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Lewisham Choral Society celebrate The Special Relationship
Director of Music Dan Ludford-Thomas and choir members Annie Rimmer, Shirley Streets and Rose Savinson tell us about their upcoming concert, Transatlantic Rhapsodies at the Southbank Centre, which takes place July 10, at 7:30pm. Buy tickets below!
Lewisham Choral Society will be presenting a truly Transatlantic concert in London on July 10. How did the concept for the concert come about?
Dan Ludford-Thomas: I was looking at doing choral music by living composers and have long wanted to put on The Passing of the Year by Jonathan Dove and his stunning Seek Him that Maketh the Seven Stars which is Hollywood meets choral music. I knew that James Orford (one of our accompanists) is an emerging skilled arranger and he has come up with a brilliant double piano arrangement of Seek Him that has been approved by Jonathan Dove, and we will premiere it on 10 July. The American composer Eric Whitacre is a choir favourite and his music is fantastic for concert performances. The Gershwin piece is a box office classic and will be performed in its original double piano version, not often heard, showcasing our fabulous team of pianists, Nico de Villiers and James Orford.
Rose: From the US, the choir will be performing two pieces by superstar Eric Whitacre, the emotionally overwhelming When David Heard and the sublimely peaceful Sleep, together with Randall Thompson's Fare Well, set to a poem by the British Walter de la Mare. And of course, what better way to celebrate American music than a spirited performance of Gershwin? From the UK, the choir performs the two wonderful Dove pieces Dan has talked about and our special guests, The Bromley Boy Singers, perform a piece specially written for them by British composer James Lark, Broadside Ballads, premiered last year to great acclaim. The libretto is historical but has a real contemporary resonance, depicting a London boy's life, past and present.
What UK and US pieces will be performed during the concert?
Rose Savinson: When we looked at the programme for this concert, we saw that one thing which united it all was the transatlantic connection. We had brilliant contemporary composers from the US and the UK, Gershwin to add some really American razzmatazz alongside a new and very English piece, Broadside Ballads, plus a piece written by another American, Randall Thompson, set to words by an English poet.
Is there anything particular about UK and US choral pieces which make a concert celebrating music from both countries particularly meaningful?
Shirley Streets: My American cousin lives on Nantucket Island and when I went over there, I was lucky to hear the Nantucket High School Choir, MD Barbara Elder. A few years ago the Nantucket choir came on a whistlestop UK tour. What an amazing coincidence that of all the possible venues they might have chosen, St Laurence's Church in Catford, our choir's rehearsal venue, came up on the list so I was able to hear them again: an excellent choir and, of course, lovely young voices!
I always feel so privileged living in London with easy access to so many different genres of music from all over the world, the Southbank being a favourite and a platform for many visiting USA performers. Music can be such a leveller, crossing all sorts of boundaries and conflicts and our concert will be important, I feel, in positively reinforcing our ties with America against a background of very uncertain global politics: the Whitacre pieces are firm favourites of mine.
Is there a particular piece you're looking forward to performing?
Dan: I love it all!
Annie Rimmer: The piece I am looking forward to performing most is Eric Whitacre's When David heard. I first heard this work about ten years ago and it was like a bolt of lightening to the heart. The emotion of grief it evokes is so accurate; the building of almost unbearable tension and pain, until it feels as if the heart will break, the fragmented bewilderment, the sudden shrieks of agony and the more quiet, broken despair, all coming in waves. When I heard it performed by Lewisham Choral Society some years later, shortly after my sister's death it became a more personal journey with this music. It was painful but also there was healing and beauty in being met by music at such a time and I will never forget that experience.
The Special Relationship between the US and UK is a big part of this concert, and Lewisham Choral Society has built a lot of Special Relationships of its own in the Lewisham community. What does being part of the Society mean to you?
Annie: I'm a blind singer, and use a guide dog now, and have to deal with all that entails out there in the world. London is a busy and often hectic city and it's not always easy not being able to see. There are many challenges. No matter what my day is like, I know that when I come to rehearsal each week I will be able to lose myself in the music with another couple of hundred people all working towards the same goal. There is something restorative in that and I know we all leave rehearsals feeling exhilarated.
There's also a great tradition of singing together in both the US and the UK - how important is something like LCS in terms of bringing communities together?
Shirley: Lewisham Choral Society fosters community links, our recent trip to our twin-town Charlottenburg in Berlin being one excellent example. It enables choir members to step outside their everyday world and try something new in a safe, supportive established group, the uniting element being to sing fabulous music!
Annie: It's been so good to continue to belong to a choir who actively support and accommodate my needs as a blind person, from making sure I sit at the front so I can lock my remaining sight onto the conductor, to making special spaces for my guide dog, so that I can continue to belong and be a part of this group of people who make the most beautiful sound together. We are such a diverse group of people in age, background, experience, and yet we come together with the sole purpose of working together to create performances that will surprise, excite and move people. There is a great sense of inclusion and joint purpose. We go on a journey together with everything we sing and share our passion and joy in what we achieve. There is nothing like standing in the midst of our choir in full voice. It makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end and I know we are touching people, because we are no longer individuals but Lewisham Choral Society singing together. The buzz, the smiles, the joy in people's voices after a concert is something that stays with me for days if not weeks afterwards.
The Southbank Centre is one of the big venues in the UK for concerts – how does it feel to be performing on this particular stage?
Shirley: The South Bank always feels like home: I was lucky enough to participate in the 'Singing River', masterminded by Orlando Gough, on the re-opening of the Royal Festival Hall in June 2007, a three night event never to be forgotten. There were choral participants and musicians from all over the world and the River Thames (and some electronic amplification) was used to carry the sound to the audience who lined the river bank. My aforementioned American cousins always make a beeline for the Southbank on any visit to London; it truly is the People's Palace!
Annie: It's almost unbelievable to be performing on the Southbank. It feels like a great privilege and hearing two thousand people applaud our singing, and cheer and whoop when last we were there was one of the most memorable moments of my life.
Finally, what do you hope visitors to the Transatlantic Rhapsodies concert will take away from the experience, and what do you hope to take away as a participant?
Shirley: Our concert pieces are well chosen to reflect a summer evening, fabulous newly upgraded iconic venue and the talents of modern transatlantic composers. I am really looking forward to singing in this concert of varied music and to listening to our guest performers. I sincerely hope our audience members will enjoy their evening and perhaps be exposed to new work and appreciate its diversity.
Annie: I hope we will all go home feeling uplifted and moved and expanded. The sense of communication, connection and sharing that happens between choir and audience is powerful and a spiritual experience sometimes. I love what happens in the space between people when there is real attention and listening and focus and concentration and a willingness on the part of everyone to be open to what happens.
Dan, Rose, Annie and Shirley will take to the Southbank Centre stage on July 10, from 7:30pm in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Tickets and more information on the Society can be found via their website, https://lewishamchoralsociety.org.uk.