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.

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.

Magical Reading – Living Advent Calendar

Reading Phoenix Choir are delighted to be taking part in Magical Reading’s Living Advent Calendar as part of our 50th Anniversary Season. Magical Reading is funded by the Reading BID, Reading UK and Reading Borough Council. We’ll be singing in John Lewis on Sunday 2nd December from 1-1.30pm. Why not come and listen to some beautiful Christmas carols while you do your Christmas shopping? There’s no need to book, just show up!

We’re behind the second door of the advent calendar – we’ve never been behind a door before – and there’s so much going on across the festive period. Find out who else is hiding behind doors at www.magicalreading.co.uk, and join with us in celebrating music-making, comedy and art across Reading.

You will also have the opportunity to buy tickets for the Living Advent raffle. All money raised will be split between three local charities:

Home-Start Reading

Home-Start Reading has been running since 1984. They support local families by providing them with a well-matched and trained volunteer, who offers up to 3 hours per week of non-judgemental support in the comfort of the families’ own homes.  These volunteers help families get out and about, register them or take them to the health services or appointments. They also gently role-model positive parenting, attachment and adult-child interactions. Homestart’s aim is to help these parents reach independence and good levels of coping for the benefit and life chances of their children. They are the only service of this kind left in Reading.

ReadiFood

ReadiFood is an independent Food Bank providing food parcels to those in severe need in the greater Reading area. They operate as part of and on behalf of the Churches of Reading to provide services which individual churches alone would not be able to provide.

Reading Samaritans

Every six seconds, somebody contacts the Samaritans. A free, confidential service, available 24/7 – no waiting lists, and no assessments. Reading has an active branch, made up of 150 dedicated volunteers who all play a vital part in supporting their callers – whether by phone, text, email, in person at our branch or at community events across Berkshire.

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.

Time for a ‘Right Royal’ Come and Sing!

Join Reading Phoenix Choir at our 6th annual Come and Sing to perform a selection of music that draws upon 230 years of choral music devoted to the Royal Family.

On Saturday 14th July 2018, Reading Phoenix Choir will take over Reading Minster to host a workshop and concert to celebrate the addition of two new members of the Royal Family. Participants will learn a range of pieces composed for royal occasions, from the well-known Zadok the Priest, commissioned to mark the coronation of George II in 1727, to the more recent Behold O God Our Defender, written to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002.

Reading Phoenix Choir Musical Director Chris Hann says

‘Our Come and Sing is one of the highlights of our singing season and this year’s Royal theme will make it extra special following the recent birth of Prince Louis and the Royal Wedding in May. We invite all singers to join us and take the opportunity to sing some of the most iconic choral pieces in the history of the English monarchy.’

An earlybird price of £20 is available for the Come and Sing workshop (including scores) until 31st May, after which they revert to full price at £25. Concert tickets are £5 on the door, unless purchased alongside a Come and Sing workshop ticket where a £2 discount will be applied when using the discount code ROYALC&S at checkout. The workshop runs from 1pm with the performance starting at 6.30pm.

All singers are welcome.

More details can be found here and tickets can be purchased here.

The full programme includes:

  • Zadok the Priest | Handel
  • I Was Glad | Parry
  • Blest Pair of Sirens | Parry
  • Thou Wilt Keep Him in Perfect Peace | Wesley
  • Behold O God Our Defender | Scott

 

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.