Saturday 24 June 7pm
St John’s Church, Harpenden
We begin the year reprising our successful memorisation of Mozart: Requiem, performing this during the Brandenburg Festival at St-Martin-in-the-Fields. It was good to get the old grey cells working again, and gratifying to know that all the hard work memorising this in 2015 paid off, and encouraging for our “big” project of the season, more on this later.
Next we move on to our annual Christmas concert, FestiveLea. We are extremely lucky to have some very talented musicians at our disposal, and Tom Winpenny, a local organist, and Assistant Master of the Music at St Albans Cathedral, joined us again for this festive extravaganza, raising money for local charities and spreading the Christmas cheer.
And so we move on to possibly the biggest challenge of our history, performing Bach: St Matthew Passion semi staged and largely from memory. Ben wanted to bring this extremely emotional piece to life, making the music immediate and emotive in a new way, and so he decided to stage it. With the backing of the choir we embarked on this fulfilling, challenging and life changing adventure. We secured the services of Thomas Guthrie as stage director, and together they created what was to be the most moving performance that many of the choir, and the packed audience of St Albans Abbey, had ever witnessed.
Joined by a dizzying array of talented soloists and musicians including James Gilchrist as Evangelist, Johane Ansell – Soprano, Helen Charlston – Alto, Nick Pritchard – Tenor, Christian Immler – Bass, plus a terrific, hand picked, orchestra, and the St Albans Abbey Girls Choir, it was an unforgettable experience.
After the hard work of St Matthew Passion, we move onto lighter things for our 2016 Summer Singing Festival. We welcome back James Gilchrist who is joined by Anna Tilbrook, who start the day with a recital of songs of Shakespeare settings for tenor and piano. We are then treated to a masterclass with three local young singers, including our own Izzy (alto intern). We watch while James gives some tips and coaching on technique and performance, all of which is applicable to singers old and young. Finally we perform a programme of choral settings of Shakespeare, including works by Leonard Bernstein, Jaako Mäntyjävi, Vaughn Williams and Frank Martin. Tea, cake and sunshine makes this the perfect close to a memorable season, and one in which we bid a very sad farewell to our inspiring conductor, Ben. We have some terrific music making ahead in 2016/2017, but for now, adieu Ben, until we meet again.
2014-2015: the beginning of our fascination with singing from memory
Mozart Requiem and Bach Motets
By Roger Hunter
Saturday 28th March saw a packed St Nicholas Church witness an outstanding concert. The flagship piece was Mozart’s seminal unfinished Requiem, however the first half had plenty to offer as well. Two Bach motets, Lobet hen Herrn and Jesu, meine Freude sandwiched CPE Bach’s Symphony in C major. The singing of the motets was impressively sharp conveying the beautiful and satisfyingly structured Jesu, meine Freude in particular with a verve that lit up the first half. Accompanied by Adrian Butterfield’s impressive orchestra, who delighted the audience with Bach’s engaging symphony, the choir delivered on its justified reputation as one of the most accomplished local choirs around.
The second half, as mentioned previously, belonged exclusively to the Requiem. The entire piece was conducted off book by choir and soloists, illustrating the dedication of the choir to their outstanding director Ben Goodson. It has long been Ben’s ambition to do a significant work by memory, believing it would allow the piece to become part of the choir’s soul and this was clear from the performance. With a quartet of outstanding soloists, the piece’s inherent drama and vibrancy was only accentuated by the choir’s engagement with the conductor and consequently also the audience, aptly manifesting the programme’s point that Mozart’s Requiem lies between Faure’s and Verdi’s in both spiritual reflectiveness and drama respectively.
It was hard to pick a standout movement, however the ringing clarity of the Sanctus and the juxtaposition of the menacing and lyrical in the Confutatis, were particularly memorable. A justified long ovation for all involved rounded off a thoroughly satisfying and cultural feast. The Lea Singers’ next concert will offer something very different as it is a feast of American music on the 5th July. However I have no doubt it will as accomplished an event as this one.
FestiveLea – The Lea Singers Charity Christmas Concert
23 December 2014
By Katy Radcliffe
The Lea Singers’ Christmas concert, FestiveLea, was as fabulous and funpacked as ever. Harpenden Public Halls were completely sold out, and the audience contained people of all ages, from far and wide and from the local area, too. Highlights included In the Bleak Midwinter and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Audience participation was encouraged, including a hilarious and very active rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas. The success of The Lea Singers’ intern scheme was certianly proved through the returning soloist for the evening, Hannah Bennett, who wowed the audience with her strong voice. All in all, FestiveLea was a night that stood out in 2014’s festive season, and certainly one to look forward to next year!
