Farewell to Tom Newall

The time has come for another season of music making to come to an end with the usual party time, but this season there was a big farewell to be included. Our wonderful conductor of five and a half years, Tom Newall, was leaving us. So there was a considerable element of sadness as we said “Goodbye!”. It has been such a joy and privilege to have sung with him and we shall miss him.

About 90 members and friends had an evening at Ewood Park, reliving such great concerts, happy rehearsals and recalling many individual memories. There was some fun in house entertainment provided by people within the choir, much laughter, speeches, gift giving and a final stirring rendition of the Hallelujah chorus conducted by Tom   Certainly an evening to remember.
                                                                                                                                                        Margaret McAllester

Summer Concert

This year’s summer concert at Pleasington Priory was conducted by Helen Harrison with Joy Fielding accompanying on the piano and Mathew Thomas on the organ. The concert featured Elgar’s From the Bavarian Highlands, together with some other popular classics – Haydn’s The Heavens are Telling, Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, the Vivaldi Gloria, and Handel’s Zadok the Priest. In addition to singing with the choir, Leo Fulwell showed his musical versatility, playing two solo pieces – Philip Sparkle’s Little Overture on euphonium and Gary Ryan’s Birds Flew Over the Spire on the guitar.  The concert was followed by afternoon tea in the Butlers Arms.

Blackburn Festival of Voice

As in previous years, this year’s Blackburn Festival of Voice was an excellent evening of music across the generations.  Blackburn Music Society joined with Blackburn and Darwen Brass Band, Blackburn People’s Choir, Blackburn Cathedral Choristers, the Renaissance Singers and seven primary school to provide a delightful evening of musical entertainment in King George’s Hall.

Belshazzar’s Feast

The evening’s piece de resistance, Belshazzar’s Feast, was eighteen months in the planning. For this mammoth composition, the choirs of Blackburn Music Society and Bolton Catholic Musical and Choral Society, augmented by members of other Choral Societies, occupied each side of the circle. The orchestra was joined by two off-stage six-piece brass bands, each comprising three trumpets, two trombones and a tuba. Again, Newall familiarised the audience with technicalities of the densely textured score; for example, initially playing the jazz elements ‘under tempo’ to demonstrate accentual stresses, and his amusing direction to play (and sing) this section ‘from the hips’, rather than from the score.

Osbert Sitwell’s libretto, based on biblical texts; Psalm 137 and the Books of Daniel and of Revelations, is narrated by the ‘anchor’ baritone soloist. Briefly, exiled Jews are subjugated by the Babylonian King, Belshazzar, who holds a feast at which he drinks from sacred Jewish vessels, whereupon a message of his impending doom appears upon a wall. Belshazzar dies, Babylon falls and the Jews are freed.

Belshazzar’s Feast is challenging for orchestra and chorus alike. Walton felt that the great conductor, Malcolm Sargent, set the tempo perhaps a little slowly for the debut performance in Leeds, (1931). The same accusation could not be levelled at Newall; this performance, although brisk, was nonetheless well-modulated. All sections of the B.S.O. responded supremely to the richly orchestrated score, with its alternately elegiac passages, jagged rhythms, discords and jazz motifs. The sonorous strings, woodwind cadenzas, brass fanfares and percussion heralding ‘Praise Ye’, the eerie handling of the ‘Writing on the Wall’ motif and subsequent sense of ‘otherworldliness’ accompanying ‘The trumpeters and drums are silent’ were particularly notable for the reviewer.
During the cantata’s ten delineated, yet continuous sections, the choir have passages when they are silent, and in that the vocal score bears little resemblance to what happens in the orchestra, a highly competent conductor is needed to give good entry leads. During the entire performance, I detected neither ragged entries nor awkward segues. Another, all too rare, and much appreciated feature, was Louis Hurst’s and the choral singers’ crystalline clarity of diction throughout.

The final recapitulation of ‘Then sing aloud to God our strength’ with full orchestral and majestic organ accompaniment rightly elicited thunderous applause from an enthusiastic audience. I last heard the Hallé orchestra and choir perform this cantata several years ago, and in the weeks preceding this performance, ‘swatted-up’ on several recordings, including Slatkin’s excellent version with the LPO and Thomas Allan. On Saturday evening, Newall’s version, with the BSO, under the capable leadership of Anita Levy, the incomparable Louis Hurst, BMS and BCMCS augmented by members of SCS, was equal, if not superior to, that recording. Eighteen months in the planning, and approximately 35 minutes of truly outstanding music making.

