50th Anniversary Gala Concert

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.

Reading Phoenix Choir wins 2019 Cultural Award

Against strong competition from Progress Theatre and Reading Between the Lines, Reading Phoenix Choir were awarded Performance of the Year for our Town Hall performance of Golden Day. The reasons for our award included the competition itself which attracted 193 entries from all over the world.

Here’s our Howard, whose idea it was to hold the Walter Hussey Composition Competition, with the BBC’s Fiona Talkington. Our performance of Golden Day by Gerson Batista and conducted by guest conductor David Crown, was described as “a new piece written to celebrate a Reading institution, performed in Reading Concert Hall … with global reach. Sent shivers down my spine”.

Herefordshire Weekend – 50th Season Celebration

A rather grey and chilly Friday with snow showers preceded the journey to Hereford. Some people travelled by car, some by train but all converged to the Green Dragon Hotel in the city centre. The hotel – which dates back many centuries – was looking a little time worn, but had bags of character and the welcome was warm. The location was unbeatable for visiting Hereford with the Cathedral a two minute walk away, plus all the shops, pubs and attractions all close by.

The main thing on people’s minds in the evening was FOOD – so following a gathering in the hotel bar, many folk went next door to the rather excellent Thai Bar restaurant. Football diehards in the choir were craving a location to watch some god- knows-what footy match, so a reccy was made to find a pub with a sports bar telly. The ‘result’ was much of the choir going to the Spread Eagle pub and a games room that had all the ambiance of a lift shaft, but at least served ‘Old Rosie’ – a knee trembling 7.3% local cider. Our guest MD, Tori Langdon also materialised here, no doubt a big football fan as well. Energy levels were not up to further bar excursions, so folks wandered back to the Hotel and hit the hay – before Midnight!

The following morning, having been rudely awoken by the native shrieking sea-gulls, folks trooped down to the large oak panelled dining room for some brekky and caffeine. It was great to see the full gathering of choir, choir partners and families. This was always the inclusive objective of the celebration weekend – plus it made for a ready made audience for concerts.

First off – a rehearsal in the Lady Chapel at 10am – so a rapid change into choir attire and march across to the Cathedral. The vast space and stone architecture inside the Cathedral was truly magnificent to behold (Behold!) and made for a special sense of occasion.

The Lady Chapel is located at the North end of the cathedral, behind an ornate stone screen – but for the choir standing at the Altar – the full length of the Nave and roof could be seen, a genuinely awesome sight. The chapel and surrounding space also proved perfect for the plain song processional. Tori quickly got us into vocal warm-up and much needed run throughs of some less-than-secure pieces. Unlike some large spaces which seem to evaporate sound the acoustic was superb – no one had to push hard to hear themselves or be heard.

Rehearsal over, choir headed over to the All Saints Church and Cafe at the other end of Broad Street for our first gig. This was a deliberately informal performance in the Chancel, singing a selection of our repertoire to unsuspecting but appreciative customers. Choir partners were able to enjoy a coffee and a tune, whilst the children played with the toys. The gig also made sure that we were fully voice ready and more piece-confident for the concert later on.

Feeling prepped and fed, choir headed back to the Cathedral and gathered for the 1pm concert and an audience started to arrive. Following a tannoy announcement of Reading Phoenix Choir which resonated round the building and a prayer on the Arts by the Cathedral Dean, the concert started. Tori’s conducting style and encouraging mannerisms were much appreciated by the choir and it was a memorable singing ocassion. The sun was shining through the stained glass windows onto the altar screen behind the choir, giving it a distinctive golden glow. Was this divine intervention??

Job done, it was now free time for folk to go and explore Hereford or just chill out for a bit. The Lego History exhibition was popular as was also the ‘Ferrous 2019’ event. This was a working showcase for wrought iron artistry and an opportunity for the public (and choir) to try their hand at bending and beating bits of red-hot metal. The smell of sulphur was quite something.

The evening party kicked off at the Cosy Club Bull Room Bar – which was reserved for the choirs sole use to relax and socialise. A happy coincidence of ‘International Gin and Tonic Day’ meant that doubles were freely served and consumed. Food was ordered and served next door in the lovely Star Room Restaurant – which again we had to ourselves to enjoy before staggering back to the Bull Room for more post-prandial refreshment. Night Clubs and Late Bars were not in demand, so folks wandered back to the Hotel and hit the hay – before Midnight again!

Sunday morning – not surprisingly and despite the noisy seagulls – everyone was up a bit later for breakfast. An impromptu circular walk was arranged for some fresh air, views of the River Wye and a wander around old Hereford. It was a nice relaxed morning. Following checkout from the hotel, it was time to make our way over to Ledbury via Much Marcle for an early lunch at the Royal Oak Pub. Fifty portions of delicious roast dinner were served amazingly quickly by the Pub staff.

Fed and watered, folk jumped back into their cars and high tailed it into Ledbury for a pre-concert rehearsal at St Michael’s Church. The attractive historic market town of Ledbury is richly endowed with black-painted gabled buildings and the walk up the medieval Church Lane towards St Michael’s was a scenic highlight.

St Michael’s Church is quite large but uniquely also has a separate bell tower and spire. Tori spent time with the choir to really focus on the words, dynamics and tuning – to up our game. Chili was given a spice-up. Teas and Cakes were prepared.


The concert started at 3pm with an agreeably sized audience. Despite about 1/3rd choir missing, the sound was balanced and the performance went well. Before we all knew it, the surround sound rendition of Golden Leaves was done and the concert over. Over£700 was raised for the St Michael’s Hospice. We had just started to get to know Tori – and now she was leaving us to go to China!

So that was the 50th Season Celebration Weekend – singing and socialising and having a great time.

Walter Hussey Choral Competition – Winner Decided

Thank you to our fantastic judges headed by Kerry Andrew, and the octet of singers from Reading Phoenix Choir who sang the pieces through. Thank you too to all the composers who entered pieces.

The winner will be announced, and the piece premiered, at the Reading Phoenix Choir’s annual concert on 9 March 2019 and we hope performed well into the future!