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 Composition Competition – Announcement of winner

On Saturday 9th March, after two years of excited anticipation, creativity and hard work, Reading Phoenix Choir gave the premiere performance of Golden Day, announcing it as the winner of the inaugural Walter Hussey Choral Composition Competition.

The Portuguese Composer of the piece, Gerson Batista, attended the choir’s Golden Phoenix concert at Reading Concert Hall to receive his £750 prize presented by competition judge, Anthony Jenner, and hear the choir perform his award winning piece.

Find out more about the winner of the Walter Hussey Choral Competition.

Walter Hussey Choral Competition – Meet the Finalists (5/5)

Last month we introduced the fourth of five finalists in the Walter Hussey Composition Competition, Gerson Batista. Our final competition finalist is Justin Walker.

Entry name: Eldorado
Text from Eldorado by Edgar Allan Poe

Find out more about Justin here.

Justin is the last of our five finalists to be profiled. The winning piece for the inaugural Walter Hussey Composition Competition will be revealed and performed at Reading Phoenix Choir’s Golden Phoenix Concert at Reading Concert Hall, Saturday 9 March 2019. Tickets are available from Reading Arts. We hope to see you there!

Walter Hussey Choral Competition – Meet the Finalists

The Walter Hussey Composition Competition attracted 193 entries from 28 countries, from which our judges selected the top five. It was a long but rewarding process. One Sunday in October, our judges discussed and debated through the day to choose a winning piece, with assistance from an octet of singers from Reading Phoenix Choir.

Now we’d like to introduce you to the five finalists and their piece one by one, (no clues to who won from their order of introduction!). The winner will be announced – and their piece given its world premiere – on Saturday 9 March 2019 at Reading Phoenix Choir’s concert, Golden Phoenix, at Reading Concert Hall. Tickets to this concert will be available nearer the time from Reading Arts.

 

This month we start with Alison Willis (b.1971).
Entry name: Gold and Spices
Text from All Saints by Christina Rossetti

Find out more about Alison here.

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!

Celebrating 50 Golden Years

On 17th September 2018 Reading Phoenix Choir launch their 50th season and embark on a year full of musical events and activities.

To kick start celebrations for their 50th year and release the first track of the new CD Golden Phoenix, the choir invites past members to join them at this rehearsal on 17th September. This rehearsal will be a preview of the 50th season finale, the Gala concert in July 2019, when members and ex-members from the choir’s 50 year history will join together again. This Gala concert at the Great Hall, University of Reading, will include performances by present Phoenicians, former members and guest conductors to perform the top rated songs from the repertoire of the last 50 years.

Chris Hann, Musical Director says:

‘I am hugely excited about our 50th season. Not only does it give us the opportunity to reflect upon the many wonderful achievements of the choir over the past 50 years and re-connect with ex members, but also to look forward to what promises to be a very bright and exciting future.’

Over the course of the year the choir will also be celebrating its history of charitable giving, community involvement and first class music making by partnering with a number of different charities, creating a collaborative artwork with audience members, hosting a Come and Sing of Handel’s Messiah, and performing the winning piece from the inaugural Walter Hussey Composition Competition. This will take place at the Annual Concert in March 2019, at which Head Judge Kerry Andrew and her alt-folk group You Are Wolf will perform. Additionally further CD tracks will be released throughout the year.

The choir invites the people of Reading to join in our celebrations and help us gather as much Reading Phoenix Choir memorabilia, photographs, news stories and personal memories as possible to celebrate this milestone. This will be collated on our 50th anniversary website www.rpc50.com, live from 17th September.

For more information on the programme of events and activities for the 50th season join our mailing list at www.rpc50.com/email or for concert details visit www.readingphoenixchoir.com/concerts.

For interviews and more information contact Alice Watson on publicity@readingphoenixchoir.com.

Annual Concert leads the way to a Golden year

On Saturday 3rd March 2018, Reading Phoenix Choir will host their 49th Annual Concert, the highlight of their concert season and a precursor to celebrations for their 50th year.

This year’s Annual Concert ‘Gloria!’ will take place in the heart of Reading at the Concert Hall and will contain a varied choral programme representative of the choir’s recognisable style. The choir will perform Rutter’s Gloria with the Phoenix Brass Ensemble as well as highlights from Rachmaninov’s Vespers and Howells’ Requiem. This will be followed by a selection of lighter pieces from their repertoire including Whitacre’s Lux Arumque, and arrangements of Freddie Mercury’s Crazy Little Thing Called Love, and David Bowie’s Life on Mars.

