Bill introduces the OU Choir pieces

Bill introduces the OU Choir pieces

"Spellbinding Spem" were the words from a listener after the sell-out MK50 concert presented by The Open University Choir with Quorum, Polymnia and Linsdale Singers to a capacity audience on the very warm evening of 17 June in St Mary & St Giles church.  Bill Strang's vision for the concert which both celebrated 50 years of Milton Keynes and 40 years of Bill conducting the OU Choir was well and truly realised, as 120 singers gave an excellent double performance of the complex work that is the 40 part motet by Thomas Tallis along with Gabrieli's Magnificat and individual choir pieces.

The programme:

The OU Choir

The OU Choir

The Open University Choir directed by Bill Strang

  • The Eighth Tune (Psalm 67) from Archbishop Parker's Psalter - Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585)
  • If ye love me (c 1548) - Thomas Tallis
  • O nata lux - Thomas Tallis
  • Salvator mundi 1 - Thomas Tallis

Organ Solo played by Paul Daggett

  • Sellenger's Round - William Byrd (1543-1623) ed Louis Oesterle, 1904
Quorum

Quorum

Quorum directed by Chris Williams

  • Out from the deep - Thomas Tallis
  • I call and cry to the, O Lord - Thomas Tallis
  • Dum transisset Sabbatum I - John Taverner (c 1490-1545)

Organ solo played by Paul Daggett

  • The Carman's Whistle - William Byrd ed Louise Oesterle

Combined choirs conducted by Bill Strang

  • Spem in alium - Thomas Tallis

Interval

Spem - first performance

Spem - first performance

Combined choirs conducted by Bill Strang

  • Magnificat 'a 12 (pub 1587) - Andrea Gabrieli (c 1510-1586)

The Linsdale Singers directed by Dennis Pim

  • Missa Aeterna Christi munera, selected movements (pub. 1590) - Giovanni da Palestrina (c 1525-1594)

Organ solo played by Paul Daggett

  • Master Tallis's Testament, No 3 from Six Pieces (1940) - Herbert Howells (1892-1983)
Paul at the console

Paul at the console

Polymnia directed by John Byron

  • Ave verum Corpus from Gradualia ac cantoines sacrae (pub 1605) - William Byrd

Combined choirs conducted by Bill Strang

  • Spem in Alium - Thomas Tallis

For Spem, Bill chose to do the piece in the round, as we did in the church in 2009, however this time on the ground floor rather than using the galleries, so that it truly could be surround sound as choirs 5 and 6 stood within and in front of the altar rail where there was no Spem choir in 2009.  This meant the best place to hear the exchange of parts from choir to choir was from within the centre of the nave, though some audience sat in the eastern end of the north and south galleries as well.  We knew we could only manage an audience of 250 people for this concert due to the number of singers involved and the positions the singers stood in for Spem and the Gabrieli and it was a sell-out with 248 coming to listen.  Bill had the podium and two music stands so he had the parts available as he swung around to bring in the different choirs.

Gabrieli's Magnificat

Gabrieli's Magnificat

The Gabrieli, which was the other combined piece, was sung with the organ using the west end galleries and the staging below for placing the 3 choirs.  It was wonderful to sing such beautiful music with such a large choir and organ in that way to such an appreciative audience.  All the individual choir performances were excellent too, each bringing a fresh perspective on the music of that period.

We received a standing ovation at the end of the concert when the choirs reached the end of Spem for the second performance.  It had taken several months of preparation and 3 months of rehearsals both as separate choirs and joint rehearsals.  The OU Choir covered choirs 1 to 5 with support in some parts from Polymnia, while Quorum took choir 6 and Linsdale Singers choirs 7 and 8.

Spem - second performance

Spem - second performance

During the interval we served refreshments to singers in the hall and the audience at the West end of the church, behind the temporary screen.  It was such a warm evening that the audience spilled outside to enjoy the fresh air with their tea, cake and conversations.  The volunteer team were marvellous in quietly managing the needs of such a big crowd and tidying up swiftly afterwards.

A big thanks to Bill, Paul, Chris, Dennis, John, the OU Choir committee, the four choirs and all the volunteers (including those who helped put up and take down the screen in record time and the chair turners) and Fr Ross for making this concert possible and so wonderfully memorable and successful.

standing ovation

standing ovation

Feedback received included:

"Magnificent!"

"Marvellous group"

"Exquisite"

"So good"

"I thought I was in heaven and the angels were singing"

"Such a lot of work to put this together, but so well done."

Singer comment: "We have been looked after very well"

Singer comment: "I enjoyed (whilst counting bars) watching audience reaction and seeing heads turn!"

Shirley spoke to perhaps the youngest attendee as he and his family left.  Had he enjoyed it? ‘Yes’ was his enthusiastic reply and with a bright smile.

More photos can be found in Spem in Alium 2017

Words by Anna Page, photos by Jeff Wright