over the past 70 years.

There were two further premieres after the interval. David Power’s minimalist setting of the opening words of St John’s gospel, The Transfiguration, was cleverly built around an insistent refrain, ‘God spoke, light shone’. It does not deal directly with the transfiguration story, but suggests light at the end of any tunnel of trouble – as in present times. Those four words certainly shone through, often at the top of the spectrum.

The story of the Sirens’ search for Proserpine, as told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, was the inspiration for David Lancaster’s Feathers, since Demeter gave them wings for the task. Opening with a very high soprano solo, suggesting soaring flight, its slow, rhythmless progress was beautifully sustained by the choir.

An interesting setting by Ivor Gurney of a Robert Bridges poem on John Milton was contrasted with a deeply elegiac prayer, Requiem, by John Duggan to words of Gurney, which was much the more touching of the two.

There was distinguished company in a James MacMillan folksong and Judith Weir’s My Guardian Angel, which involved the audience in a threefold Alleluia. And it was impossible to suppress a smile at the creamy Victorian harmonies of Bantock’s response to ‘My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose’, lovingly caressed by this superb group.

Review by Martin Dreyer

York Late Music continues with two events on December 4; full details at latemusic.org.

Never too late for York Late Music’s cutting-edge contemporary concerts to start again

Ian Pace: Regular innovative performer on piano at York’s Late Music concert series, returning on December 4

YORK’S Late Music programme of contemporary music returns from pandemic lockdown with two concerts on Saturday at St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel, York.

As ever, this celebration of new music in York will turn the spotlight on compositions of the 20th and 21st centuries, premiering new works and commissions aplenty on the first Saturday of each month from October to December 2021 and February to June 2022, with two concerts per day at 1pm and 7.30pm.

“We moved the programme to start in October because we’ve missed a year of concerts through the pandemic and could not re-start until now because of the small size of the chapel,” says concert administrator and York composer Steve Crowther.

In a late change to the musicians, but not to the programme, baritone Alistair Donaghue and pianist Polly Sharpe replace Robert Rice and William Vann for Saturday’s opening afternoon concert, an exploration of 21st century British songs, featuring settings from the album Songs Now: British Songs Of The 21st Century and the NMC Songbook.

“Unfortunately, Robert is ill, but we’re very grateful that Alistair and Polly have agreed to step in to do the same programme.”

In Saturday’s second concert, at 7.30pm, the Gemini ensemble give first performances of both their commission of Sadie Harrison’s Fire In Song and Morag Galloway’s It’s Getting Hot In Here, complemented by Peter Maxwell Davies’s Economies Of Scale and works by Steve Crowther and Philip Grange, including his Homage To Chagall.

Pianist Duncan Honeybourne: Lockdown compositions on November 6

On November 6, in the afternoon concert, pianist Duncan Honeybourne presents pieces from time spent productively in stay-at-home 2020: Contemporary Piano Soundbites: Composers In Lockdown 2020. The works have been featured on BBC Radio 3, greeted by presenter Tom Service as a “dazzling explosion of creativity”.

For the evening, Elysian Singers’ director Sam Laughton has devised a programme that pairs a contemporary work with an earlier piece with words from the same poet or source. For example, Cheryl Frances-Hoad and Rachmaninov’s settings of All Night Vigil or James Macmillan, Thea Musgrave and Benjamin Britten’s settings of words by Herrick.

These will be complemented by new works by regular Late Music composers David Power and David Lancaster and Tom Armstrong, formerly of the University of York, and a motet by Ivor Gurney, published in 2017, fully 92 years after it was composed.  “It was just sitting in a drawer,” reveals Steve.

Nick Williams and Tim Brooks combine to present York Music Centre and the new Yorkshire ensemble Spelk’s afternoon recital on December 4. “It’s great to be working with Nick and Tim,” says Steve, looking forward to Brooks’s commissioned piece for young people, And Another Thing. In the second half, Spelk perform music by John Cage, Andriessen and Stravinsky and a new Murphy McCaleb work.

In that evening’s closing concert of 2021, stalwart Ian Pace performs his 13th, or maybe his 14th, Late Music piano recital, this one entitled The Art Of Fugue. “In 1845, Schumann discovered his passion for composing fugues,” says Pace. “This recital explores the threads that connect and resonate through a form that straddles three centuries.”

Framed by two Prelude and Fugues by J S Bach, Pace will be performing works by Shostakovich and Schumann, plus new works by Anthony Adams and Jenny Jackson. “You don’t associate Ian with playing Bach, so it will be interesting to hear his interpretation,” says Steve.

Soprano Anna Snow: 100 Second Songs on March 5

The 2022 programme opens on February 5 with pianist Jakob Fichert’s The Character Piece Throughout Music History (1pm) and Living Songs, soprano Jessica Summers and pianist Jelena Makarova’s evening of Songs of Love and Exile.

Next up, on March 5, will be clarinet player Jonathan Sage (afternoon) and soprano Anna Snow and pianist Kate Ledger’s evening of 100 Second Songs, featuring a patchwork of musical miniatures by the likes of Nicola LeFanu, Sadie Harrison, Tarik O’Regan and James Else.

Bass Stuart O’Hara and pianist Ionna Koullepou perform new settings of York and regional poetry by York composers on the afternoon of April 2. That evening, Bingham String Quartet play Beethoven, Schnittke, LeFanu and Tippett pieces.

Spelk return on May 7 with a rare chance to hear John Cage’s complete Living Room Music at 1pm, followed by Delta Saxophone Quartet’s Dedicated To You…But You Weren’t Listening, including Soft Machine interpretations.

The season ends with soprano Amanda Crawley and pianist Josephine Peach’s Sounds Of The Unexpected (1pm) and Trilogy Ensemble’s evening of Debussy, Libby Larsen, Yu-Liang Chong, William Matthias and more.

Lunchtime concerts costs £5, evening concerts, £12/concessions £10, online at latemusic.org or on the door.