ALED Jones and Russell Watson are to reunite for Christmas 2022 with a new album and tour, taking in York Barbican on December 6.
Performing together again after a three-year hiatus, the classical singers will embark on a November and December itinerary to coincide with the November 4 release of Christmas With Aled And Russell.
Available to pre-order now, the album features new recordings of traditional carols such as O Holy Night, O Little Town Of Bethlehem and In The Bleak Midwinter, alongside festive favourites White Christmas, It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas, Little Drummer Boy and Mistletoe And Wine.
In addition, Jones and Watson are recording a duo rendition of Walking In The Air – first sung by boy soprano Aled in 1982 for the animated film The Snowman – specially for the new record.
Bangor-born tenor Jones, 51, says: “After a crazy couple of years for us all, I can’t wait to be reunited with my mate Russell again for our third album together! I’ll always be associated with Christmas, so it’s an honour to be working with him.
“We always have a blast on tour, so getting to sing our favourite Christmas songs together in so many stunning venues later this year will be a real treat! You never know, ‘Traffic Cone’ might even make an appearance…and hopefully Chicago has given Russ the chance to brush up on his dancing skills!”
Salford tenor Watson, 55, who has been playing slick lawyer Billy Flynn in the 2022 tour of Chicago, says: “Aled and I had a great time recording our first two albums, so I’m immensely excited to be back in the studio together working on our third. We had a really tough time choosing from so many magnificent Christmas songs, but we’ve whittled it down to a fabulous selection of tracks which truly mean something to us both.
“And to get to share a stage again during our UK tour later this year will be such a special experience after three years apart. I hope Christmas With Aled And Russell is on all of your Christmas lists, and I can’t wait to see you all on tour throughout November and December!”
Christmas With Aled And Russell will be looking to match the success of 2018’s In Harmony and 2019’s Back In Harmony, after both recordings topped the UK Classical Album Chart and made the top ten of the UK Official Album Chart.
Classical crossover singer Jones has released more than 40 albums and achieved more than 40 silver, gold and platinum discs since his chorister days when Walking In The Air brought him fame at 12.
In November 2020, he released Blessings, a multi-faith album featuring songs from different religions, and in February 2022, he reached the semi-finals of ITV’s The Masked Singer in the guise of Traffic Cone.
He has pursued a career as a television and radio presenter too, at present hosting a weekly show on Classic FM and BBC One’s Sunday staple, Songs Of Praise.
Watson’s debut album, 2000’s The Voice, topped both the British and USA classical charts, making him the first British male artist to attain a simultaneous transatlantic number one.
Watson has performed for HM The Queen, the late Pope John Paul II and former USA Presidents Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama.
He last played York Barbican in a Sunday matinee in November 2021 on his 20th Anniversary Of The Voice tour.
Tickets for December 6’s 8pm performance of Christmas With Aled & Russell are on sale at yorkbarbican.co.uk.
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.
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.
Charles Hutchinson fishes out No Such Thing As A Fish and plenty more besides to hook you in.
Two bites at the cherry of sceptical comedy: Jimmy Carr: Terribly Funny, York Barbican, tonight, 8pm; Grand Opera House, York, Tuesday, 8pm
JIMMY Carr will be playing York twice inside a week on his rescheduled Terribly Funny tour, visiting both the Barbican and Grand Opera House.
The host of Channel 4’s The Friday Night Project and 8 Out Of 10 Cats will be discussing terrible things that might have affected you or people you know and love. “But they’re just jokes,” Carr says. “They are not the terrible things.”
Having political correctness at a comedy show is like having health and safety at a rodeo, he asserts. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk or atgtickets.com/york.
National treasure shows of the week: Jools Holland and His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, York Barbican, tomorrow, 7.30pm; Harrogate Convention Centre, Saturday, doors, 7pm
PIANIST, bandleader and ringmaster Jools Holland is joined by his 19-piece orchestra for the 2021 autumn tour of his long-running celebration of ska, boogie-woogie and the blues.
The Later presenter, 63, will be welcoming regular vocalists Ruby Turner and Louise Marshall, plus special guest Chris Difford, his former compadre in Squeeze. Lulu is in with a Shout of a guest spot too. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk or harrogatetheatre.co.uk.
Folk gig of the week: Bella Gaffney, York St John University Theatre, Saturday, 7.45pm
BORN in Bradford and educated in Nottingham, singer-songwriter Bella Gaffney now lives in York, performing both in The Magpies trio and solo.