Chris Hann, Musical Director of Reading Phoenix Choir, says:

‘The Annual Concert is a fantastic opportunity for supporters of the choir, both old and new, to experience the very best of Reading Phoenix Choir. It is the highlight of the season and offers a show reel of what we do best. If you go to any concert in Reading this year, this has to be it!’

Not only will this concert be a jam packed evening of fantastic music making but it will also provide the perfect opportunity for any budding choral composers, interested in entering our recently launched choral composition competition, to experience the choir in its full glory. The concert will enable potential competition entrants to realise what the choir, recognised as one of the best amateur choirs in the country, is truly capable of.

The Walter Hussey Composition Competition, launched in January 2018 and boasting a £750 prize and a line-up of top judges, is proving to be an exciting subject of discussion among the composing world. The momentum is building for the new competition with over 100 up and coming composers having registered interest in submitting an entry.

The theme of the inaugural competition is ‘Gold’ to coincide with the choir’s upcoming 50th season. Reading Phoenix Choir will perform the world premiere of the winning entry at their 50th year Annual Concert on 9th March 2019 at Reading Concert Hall.

‘Gloria’ is at 7.30pm on Saturday 3rd March at the Concert Hall, Blagrave Street, Reading, RG1 1QH. Tickets (full price: £20, £17, under 16s: £7.50) are available from the Reading Arts Box Office website or on 0118 960 6060.

Reading Phoenix Choir Launches Choral Composition Competition

On Tuesday 9th January 2018, Reading Phoenix Choir launches an exciting new international choral composition competition.

The Walter Hussey Composition Competition, with a £750 prize and a line-up of top judges, promises to become one of the leading choral composition competitions of our time.

The adjudication panel for the inaugural year will comprise of four time winner of the British Composer Awards Kerry Andrew, internationally acclaimed film composer Andrew McKenna, and award winning conductor and vocal coach Anthony Jenner, alongside representatives from Reading Phoenix Choir.

Kerry Andrew says

I am really excited to be judging Reading Phoenix Choir’s first composition competition! I’m looking forward to seeing some new choral music that both works for voices and feels exciting and new.’ 

The competition is named in honour of Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester Cathedral from 1955 to 1977, who commissioned many choral works throughout his lifetime. It was at Chichester that choir member Howard Jenner, and his brother and competition judge Anthony Jenner, were choristers under the guidance of Hussey. Inspired by the commitment of Walter Hussey to support the work of composers, musicians and artists, financially as well as intellectually, the idea for a composition competition evolved.

Howard Jenner says

‘Since the initial discussions about where the choir could get their next piece of new music, the team have put together and executed a launch plan about which I am very proud and excited. A potential commission turned into an idea for a competition and I cannot wait to hear the completely new sounds that the composers will be creating.’

The theme of the inaugural competition is ‘Gold’ to coincide with the choir’s upcoming 50th season. Reading Phoenix Choir will perform the world premiere of the winning entry at their 50th year Annual Concert on 9th March 2019 at Reading Concert Hall.

During its history Reading Phoenix Choir have given first performances of more than 25 pieces written and arranged by composers from all over the world, including well-known names such as Bob Chilcott, Andrew Carter and Donald Swann. Most recently, in 2016, the choir were involved in the premiere of ‘The Voyage’, a joint project between Bob Chilcott and Age UK Oxfordshire.

Chris Hann, Musical Director of Reading Phoenix Choir, says

Reading Phoenix Choir has a long standing tradition of commissioning new music. What better way to build on this and discover new music than by holding our own composition competition. New music is the life blood of the music business so I am hugely excited about this competition and the new works we will discover.

The closing date for competition entries is 1st July 2018. Entrants must be aged 16 or over. The winner of the competition will be announced in March 2019.

For more information about the competition visit www.walterhussey.com.

Reading Phoenix Choir offers sanctuary at Reading Minster this Christmas time

Come in out of the cold to experience and enjoy the sanctuary of Reading Minster at Reading Phoenix Choir’s annual Carol Concert this Saturday!

On 16th December 2017, Reading Phoenix Choir will host a magical evening filled with Christmas music in aid of local cause Reading Minster Sanctuary. Every Saturday night the Sanctuary provides a place of refuge, recovery and refreshment for those in need – which everyone hopes to have at this time of year. Money raised from ticket sales will help to keep this service running.

The concert programme will be full of Christmas favourites – some sung by the choir, others for the audience to join in with – as well as a selection of readings. There will certainly be something for everyone, including some seasonal foody treats.

Over its 49-year history, Reading Phoenix Choir, which is one of the UK’s finest amateur choirs, has raised over £300,000 for a range of local and national charities. This charitable activity is close to the hearts of its members and is a core function of the organisation.

