November’s Choir and Symphony Orchestra concert at St Andrew’s Hall consisted of youthful impressions of Italy. Richard Strauss’ visit in 1886 resulted in a pivotal work: 'Aus Italien' from which UEA Symphony Orchestra gave a glowing performance of 'Auf der Campagna' and a sparkling account of 'Neapolitanisches Volksleben'. Puccini was destined to be a church musician but, as we know, escaped into opera. Before he did so the 'Preludio Sinfonico' and the 'Messa di Gloria' looked simultaneously backwards at this expectation and musically forwards to the composer he would become. UEA Choir gave a joyous performance of the 'Messa' and Symphony Orchestra began proceedings with the remarkably mature sounding 'Preludio'.
After last year’s abrupt cancellation of the UEA Choirs Christmas Carol Concert it was very reassuring to be able to reinstate this Christmastide marker for so many in our choirs and in the community who have always flocked to the event. Under Tom Primrose, the Choir and Chamber Choir gave cathedral-filling performances of advent music and demanded a full-throated response from the audience in a series of well-loved carols. Community Choir almost stole the show with one of their best performances to date, completing an uplifting evening.
Clinging on tightly as we rode the waves of COVID, we did lose some performances – we took the decision that Lunchtime Concerts were not appropriate until things settled down, and to great disappointment we had to pull the Carol Concert at short notice in December. Nevertheless Choir, Chamber Choir, Community Choir and Symphony Orchestra all returned to rehearsals with the determination and sense of community which had seen them through the previous two years. Community Choir sessions were uplifting in their joy at returning to singing. Chamber Choir performed two concerts at St George’s Tombland which, though we exercised appropriate caution in limiting audience numbers, nevertheless both had waiting lists for tickets. Choir had prepared Brahms’ Requiem as we put on extra sessions during the summer of 2021 and their performance of the piece at St Andrew’s Hall in November was magnificent. Separating Choir and Orchestra to ensure space on stage meant that Brahms’ own four-hand arrangement was used. Orchestra provided an extraordinarily committed and very fine first half, comprising three Dvorak Slavonic Dances and William Grant Still’s electrifying Fourth Symphony. March saw the same ensembles return to St Andrew’s for a programme outlining our re-dedication to music for the future. Finzi’s For St Cecilia and Ireland’s magnificent These Things Shall Be bookended Elgar’s Enigma Variations and our contribution to the memory of what music’s absence feels and sounds like, John Cage’s 4’33”.
As we moved into the summer, Community Choir gave two outdoor performances at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital’s 250th anniversary day and at Norfolk Creativity and Wellbeing week and Jazz Collective gave a concert in the Music Centre amphitheatre for Making Music Day 2022. It was also wonderful to see three large-scale performances by Music Society ensembles, a programme of smaller events and socials and collaboration with Drama and Musical Theatre Society on full productions, all of which are a tribute to the resilience of student-led music making at UEA.
Following 2021’s well-received Brahms Requiem day, a similar event focusing on the Faure Requiem seemed a natural successor. It became clear fairly quickly that demand would be high, but an attendance of over 110 exceeded all our expectations. Current and (we hope) future members of Choir explored, under the expert guidance of Choir Director Tom Primrose, taking the opportunity to move well beyond the notes into ways of singing, colours and expressive purpose in order to deepen understanding of one of the best loved pieces in the repertoire. William Falconer accompanied the rehearsal sessions and the concluding performance, with James Wafer as baritone soloist, members of the soprano section being given a rare opportunity to sing the other solos.
Our year could hardly be described as ‘business as usual’, but there was a great deal of busyness. Due to COVID restrictions, all our activities focused on online and recorded material. Choir and Chamber Choir rehearsed online and recorded music by William Grant Still for an international gathering in November. Community Choir contributed music to Norfolk Disability Pride in October, Music Recording and Production Society, alongside Music Society, made an hour’s programme for BBC Radio showcasing UEA musicians, and Music Scholars recorded items for a series of Virtual Lunchtime Concerts. We also mined our archives to bring UEA Symphony Orchestra to care home residents via playlists, and to primary school children in a specially developed education project. As restrictions eased over the spring we prioritised making music in person, nurturing the musical community so many had made sure was sustained by online activities.
Our concerts in 2020, like everyone else’s, were severely curtailed by COVID-19, but we had a very solid first half of the academic year. Three large-scale performances before Christmas played to full or nearly full houses. Choir and Symphony Orchestra gave a programme called Myth and Faith (the first three movements of Smetana’s musical foundation myth Ma Vlast followed by the transparent faith of Haydn in the Harmonie Mass) on 22nd November. Christmas with UEA Chamber Choir on 8th December and the Carol Concert on 11th December. Three Lunchtime Concerts, and the usual plethora of activity from Music Society, made it feel very busy indeed. After Christmas, we managed to fit in our concert for Primary Schools on 12th February and Chamber Choir gave a terrific selection of Bach Motets on 8th March, as well as a couple of Lunchtimes. Casualties of the virus included 19th March Faure Requiem, Saint Saens Organ Symphony and Lili Boulanger Pour les Funerailles d’un Soldat and a really promising run of Into the Woods, which so nearly made it before the cut-off.
