Adopt a Composer – The journey begins!

  
Our first blog post is up on the Making Music website is up – hear about the start of our exciting Adopt a Composer journey. 

Dorset has some beautiful, historic churches, rich with architectural merit. This was not one of them.

The venue for our first Adopt a Composer workshop with Ed Scolding was resplendent in orange and brown patterned wallpaper, of the type popular in the 1970’s. This was paired with turquoise paintwork, and with a curious musty odour.

As the choir gathered in this inauspicious place, we all had questions about what was about to happen!

The fifteen members of my choir, La Nova Singers, are trained in a specific vocal technique by our musical director Michelle Nova. She specialises in ‘bel canto’, which translates as ‘beautiful singing’. Because of this, our rehearsals are usually focussed on sound production and perfecting our tone. Always preparing for the next concert means we don’t often get the chance to take a step back and work on other aspects of musicianship. This workshop, as well as helping ‘our’ composer get to know us musically and personally, would be a welcome break from routine.

To read more, go here: La Nova Singers reflect on their first Adopt a Composer meeting. 

Maybe she’s born with it? – BBC Classical Voice season

“The greatest instrument in music is the one we’re born with,” says the trailer for the BBC’s Classical Voice season. I’d personally be a little alarmed to meet a newborn that sounded like Pavarotti, but that’s beside the point. And the point is that starting today, there will be some fantastic radio and television programmes celebrating the classically trained voice in all its forms.

Here are some of the highlights that we’ll be tuning in to:


Cardiff Singer of the World – BBC Four, BBC Two Wales and BBC Radio 3 – all this week! (schedule)
Featuring arias and lieder and all that good stuff. And hopefully the return of Frockwatch (according to the linked article, it helps to go to a ‘theatrical costumier’. Not Debenhams bridesmaid section*, then).

Saturday 20 June:
La Traviata: Love, Death and Divas – BBC 2
With scenes provided by Opera North, Amanda Vickery and BBC Radio 3 presenter Tom Service reveal the story behind the London premiere of Verdi’s tragic opera. Quel scandale!

Kiri’s 20 Favourite Voices – podcast
I’m confused by this title. There are only 14 of us in La Nova Singers. Surely some mistake, Dame Kiri?
If you’re in Wales and you can’t get enough of Kiri, she’ll also be In Conversation with Kate Adie on Saturday.

 

Simon Russell Beale, an actor and former chorister

Simon Russell Beale on Essential Classics – BBC Radio 3, from Monday 22 June
Simon Russell Beale is best known for presenting those great BBC Four programmes about The Sixteen, but did you know that he can also act? Simon will talk to presenter Sarah Walker about his early life as a chorister. This show is also set to feature ‘5 reasons to love… the countertenor voice’, one of which presumably is it’s what happens if you drink too much Farrow & Ball

 

* To my knowledge, I am the only LNS member whose dress came from the Debenhams’ bridesmaid section. Which is weird because we seem to have inadvertently named our first album after it. Awkward.

La Nova Singers at Stourhead – Through the Years

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Earlier this month, we received the sad news that there will be no Stourhead Festival of the Voice 2015, due to the event having grown in popularity so much that the National Trust property is no longer able to support it. Martin Clements, Stourhead’s Visitor Experience Officer, writes as follows:

We are very grateful to all the choirs who made Festival of Voice so successful over the past twelve years. During this time it has transformed to accommodate growing numbers of choirs, performers and equipment. It is well loved, but has outgrown Stourhead’s capacity to offer suitable locations, services and support for choirs. As a result, we have regrettably decided not to host the event in 2015.

La Nova Singers have been lucky enough to participate in the event several times over the years – from 2009 until 2013. In addition, we gave two evening performances at Stourhead for the Marie Curie Walk Ten charity fundraising walk in 2011 and 2012. We have always enjoyed the chance to get out and about and explore the beautiful gardens, exercising our singing voices and our legs (you don’t realise how big that lake is until you’ve had to run around it, after taking a wrong turning on the way there and arriving 20 minutes late)! It’s also been fun to have the challenge of attracting and keeping an audience, picking thematically appropriate music (Bridge Over Troubled Water on a bridge! Ships of Arcady in the rain!) and simplifying our ‘act’ to its most portable form.

Many of us were sad that we weren’t able to participate in one of the singing days last September, so to hear that there won’t be an opportunity this year is a great disappointment. Nevertheless, we’re grateful for the huge amount of work Stourhead’s staff and volunteers have put in over the years to run this event, and for the great enjoyment – and fabulous photos – we’ve had from it. Not to mention the chance to meet and hear so many other fantastic choirs!

Above is a gallery of some of our favourite Stourhead moments, which you might like to enjoy whilst listening to this recording of La Nova Singers performing ‘Ships of Arcady’, by Michael Head, in the Pantheon at Stourhead.

More on Stourhead Festival of the Voice:

In Quest of Beauty – La Nova Singers visit Alphonse Mucha at the Russell-Cotes

Champenois Imprimeur image by Alphonse Mucha - image from Wikipedia

As well as some unexpected sunshine, April has brought with it one of Bournemouth’s most eagerly anticipated cultural events: an exhibition of work by the influential Art Nouveau poster artist Alphonse Mucha, at the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum.

