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Australia 2016

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Newcastle sings praise for globally acclaimed choir

Newcastle City Hall
Tuesday 2 August

Much of choral music is directed to the heavens, inspiring if not a belief in God then certainly a contemplation of the divine.

Such was an evening spent basking in the aural glow of The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge who performed at Newcastle City  Hall on Tuesday, August 2 as part of the 2016 Musica Viva International Concert Season. The buzz before the event was understandable given the choir has been voted the fifth best in the world. It might also be related to the august institution from which the choir is hand-picked.

Trinity College Cambridge is steeped in modern history, civilisation and achievement. Its alumni includes such luminaries as  Bacon, Byron and Babbage, just to name a few of the B’s. Throw in Ghandi, Tennyson, Rayleigh, Russell, Nabokov and no less than 32 Nobel Prizes and you get an idea of the calibre of graduate that has walked the halls. It is from this line, in a tradition dating back to the 14th century, that under-graduates are recruited to sing, during school term, the liturgy of the chapel, and then outside term, to tour and record.

Typically in these days where old meets new, all services from Trinity College Chapel are webcast live and available to listen to on the Choir website. They tour the world extensively and have a back catalogue of over 2500 tracks recorded live. And so it was that the latest harvest of this celebrated crop, led by acclaimed English choral director, Stephen Layton, in charge at Trinitiy since 2006, graced this city.

The musical program was a journey across time and collective inspiration, kicking off with pieces from the 14th and 15th century (Byrd, Tallis and Purcell), showcasing the ritualistic roots of Cathedral singing, before stepping up to selections from the 20th and 21st century. The linkage between the ages being the human voice and the celestial heights it can soar to when combined and conducted with vision, intelligence and passion.

Through the course of what was a very special evening, the audience was mesmerised in turn by sounds of ethereal and haunting beauty, sonorous and sublime harmonies, punctuated by visceral moments of supreme power and control. One of the highlights, the world premiere of a piece by young Australian composer Joe Twist, commissioned specifically for this tour by Mary Pollard and family, dedicated to the memory of their son.

Hymn of the Ancient Land (2016) perhaps summed up the tenor of the evening in terms of the journey, drawing as it does on an ancient poem, played out in three choral styles across three languages and continents to provide a contemporary perspective on an age-old convention. A universal song of creation, exploring and celebrating the spirit of heaven and earth, themes perfectly in tune with conventions dating back 600 years. As Mr Twist said while introducing his work, if that sounds a “little hippy”, we could  do with  some love and unity in this turbulent year of 2016.

There were numerous moments of relaxed intimacy between audience and choir. At one stage after the break, Mr Layton begged forgiveness if during the 26-minute rendition of Frank Martin’s Mass for Unaccompanied Double Choir, members of the ensemble might grab a drink of water to wet the whistle. Understandably, all that singing was thirsty work.

He also mentioned that audience members might have noticed the dresses of some of the performers were beginning to flutter after interval. This reviewer certainly did and thought it might have had something to do with the almighty power of the Lord being summoned to City Hall, but Mr Layton explained that the choir had requested a door be left open because it was getting hot up on stage. No doubt about that.

The evening concluded with a jazzy encore of Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho.

The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge wrap up their national tour, having played Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney, with a final performance in Canberra on August 4.

Simon Walker