Combining her folk-inspired compositions with her original arrangements of traditional pieces, Bella has a new album on its way in 2022 funded by Arts Council England and York charity Doing It For Liam.
Listen out for the single Black Water, a lockdown-inspired homage to the River Wharfe and its power to connect Bella to family and friends miles away. Katie Spencer supports on a bill promoted by The Crescent in a new venture with York St John. Box office: ticketweb.uk.
Matinee idol of the week: Russell Watson, 20th Anniversary Of The Voice, York Barbican, Sunday, 3pm
REARRANGED from October 9 2020, Salford tenor Russell Watson’s 20th anniversary celebration of his debut album The Voice will be a Sunday afternoon performance.
Watson will be joined by a choir for a matinee concert featuring such favourites as Caruso, O Sole Mio, Il Gladiatore, Nessun Dorma, You Are So Beautiful, Someone To Remember Me and Faith Of The Heart. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Escapist nostalgia of the week: York Musical Theatre in Hooray For Hollywood, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Monday to Wednesday, 7.30pm
DEVISED by director Paul Laidlaw, York Musical Theatre Company’s Hooray For Hollywood celebrates songs from Tinseltown’s golden age of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. No
Laidlaw’s slick and sophisticated six-hander show stars Cat Foster, Rachel Higgs, Henrietta Linnemann, Helen Spencer, Richard Bayton and John Haigh, who will be evoking the days of Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Bing Crosby. Box office: josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk or on 01904 501935.
Podcast transfer of the week: No Such Thing As A Fish, Nerd Immunity, Grand Opera House, York, Monday, 8pm
SUITABLE for “anyone with a thirst for knowledge, a taste for puns and a need for belly-laughs”, the weekly British podcast series No Such Thing As A Fish is presented by the geeky researchers behind the BBC Two panel game QI: James Harkin, Andrew Hunter Murray, Anna Ptaszynski and Dan Schreiber.
Now, “the QI elves” are on their first tour since 2019, revealing favourite unbelievable facts in their Nerd Immunity live show. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
World premiere of the week in York: Emma Rice’s Wise Children in Wuthering Heights, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday to November 20
EMMA Rice’s Wise Children teams up with the National Theatre, York Theatre Royal and Bristol Old Vic for Rice’s folk musical, robustly visual account of Emily Bronte’s Yorkshire moorland novel.
Lucy McCormick plays Cathy in this epic story of love, revenge and redemption, now infused, according to the Guardian review, with “unfaithful storytelling”, pastiche, comedy and a “raging camp” tone. Interesting! Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
What better time for The Good Times: Omid Djalili, Grand Opera House, York, Wednesday, 8pm
AFTER experimenting with a Zoom gig where he was muted by 639 people, British-Iranian comedian, actor, television producer, presenter, voice actor and writer Omid Djalili is back where he belongs: bringing The Good Times to the stage.
Expect intelligent, provocative, fast-talking, boundlessly energetic comedic outbursts rooted in cultural observations, wherein Djalili explores the diversity of modern Britain. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
Newly confirmed for 2022: Kristin Hersh Electric Trio, The Crescent, York, April 24, 7.30pm
THROWING Muses co-founder Kristin Hersh will return to The Crescent with her Electric Trio, featuring Throwing Muses bass player Fred Abong and drummer Rob Ahlers, from her other band, 50 Foot Wave.
In store is a loud, tight and intense set of material spread across singer and multi-instrumentalist Hersh’s 30-year career that saw Throwing Muses deliver their latest indie rock album, Sun Racket, in September 2020. Ahlers will open the gig in a solo showcase for his album Yellow Throat. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.
Recommended but sold out already:
SOUL singer Gabrielle’s Rise Again Tour show at York Barbican on Wednesday; poet and author Hollie McNish, hosted by York’s spoken-word crew Say Owt, at The Crescent, York, on Wednesday.
World premiere of the week outside York: Northern Ballet in Merlin, Leeds Grand Theatre, Tuesday to November 20
OLIVIER Award-winning choreographer Drew McOnie makes his Northern Ballet debut with the epic adventure of Merlin, the world’s most famous sorcerer, who must discover how to master his magic to unite a warring kingdom. Cue heartbreak, humour and more than a little magic.
McOnie is working with the Leeds company after choreographing King Kong on Broadway and Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom The Musical. Box office: 0113 243 0808 or at leedsheritagetheatres.com.
REVIEW, 10/11/2021: Northern Ballet in Merlin, Leeds Grand Theatre ***
DREW McOnie’s dazzling direction of Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom The Musical at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2016 whetted the appetite for his debut for fellow Leeds company Northern Ballet.