Since the museum is also the venue for our special gala concert in July, we sent soprano and Art Nouveau aficionado Holly Stroud to see the exhibition and report back…

Seeing the tall, elegant posters Mucha created for the actress Sarah Bernhardt in person, you can understand why residents of findesiècle Paris might have torn them down overnight and smuggled them home. The linework within each image ranges from delicate and flowing, to bold and very modern-seeming. There is a flair for composition, and a magpie’s eye for decorative detail (Mucha also designed stage jewellery).

A particular favourite of mine is the poster for Bernhardt’s appearance as the tragic courtesan Marguerite in ‘La Dame Aux Camellias‘ – a story familiar to us in La Nova Singers, as it is also the basis for Verdi’s opera La Traviata. Mucha’s poster features the camellia as a decorative and symbolic device, adorning a stunning full-length portrait of the heroine against a background of iridescent stars.

La Dame Aux Camellias, 1896 - Alfons Mucha; image via Wikimedia Commons.

One thing that the curators at the Russell-Cotes always do really well is planning exhibitions that complement the museum’s permanent collection. In this case, although the work in the exhibition-proper comes from the collection of The Mucha Trust,  the curators have chosen to juxtapose artwork from the Aesthetic Movement in Britain – including Rosetti’s ‘Venus Verticordia‘. By drawing parallels with this so-called ‘cult of beauty’, they highlight what is perhaps the most salient aspect of Mucha’s work – that it is beautiful. A far cry from the shock tactics and appeals to fear and ignorance that are such a frequent feature of today’s advertising. The product placement in Mucha’s commercial work is subtle; the effect always stylish.

Moët & Chandon Crémant Impérial, 1899 - Alfons Mucha. Image via Wikimedia Commons

As we plan our celebratory concert, the setting of the Russell-Cotes seems more appropriate than ever for our pursuit of ‘bel canto’ – beautiful singing.

‘Alphonse Mucha: In Quest of Beauty’ runs until the end of September 2015 at the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, Bournemouth.

The exhibition alone is reason enough to visit; but if you’d appreciate some elegant classical singing with a backdrop of fine art, visit our website for booking details for La Nova Singers’ 10th Anniversary Gala Concert on Saturday 25 July.

Find out more:

Images © The Mucha Trust

Law Nova Singers

lawsoc-longshot-rehearsalOn 9th December 2014, La Nova Singers were honoured to perform for The Law Society’s annual Christmas dinner, at their headquarters in Chancery Lane, London. Here are some photos from the rehearsal and performances…

lawsoc-closeup-rehearsal-2Here were are in rehearsal, while the waiting staff do what they do best… yes, that’s right, waiting… for us to finish, so they could get on with laying out the cutlery. (Sorry, guys).

lawsoc-carols-1

Performing carols ‘a capella’ while the guests arrive…

lawsoc-backstage-allofus

After a delicious meal (including apple crumble and custard for desert, yum) there’s just time for a quick outfit change before going on stage again. We were joined by Matthew Fairman, our accompanist; Steve Howard, occasional flautist and professional law practitioner; and Rebecca Notherwood, official page turner!

lawsoc-longshot-performanceProcessing in to the room, singing ‘Ricevete’ from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, and bearing flowers…

lawsoc-performThe stage is surprisingly green!

lawsoc-rebecca-and-signThese are the kind of gigs we like. Great chandeliers, great food, great signage.

Our thanks go to Law Society president Andrew Caplen, and his wife Lindsay – one of our former members! – for inviting us to perform. It was a fantastic experience and we hope the audience enjoyed it as much as we did!

Harping On

La Nova Singers choir rehearsing at Highcliffe Castle, Christchurch

After we were named winners of Grassroots Giving funding, La Nova Singers were keen to start putting the money to good use. We were already planning our concert for December 2014 at Highcliffe Castle, and for the first time had decided to perform with a harpist. The fees for professional instrumentalists – such as the many wonderful pianists we have had to accompany us with over the years – are one of our biggest running costs; but we knew the addition of a harp would make this event something special. Winning £500 from Skipton meant we didn’t have to worry about covering our expenses if the concert didn’t sell out.

Our plan was to sing the Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten – this is a really intriguing cycle of Christmas music, written using old English, and with Britten’s characteristically interesting harmonies! The composer used to write a lot for children’s voices, and for choirs of boy trebles, who have roughly the same vocal range as our choir of adult women. Getting to grips with the complexity of the music was tricky (I imagine Britten must have known a lot of precociously talented children to have written something so difficult!) but our aim is always to achieve a professional standard, or as near as we can get.

We worked with harpist Katie Salomon, who is based in Wiltshire; and performed in Highcliffe Castle in Dorset – a fascinating building, more of a stately home than a castle, and cobbled together in the 19th century from imported bits of Medieval French masonry. It was once the home of Harry Selfridge, the famous founder of Selfridges department store. Highcliffe is a venue we love to perform at, since it’s local and gives the audience a wonderful setting in which to experience music. Holding concerts is a also a great way to raise funds towards the building’s ongoing restoration (we are particularly grateful for the under-floor heating in the Great Hall)!

Choir performing at Highcliffe Castle - La Nova Singers with harpist Katie Salomon

In the end, our concert sold out well in advance – a result we were thrilled with. We enjoyed performing to a full audience, and watching as Katie’s beautiful harp solo left them spellbound. It really did help to create a truly magical festive atmosphere. We’re looking forward now to working with other instrumentalists in the future, particularly for our next concert in March, where we’ll be singing two of the ‘big hitters’ of the choral repertoire – Vivaldi’s Gloria and Fauré’s Requiem…

Note: This post originally appeared on ProjectDirt.com – view here.