On the 17th of August 2016, The National Youth Choir of Great Britain returned to the Proms at Snape Maltings, proudly sponsored by Suffolk Cottage Holidays. Directly off the back of their first ever tour of the People’s Republic of China, the group admitted that they were jetlagged, their body clocks set to 2:30 in the morning, but this didn’t hinder the performance in the least. The group performed to an incredibly high standard despite the jetlag - a standard that surpassed their tender years. Expertly conducted by Greg Beardsell and Ben Parry, the group performed a selection of songs from their recent adventures away.
Founded in 1983, the National Youth Choir has since evolved into a standout organisation both internationally recognised and renowned, encompassing more than 750 singers. The choir continually aims to inspire both members and audiences with a year-round schedule of performances, courses and workshops, embarking on international tours every four years. As a result, the NYCBG’s reputation has long been established as a national cultural institution; in the last five years, the choir has appeared at the BBC Proms with Daniel Barenboim and Gustavo Dudamel, as well as the Royal Festival Hall with Martin Allsop. The group’s many endeavours have drawn accolades from both critics and audiences alike, their influence ever-enduring in the UK’s cultural life.
Over the course of the evening, the group performed an eclectic array of pieces, ranging from the British choral music of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gerald Finzi, William Walton and Benjamin Britten, to Chinese folksong arrangements from Ma Shuilong, Cai Yuwen and Chuan-Sheng Lu. Shakespeare was even incorporated, which apparently went down a treat in China; the group performed Williams’ Three Shakespeare Songs (1951), featuring excerpts from The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Though some may have wondered how the bard’s prose was entirely transferrable to a choir performance, we were soon reassured. Melodies ebbed and flowed in a similar tone to the original source, to the rhyme and rhythm of their harmony. The audience listened, collectively immersed in Shakespeare’s enchanting worlds in a way that was previously unexperienced.
Though the whole show was breathtaking, especially in consideration of the tender age of these young performers, there were nonetheless standout moments. Part 1 of the show ended with a terrific performance of Kerry Andrew’s who we are (2011), which required, in the composer’s own words, a "tricksy body percussion, riffs in overlapping time signatures, hollering and movement” from the performers. It certainly contrasted with earlier performances whilst demonstrating the artistic influences of Andrew herself; she cites Bjork, Damon Albarn and MaJiKer amongst her inspirations, producing music that “resists classification”. It was certainly refreshing to witness the choir showcasing such a diverse mix of song, with influences not just from Britain but throughout the globe.
It was truly a perfect evening for the choir’s performance, the setting particularly fitting. We observed the breathtaking scenery of the Snape marshes during the interval, illuminated by a tremendous full moon. The atmosphere certainly lent a magical air to the performance, with the second half delivering just as much as the first. A performance of MacMillan’s The Gallant Weaver, accompanied with the choir’s haunting vocals, perfectly conveyed the heartbreaking essence of the Scottish classic. It was a real treat for the senses, showcasing the group’s collective power to transfix an audience.
Overall the performance was simply spectacular, and I would have to agree with Julian Forbes’ assessment of the choir’s performance; “The music never becomes too rumbustious or deep, but beauty and inventiveness abound.” We will definitely be returning next year!
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