In his first full-length ballet, the Portsmouth-born Olivier Award winner applies his choreographic prowess to the world premiere of Merlin, an epic fantasy adventure, very definitely for a family audience, that would have benefited from being staged in the upcoming holiday season.
Merlin may be billed as “the world’s most famous sorcerer”, but the story that unfolds here needs recourse to Page 4 and 5 of the programme to peruse The Story – At A Glance to be assured wholly of who’s who and what’s what in what Northern Ballet artistic director David Nixon calls “this magical tale with a heart-warming family narrative”.
In a nutshell, “an otherworldly ritual brings with it two mighty Gods. Their union creates an orb that falls to earth and reveals a baby within: Merlin. A young Blacksmith (Minju Kang) finds this helpless child, adopting him in as her own.”
Hence the family appeal of a coming-of-age story with fleet-footed, nimble Kevin Poeung in the role of blossoming wizard Merlin discovering how to use his magical powers to unite the warring kingdom.
The importance of family – in this case Merlin being raised by a strong, principled single mum – provides the everyday beating heart of McOnie’s Merlin, albeit that power struggles and romance are the more obvious headline-making material here.
Northern Ballet go for the epic scale to excite younger audiences drawn to Harry Potter, Star Wars and the Tolkien films: cue sword fights, puppets for a smoke-billowing dragon and wild dogs, and an Excalibur that lights up in the manner of a Jedi lightsabre.
Colin Richmond’s golden set designs are spectacular, even magical, and of course there is magic in the show, but CharlesHutchPress did not find McOnie’s production wholly magical, despite the performances of Antoinette Brooks-Daw’s Morgan, Javier Torres’s Vortigern and Abigail Prudames’ Lady of the Lake.
McOnie has made his name in musical theatre, an artform that comes with narrative in song and book, but dance must fill in the gaps, and the storytelling is not this Merlin’s strongest suit, for all the zest of Grant Olding’s music and the panache of McOnie’s modern choreography, allied to classical steps.
RUSSELL Watson, ‘the People’s Tenor’, does not sing to live but lives to sing.
Armed with that philosophy, reinforced by so many months of stage inactivity enforced by the Covid pandemic, the Salford tenor is back on the road for his Celebrating The 20th Anniversary Of The Voice tour, playing York Barbican on Sunday afternoon.
That classical-pop crossover debut entered the Official Classical Artist Album Chart at number one on release in September 2000, becoming that year’s biggest classical seller as it peaked at number five in the UK album chart.
Watson’s journey took him from a Salford estate, a bolt-cutter by day, a working men’s club act at night, to performing for popes and presidents and singing at Champions League and rugby cup finals and a Commonwealth Games opening ceremony.
Along the way, he has overcome two brain tumours, and now he is performing once more, singing his most loved songs and career highlights from the past two decades. “It’s become much more relevant to me these last 18 months or so that I don’t sing to live, I live to sing,” says Russell.
“It’s something that is very personal to me, so when I’m not in tune with performance, the adrenaline rush and the thrill that it gives me to be on stage in front of an audience, it fundamentally affects me and who I feel as I am as a human being.”
Looking back over the long months of lockdowns, Russell says: “At the start, it didn’t feel like too much of a struggle. It was more like a chance to regroup and think, as well as rest my voice, as I’ve been touring constantly for 20 years with only small gaps in between.
“Once I’d done the I’m A Celebrity… show and winter had set in, though, I can admit I really struggled. Obviously, we’ve gone through the darkest of times and there are many, many people way worse off than me, but it still wasn’t easy. The entertainment and hospitality industry has really been left behind.”
Hence Russell could not wait to set foot on the stage once more on September 19 at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre. “It’s felt like an eternity these last 18 months, like I’ve lost my purpose. I just want to get back out on that stage again and do what I love doing more than anything in the world. I’m just so thrilled to get that opportunity to do that again,” he said at the time.
“I remember my wife saying, ‘oh god, are you ever going to get back on stage?’, and my response was to think, ‘I’m here for a reason; I will be back on stage’.
“I didn’t go through what I did 12 years ago for nothing. I’ve had a few scares, the lumps on my vocal cords being cut out in 2003, the tumours, and I have to take medication every day, but there’s never a day I feel sorry for myself. Life is so short and as you grow older you become more aware of the generational changes.
