Concert 2nd December 2017 Conductor, Soloists & Programme
MARK GRIFFITHS – Musical Director
Mark Griffiths began his musical training as a chorister at St John’s College, Cambridge and returned to the university as a Choral Scholar at Trinity College. While at Trinity he started conducting the college orchestra, concentrating on large orchestral works including Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2 and Vaughan Williams’s 5th Symphony. During postgraduate studies at the Royal College of Music he began to conduct singers and soon after began a long association with the multi-award-winning Berkshire Youth Choirs, initially as Associate Conductor and latterly as Acting Musical Director. His current work with young singers is as Choral Director and Lead Tutor in Voice for the Junior Department of Trinity College of Music.
In 2003 he became Musical Director of Coro, a prize-winning London-based chamber choir with whom he won the Grand Prix at the Tallinn International Choral Competition and prizes at festivals in Arezzo, Italy and Tours, France. They have recorded three CDs and sung backing vocals for a number of classical crossover albums including Russell Watson and Katherine Jenkins (as well as Sarah Brightman and Friar Alessandro, on each of whose albums Mark was also vocal coach).
Mark has worked with the Philharmonia Chorus, preparing them for concerts at the Royal Festival Hall and on tour, and for small professional groups including Trinity Voices. He also coaches choral conductors for the Association of British Choral Directors at whose National Convention he has been a presenter. He is an adjudicator for the National Festival of Music for Youth and a former recipient of a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship.
Helen Neeves (soprano) trained at the University of York and the Royal College of Music; she is currently studying with Julie Kennard.
She has many years of experience as a solo and consort singer, encompassing concert work, recordings and radio broadcasts, particularly in the fields of Baroque and Classical music. A snapshot of Helen’s repertoire is shown in the following list of recent solo engagements - Haydn’s Nelson Mass, Rossini’s Stabat Mater, Mozart’s Coronation Mass and Exsultate Jubilate, Handel’s Messiah, and Bach’s St John Passion. Other recent engagements have included the Brahms Requiem in Worcester Cathedral and a semi-staged production of Bach’s St Matthew Passion in this year’s York Early Music Festival. Having performed John Rutter’s Requiem and Gorecki’s Second Symphony in Munich last month, Helen will be returning next year to perform Marcel Dupré’s De Profundis. Other engagements next year will include Haydn’s Theresienmesse with the Northern Sinfonia and the Mozart Requiem in Warwick.
Helen is very pleased to be part of an interesting project created to mark the Jane Austen bicentenary which has taken place this year. She has teamed up with pianist Samantha Carrasco and harpist Kate Ham to present The Musical World of Jane Austen – a fascinating exploration of the Austen Family Music books. Having performed at various venues, including Winchester Cathedral on the day of the anniversary, and also the Assembly Rooms in Bath, the Austen Trio are shortly bringing out a CD to coincide with a tour to the US next year.
Michael Craddock (baritone) is a London-based freelance singer who started his musical education with the choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, with whom he sang for four years while studying Mathematics.
His operatic performances have included Smirnov in Walton’s The Bear for Opera Minima and Opera Anywhere, Bottom in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Aldeburgh, sharing the role with Matthew Rose, Dr. Malatesta in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale for Opera Minima, Prince Yamidori in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly for Opera A La Carte and the Marchese d’Obigny in Verdi’s La Traviata for Regents Opera at the Bermuda Festival. He sang the dual roles of Alfio and Tonio in Hampstead Garden Opera’s Spring 2016 performances of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci and the role of Dandini in the Bedford Park Festival production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola.
He is a founder member of the Gesualdo Six, an all-male vocal consort who have a busy concert schedule in the UK and further afield. He also frequently works with the ensemble Amici Voices, who perform the works of J.S. Bach one-to-a-part, and have recently recorded their second CD. In their performance of the St Matthew Passion “Michael Craddock … deserve[d] special mention” (Early Music Review).
Other concert and consort work has included engagements with Polyphony, the Marian Consort, The London Choral Sinfonia, The Cardinall’s Musick, the Gabrieli Consort and the Choir of the Enlightenment. Next year he will travel to Auckland to perform the St. Matthew Passion with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. He studies with Gary Coward, and in his spare time enjoys cinema, hopped beverages and cricket.
O magnum mysterium (1994) by Morten Lauridsen (b.1943)
Born on 27th February 1943, Morten Johannes Lauridsen has become a name synonymous with contemporary American choral music. Awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2007, he has been a Professor of Composition at the University of Southern California for more than forty years.
Composed in 1994, O Magnum Mysterium (a responsorial chant for the Matins of Christmas) is a work from his series of sacred a cappella motets and is one of the all-time best-selling choral works published by Theodore Presser, who have been in business since 1783. Lauridsen’s music has been present on more than two hundred CDs, two of which include solely his compositions, with Polyphony’s recording, conducted by Stephen Layton, being arguably the most well-known.