2013-14: Cycles of Life and the inaugural Lea Singers Summer Singing Festival
Inaugural Lea Singers Summer Singing Festival
Feedback collated by Lea Singers Chairman Miriam McKay
The vision for our Summer Singing Festival is to create an event where local singers meet, discover and sing together.
Our first festival on 28 and 29 June at Rothamsted Manor combined
– Community singing workshops on world music, classical and swing
– A world-class Lieder recital – Marcus Farnsworth and James Cheung performing Schubert’s “Die Schoene Muellerin”
– A masterclass for talented young singers Nina Vinther, Hannah Bennett, Caspar Singh and Helen Charlston
– Festival Eucharist at St Nicholas Parish Church
– The Lea Singers traditional summer concert – “In Celebration of Music”.
Here’s a sample of the feedback we received.
– “Fantastic. What a great idea to showcase different styles of singing. Please make this an annual event.”
– “I could not have enjoyed it more. Out of this world. The quality of the workshop leaders. Marcus Farnsworth. The masterclasses. Amazing.”
– “It was fun and inclusive and very relaxed.”
– “Superbly organised.”
We were delighted with the success of our first festival and can truthfully say that, in response to popular demand (!), we will run the festival again next year on 3 and 4 July, before settling down to organise it every two years.
Cycles of Life
Brahms Requiem and Jonathan Dove “The Passing of the Year” – St Nicholas Church, Harpenden, Saturday 22 March 2014
Reviewed by Lea Singers intern Phoebe Ward
The audience filled St. Nicholas Church for The Lea Singers performance of the Brahms Requiem. Swapping from soprano to spectator provided the opportunity to enjoy the concert from a new perspective.
The evening began with Jonathan Dove’s “The Passing of the Year”, which took us on a journey through the seasons. It explored the different colours that come with each through the use of a split choir, allowing the highly rhythmic piece to come to life.
Brahms Requiem formed the second half of the concert. A beautiful piece, it was written for four hands on the piano, perfectly played by Longford Brown piano duo and complimented by wonderful soloists – Gareth John and Clare Seaton. The Lea Singers incredible blended sound shone throughout the piece, expressing the light and shade of the music to the mesmerised audience.
The combination of both works provided a glorious evening of expertly sung music, exploring the question of what direction the Cycle of Life takes. Overall the concert was a wonderful evening, where the repertoire chosen and expertly conducted by Benjamin Goodson allowed the Lea Singers to show their strength as a choir.
Charity Christmas Concert – Harpenden Public Halls, Monday 23 December 2013
Reviewed by 27 year veterans of Lea Singers concerts Jane and David Banyard
The choir goes from strength to strength under the baton of young Benjamin Goodson. A full house in Harpenden’s Public Halls, including many family groups with members home for Christmas, created a real buzz on the evening before Christmas Eve. The audience enjoyed a well-designed programme of traditional and modern carols and Christmas songs, interspersed with choruses from Handel’s Messiah. The Bold as Brass ensemble and Tom Winpenny at the organ added an exciting dimension.
The audience, as at all Lea’s Christmas concerts, was in good voice for their contribution to the singing, possibly fuelled by the delicious hot punch and mince pies provided by members of the choir in the interval.
The singers have raised over £53,000 for local charities at their Christmas concerts during the past 53 years. In 2013 the Harpenden Lions were invited to hold the raffle during the evening from which they raised over £700. Christmas was well on its way!
Darkness to Light
St Lawrence Church, Bovingdon – Saturday 2 November 2013
Reviewed by former Lea Singer Julia Hudson
The dramatic, candlelit setting of a packed St Lawrence Church, Bovingdon, provided the perfect backdrop for The Lea Singers’ latest concert, ‘Darkness to Light’, on All Souls Day. The programme was centred around the Rachmaninov Vespers, and interspersed with a variety of sacred pieces. The most notable aspect of this evening was the slickness of this beautifully run chamber choir; the concert’s concept was marvellously thought-out, and every aspect considered and executed with the greatest care. The programmes themselves provided much food for thought, and the choir used different areas of the church to stage wonderful singing. They were focussed and delivered a very difficult programme, with pieces including MacMillan’s Miserere and Part’s Nunc Dimittis, with seeming ease, all beautifully directed by the talented Benjamin Goodson. That this concert sold out is testament to the Lea Singers’ growing reputation, and attendees were well rewarded with a gorgeous evening of music.
