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Our Jeans, Tee & Trainers Gerontius – April 2022

RFH performance 2022

No-one could have quite imagined our position as a choir on the day of our Royal Festival Hall concert on 6 April.

We knew this would be a term of singing preparation like no other. The pandemic had reduced our singing membership, not just at the start of term but throughout the term resulting in a 25% loss of our singers participating in performance by the time concert day rolled around. We typically fill the RFH stage (and some, needing chairs on the stage). It all felt a bit surreal looking across and not seeing us with the wingspan of vocal force wrapping around the stage.

Then it was 1.30pm. And we needed a third Gerontius Tenor soloist with only one and half hours to rehearsal starting at 3pm.

Our first Gerontius Tenor bowed out a few days before, so we managed to secure a second. Then our first Priest Baritone bowed out, and – thanks to our brilliant fixer – we secured another. We were ‘set’, or so we thought. But then our second Gerontius Tenor had to drop out. We couldn’t proceed without a Tenor…

Third time lucky, Charne Rochford, working on ENO production, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, was excused – again thanks to our fixer – from dress rehearsal and hot footed it across the river to the Southbank. Wearing a tee, jeans and trainers. Not having looked at a score of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius for some time. We debated the concert dress issue but then decided, no, let’s just let it be as it was, a mad dash to bring about the best possible performance under the circumstances. What he wore was irrelevant. And it somehow brought even more of the vulnerability of Gerontius to life (or death) in the performance.

Taking well-deserved bows…

I’ll let some audience reviews speak for themselves:

Superb performance of Dream of Gerontius. One of the soloists stood in literally at the last moment and was unbelievably strong!

A tremendous evening with what looked like over 250 musicians and choristers performing Elgar’s greatest Choral work. Shout out to Gerontius – you would never have known he was parachuted in only hours earlier!

Impressive choir. Superb singing. Great orchestra.

And so it begs the question, how important really is concert dress? Uniformity perhaps, but does formal dress somehow change or relax a professional’s performance or how audience perceives it, even musically? Isn’t it rather ‘stiff’ when classical choral music is up against the promotion of so many other competing performance art-forms?

We thought just getting back to singing would be tricky, no-one thought about actually mounting a performance like we did pre-pandemic would be harder still, but thanks to our Musical Director, Ivor Setterfield, be-jeaned Tenor, Charne, brilliant soloists Claire Barnett-Jones and John MacKenzie-Lavansch (and the crew of incredible choir concert/venue managers, helpers and orchestra) we pulled it off!

L-R = Ivor Setterfield, Charne Rochford (©), John MacKenzie-Lavansch & Claire Barnett-Jones.

 

 

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