Lockdown performance of new arrangement for Handel’s Messiah

Julia Armstrong, Sheffield Telegraph

Tuesday 21 July 2020

A Sheffield choir music director has been busy over lockdown, writing a new brass arrangement for Handel’s Messiah which world-famed musicians performed in their homes.

The arrangement by Darius Battiwalla of the soprano aria How Beautiful Are the Feet is actually one of three from the Messiah that he put together for Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus.

“Darius wrote the new arrangements for us in return for continued payment during the lockdown,” said chorus chair Paul Henstridge.

“We’re absolutely thrilled. It means that when we eventually perform the brass version with the wonderful Black Dyke Band, we can sing two more choruses than would otherwise have been possible”.

The chorus were set to perform a brass version of Messiah in April but the concert had to be postponed.

Soprano Catrin Pryce-Jones was to have appeared alongside the chorus, so she was delighted when Darius asked her to make a virtual recording of How Beautiful Are the Feet, along with members of the world-famous Black Dyke Band, all performing from their own homes during lockdown.

“The new arrangement is very light and delicate, which is just right for this aria,” said chorus dministrator Anne Adams. “Catrin sings it beautifully and the band accompany her with great sensitivity.”

You can judge for yourself, as the recording has been uploaded to the chorus website and can be enjoyed for free at https://sheffieldphil.org/how-beautiful-are-the-feet

In addition to the new Messiah arrangements, the chorus also commissioned Darius to write some Christmas music for them to sing at their popular annual carol concert at the City Hall in December.

He has created a new brass arrangement of Resonet in Laudibus, a 16th-century German carol. If that concert can’t go ahead, they plan to perform it virtually as part of an online carol concert, along with the Black Dyke Band, again recorded from their own homes.

The brass Messiah concert has been rescheduled for Saturday, April 23, 2022 in Sheffield City Hall. The 180 members of the chorus were going to be joined by more than 50 singers from Perigeux in France and from Sheffield’s twin city of Bochum in Germany.Happily, both choirs are planning to cross the Channel for the rescheduled concert.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Read the original article on the Sheffield Telegraph website

Music Director joins choral greats in highlighting challenges faced by choirs

18 June 2020

‘Singing in a choir …… is a powerful expression of our culture and humanity, and it cannot be allowed to fade away.’

The Chorus Music Director, Darius Battiwalla, is one of a group of ‘choral greats’ whose powerful letter to the Guardian was published on Tuesday 16 June 2020.

The letter, ‘Covid-19 has silenced choirs – we must find a way to restart singing together‘, has eighteen co-signatories, including some of the most highly respected and influential names in the world of choral music.

Composer/conductors Bob Chilcott and John Rutter joined Harry Christophers, founder of The Sixteen, opera singer Sarah Connelly and internationally-renowned choral directors Simon Halsey and David Hill, are among those who have written in response to the open letter by Sir Simon Rattle and Sir Mark Elder on 10 June about the immense challenges faced by musicians. 

We are writing in response to the heartfelt letter on behalf of classical music and musicians from Sir Simon Rattle and Sir Mark Elder (UK orchestras may not survive coronavirus pandemic, conductors warn, 10 June), to give voice to the millions of people who sing in choirs in this country.

Up until now we have had one of the most vibrant choral landscapes in the world. Our professional choral life, consisting of world-renowned chamber choirs, vocal ensembles, opera choruses, cathedral choirs and theatre ensembles, faces an uncertain future. The financial picture for such groups has always been challenging, even in the best of times, but the outlook now for such ensembles, mostly made up of freelance musicians, is not an optimistic one.

We have a world-leading cathedral and church choir tradition, largely made up of young boys and girls and paid adult singers who face financial hardship and also serious challenges of continuity. The amateur choir life of this country is huge, from the world-class symphony choruses and university choirs to community and school choirs, and all these groups face a time of great uncertainty.

We need church leaders to have the courage to speak out so that we can make singing together in churches work within certain guidelines. We need the government to show how we can restart singing together on an equal footing with opening theme parks, shopping and kicking a football around. It is imperative that we find a way for choirs in this country to resume as soon and as safely as we can.

Singing in a choir is not only about communality, social cohesion and harmony; for many it is an essential source of emotional wellbeing and positive mental health. Moreover it is a powerful expression of our culture and humanity, and it cannot be allowed to fade away.’

Bob Chilcott Composer/conductorJohn Rutter Composer/conductorSarah Connolly Opera singerSimon Halsey Chorus directorLSO, CBSOHarry Christophers Founder, The Sixteen, David Hill Musical director, The Bach ChoirGavin Carr Chorus director, The Philharmonia Chorus, Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, Matthew Hamilton Choral director, The Hallé, Ben Parry Conductor, National Youth Choir, David Temple Conductor, Crouch End Festival ChorusAndrew Carwood Director of music, St Paul’s CathedralAshley Grote Master of music, Norwich CathedralAdrian Partington Director of music, Gloucester CathedralRobert Dean Guildhall School of MusicJonathan Willcocks Musical director, Guildford Choral SocietyDarius Battiwalla Musical directorSheffield Philharmonic ChorusLeslie East Chair, Association of British Choral DirectorsAidan Oliver Conductor

Link to the letter on the Guardian website

Link to Sir Simon Rattle and Sir Mark Elder’s letter

Composer to hear Black Dyke Band and massed voices perform his new work

8 June 2019

Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus are thrilled that the composer Philip Wilby will be in attendance at the forthcoming concert premiere of the brass band version of his oratorio The Holy Face at the City Hall at 3pm on Sunday 9 June 2019. The Chorus will be joined by the Black Dyke Band, Halifax Choral Society, the Yorkshire Youth Choir and four great soloists for this very special concert.

‘The Holy Face was written for massed voices, organ and either brass band or orchestra.’ said Chorus Chairman Paul Henstridge. ‘We are really looking forward to singing this musical retelling of the life of St John with our friends the Halifax Choral Society, who commissioned it to celebrate their 200th Anniversary in 2017.’

‘We are really committed to making classical music accessible to young people’ said Chorus administrator Anne Adams ‘So we have sent out a really generous ticket offer to all the brass training bands, our Sheffield-based youth orchestras, all the secondary schools and the Sheffield Music Hub and Music Academy. Seven members of the Black Dyke Band have agreed to meet Sheffield’s young brass players after the concert – how fantastic is that!’

The brass version of The Holy Face was recorded in June 2017, and the orchestral premiere held in Halifax later that year. The CD is available from Halifax Choral Society’s website.

Also on the programme is Paradise, a fabulous new work by Welsh-born composer Paul Mealor, who sprang to fame in 2011 when his Ubi Caritas was featured at the wedding of the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge. Paradise is a beautiful piece for brass band and voices which the chorus recorded in January with the world-famous Black Dyke Band in Sheffield’s own City Hall. The recording has been published as part of the Black Dyke Gold series – and composer Paul Mealor is thrilled with it. ‘I am very impressed.’ said Paul on hearing the CD. ‘It’s a fantastic recording of the work.’

The piece features two elements sung by the Chorus alongside the Black Dyke Band, sandwiching a central section of fiendish difficulty showcasing the band’s incredible virtuosity. The Chorus first sang Paradise in January at the Brass Band Festival held each year at the Royal Northern School of Music in Manchester, a performance that was broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

The concert begins with another work by Philip Wilby, his organ concerto Cinema, written for organ and brass band, and featuring Chorus Music Director and Leeds City Organist Darius Battiwalla on the magnificent City Hall organ.

Tickets are available from the City Hall box office.