2012-13: Ben’s first season in charge
Music for a Summer Evening – 8 June 2013 at Rothamsted Manor, Harpenden
Reviewed by Åsa Mann, Honourable Member and Friend of The Lea Singers
The evening started promising with the weather allowing for a picnic in spite of a mean wind, impromptu singing from ‘old’ and present interns and good humour by everyone. As a new Friend of the Lea Singers we were invited to a pre-concert by the interns. Karen, the outgoing chairman, interviewed each intern and Ben the conductor, as to what had tempted them to apply for internship and how they saw their future. They gave us a taste of their very accomplished singing and playing. Later in the concert programme they treated us all to a lovely rendition of Farmer’s Fair Phyllis I Saw Sitting All Alone. It is very refreshing to hear young voices of such high quality. Hopefully some of them will join the choir in due course.
The Elizabethan Hall with its good acoustics was a suitable setting for the summer concert. I enjoyed the Vaughan Williams Five English Folksongs very much, each one interpreted with spirit and sensitivity. Stanford’s The Blue Bird, always a favourite with the choir, was likewise a fine example of what was on offer. After the interval my company enjoyed Gibbons O Clap Your Hands in particular. The final piece, Gershwin’s arr Roderick Williams Summertime with George Darley as the soloist was very much appreciated by all. The choir is getting better every time I hear them and the soloists are well chosen whether from the choir itself or brought in for the occasion.
I am glad the Lea Singers have chosen to go back to Rothamsted for the summer concert and later in the season to Harpenden Public Hall for the Christmas concert. A very enjoyable evening!
War and Peace (2) – 27th April 2013 at St Mary’s Church, Wotton-under-Edge
Reviewed by former Lea Singers Chairman, Theo Stening
The Lea Singers’ performance of Durufle’s ‘Requiem’ at Wotton-under-Edge on 27th April was truly moving and impressive. The carefully controlled and expressive singing of the well-blended voices was superb in the good acoustics of St Mary’s. Precise entries and good intonation were coupled with marked contrasts and shading, particularly in reflective moments and diminuendos which led to the music gently drifting at times. Accomplished soloists from the choir and James Sherlock’s near-faultless organ accompaniment, perhaps occasionally but arguably a little too loud in some of the choir’s quieter passages, added to the enjoyment. It was choral singing at its best.
There were fewer opportunities for expressive singing in Haydn’s ‘Nelson Mass’ which started with a strong unison attack. Once again the conductor Benjamin Goodson continued to control the responsive singers skilfully to capture the changes in intensity of the music. The clear and sensitive singing of the soprano soloist Helen Neeves was supported well by the choir, whose soloists and organist again contributed significantly to the rounded performance of sustained singing. This commanded attention throughout this excellent concert.
War and Peace – 16th March 2013 at St Nicholas Church, Harpenden
Reviewed by former intern and regular dep. Hugo Beardsall, in the audience on this occasion
Most have heard and many have sung Haydn’s ‘Nelson Mass’, but the Duruflé Requiem is often less familiar. However, given the dramatic theme of ‘War and Peace’, Duruflé’s more unusual, mellifluous melodies contrasted well with the strident and powerful Nelson Mass to create a concert of two halves, where the Lea Singers were joined by the Solis Ensemble and four professional soloists.
Braving the reluctant spring weather, the audience filled the church, providing an intimate setting which allowed the music to really strike a chord with each individual, singer and audience alike. The soloists’ performance was note-perfect, and made a strong impression on the listeners. Marcus Farnsworth in particular was a highlight with his high bass notes ringing out from the pulpit during the Libera Me movement in the Duruflé. The addition of a fantastic orchestra brought the music to life and added a really spectacular element to the performance.
The choir, expertly directed by the ever fantastic Ben Goodson, excelled in both the quiet, contemplative movements of the Duruflé and also the commanding Haydn. It was clear that the Haydn in particular was a favourite with the choir as the notes rang out during the second half, closing on a high. However, for me the Duruflé showed the choir’s discipline, attention to detail and the success of their still fairly new conductor. The choir moved as one, with breathing, pronunciation and diction unanimous and well-rehearsed. I feel certain that, under the guidance of Ben Goodson, the choir will continue to achieve great things.