“As a child, at eight, all I wanted to do was kick a ball around, with three generations around me. My great grandparents have gone, my grandparents have gone, and now there’s only one generation before me, and the years just seem to go by quicker. Where’s this year gone? It’s like, can we just slow down, it’s going too quickly.
“That’s why I don’t take anything for granted. Mentally I still feel like I’m in my 20s, and the body’s not too bad!”
As for the voice, “It’s funny; it once got to the point of wondering if anyone was going to ask how I was, rather than just my voice, as if the voice was a separate entity, but in some ways it still is,” Russell says.
“On some days, I can feel dreadful, but the voice will be fine, and on other days, I’ll be on top of the world, but the voice isn’t quite there. As a singer, you’re balancing on the high wire; that’s where you are when you’re singing some of the great arias; hitting those vocal peaks is like walking a tightrope.”
As Russell built up his voice for touring again, he recalls doing his vocal scales one day in his games room, acoustically the most resonant space in his home: “I was doing a bit of Donizetti, on my own, no-one else in the house, and coming up to the big note, I hit it clean as a whistle. Afterwards, I had tears in my eyes: it’s just so good to be singing again, so pure and so clean.
“I feel like I’m back in heaven. The only time I feel trepidation is if I can feel a sore throat coming and I feel great but the voice doesn’t.”
How does Russell feel about being “The People’s Tenor”? “It’s like a term of endearment,” he says. “In my early days, people saw me as this young man who came from nowhere with very little formal training and wasn’t a stereotypical classical singer. My background was as someone who spent the first six years of my professional life working 12-hour shifts on a factory floor in Salford.
“My only knowledge of classical music and opera came from my grandmother playing music on an old radiogram in the corner at her home in Atherton.”
Calling a debut album The Voice proved to be inspired too, rather than an act of chutzpah. “It was never meant to be some kind of pretentious statement!” he says.
That voice has been back in action in the recording studio too, recording the 20th anniversary album 20. “It’s basically reimagining my favourite 14-15 songs over the last 20 years,” says Russell. “There were the obvious ones that had to be in there, those ones the fans always demand, like Nessun Dorma and Volare. They made it straight on to the record.
“Another easy choice was Where My Heart Will Take Me, the theme from Star Trek: Enterprise. That was such a career highlight for me, to be asked to sing something that’s going to go down in history forever. I watched Star Trek as a kid, so it was a real shock that out of all the artists in the world, Paramount chose me to do that. I’ve always been very proud to have been involved with that.
“Overall, the album kind of chose itself, though there are still a few that maybe could have been there too, such as You Raise Me Up.”
Having decided to make new recordings, rather than merely assembling a greatest hits compilation, Russell and producer Ian Tilley then had to settle on whether to re-work the songs or mirror the original tracks.
“Some were definitely approached differently,” Russell says. “Where My Heart Will Take Me, for example, we completely rewrote that into a ballad. I’m so pleased with how that turned out, versus the old version, which is very Eighties’ rock in its approach, like a Rod Stewart track or something.
“We’ve brought that into a more modern-sounding piece; it’s less of a statement and more reflective. Volare and O Sole Mio were changed more subtly, just in terms of tempo and rhythm, which worked really nicely. You don’t mess with the core classical tracks like Nessun Dorma, though; you don’t start rewriting Puccini.”
Reflecting on his career path ahead of turning 55 on November 24, Russell says: “I do feel in many respects that I’ve been very lucky with what I’ve achieved. When I look back on it though, a great deal of that success has come from my own hard work and drive, as well as constantly thinking about what’s coming over the hill and responding to it before it arrives.
“I won’t sit and think about storm clouds ahead, I’ll do something about it. I’m in charge of my own career now and am already planning two years ahead at least. The only way you can sustain long-term success is with drive and long-term planning, as you can’t stay in the same place forever.
“That’s why the repertoire changes all the time, too. Doing a soul record, or Sinatra and Nat King Cole covers, brings new people into what you do. You need to follow your instincts, which is something the music industry doesn’t do enough of.”
Looking to the future, Russell says: “I just hope the next 20 years don’t go so quickly!”
Russell Watson: 20th Anniversary of The Voice, York Barbican, Sunday, 3pm. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
NO reopening date has yet been announced for York Barbican, but Irish veteran Van Morrison’s shows are being moved from May 25 and 26 to July 20 and 21.
“Please keep hold of your tickets as they will be valid for the new date,” says the Barbican website, where seats for Van The Man are on sale without social distancing, in line with Step 4 of the Government’s pandemic Roadmap to Recovery, whereby all legal limits on social contact are potentially to be removed from June 21.