The Music Welcome on 26th September and an awards party graced by Concert Band on 9th May bookended the year. Six Lunchtime Concerts and 30 Music Society performances were a great base for the year. The 22nd November Choir, Orchestra and Percussion Ensemble concert consisted of Mendelssohn’s Overture for Wind, Michael Torke’s Bright Blue Music, Nathan Daughtrey’s Shock factor and the Great C minor Mass of Mozart. Christmas Old and New from Chamber Choir on 9th December and the Carol Concert on 12th December took us to the halfway mark. The first Schools Concert on 13th February introduced more than 100 local primary school pupils to the families of the orchestra. The Spring Concert from Chamber Choir on 10th March included music from 16th century Italy and 20th century Britain. Choir, Chamber Choir and Symphony Orchestra’s 21st March concert gave us two Poulenc motets and the Gloria, followed by the second half of Berlioz’ extraordinary Romeo and Juliet, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the composer’s death.
On 23rd November Elgar’s late meditation The Music Makers and Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony were preceded by Fantasia, commissioned from Music Centre Award holder Caitlin Woods. Chamber Choir gave A European Christmas on 10th December and the (by now legitimately traditional) Carol Concert on 14th December saw Community Choir’s first performance. Six Lunchtime Concerts spread across the year brought chamber music into the heart of campus and Music Society (again mostly on campus) performed 27 times. Northern Lights, on 9th March, was our opportunity to commemorate and thank the Dutch composer and pianist Dick van der Ven for his generous gift. Performances of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, Grieg’s Piano Concerto and Sibelius Symphony no 1 were dedicated to his memory. Chamber Choir’s 11th March programme Orpheus Britannicus put Purcell and his contemporaries centre stage. Choir, Tom Primrose, pianists, harmonium and a fine team of soloists performed Rossini’s Petite messe Solennelle on 28th April and a singing masterclass from Hannah Francis on 12th May concluded the performing year.
Community Choir was launched this year, as was a series of six Lunchtime Concerts, from which the highlight was a wonderful recital by Ben Johnson and Tom Primrose. Music Society were very active, giving around 25 performances. 18th November saw Choir and Orchestra at St Andrew’s Hall for Pictures of Russia – Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition, Rachmaninov’s Concerto for Chorus and movements from the Vespers followed by the Prologue and Coronation Scene from Boris Godunov. Chamber Choir’s 4th December Advent programme was followed on 14th December by the Carol Concert. Another new venture on 21st January was the Campus Concert, pairing Beethoven Symphony 5 with Debussy’s original Chansons de Bilitis, staged by Sacré Théâtre. Two performances of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by Opera Society on 10th and 11th March reprised the first known performance at UEA in the mid 1960’s. Chamber Choir’s 19th March performance included the Byrd 4-part Mass and the normal year was brought to a storming conclusion on 24th March with Choir and Orchestra’s Verdi Requiem, conducted by Tom Primrose. We were gifted a supplementary by the return visit of COUR 26th-27th May, packing in three concerts and a boat trip on the Broads.
Academic year 2015-16 saw a step up in the intensity of Music Centre activity. Chamber Choir made its debut at the 9th December Carol Concert (sold out again) and sang Rheinberger’s Stabat Mater and a dramatically-adapted Schutz’s St John Passion on 6th March. Symphony Orchestra and Choir performed two concerts each. On November 13th An American in Norwich consisted of Bernstein’s ludicrously under-performed suite from On the Waterfront, the Agnus Dei arrangement of the Adagio by Samuel Barber and Robert Russell Bennet’s high-octane concert version of Porgy and Bess, with Maureen Brathwaite and the inimitable Keel Watson. Transformations, the Orchestra’s 11th March concert gave us a witty and poetic collaboration with Drama in Act III of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Mendelssohn’s overture and incidental music, preceded by the stern Totenfeier of Mahler and Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody with Warren Mailley-Smith. On 30th April, the Choir visited Norwich Cathedral and sang Britten’s rarely heard Ballad of Heroes with the wonderful Ben Johnson, alongside the Durufle’s Requiem. This was preceded 18th-22nd March by a short tour to Caen in collaboration with COUR, the French university’s music centre. Music Society provided approximately 20 performances over the year.
The Music Centre’s first year got off to a flying start on 13th November 2014 at St Andrew’s Hall with a programme of Sibelius Symphony no 2 and Dvorak’s rather under-appreciated Mass in D, followed by the Carol Concert on 10th December in St John’s Cathedral. Our first Music Award Holders’ chamber performance on campus followed on 18th March, preceded on 6th March by a UEA Symphony Orchestra programme consisting of von Weber’s Freischutz Overture, Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen with the wonderful Samantha Price and Brahms’ First Symphony. Choir finished our first year in style on 21st April with a performance of Messiah conducted by Tom Primrose, with a top-notch team of soloists and accompanied by Norwich Baroque. Music Society contributed around 10 more performances during the year. Lots of excitement and hard work in our new venture was backed up by a really vibrant tradition of music making at UEA and rested on the shoulders of many who came before.