Monday, 08 August 2022

Heavenly singers heading for choir festival

FANS of choral music will be in seventh heaven at the Henley Choir Festival later this month, with an

FANS of choral music will be in seventh heaven at the Henley Choir Festival later this month, with an array of top singing talent taking part.

Seven locally based choirs are lined up for the annual event at St Mary’s Church in Hart Street — which is now in its seventh year.

They will be joined for the occasion by soloists Marion Olsen (contralto), Rebecca Bell (soprano), and Ian Westley (tenor).

The festival is on Saturday, January 30, when the main works due to be performed are Vivaldi’s Magnificat, Mozart’s Ave verum corpus, and Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.

The choirs taking part are those of St Mary’s, Henley; All Saints’, Peppard; St Nicholas, Rotherfield Greys; St Margaret’s, Harpsden; St John the Baptist, Kidmore End, & Christ the King, Sonning Common; the Hambleden Valley Choir; and Sorores, an all-female choir under the direction of Anne Evans, the founder of the Aliquando Chamber Choir.

The organisers of the festival, which last year raised £1,300 for Helen & Douglas House, are former Henley mayor Elizabeth Hodgkin and All Saints’ Church organist David Butler.

They said: “We have seven choirs taking part and they will be able to showcase themselves in the first half of the programme. The combined choirs together with other singers will then be performing.

“Over the years, money has been raised for many different charities and 2016 will carry on this tradition by raising funds for the Nomad Youth and Community Project. Nomad works primarily in Henley and the surrounding area to support and assist young people and families who face challenging and complex situations in their lives.’

A renowned oratorio soloist, New Zealand-born contralto Marion Olsen began her studies at Otago University and later received grants from the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council NZ and the Blair Trust to study singing in England.

In London, she has performed at the Barbican, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Blackheath Concert Halls, and St John’s, Smith Square.

In opera Marion has performed gala concerts at Covent Garden, in Glasgow, and with the RTE Orchestra in Dublin.

She last appeared at the Henley Choir Festival in 2014.

Also returning this year is soprano Rebecca Bell, who has sung at many of the choir festivals and remains an audience favourite.

Her training saw her study singing at the Guildhall School of Music with Anne Wood, Margaret Lenskey and Peter Gellhorn. She currently studies with Marion Olsen, through whom she gained her diploma of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.

Rebecca teaches singing at St Andrew’s School, Pangbourne, and trains the junior choir at All Saints’ Church in Peppard, where she also occasionally plays the organ.

She has appeared in recitals and concerts countrywide with the pianist Anthea Fry and with Nigel Foster — including concerts for the Wimbledon Festival, the Elizabethan Consort and Lawyers’ Music. She has also sung with Bryn Terfel and the Brythoniad choir at the Criccieth festival.

Rebecca is married to Robert. The couple have four children, all of whom are singers.

A music graduate of the University of Reading, where he specialised in piano and organ, tenor Ian Westley has pursued a career as a music teacher and performer, with a large teaching practice in the Reading area.

The accompanist to the South Chiltern Choral Society since 2003, he also accompanies Reading Haydn Choir, dramatic societies, and at recitals.

In the field of choral music, where he works extensively as a singer and conductor, Ian is organist and choirmaster at St Peter’s, Caversham.

He also conducts the Newbury College Singers and Cantemus of Newbury, and runs and directs his own chamber choir, the Erleigh Cantors.

Conducting proceedings this year will be Frances Brewitt-Taylor. The first girl allowed to join the all-male choir at Christ Church, Malvern, she says choirs have remained an absorbing interest ever since.

After studying music and Italian at Liverpool University, she read for an MA in the interpretation and editing of Renaissance and Baroque music at Nottingham University under Denis Arnold.

She studied the organ with Noel Rawsthorne and in later teaching posts in Kent and York had lessons with David Sanger and Richard Lloyd, with whom she gained the Royal College of Organists’ associateship diploma.

Frances was director of music at Queen Anne’s School, Caversham, for 25 years, and musical director of Henley Choral Society in the Nineties. Since 1991 she has directed Goring Chamber Choir, with whom she has made three CDs.

Once again this year, the organist is David Old of St Nicholas, Rotherfield Greys. David has been the organist for the choir festival since its inception in 2009.

He joined St Nicholas as organist in January 2014, having played at churches in the area for many years, including a spell at Easthampstead.

He has played at many of the great cathedrals up and down the country and has visited some abroad, including Ghent Cathedral.

Elizabeth Hodgkin and David Butler added: “This annual festival is now an established part of the musical calendar for Henley and local churches.

“If you would like to join us, the rehearsal for the Magnificat, Ave verum and Jesu, Joy is at 4.30pm and the performance is at 7pm.

“Tickets for both performers and audience are £5 and can be obtained on the door from 2pm on Saturday, January 30, or by contacting the organisers.’

For more information or to book, call Elizabeth on (01491) 573192 or David on 0118 972 4065.

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