SCF 2018 – Outreach and a ‘deeply moving performance’

Our final Southern Cathedrals Festival report continues with The Festival Eucharist on Saturday 21 July – a very grand occasion, featuring Widor’s Mass or Two Choirs and Two Organs sung by the combined boy choristers and gentlemen of Chichester, Salisbury and Winchester Cathedrals.

The Preacher, the Very Reverend Mark Bonney, Dean of Ely, spoke eloquently on the nature of Christian art, and the transcendent nature of words and music when they come together in the liturgies with which choristers become so familiar. He included a long quotation from the autobiography of Revd Richard Coles, guest preacher at CSA’s Centenary Evensong at St Paul’s, London, describing the emotional impact a sung service in an awe-inspiring cathedral can be on an individual.

Later that day brought a change of mood with a workshop for younger children in St Thomas’s Church, led by the effervescent Cathy Lamb, Director of Music Outreach at Lichfield Cathedral School and a former Salisbury Cathedral Organ Scholar.

Photo: Ash Mills

Salisbury Cathedral Junior Choir, a free, unauditioned group for boys and girls aged seven to 13, directed by Susie Lamb (relation! Cathy and Susie are sisters-in-law) were joined by Cherubini and Seraphim Outreach Choirs to learn and perform some of Jonathan Dove’s ‘Friday Afternoons’ songs to an audience of both parents and festival-goers. It was great to see the effect the session had on audience members who had never before had a chance to witness this very informal style of teaching, so different from the regime of cathedral song schools, and to see how much the children enjoyed their first encounter with these clever and imaginative songs.

The Festival concluded in the Cathedral with a concert given by the combined girl and boy choristers and gentlemen of Chichester, Salisbury and Winchester, accompanied by La Folia Orchestra. The focus was back with the first world war again and it opened with an a cappella choral arrangement of ‘Nimrod’ from Elgar’s ‘Enigma Variations’ conducted by Charles Harrison.

Photo: Ash Mills

La Folia conducted by Andrew Lumsden then played ‘Elegy in memoriam Rupert Brooke’ by the Australian composer Frederick Kelly. Kelly served alongside Brooke in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, and was by the poet’s side when he died (of illness, rather than battle wounds) off the coast of Gallipoli. It was Kelly who sent Brooke’s last verses home to his family, before being wounded himself at Gallipoli and then fatally injured at the Somme in November 1916.

Finally, David Halls conducted the choirs with soloists Charlotte Ashley (soprano) and Alistair Watson (baritone) in a deeply moving performance of the Brahms Requiem. It is one of the most vocally taxing works in the choral repertoire, but the boy and girl choristers coped brilliantly with its demands.

Few Southern Cathedrals Festivals can have taken place in such extreme heat! This placed additional demands on all the musicians and clergy. The choristers, their cathedral colleagues, and the staff of their schools (not to mention their families!) are to be congratulated on surviving what at times must have seemed like a gruelling ordeal. They certainly earned the applause at the end of the final concert. SCF 2018 was a truly memorable event in very many ways.

Salisbury girls relax!  Photo: Ash Mills