OGC newsletter 2004 [newsletter 2005]

OGC Choral Evensong at Canterbury Cathedral, 16th December

Just over half the Senior Choir took part in this event. Richard was determined that the sound should be young and fresh, particularly as Cathedral Choristers are typically aged between about 8 and 14. Therefore the youngest members of the Senior Choir were invited, although some were not available as several schools had not broken up by then. And the available space in the choir stalls meant that a maximum of about 24 could be accommodated, including altos.

Our principal contact at Canterbury is David Flood, the Organist and Master of the Choristers. He is already a strong supporter of OYC, having taken a workshop for the Seniors followed by Choral Evensong at Iffley Church in January 2004 and in March having attended our House of Lords concert. In October last year he visited the Boy's Choir to give them an idea of what a Chorister's life involves. We are grateful to David that he finds the time in an extremely busy schedule to take such an active interest in our organisation - indeed he played the organ for us on the day.

The whole experience of a Cathedral and its workings was a new one to many of the girls who took part, but they took it on board admirably and the service ran smoothly. I was sitting in the congregation and I felt proud of them: they made a beautiful sound and the impression was that they were well used to singing Choral Evensong. I was mindful of the fact that we were the last visiting choir before Christmas and comparisons could be drawn between us and the resident Cathedral Choir which was singing the next day and is among the finest in the world. (I say this as a completely unbiased parent of a Canterbury chorister!). The girls particularly enjoyed singing in such a vast space - the cathedral is an awesome place with a wonderful atmosphere.

Music for the well-attended service included the introit Steal away by Tippett, the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in A by Stanford, and the Littlemore Tractus by Arvo Pärt.

Feedback from Canterbury was very positive; one of the men who sang for us, Neil Wright, is organist at Farnborough Abbey and was sufficiently impressed to invite us to sing there in the near future. I am sure we will also be welcome to pay a return visit to Canterbury. We are grateful to the Dean and Chapter for their hospitality, the men who were drawn from Oxford and Canterbury environs, Camilla and Mike for driving minibuses, Adrian for supplying them free of charge and everyone who played a supporting role, not least the families who braved the M25 to attend.

Penelope Martin-Smith, Associate Director, February 2005


Katie Birtill - song recital at Holywell Music Room

Katie Birtill Katie Birtill, our Head Girl, gave a song recital to an enthusiastic audience at the Holywell Music Room in Oxford (the world's oldest purpose-built music room) on Friday 19th November at 7.30pm.

Katie has won many prizes at music festivals and has been a member of OGC for nine years. She is a student at Aylesbury High School, studies singing with Richard Vendome and has AB grade 8 with distinction, and is now preparing for the DipABRSM diploma. She assists with our junior choirs and enjoys a wide range of music, including opera and jazz, and is an accomplished pianist. She will be singing the lead role is our July 2005 production of Purcell's Dido and Æneas. Like several of our previous head girls, Katie hopes to study medicine and become a doctor.

The programme included Mozart's "Alleluia", Puccini's "O mio babbino caro" and favorites by Gershwin, as well as music by Purcell, Bach, Vivaldi, Donizetti, Berlioz, Fauré, Chausson and Britten. Katie sang two encores by Gershwin - "It ain't necessarily so" and "They can't take that away from me"

Micky White lecture - "Vivaldi - true or false"

Micky White, archivist of the Pietà, the church in Venice where Vivaldi worked for most of his life, gave a lecture to the Oxford Italian Association (TOIA) at St Anne's College, Oxford, on Wednesday 1st December (read text...).

Micky is a former sports photographer who now lives in Venice and devotes her time to working with original documents held at the Pietà. These give us a thorough and comprehensive picture of the day-to-day life of this special institution during the 18th century, the heyday of its female musical tradition.

Her lecture presented new findings about Vivaldi, questioning some of the commonly-held beliefs about the Pietà, and was accompanied by musical examples taken from our recent visit to Venice. demonstrating his early and late Pietà styles, "Laetatus sum" (1714) and "Beatus vir" (1739).

OGC at La Pietà, 2004
Venice poster 2004At the church of La Pietà in Venice on Saturday 30th and Sunday 31st October 2004 the Oxford Girls' Choir and Oxford Baroque Ensemble presented the music of Vivaldi as it was heard there in the 1730s. The second concert also included music by Porpora (1745) and Pampani (1756). Despite the floods of that weekend, the church was full for both events.
A new museum of musical instruments used by Vivaldi at La Pietà has recently opened, and a lot of research is going on into the Venetian female musical tradition at the moment. The ubiquitous term Figlie di coro has led people mistakenly to conclude that this music was performed by "girls", but research by archivist Micky White reveals that the effective age range of the singers was 11-76! We tried to recreate the sonority of the Vivaldi's choir by adding mature voices to those of the girls, especially in the alto department. and studied Italian "voice placing" with the help of Italian members of our choir.


Vivaldi and his Figlie di Choro

To have a fuller understanding of this fascinating repertoire one must understand what the Pietà was, and the context in which Vivaldi wrote his music for this institution.

In the 18th century there were four Ospedali, each with a different function: the Mendicanti housed the poor, specially the nobles who had fallen on hard times, the homeless, beggars, war wounded, etc., the Ospedaletto, for orphans, the Incurabili for those with incurable diseases, and the Pietà.