Reading Phoenix Choir Chair, Chris Riley, says:

‘We are delighted to return to Reading Minster for our annual Carol Concert. This concert is one of the highlights of our singing season and we are proud that every year we are able to use the proceeds to help fund services for the local community. This year we look forward to partnering with Reading Minster Sanctuary and to support their provision for vulnerable people in Reading.’

Reading Phoenix Choir’s Carol Concert is at Reading Minster, St Mary Butts, Reading RG1 2XH and starts at 5pm.

Tickets are available via www.readingphoenixchoir.org.uk/tickets, the Cards for Good Causes stand in Reading Minster, or on the door.

Armistice Day concert to raise money for ABF The Soldiers’ Charity

On Saturday 11th November, Reading Phoenix Choir will join together with ABF The Soldiers’ Charity to raise money for The National Charity of the British Army, who provide lifelong support to soldiers and veterans, as well as their immediate families, when they are in need.

Musical Director Christopher Hann says,

‘I am delighted that Reading Phoenix Choir is returning to Douai Abbey and we look forward to putting on a concert to commemorate Armistice Day. We are also immensely proud to be raising money for ABF The Soldiers’ Charity to support the vital work that they undertake to provide assistance to soldiers and veterans.’

Chairman of Berkshire ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, Brigadier (Retired) Peter Walker says,

‘We are delighted that the Phoenix Choir is going to perform at the Abbey to support the Charity for what will be a superb evening of music. We also wish to thank the Abbey for allowing this concert to take place in such a wonderful setting.’

The concert will take place at 7.30pm at the beautiful Douai Abbey in Upper Woolhampton. Performing the best examples of the choir’s extensive repertoire, the varied programme will include the hauntingly beautiful Howells’ Requiem, alongside Lotti’s Crucifixus and works by Tallis, Victoria, Brahms and Rachmaninov.

If you’ve never heard the choir before, then be prepared to be blown away by their quality and love of music-making. The choir demonstrates its excellence by singing predominantly unaccompanied and performs everything entirely from memory, allowing a real connection with the audience.

Tickets are £12 (£10 for concessions, £5 for under 16s) and are available to purchase from Newbury Corn Exchange (https://cornexchangenew.com/event/an-armistice-day-concert-in-support-of-abf-the-soldiers-charity)

Reading Phoenix Choir sings for a ‘Brighter Berkshire’!

On Saturday 21st October, Reading Phoenix Choir will join together with local community initiative Brighter Berkshire to raise money to support mental health services in Reading and throughout the country.

Following on from World Mental Health Awareness Day on 10th October, this concert supports Brighter Berkshire’s aim to reduce stigma around mental health and is one of Brighter Berkshire’s ‘2017 year of mental health’ events.

Reading Phoenix Choir Secretary and concert organiser, Rebecca Ranson said:

‘We are proud to be hosting this concert in aid of Brighter Berkshire as we believe it is such a fantastic way to support local mental health services. Choral singing is a proven way to improve wellbeing so we feel there is a natural link between the charity and us. The benefits of this concert are two-fold – we will not only be raising funds but also actively improving people’s mental health!’

Alison Foster from Brighter Berkshire said:

‘It doesn’t matter where we are when we speak about mental health, we always get someone so relieved we have opened the conversation and helped normalise talking about mental health. This is what this year is all about, hopefully the start of developing a more open and compassionate community in Berkshire when it comes to mental health. There are so many things we can all use around us to help mental health such as friends, music, sport, art and more, and this event is a great example of how powerful coming together for music can be.’

Reading Phoenix Choir will be hosting this concert in the heart of Reading at St Laurence Church, a beautiful 12th-dentury church on Friar Street. The choir will perform a varied selection of pieces from its extensive repertoire, introducing audience members to its unique choral style. The choir demonstrates its excellence through the performance of songs from ‘madrigals to pop’ from memory and mostly a cappella. From Brahms to Bowie, there really will be something for everyone.

Full details can be found here.

Preparations get underway for Spain tour

In April 2018, Reading Phoenix Choir will travel to northern Spain for the first time in its 49-year history for a spectacular week of music making.

Flying into Madrid, and working our way north then west, we currently have plans to sing at the Iglesia de la Asunción de Nuestra Señora in Melgar de Fernamental, Santuario de la Peregrina in Sahagún and Catedral Vieja in Salamanca.

This week saw our first meeting with the tour company and we can’t wait to share choir’s extensive repertoire across this region.

Our Musical Director Chris Hann says,

‘I am excited to bring Reading Phoenix Choir to mainland Spain for the very first time and perform in some of the most spectacular churches in Europe. We look forward to meeting our Spanish audiences and wowing them with our unique sound, varied repertoire and interminable professionalism.’