Lockdown Masterclass

One of the repeating themes in the survey answers from the entrants to the 2020 Walter Hussey Composition Competition was a request for interactive feedback and/or some form of Masterclass about their work and composing in general.  This is something that we are seriously considering, but even in normal times, running a workshop for over 100 composers from 27 different countries would be a logistical challenge!  So in the meantime, while we consider the options, one of our judges, Anthony Jenner, has shared some ideas for you.

Find out more here.

 

Judging is underway

We are sure that you will be pleased to hear that judging for the 2020 Walter Hussey Composition Competition is going full steam ahead.

As we have received well in excess of 100 entries from all over the world this is quite a lengthy process, and we want to make sure that we give sufficient time to reviewing all those pieces that the composers have taken such great efforts to produce.

Find out more here.

 

We’ve been Shortlisted for a Making Music Award

We are delighted to announce that the inaugural Walter Hussey Composition Competition has been shortlisted for the new Making Music Awards, which will form part of an online celebratory evening of musical creativity on Tuesday 8 September.

The awards celebrate leisure-time music groups and their activity, and the often unrecognised talent which helps the sector to flourish across the UK.

All awards will be announced by Debbie Wiseman OBE, one of the UK’s top film and television composers, following the Making Music annual general meeting.

The Walter Hussey Composition Competition was shortlisted in the category for best project involving new music along with

  • Music Action International – Conflict and Compassion, in partnership with refugee torture survivor collective, Stone Flowers, and Manchester Camerata Orchestra
  • Kirkcaldy Orchestral Society – Schools Composition Project, in partnership with Dunfermline High School and The Waid Academy

The judging panel comprised Carl Stevens, Arts Council England Senior Manager, Audience Insight & Innovation / Music; Peter Lawson, promoter and former Making Music Chair; conductor and producer Clare Edwards; and Dorothy Wilson MBE FRSA, Making Music Chair.

“It was a pleasure and privilege to review so many innovative and interesting projects from all over the UK,” said Making Music Chair Dorothy Wilson, “In the end, alongside quality, we considered innovation, diversity and community involvement when reaching our difficult decision.”

The world premiere of Gerson Batista’s Golden Day, the winning entry in the first Walter Hussey Composition Competition has already won Reading Phoenix Choir the Performance of the Year Award at the Reading Cultural Awards.

Not long to go now

If you are a young composer aged 16 to 24 then you have until Tuesday 30th June to send in your entry for this year’s Walter Hussey Composition Competition.

All you need to do is simply send an electronic score along with a digital music file (e.g. a pdf of the score and an mp3 of the music) to info@walterhussey.com.

Reading Phoenix Choir have been busy during lockdown trying to keep ourselves in the best shape for whenever we are able to perform together again.  It’s not the same but we have been having regular rehearsals via Zoom (as well as virtual pub quizzes!) and we have also recorded a backing track for the West Berkshire Virtual Community Choir so that they could perform I’d like to Teach the World to Sing.  To hear the results visit . . .

https://vimeo.com/410976196/b8bd58dde1

Reading Phoenix Choir have also been busy converting their fantastic display at the Reading Museum into a virtual display.  This can now be viewed online at . . .

https://www.readingphoenixchoir.com/virtual-museum-display/

If you go to the Museum Display section then you can read about the 2018 Walter Hussey Composition Competition, and if you go to the Audio Box section then you will be able to hear our recording of the winning entry Golden Day by Gerson Batista!

The West Meets the East Tour (1990) – memories of a choir member

Reading Phoenix Choir receives standing ovation at the Voronezh Opera House, Russia

 

Hi everyone

It was brought to my attention a few weeks ago that it has been 30 years since Phoenix went on their tour of Finland and Russia. Choir has been very fortunate in venturing on many tours of this country and abroad – Holland, Germany, Austria, France, Majorca, the Czech Republic, Ireland, California and – most recently – Spain; singing in wonderful cathedrals such as Palma (my debut as the pitch piper) and Salamanca, (who will forget the long queue of people waiting to come to our concert?), St Florians where Bruckner was organist and the Voronezh Opera House, have been my highlights.

Visiting Russia in 1990 will always be a special memory for me and very close to my heart. The previous year a mixed voice choir, the Voronezh Chamber Choir had been hosted by Phoenix.  Ron (my husband) and I had two sopranos staying with us. Tanya Sirotina was one of them and as a result a close friendship was born. She ended up moving to the UK and her eldest daughter Maria is my goddaughter. Choir was fortunate at the time as our chairman, Mike Ananin, had Russian parents and he was a fluent Russian speaker so when we were invited to visit Voronezh the following year, we jumped at the opportunity. Mike also had links with the Kilven Kuoro choir in Finland and so on the 12th April we flew to Helsinki before travelling by train to Moscow. On Good Friday (13th), I remember singing in a church which was part of the Kremlin; Ron nearly got arrested for taking photographs whilst we were singing. The following day we performed in the Glinka

Museum and that evening we returned to the Vauxhall station to catch the overnight train to Voronezh – a twelve-hour journey. This was a sleeper train with a samovar in which to boil water to make tea in each carriage. Woken in the middle of the night the train had stopped; it sounded like we had somehow been transported into China. However, by morning we were in Voronezh, placed in an interesting hotel – a health & safety nightmare – and being introduced to the musical talent of Voronezh. Who will forget the balalaika players and the eleven-year-old girl playing the red grand piano? We were then filmed singing Moon River for a local Russian television station before the highlight of the entire tour – singing in Voronezh Opera House. What a magnificent building and a memorable evening consisting of over a thousand people standing and cheering our singing and being presented with flowers (all of us!) and pictures. Everyone was so generous. Some members were given paintings, Ron and I, a samovar, teapot, and vodka glasses. The audience were so pleased to see us in their country as they had had very few visitors from the West and this was the year before Boris Yeltsin made his famous speech from the top of a tank outside the Russian Parliament building and the rapid decline of the Soviet Union. (As an aside, a few choir members returned to Russia the following year and were caught up in that event.) From there we went to St Petersburg and performed at the Capella Hall before being transported by bus back to Helsinki for two days of concerts, partying, saunas and, for the brave, swimming in the Baltic Sea.