The Ospedale della Pietà was for abandoned and unwanted babies, and not as is often wrongly described a school for girls or a convent. The babies were brought in for various reasons, some found by the roadside or floating in the canals, some from families too poor to bring them up, or whose mothers had no milk, but most were children born through prostitution. girl in Pietà unifromThey were placed in foster homes for the first six years, and then returned to the Pietà. The girls (right) had three options: they married, or became nuns, or stayed at the Pietà for the rest of their lives. There were two groups, the Figlie di Comun and the Figlie di Coro (or Choro), non-musicians and musicians. The boys (left) were given training in stone cutting, weaving, and shoe making, and left equipped with a skill at the age of 16.

boys in the uniforms of the various OspedaliVivaldi started his career at the Pietà as Maestro di Violin in September 1703, aged 25, six months after being ordained a priest. In 1714 he was invited to succeed Francesco Gasparini as Maestro di Choro, but refused, not wishing to be confined. A short time later he settled for the title of Maestro dei Concerti, a post created specially for him. It was during this period as "acting" Maestro di Choro that he wrote his first sacred works, which were performed in the high choir lofts behind the grills, heard and not seen. The female basses were reinforced by the orchestral cellos. We even know which singers sang the solos: their names are written on the music.

© Micky White 2004

Election of officers and committee 2004-5

At the Annual General Meeting held on 19 June 2004 the following were elected:

Chairman - Tim Gardam
Secretary - Juli Warder
Treasurer - Catherine Dilnot
Committee - Philip Wilkinson, Anna Orlowska, Louise Gullifer
co-opted - Johanna Stephenson

Aesop's Fables, by John Whittaker

first performed by Oxford Boys' Choir and Oxford Girls' Junior Choir, with the Aesop Ensemble, at Mansfield College, Oxford, 2nd May 2004.

What little we know about the life of Aesop is shrouded in obscurity. Historical opinion suggests the following facts. He was probably born in about the year 620 B.C. He was a slave by birth and served two masters - Xanthus and Jeadmon - inhabitants of Samos in Greece. It was the latter who gave him his freedom as a reward for his learning and wit. Once a free man, Aesop elevated himself into a high position in society, and mixed with the greatest philosophers and thinkers of the day. He became known for his stories which he used as a vehicle for his knowledge and insights into solving the many problems and dilemmas of everyday life.

His travels took him to Sardis where in recognition of his diplomatic skills, he was employed as an ambassador for the king. Unfortunately it was on one of his many diplomatic visits to the other nearby Greek city-states which brought about the occasion of his death. He was sent to Delphi with a large sum of gold to be given to the citizens. However when he arrived, he was so upset at their greediness and miserliness, that he decided to send the money back to his master. The citizens of Delphi were so enraged when they found out what he had done, that they executed Aesop as a common criminal. However the memory of Aesop lives on in the many stories that are attributed to him - and perhaps as human nature has not changed very much in all the centuries, we can still learn a lesson or two from them today....

This choral work for childrens' voices incorporates some of the most famous of Aesop's Fables. Six fables are featured. They are: The Lion and the Mouse The Fox and the Crow The Greedy Dog The Vain Jackdaw The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse The Tortoise and the Hare To begin the work we also meet Aesop (baritone) who introduces himself and his stories. The childrens'choir is accompanied by a small chamber group of 8 musicians (flute, 2 clarinets, horn, bassoon, oboe, double-bass and percussion). The lyrics are by Alf Williams (1945-2001) a Liverpool-based author, with whom the composer collaborated on several musical projects, including a short operetta for young children 'The Selfish Giant" performed at the Liverpool Garden Festival. The first performance is dedicated to Helen Williams.

John Whittaker


Jazz at the House of Lords, 2004
"Somebody loves me" anecdote time with Richard
Our patrons Lord and Lady Berkeley held a reception in the Cholmondeley Room at the House of Lords on Friday 26 March, in support of the choir's forthcoming visit to Venice.

As well as numbers by our regular jazz soloists, the programme included such favourites as Somebody loves me, Girl from Ipanema, My baby just cares for me, Ain't misbehavin', What can I do to make you love me, Can't help lovin' dat man, Big yellow taxi and Good Vibrations. We also heard the first performance of Sutra by Kenneth Leaper, accompanied on the flute by Daisy Venables, and were treated to Colin Good's dazzling interpretation of Bix Beiderbecke's In a mist. [full programme]
Penny conducting the première of Sutra

click image for details...complete Hildegard, vol. 3 - released March 2004

the complete HILDEGARD OF BINGEN:
SYMPHONIA (vol. 3) "O nobilissima viriditas", SINFONYE and Oxford Girls' Choir dir. Stevie Wishart, CD Celestial Harmonies 13129-2 [see also newletter 2002]


"Ascention" by Edward Dudley Hughes (John Donne, La Corona, 1618), part of our 20th anniversary recording project, is conducted by Penelope Martin Smith, with Richard Vendome (organ). It was written in memory of the Rev Dr David Nicholls, the composer's uncle, and first performed by OGC at his Thanksgiving Service in St George's, Bloomsbury, London, on 21st September 1996.

Salute the last, and everlasting day,
Joy at the uprising of this Sunne, and Sonne,
Yee whose just teares, or tribulation
Have purely washt, or burnt your drossie clay;
Behold the Highest, parting hence away,
Lightens the darke clouds, which hee treads upon,
Nor doth hee by ascending, show alone,
But first hee, and hee first enters the way.
O strong Ramme, which hast batter'd  heaven for mee,
Mild Lambe, which with thy blood, hast mark'd the path;
Bright Torch, which shin'st that I the way may see
Oh, with thy owne blood quench thy owne just wrath,
And if thy holy Spirit, my Muse did raise,
Deigne at my hands this crown of prayer and praise.

newsletter 2003


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