The day of the Gala concert started early for the organisers with setting up the Great Hall in readiness for the great day – including putting up the risers and screen, memorabilia from 50 years, assembling the Phoenix (carefully!) plus the arrivals table with gorgeously packaged cup cakes.
Choir gradually arrived during the morning in readiness for the first rehearsal with Chris. The weather was warm but the choir delivered some assured singing with the sense of occasion increasing as the first former members started to appear. David took the second rehearsal and gave the Agnus Dei a detailed work over.
Some deft stage directions from Jason made the assembly of current and former members onstage without too much fuss and then we were ready for the joint rehearsal. The impact of the combined choir for the Parry ‘I was glad’ was quite something. Certainly loud! Chris steered the large group of singers into producing a more measured and nuanced sound. Similarly for the Os Justi, David gave his wonderfully clear direction on what was required.
Then it was time for folks to meet, chat and enjoy catching up with old acquaintances and swap stories from Phoenix past – it was a lovely atmosphere.
Following a short break for a rest, food and drink it was time to suit up for the 7pm performance. The auditorium began to fill and the expectations of the pending concert soared.
Current choir started off the concert with a sparkling rendition of Ben Parrys ‘Flame’ which included a challenging walk-on from the corners of the hall to the stage. The choir were certainly ‘on fire’ with the performance of the first half pieces – the ‘Golden Day’ by Batista given a particularly robust and viking flavour.
Towards the end of the first half, the former members came up on stage to jointly perform the ‘I was glad’. With Chris Enstone playing ‘max organ’ the performance was truly majestic. In between each piece, choir members came over to the podium to share Phoenix stories, people and music with the audience. The tributes to Mike and Norman were moving and much appreciated by all
The second half commenced with the joint choir singing the Bruckner ‘Os Justi’ followed by current choir performing the Gjeilo ‘Agnus Dei’. David took the piece to a higher emotional plane to which choir responded wonderfully.
The programme progressed into Phoenix favourites, including Nunc Dimittis, Cloud Capp’d Towers and of course Ezekiel saw the Wheel which probably raised the biggest cheer of the evening. Finally, the former members were invited back on stage to sing ‘Let it Shine’ – one of Norman’s arrangements. The choir then peeled away to the sides of the auditorium leaving the former members on stage to jointly sing ‘Gold Leaves’. It was a poignant moment and served as a very apt end to the concert.
Gala concert over, it was time to celebrate and enjoy the togetherness of belonging to or having belonged to Reading Phoenix Choir.