Singing Day – 16th February 2013
Reviewed by guest singer Pam Woodford-Smith
Thank you so much to Lea Singers for giving me the opportunity to attend such an inspiring singing day! Not knowing the Nelson Mass at all, I found it extremely challenging and wondered if I would in fact give up and go home at lunchtime, feeling rather out of my depth. But Ben’s singing technique information at the beginning of the session was very helpful and worthwhile, and I soon had a change of heart. He is indeed an inspiring music teacher.
Although I have sung with MusSoc for many years, I still feel a complete novice compared to the Lea Singers and wondered therefore what ‘atmosphere’ I would encounter at such an event. However, I was surprised and delighted to feel such a welcome and friendliness. There really is a joy and companionship in a common love for music.
Fairest Isle: English Music through the Ages – 17th November 2012
Reviewed by Benjamin Goodson, conductor
I love English music and think that everyone who sings in this country should be proud of its rich history of choral music making. This concert was a chance for me to programme some of my favourite works, and I did so in a concert very much of two halves: the first half was all early devotional music – much of which we sang recently as part of our trip to Wells Cathedral – while, in contrast, the second half was secular music of the twentieth century.
A real joy for me was to be able to programme George Dyson’s Blacksmiths, which ended the concert. It’s a brilliant work by a much neglected English composer, which I first encountered as a singer at Paul Spicer’s arts festival, the English Choral Experience. Written for large choir, symphony orchestra and piano solo, we performed the work in an adaption for choir, piano and timpani. I was delighted with the result and so proud of the way the choir jumped with total conviction into the evocative music. The piece summons up the sound of a forge by setting a fourteenth-century alliterative poem. Dyson’s father was a Blacksmith, and the work is dedicated to his memory and the difficulty and danger of his profession. I thought the performance was a triumph. It was a real pleasure, too, to be able to work with James Longford (piano) and James Bower (timpani) who brought Dyson’s colourful score to life.
Weekend of services at Wells Cathedral – 27 & 28 October 2012
Reviewed by Phil Bevan, former Lea Singer who now sings regularly at the Cathedral.
Just nine years after our last visit we were back in Wells for a weekend of singing and jollity. Twenty eight singers arrived to stay in a variety of hostelries and the party included ex members and interns. Work started in earnest on Saturday with the first rehearsal in the song school. It was a challenge to get through all the music with six psalms, nine hymns, three settings, a mass, four anthems and an introit, and we had to be taught all the processional moves too!
Saturday Evensong featured Purcell, and with the accompaniment of the chamber organ it was a very intimate performance. Then revelries with all 36 in the party having a great celebration dinner in the Fountains Inn – some extending good cheer into the early hours!
Sunday Eucharist featured the Byrd four part mass, while Matins tested the choir with Howells Te Deum & Jubilate, and then at Evensong a fine rendition of the Leighton Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis.
Loosely Shakespeare – Saturday 22 September
Reviewed by Susan Vinther, mother of Nina, one of this year’s interns
No setting could have been more appropriate for this late summer evening of musical delights than the quintessentially English house and garden of choir member Fran. The Shakespearean theme proved rich in possibilities, from the Weelkes madrigal As Vesta Was through the ages and styles to a selection from Bernstein’s West Side Story. Ben Goodson’s direction brought out the singers’ tremendous skill and versatility, most notably in their rendition of Finnish composer Jaako Mäntyjärvi’s strongly contrasting Four Shakespeare Songs. The audience of friends and guests was also treated to two Dowland songs by Barry, with Linda Perillo on harp, whilst George and Michael amused with their lively rendition of Brush up your Shakespeare from Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate.
Funds raised at ‘Loosely Shakespeare’ will be used for the interns’ scheme, so it was fitting that Bethany and Hannah, both soprano interns and highly accomplished young singers, performed memorable solos to the appreciation of all present. The melodious sounds of young musicians Bold as Brass provided entertainment during the drinks reception and barbecue and former musical director, Craig McLeish, compered the evening with great aplomb.
The evening proved a most successful first outing for the Lea Singers in their 2012-3 season.
Saturday 24 June 7pm
St John’s Church, Harpenden