7pm, Saturday 19th June 2021
Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music
This joyful concert was called ‘Miracles’ and indeed it was a small miracle that Sydney Children’s Choir was able to perform in public on Saturday night for the first time in a very long while, to a packed Verbrugghen Hall. What a wonderful welcome back to the stage!
The concert program featured three choirs individually and as combined ensembles, (the Junior Performing Choir, the Young Men’s Choir and the Sydney Children’s Choir) with repertoire ranging from Benjamin Britten to arranged pop classics and favourite Australian choral works, all carefully selected to complement the vocal range and ability of each ensemble.
The highlight of the concert was the world premiere of four new works from 2020-21 Composer in Residence Sam Weiss who has composed music for film and television professionally since age 20. Through the Composer in Residence program Weiss was commissioned to write a suite of works about Sydney Children’s Choir’s 2021 cultural partner, The Sydney Jewish Museum. These works tell stories of love and hope in the face of great adversity and explore themes of resilience, co-existence and remembrance.
Set 1 Junior Performing Choir
The concert began with the Junior Performing Choir, under the baton of Amandine Petit and skilfully accompanied by Sally Whitwell on piano, singing the first of Weiss’ premieres, There Are Always Miracles. Weiss explained that work was inspired by the words of 101-year-old Holocaust survivor, and author Eddie Jaku in his recent book ‘The Happiest Man on Earth’, and it was performed, as was all the music in this concert, with the accurate pitch and clean diction we have come to expect from the voices of the Sydney Children’s Choirs. The Junior choir continued with familiar classics from Dan Walker, Paul Stanhope and Paul Jarman, fun, tuneful and quintessential Australian choral music – a genre which hardly existed 30 years ago and one which Lyn Williams AM, Artistic Director, has championed, having commissioned over 200 works for the choirs.
Set 2 Young Men’s Choir
Next, the sublime voices of the Young Men’s Choir took the stage. Led by Sam Allchurch and accompanied by Antonio Fernandez’s deft touch on the piano they presented diverse works by Benjamin Britten, Vijay Singh and Simon and Garfunkle (their Sound of Silence was quite spine tingling). These young men displayed a strong understanding of tone colour and dynamics, beginning gently, but never tentatively, and gaining in confidence as each work progressed. In amongst their set was Weiss’ next premiere In’Shal-Om, which he describes as ‘a prayer for peace and coexistence, bringing together languages and prayers of the Islamic, Hindu, Jewish and Christian faiths in a powerful expression of shared humanity.’ A beautiful mix of stunning solos and wonderful harmonic and rhythmic structure it was a delight to listen to. My highlight of the night.
Set 3 Sydney Children’s Choir
The Sydney Children’s Choir (a treble choir of girls and unchanged boys’ voices conducted by Lyn Williams) was featured in the next set, beginning with the last two world premieres of the evening by Sam Weiss. Enosh, a prayer of remembrance honouring the children who were victims of the holocaust, brought an innocent and reflective voice to a harrowing subject, it was performed with emotion and an expression of hope for the future.
Deine Mami (‘Your Mami’) is a poem written by Weiss’ great-grandmother to her daughter Nelly on the eve of the Second World War. The choir sings of a mother’s love for her daughter, while also capturing the gloom and nervousness in pre-war Germany. The choir portrayed the scene, of this softly sweet lullaby sung by a mother dreaming of a better life, with maturity and feeling. We were told that a recording had been made of this work and will be released soon, watch this space – in the meantime you can access a recording by the choir of another work they performed in this concert, Lie light, dear heart by Kenneth and Kirsten Lampl.
To round off their set this ensemble performed some obvious favourites of theirs which were well rehearsed and incorporated movement, bird calls and unconventional placements of choristers on the stage. One stand out was an unconducted piece (an arrangement of Paul Kelly’s Meet Me in the Middle of the Air) which centred around a trio of soprano soloists who showed genuine musicianship as they led the 40 odd voices in harmony.
Watching this concert unfold (and did I mention they performed the whole program from memory!?) I noted that the ensembles of Sydney Children’s Choirs are at their best when relaxed, having fun and simply celebrating the joy of singing together, this was most evident in the last two pieces. In Dan Walker’s Heartland the young men joined the girls and trebles and literally rocked it, they really looked like they loved this song. And in the grand finale we were treated to the wondrous sound of over 140 voices as all the choirs joined together with alumni and friends to sing Lisa Young’s Sacred Stepping Stones (2020) complete with djembe accompaniment and ‘choralography’ – see the the performance at the Gondwana National Choral School 2020 here .
A massed choral sound of both adults and children is something I have missed so much over the last year, and yes, it did feel like a bit of a Miracle!