Surprise! A Festival of Music from and for England
Armidale, 8–10 August 2014
Surprise! – our Festival of Music from and for England! is now also in the past, and what fun it was! The Armidale Choral Society sang better than we have ever heard them; Samantha Cobcroft was marvelous as the dying Dido (twice!); singers from Tamworth and Newcastle presented songs from G&S but also from My Fair Lady (Hohoho! Henry Higgins!); the Armidale Piano Duo played all of Haydn’s Suprise Symphony in the outstanding arrangement of Hugo Ulrich, and there was so much more!
Here are some reactions from performers and audience members:
- Thank you again for your masterful accompaniment of my bracket of songs. It was truly a delight to perform with you.
- The festival was an amazing success, enjoyed by all.
- I enjoyed every single item of every single concert. . . . So many great and favourite poets were represented; just glorious! . . . Make music with us all again soon, please! The sooner the better!!
- Thank you so much for conducting us in the Choral Society. . . . You are an inspiration, with your professionalism and enthusiasm.
DIDO DIES: PURCELL’S DIDO AND AENEAS IN ARMIDALE
Friday 7 PM & Saturday 4 PM
Even before La Françoise, our recent French Music Festival, had properly started, we'd started making plans for our next festival. We've decided on music from and for England and quickly came up with our own very special festival production: Henry Purcell's quintessentially English opera Dido and Aeneas. The story is loosely based on Vergil (Aeneid Bks. 1 & 4), one of the great love stories of all time, though Nahum Tate’s adaptation of it is often considered the worst libretto in operatic history. Lines such as these seem to confirm this simple fact of life:
A tale so strong and full of woe / Might melt the rocks as well as you!
Man, it doesn’t even rhyme properly! Or try this (one of my personal favourites):
Wayward sisters, you that fright / The lonely traveller by night,
Appear at my call, and share in the fame / Of a mischief shall make all Carthage flame.
However, good old Nahum’s libretto was obviously perfectly apt as a vehicle for Purcell’s marvellous music, which has stood the test of time for more than three centuries and has been a favourite of great singers from Janet Baker to Kirsten Flagstad and from Jessye Norman to Emma Kirkby.
Our production bring the great Newcastle diva SAMANTHA COBCROFT for the first time to the title role and GEOFF HICKS as the Trojan prince who leaves the Carthagenian queen to found what will become the Roman empire and thus drives her to suicide (and in the process creates some 30 centuries of trouble between Rome and Carthage). Our production further boasts Joelene Griffith is Dido’s sister Belinda (actually her name was Anna, but Tate’s girlfriend was called Belinda) and Andrea McLeish as the sorceress (another of Tate’s creative licences not found in Vergil). Further supporting roles by Anthea Harrington, Zoe Arthur, and Jane Smith. Choir V and members of Acappella Nova (Newcastle) form the chorus. In the pit Scots Kirke Baroque Band.
Saturday 10 AM
The Armidale Piano Duo (Lena Schmalz & Jan-Piet Knijff), specialising in the great nineteenth-century piano transcriptions of the the classics, will perform Haydn’s Symphony No. 94, better known as ‘The Surprise’. Haydn wrote his famous fortissimo chord to wake up the old ladies in his London audiences. Wake up, smell the coffee, and listen to Haydn on Saturday morning!
Saturday 11 AM
Armidale’s own harpist Isla Biffin plays Handel’s immortal Harp Concerto, accompanied by recorders, strings, and continuo. Recorder players Elana and Shae Leske play Lennox Berkeley’s Sonatina and Handel’s Sonata in A minor.
Saturday 12 noon
Organists from Armidale, Glen Innes, and Tamworth play the 1879 Henry Willis organ in a wide variety of British organ music.
LOVERS, LASSES & VAGABONDS
Saturday 2 PM
Of course, there will be room for art song and opera arias. Singers Anthea Harrington, Samantha Cobcroft, Geoff Hicks, Liz Ellis, Iain Macrobert will perform songs and arias by John Dowland, George Frideric Handel, Roger Quilter (incl. ‘Love’s Philosophy’), Ralph Vaughan Williams, John Ireland, Michael Head, Gerald Finzi, and Benjamin Britten. Inge Southcott is joined by Armidale oboist and conductor Graham Maddox (a sometime student of the great Evelyn Rothwell aka Lady Barbirolli) for RVW’s Blake Songs.
Saturday 7 PM
We’re also planning a special evening of Gilbert and Sullivan entertainment, mostly provided by our Newcastle Connection, plus excerpts from the quintessentially British musical My Fair Lady, a preview of the new production by the Tamworth Musical Society (Tim Godden, Musical Director). The programme will also include Beatles songs and Queens’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’!
Sunday 12 noon
A mixed programme with bassoonist Aditya van der Meulen, Armidale flautist Gerard Larkins (accompanied by pianist Julee Andrews), piano duo Julee Andrews & Jan-Piet Knijff, and more. Elgar, Walton, Wesley, and others.
THE LONG DAY CLOSES
Sunday 3 PM
The Armidale Choral Society directed by Jan-Piet Knijff has prepared some highlights of English choral repertoire sacred and secular for Surprise! from Purcell’s ‘Thou Knowest, Lord’ to Charles ‘Ding-Dong!-Merrily-on-High’ Wood’s ‘Full Fathom Five’ and George Rathbone’s immortal ‘Rejoice in the Lord Alway’. Lena Schmalz will accompany on the organ. Samantha Cobcroft’s A Cappella Nova and Choir V will contribute other quintessentially British composers such as John Rutter, Hubert Parry (‘I Was Glad’) and Lloyd Webber.
TT, EE, HH, BB?!
For some reason, British composers often have alliterative names: Thomas Tallis, Thomas Tomkins, Edward Elgar, Herbert Howells, and Benjamin Britten, to name but a few. But we would be short changing ourselves (wouldn’t we) were we to exclude import Brits like George Frideric Handel and Joseph Haydn and of course Ralph (pronounced Rave) Vaughan Williams.