High standard is choir’s hallmark

St. John’s Youth Choir

Sunday 20th May 21, 2012 at St. John’s Church, Pembroke

Conducted by Marjorie Pettit, with soloists Christine Allison (violin), Victoria Allison (violin) and Nicholas Southwick (flute)

As well-established as The St John’s Youth Choir is, it’s constantly evolving, their sound varying as it reflects an ever-changing membership with youngsters joining its ranks and older ones moving on to post secondary education.

It was 14 years ago, in the choir’s very earliest days, that the small group of founding members, after only a few short weeks of rehearsal under the encouraging and meticulous guidance of Marjorie Pettit, sang a fine rendering of Nicolas and The Pickle Boys from the cantata Saint Nicolas by Benjamin Britten performed by the Bermuda Philharmonic that Christmas. They’ve never looked back, and under Mrs Pettit’s tutelage, sustained the very high standard that has been its hallmark ever since.

The 2012 choir of more than 50 strong has new members and probably their largest number of boys. The uplifting and emotive opening notes of Hubert Parry’s ‘Jerusalem’, with which the concert opened, calls for a fervent, confident approach, and the choristers certainly gave it that, demonstrating immediately that this year the sound is notable for being bigger, and still impressively cohesive and pure.

Mrs Pettit took advantage of her large and enthusiastic choir to select a programme of rousing works, including two from Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation as a tribute to the Diamond Jubilee year — ‘O Taste’ and ‘See’ by Ralph Vaughan-Williams.

Francesca Dill was the soloist, performing her part with a beatifically pure and clear soprano voice and with strength and confidence, giving a truly beautiful opening to this stirring work. The whole choir then sang Handel’s popular and inspiring ’Zadok The Priest’. Supported by a fine orchestra comprised entirely of Bermudian and Bermuda-based musicians, their performance was particularly impressive as this musically demanding anthem calls for a very full sound from the first notes, and they achieved this along with a gorgeous tone. Haydn’s ‘Glorious is the Lord God Almighty’ is another big and stirring work, and the choir gave a crisp performance and dynamic interpretation.

This anthem was the prelude to a highlight of the evening — JS Bach’s ‘Double Concerto In C Minor’ in three movements. This well known and delightful concerto was a brave choice for two young musicians — here is a work many in the audience would know well! However, there was nothing to fear as this was a particularly impressive performance.

Violinist Christine Allison — who many in the audience will have watched perform for St John’s Youth Choir concerts before — and flautist Nicholas Southwick are both remarkable musicians, particularly impressive because of their youth. Bright and lively, the performers were sensitive to the other’s part, ensuring the balance was nearly always exactly as it should be, while infusing this work with really beautiful phrasing.

Nicholas’s sense of real comfort with his instrument was evident, and Christine is also a meticulous performer who projected a sense of ease and enjoyment, whether they were performing the adagio in all of its intensity or the dazzling phrases of the allegro.

This was a stunning performance and filled with extraordinary musical moments.

The second group of songs, delightful and lighthearted, included Humperdinck’s ‘Brother Come and Dance With Me’, Hammerstein’s ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ and Miller’s ‘The Happy Wanderer’, are an important part of the reason why the audiences continue to flock to this annual concert. Cheerful and bright, yet classics of their genre, it is uplifting to see young people perform pieces like these with such assurance and an obvious sense of enjoyment.

The senior girls showed what they could do with ‘The Leaving of Liverpool’, inspired by the experience of immigrants leaving their home for distant shores, in this case bound for California. Good diction with a purity of tone, meticulous timing and a lovely balance between the parts demonstrated just how very good these young people are.

The first half concluded with ‘Ching A Ring Chaw’, a lively song that required the complete choir’s mastery over several musical styles and some quick transitions. It showed that the younger choir members are not far behind their elders!

Christine and her sister Victoria opened the second half of the concert with another well known and well loved work by JS Bach, his ‘Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins’; the vivace is Bach at his joyful best. In a performance where there are the additional expectations of two parts making up so much more than a whole, the sisters accomplished this to a truly remarkable degree — one hopes that siblings performing together will be able to produce a special magic, and Christine and Victoria seem to have that innate ability. The beauty and musicality of their concerto was exceptional.

The young choristers re-emerged dressed in an array of bright pastel T-shirts and blue jeans for the upbeat, biblically inspired ‘Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’ by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Young choir members have been singing this terrific pop opera since 1967, and it is still as fresh and contemporary as ever.

It provided an opportunity for Meghan Ward to sing the solo ‘Close Every Door’, which she did passionately, in her mellifluous mezzo voice — this is a young lady to watch! Francesca sang a second solo, enjoying the opportunity to change musical styles completely as the Pharaoh, complete with a Pharaoh’s headpiece. She successfully mimicked the style of the king of rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis Presley, for ‘Song of the King, which she sang along with a chorus including Catriona Tait, Katie Ewles, Katherine Allison and Rhea Gibbons.

It was another marvellous evening of music from Mrs Pettit and her St John’s Youth Choir, which always leaves their audiences in an upbeat frame of mind, and also filled with optimism by the thought of so many fine young people achieving so highly and with such a great interest in, and love of, music.