Morrison, 75, will release his 42nd album, Latest Record Project: Volume 1, a 28-track delve into his ongoing love of blues, R&B, jazz and soul, on May 7 on Exile/BMG.
The Barbican listings – and her own website – suggest Wakefield cabaret singer Jane McDonald’s Let The Light In show on July 4 could be the first show since Frank Turner on March 8 last year: aptly named as York Barbican has lain dormant and dark since the first lockdown.
A multitude of York Barbican bookings has been rearranged, led off by “The Greatest Rock & Roll Band In The World”. Who? Er, Leicester’s Showaddywaddy, apparently, it says here, Hey Rock And Roll, Under The Moon Of Love, Hey Mister Christmas, I Wonder Why, et al.
When? Yes, that was a hit too, number three in 1976. No, when is the re-booked date? “Our Showaddywaddy that was due to take place on 1 Aug 2020/ 29 April 2021 has now been rescheduled for Friday, 4th March 2022,” says the Barbican website.
Rumours of Rumours Of Fleetwood Mac’s tribute show moving are true, now in the 2021 diary for July 26, rather than May 21.
Born in Kingston upon Thames but Scottish, Daniel Sloss has re-scheduled his Hubris, his 11th solo show, for September 19 after his October 3 2020 and May 8 2021 dates were Covid-crocked.
Shagged. Married. Annoyed. With Chris & Rosie Ramsey, the Geordie duo’s 18-million-download podcast transported to the stage, has switched from June 16 to September 28.
The only way the Ramseys can have a conversation without being interrupted by a small child or ending up staring at their phones is by doing a podcast…and now a live show. As always, life, relationships, arguments, annoyances, parenting, growing up and everything in between, will be up for discussion.
Jimmy Carr: Terribly Funny foregoes May 2 in favour of November 4 2021, when the Channel 4 host of The Friday Night Project and 8 Out Of 10 Cat will mull over terrible things that might have affected you or people you know and love.
“But they’re just jokes. They are not the terrible things,” he qualifies. “Having political correctness at a comedy show is like having health and safety at a rodeo.”
Russell Watson: 20th Anniversary Of The Voice will now be marking the 21st anniversary of the Salford tenor’s debut album, released on September 25 2000. Moving his York show from October 9 2020 to November 7 2021, when he will be joined by a choir, he will perform career highlights such as Caruso, O Sole Mio, Il Gladiatore, Nessun Dorma, You Are So Beautiful, Someone To Remember Me and Where My Heart Will Take Me.
Kim Wilde is taking no chances, putting back her Greatest Hits Tour date from September 17 this year to that date next year in a case of keeping us Hangin’ On. Special guests, by the way, will be China Crisis, the presciently named Liverpool crafters of such Eighties’ delights as Wishful Thinking and King In A Catholic Style.
Dionne Warwick’s Farewell Tour, One Last Time, should have brought the silken voice of I Say A Little Prayer, Do You Know The Way To San Jose, Anyone Who Had A Heart and Walk On By to York on October 29 2020.
Instead, the show will go ahead on June 10, 2022, by when the City of Orange soul queen would be 81. “After almost six decades I’ve decided it’s time to put away the touring trunk and focus on recording, one-off concerts and special events,” said the six-time Grammy Award winner, forever associated with the Burt Bacharach & Hal David songbook, when she announced the tour in November 2019.
“I still love performing live, but the rigours of travelling every day so far from home, sleeping in different hotels each night, one concert after the other, is becoming hard. So, I’ve decided to stop touring on that level in Europe…but I’m not retiring!”
Tickets are on sale at yorkbarbican.co.uk or on 0203 356 5441. All York Barbican tickets remain valid for the new dates highlighted here, but ticket holders should contact their point of purchase if they have any questions.
2020 marks the tenth anniversary of Prima Vocal Ensemble, Ewa Salecka’s exhilarating brand of communal choir in York, but this is the Covid-ruined year when group singing indoors is on the lockdown list of forbidden pleasures.
“Here’s a genuine irony,” says musical director, conductor and producer Ewa. “An activity proven to have such a positive effect on our mental health has been so drastically restricted by events that make those very same benefits more essential than ever.”
Prima Vocal Ensemble “got through” Lockdown 1 with online rehearsals and once the Government measures eased in the halcyon days of summer, Ewa was able to re-assemble group meetings, albeit in a socially distanced, bubble format, for eight weeks.