That is a very brief reminisce of a wonderful 10 days of the ‘West meets the East’ and I’m sure those of us that went have many anecdotes about our trip. A few more of mine are meeting Father Vasily and his enormous capacity to drink copious amounts of vodka; consuming large quantities of cucumber, borscht (soup) and dumplings, old women sweeping the streets, empty shops and visually striking statues commemorating World War II.

Recently, Phoenix has had an exhibition in Reading Museum celebrating 50 years of the choir and some of my Russian memorabilia is in that, including the samovar. We had a brief encounter with Voronezh again in 2016 when the Voronezh Male Voice Choir joined us for a few days. They presented us with a beautiful plate which is also in the display. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 the museum had to close and therefore the exhibition has been locked away to the world. However, we have put the display online and you can view it here. Didier Garçon has also made all his archive material available on Reading Phoenix Memorabilia website and in the section Tour Videos there is a 3 hour account of that trip. His advice, however, is to watch it in its original YouTube location where it will be easier to watch tiny snippets.

In this strange time of lockdown and isolation perhaps it would be an ideal opportunity to look out old photos, memorabilia etc. We would love to hear from you about your memories of tours, not just Russia, concerts and competitions. Please get in touch with your memories via the contact us page of our website, or by emailing chair@readingphoenixchoir.com.

In the last few weeks, there have been a number of performances posted on FaceBook reminding me of the joy of singing with Phoenix. Firstly, Eric Whitacre’s Lux Arumque, sung whilst on our tour of Spain in 2018, then David Crown posted our rendition of Elgar’s Shower at Reading Town Hall in 2012 and Rosalie Gjerde, our wonderful and supportive friend from California, searched out our performance of the Rhythm of Life at the Cork International Festival in 1995 when we won first prize. The trophy is in our exhibition.

I am sure that many of you will remember Mac Akers who was a founder member of the choir and its first chairman. I was so sad to hear that he passed away on Saturday 9th May, having been unwell for some time. He was in the choir until 1985 and re-joined in 1993 to lead the choir’s Silver Jubilee celebrations. He was a big part of the choir during his times as a member and it was at Reading Phoenix Choir that he met his wife, Sally-Ann. There will be a further tribute to Mac at a later date that I will share with you. If you would like to make a charitable donation in memory of Mac, donations to the Alzheimer’s Society can be made here.

My lovely friend, Sophie, asked me the other night what I was missing about the lockdown. There are many things that I am enjoying although I do appear to be as busy as ever. Virtual teaching via Zoom has made sure of that. However more than anything I’m missing meeting my friends on a Monday evening, singing together and performing. We should have been in Bath for the first weekend in May. We are rehearsing once a week in sections using Zoom and participating in the ever increasingly popular quiz evenings. But it’s not the same. Hopefully it won’t be too long before we can all sing together again and perhaps see you in either our audiences or at our annual Come and Sing.

Keep safe everyone. Love and best wishes,

Gill Leishman

 

Visit our virtual museum to find out more about the choir’s tours.

More than a Choir: Reading Phoenix and Friends

On 11th February 2020 Reading Phoenix Choir were proud to open a museum display at Reading Museum celebrating fifty years of friendship, partnership and community – as well as music making!

The display focuses on the choir’s activities over the last fifty years and was developed following the success of the anniversary celebrations and Gala concert in 2019.

The fiftieth year showed us that Reading Phoenix forms an important part of Reading’s contemporary social history. During that year choir members gathered together collections of objects, photos, audio, video and other memorabilia that demonstrate the choir’s rich history. These collections were made accessible for audience members and former members to view at the anniversary Gala concert in July 2019 and a selection of these items are now included in the display. The collections provided the inspiration for a team of choir members, together with staff and volunteers at Reading Museum, to develop the display’s content, to write captions and record oral history interviews.  We are excited about collaborating with Reading Museum for the first time and hope it is the beginning of a longer term relationship that will ensure the collections remain accessible for the future.

We hope that this display enables more people to learn about the choir’s charitable and community focused activities; and that more people will discover how to get involved musically.

To celebrate the opening of the display the choir will give a short performance at the museum on Saturday 15th February 2020.

Three Walter Hussey Composition Competition pieces being recorded

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This weekend Reading Phoenix Choir will be recording three of the pieces from the inaugural 2018 Walter Hussey Composition Competition.  These recordings will be available later in the year on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and all your favourite channels, as are Reading Phoenix Choir’s previous recordings of works such as Fyer, Fyer! by Thomas Morley and Anders Edenroth’s Chili Con Carne.

The three pieces from the 2018 Walter Hussey Composition Competition being recorded are Golden Day by Gerson Batista, Gold Leaves by Ethan McGrath and Gold and Spices by Alison Willis.

Visit our Walter Hussey Composition Competition website to find out more.

Choral Composition Competition for Young Composers

The Walter Hussey Composition Competition is a choral music composition competition that was launched in January 2018.

The 2020 competition follows Reading Phoenix Choir’s aim of working with young people and is for composers aged between 16 and 24.

With a 1st prize of £500 and a 2nd prize of £200, and a line-up of top judges from the choral and composition world, the Walter Hussey Composition Competition continues to be one of the leading choral composition competitions of our time.

Find out more about the competiton here.

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.