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.

Songs of Christmas Past at Highcliffe Castle

What a glorious evening it proved to be. This female ensemble, 11-strong in this concert, sings superbly – and the harmonies were absolutely divine. Conducted and directed by Michelle Nova with piano accompaniment by Victor Burbidge, the programme ranged from the relatively unknown, such as Peter Warlock’s First Mercy and Grahame Kendrick’s Thorns in the Straw, the latter containing a beautiful, expressive solo from Rachel Scivier, to old favourites such as Silent Night and Jingle Bells.

My particular favourites were the glorious – and hitherto completely unknown to me – Elgar song The Snow, with violin accompaniment from Anna Tyrrell and Hannah Scott, and Max Reger’s Cradle Slumber Song, but there was so much that was simply mouth-watering in this excellent concert.

John Rutter’s cycle of six carols, Dancing Day; Little Drummer Boy – the boy in question being young Ben Watton, who played superbly despite being brought in at the eleventh hour; Chestnuts Roasting; The Twelve Days of Christmas; Winter Wonderland; Carol of the Bells; O Holy Night – I could have listened to it all over again.

They sang like angels proving once again that the esteem in which they are held is totally justified.

Linda Kirkman, ‘Scene One

Christmas Favourites at Highcliffe Castle


La Nova Singers gave Christmas concerts at various venues this year.  West Cliff Baptist Church in Westbourne was well attended and the singers were so well received that they have been invited to give another concert later in the year.

Highcliffe Castle was a sell out with people turning up on the night hoping to be able to buy a ticket.  Unfortunately for them, they were unable to purchase any!

Music critic Linda Kirkman came to Highcliffe and gave the singers a glowing review, which was printed in the Dorset Echo:

THE weather was decidedly seasonal, and the castle’s imposing Great Hall proved to be the chilliest of venues – but cold extremities were soon forgotten at this most enjoyable concert in which voices, as always, were in perfect harmony and diction was clear as a bell. In fact the entire evening, which also included flute solos from Steve Howard and songs from guest soloist Roma Loukes, was an absolute pleasure to attend.

Conductor and director Michelle Nova’s bubbly personality cast a warm glow over singers and audience alike as we listened to an eclectic range of Christmas songs which began with the eleven ladies holding lights and walking from the back of the hall onto the stage, singing – naturally- Torches. They ended almost as they began, with the singers donning lit-up fairy wings and headgear, and Michelle, complete with star-topped wand, conducting the opening chorus from Iolanthe, which was acted out extremely enthusiastically! 

In between we heard, among others, numbers from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Gaudete, Cantique de Jean Racine, O Holy Night, Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire, The Twelve Days of Christmas and a delightful combination of The First Noel and Pachelbel’s Canon, all with superb accompaniment from pianist Christine Langton.

Linda Kirkman