Describing running a choir in 2020 as being “intense”, she praised her singers for showing “amazing community spirit”, especially now that the brief choral corridor has been closed off once more in Lockdown 2.
“It has been an extremely difficult year for everyone working in the arts,” says Ewa. “Here in York, with its rich history of choral singing, directors across the spectrum have had to adjust to cancelled plans and uncertainty.
“As a musical director, conductor and producer, keeping one step ahead of the pack has always been the aim. Now, it’s a case of keeping one step ahead of a global pandemic and – let’s admit it, sometimes confusing – Government advice.”
Nothing energises Polish-born Ewa more than a seemingly insurmountable task. So, back in March, she wasted not a single week in setting up weekly virtual rehearsals for the 100-strong Prima Vocal Ensemble.
However, the necessities of lockdown quickly brought with it many other issues. “I struggled at times, being physically disconnected from both my personal support and international artistic network, but after seeing Prima each week online, the reality for some really hit home hard,” Ewa explains.
“I could see some people coping with the stress of lockdown worse than others and quickly understood that this was now not only about continuing with high-standard rehearsals, but also about protecting mental health and well-being of our singers through regular community engagement.”
Choir members responded immediately to Ewa’s call for support networks, stepping up to the mark to reach out to everyone in the group who might be finding the alienating circumstances difficult.
As lockdown eased and a “very restricted” return to physical rehearsals looked hopeful, new challenges arose. “I knew not everyone would be able to attend in person, but nothing was going to stop me bringing a glimpse of normality– and more importantly, hope – to as many people as I could,” says Ewa.
“I spent the whole of August on constant micro-planning for the ever-changing scenarios: live simulcast broadcasts to set up for those at home; tons of administrative detail; appropriate venues; risk-assessments; seemingly endless regulations and disclaimers – and the weekly Zoom sessions continued alongside!
“It was so new for everyone, I couldn’t just call out for help. I simply had to get on with it: find that balance between creative output, Government guidelines and undisputed science. Being able to be back in one room with Prima was both emotional and exhilarating.”
Given 2020 being Prima Vocal Ensemble’s tenth anniversary year, it means everything to Ewa to keep the spirits of this singing community high. By working from a professional home studio, fitted with top-standard equipment and a baby grand piano, she can provide high-quality resources for her singers in York.
“They really are both ambitious and inspiring,” she says. “I’m in awe of their perseverance and dedication through this dramatic year. When we finally began to meet up after a half-a-year break, I was blown away by how fantastic they sounded, especially with the new repertoire.
“It was clear to me that our tutored virtual rehearsals really worked. And although it took a moment to adjust to the new space arrangements, the choir was in top form.”
Her professional studio set-up has enabled Ewa to continue her work as a vocal coach, having the pleasure of training private clients and seeing her York St John University music students graduate with top results this summer.
“I was immensely proud of them all, although I did feel for them missing out on a traditional graduation ceremony!” she says.
Come November 5, come Lockdown 2. “For Prima, until we can resume our ‘bubble rehearsals’, it’s a temporary return to full-on Zoom,” says Ewa, “I aim to find uplifting content that everyone can engage with and we will soon start working towards future events.
“Among Prima’s concerts, in 2021 we will be performing on three occasions with The Voice tenor Russell Watson and we already have bookings for 2022. We’re now preparing for a winter project that will be available to view online in December, so watch this space.”
For all the frustrations and stalled plans of 2020, nevertheless Ewa says this is the perfect time to join Prima Vocal Ensemble: “We’re open to welcome new members with spaces for more tenors and basses and a couple of 1st sopranos too.
“There are no auditions to join,” she stresses. “The repertoire is extremely versatile, from inspiring, feel-good pieces in all genres to formal classical orchestral works. Ability to hold the line is essential, and with my professional training, you’re guaranteed to develop your voice and musical skills.”
“There’s a waiting list for altos and sopranos, but as there are various additional projects being planned, all singers are encouraged to contact Prima if they wish to be added to the list and informed of the new singing opportunities,” says Ewa.
She has limited spaces too for private vocal clients, either in person or online. To enquire, email Ewa at the address above, adding: “Vocal training”.
Noted for her unstinting positivity, she offers a final thought. “I’m not going to let the lockdown or the pandemic prevent me from inspiring people to be involved in music making,” says an adamant Ewa.
“Singing, creativity and artistic engagement can happen, will happen and is absolutely guaranteed to help all of us through this time, both physically and mentally.”
For more information on Prima Vocal Ensemble, visit the “Join Us” section at primavocalensemble.com.