Dr Stella Pye

(Dr Pye’s full concert review is available here)

John Rutter Singing Day

A number of choir members attended the workshop arranged by the Association of British Choral Directors (ABCD) which was led by John Rutter.  It was a busy event and in total there were about 300 people in attendance.  The workshop was held at Fulwod Methodist church which proved to be an excellent venue.  The church ladies kept us well hydrated with hot and cold beverages.

All singing materials were provided on the day and we practiced and then sang a number of his well known works as well as some new and as yet unpublished pieces.  Mr Rutter has an excellent sense of humour and we were kept entertained throughout the day by a number of vignettes about both the words and music, these proved informative and entertaining.

This workshop was excellent with four and a half hours tutoring provided by Mr Rutter.  At a cost of £18 pounds it was good value for money and great fun .

Anne Asher

Musical Director Appointment

We are very pleased to announce that Abi Kitching has been appointed as the new Musical Director of Blackburn Music Society with effect from September 2018.  She will be the sixth Musical Director of the Society. Abi graduated with a first class honours music degree from the University of Manchester in 2017.  During her time at university, she was Musical Director of chamber choir Ad Solem, and a student conductor of the Manchester Chorus and The Cosmo Singers.  In the past year, she has been Assistant Conductor of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra Chorus after being awarded the Alexander Gibson Memorial Fellowship.  Abi currently works with a number of choirs and is also an active soprano and regularly performs, broadcasts and records with various choirs.

At the same time as we are welcoming Abi we will be saying “Goodbye.” to Tom Newall.  Tom joined us in 2013 and since then has made an outstanding contribution to BMS.  Tom has made Monday rehearsal nights a pleasure for every choir member, vastly improving the quality of singing and making concert performances enjoyable and exciting for performers and audience members alike.  We are grateful to Tom for the many successful and enjoyable concerts he has led us through.  Tom is leaving us to pursue other aspects of his career and we wish him well in all of his future endeavours.

Royal Society of Saint George Service

On Sunday 29th April, twenty BMS members were kind enough to give up their time to attend the Royal Society of St George Annual Service, which took place at Blackburn Cathedral.

The sun shone and the mood was both celebratory and reverent. The youngsters of our local Scout groups renewed their vows with youthful enthusiasm and the various mayoral dignitaries brought gravitas and shimmering regalia. Uplifting hymns, moving readings including Shakespeare (‘Cry, God for Harry, England and St George!’) and the Dean’s entertaining address made for a heart-warming afternoon.

BMS members were sparse this year but team spirit abounded and we forged a superb rendition of Mozart’s Ave Verum, which earned congratulations from our hosts. An afternoon well spent!

Quiz Night

On Tuesday 17th April, members, together with their friends and relatives, put their general knowledge to the test in the Blackburn Music Society Quiz. The venue was Blackburn Golf Club and the evening included a potato pie supper. Margaret Crane and Mike Waters not only provided a wide ranging set of questions, but also very ably hosted the event and maintained order throughout the evening. A very entertaining and enjoyable evening.

Belshazzar’s Feast Workshop

Our other Babylonian number – Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves – is just about the easiest thing in the repertoire.  Belshazzar’s Feast is just a brute.

Some fifty of us gathered to resume battle with Belshazzar in the unlovely but homely Salesbury Village Hall on 10th March, most of us trailing bruised egos from the previous Monday’s rehearsal (think Napoleon’s Retreat from Moscow).  Expectations were not high.  The high pitch of merriment and excitement as we assembled had something of the febrile nature of troops about to go over the top.

Oh we of little faith!  Our young Captain, exuding his customary energy and confidence rallied or flagging spirits, cha-stised us for our timidity and had us hurling ourselves at Walton’s barbarous ramparts with no thought for the morrow.  Of the small clutch of tenors – who by the way strenuously refute (sic) any suggestion of clutching and the like – it may be justly said that never in the field of human endeavour has so much been so wrongly sung, with such gusto, by so few.

Joy’s performance was simply superhuman (not to suggest for a moment that a pact with the Devil or anything of that sort has been entered into).

Flawless it was not but those who arrived as the crotchety and quavery strode out with a whiff of victory in the nostrils and a bond of comradeship forged in adversity (think Relief of Mafeking).

What did our eight or so visitors make of us?  Surely they can have been in no doubt of our friendliness, enthusiasm and esprit de corps.  Their verdict on our musical prowess may be ambivalent but word of the refreshments is surely winging through the north.

O the cakes!

Mike Waters

Welcome to Joseph Judge

Welcome to Joseph Judge who will be taking some of our Belshazzar’s Feast rehearsals in March.  Joseph has a number of choral conducting jobs including Director of the Hallé Choral Academy.  He is also much in demand as a Countertenor and is frequently engaged as an oratorio soloist. We are delighted that he is able to join us.