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City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Festival Chorus and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at St Andrew’s Hall, Norwich

Review published in Eastern Daily Press, 4 May 2009

A successful orchestral and choral concert hangs on many strands – fine music played outstandingly, a chorus with a range of quality voices, a rapt audience and a setting that allows it to soar to inspire listeners’ spirits.

St Andrew’s Hall was the ideal location. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra opened the evening with Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 3 in A minor, “The Scottish”. Their professionalism, versatility and virtuosity never cease to impress and make listening a joy.

Inspired by a walking tour of Scotland, particularly the ruined Holyrood Chapel, Mendelssohn captures the lightness and the dark Celtic broodiness building to the thrill of the fourth movement. This speaks of clan warfare – very accessible to a mixed-aged audience.

After the interval, the Festival Chorus, the Hewett School Choir, the Broadland Youth Choir and two professionals, soprano Mary Plazas and tenor Toby Spence, combined their contrasting voices with the Orchestra to premiere a new joint Festival and Orchestra commission, There Was a Child.

Commemorating the life of a 19-year old boy who drowned, it is an experiment in music making, a joyful piece rather than a requiem. Composer Jonathan Dove exploits the possibilities of massed voices in children and older people. He combines the practical extremes of musical styles from modern minimalist to operatic while conductor David Parry coaxes, co-ordinates and demands the full emotional gamut.

It draws on snippets from poems by Charles Causley, Wordsworth, Keats, Emily Dickinson, Shakespeare, Whitman and Tennyson. One minute we are In Memoriam, as at a funeral; the next we are remembering affectionately naughty boys climbing fences, leaping over the moon. From birth through childhood to the mother’s grief, the story is told, a life is recalled and shared, the heart is touched. All in all, it’s an inspiring triumph.

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