(Programme note © Adam Treadaway 2014)
(O magnum mysterium et admirabile sacramentum, ut animalia viderent Dominum natum, jacentem in praesepio. Beata Virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Christum. Alleluia!
O great mystery and wondrous sacrament, that animals should see the new-born Lord, lying in their manger. Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear the Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia!)
Frostiana (1959) by Randall Thompson (1899-1984)
Seven Country Songs to poems by Robert Frost
The Road Not Taken (full chorus)
The Pasture (men’s chorus)
Come In (women’s chorus)
The Telephone (men’s and women’s chorus)
A Girl’s Garden (women’s chorus)
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening (men’s chorus)
Choose Something Like a Star (full chorus)
A native of New York, Randall Thompson studied at the Lawrenceville School, New Jersey – where his father was a teacher – and at Harvard University, where he himself eventually taught following periods at the Universities of Berkeley, Virginia and Princeton and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, of which he was Director in 1939-1941 and where Leonard Bernstein was among his pupils. As a composer he is especially noted for his many vocal works, covering a period of more than sixty years, of which the best known is probably the Alleluia commissioned for the opening of the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, Massachusetts, in 1940.
Thompson’s music has been enthusiastically taken up by both amateur and professional ensembles around the world. In an interview in 1950 he defined his objective as always striving to make it accessible to listeners and performers alike, when he said “We don’t lose in quality by writing clearly and simply. We gain. Simplicity is for me a foremost principle in art”.
The seven songs which comprise Frostiana, written for the bicentenary celebrations of the town of Amherst, Massachusetts in 1959, are a good example of this. Set symmetrically for men’s and women’s voices in an arch-like structure (as indicated above), they use texts by the revered multi-award-winning American poet Robert Frost (1874-1963) whom Thompson had known during Frost’s years of teaching at Amherst College between the wars. In July 1959 Thompson again drew attention to the ‘simplicity’ of the music in a letter from Gstaad, Switzerland, where he was composing Frostiana, reporting progress to the Amherst Bicentennial Committee: “It will not be difficult for the singers. There are no fussy parts, no unreasonable high notes. There is a certain amount of unison singing, and the rest is not complicated”. Shortly before the première he wrote again that he had “fulfilled my long-standing ambition to write a work particularly suited to joint concerts by men’s and women’s choirs or glee clubs … I hope you find the music good – the words are so beautiful”.
Thompson conducted the première of Frostiana in Amherst in October 1959 and, in the words of Robert Frost himself, “it was splendid”. The final song (which tonight’s conductor has made no secret of the fact is a favourite) was actually encored – at Frost’s request, calling out from the audience ……
(Programme note © John Nightingale 2017)
Eternal Light – A Requiem (2008) by Howard Goodall (b. 1958)
Bromley-born Howard Goodall is one of the most prolific musicians working in Britain today. He is a composer of award-winning film scores, stage musicals and choral works, and is perhaps especially known for his radio and television appearances and, no doubt, for the theme music of a variety of television programmes, notably Blackadder, Q.I. and The Vicar of Dibley. Much of his music – including this evening’s work – has been written for specific national occasions or anniversaries, among them the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Regatta, the 2012 London Olympics, the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and, in 2011, the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible.
Eternal Light exists in two versions – as a choral-orchestral-dance piece and as a purely choral and orchestral work. It was commissioned for the 20th anniversary of the founding of the chamber orchestra London Musici, and first performed by them on 25th September 2008 in Salford, with the Rambert Dance Company, of which London Musici has been the long-time Associate Orchestra, and Ad Solem – the University of Manchester Chamber Choir. The London première followed, appropriately on 11th November, at Sadler’s Wells, and since then well over 400 further performances have been given worldwide.
In his foreword to the score, Howard Goodall refers to “The great Requiems of the past by composers such as Mozart, Verdi and Berlioz” as being mainly concerned with the salvation of the departed, “whose souls are assumed to be in purgatory facing a terrible judgement”. He later explains: “I did not feel at ease with this approach to the appalling pain of loss and grief, so, in an attempt to provide some solace for the living that mourn, I stripped down the old Latin texts to a few phrases in each movement and laid beside them words from English poems from across the last 500 years”. In this way Eternal Light emerges as “… a modern Requiem, that acknowledges the unbearable loss and emptiness that accompanies the death of loved ones … like Brahms’s, a Requiem for the living ….”.
The authors of the English texts include the early-17th-century Royalist poet Francis Quarles (1592-1644) and his near-contemporary Phineas Fletcher (1582-1650), Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890), Mary Elizabeth Frye (1905-2004), a Baltimore florist famous solely for this one poem, and Lt.-Col. John McCrae (1872-1918), a Canadian surgeon who died in France during the First World War.
(Programme note © John Nightingale 2017)