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North East composer commissioned for anniversary work

Newcastle Choral Society is preparing for Diamond Jubilee

Composer Will Todd who has been commissioned to write a new piece for Newcastle Choral Society
Composer Will Todd who has been commissioned to write a new piece for Newcastle Choral Society

Newcastle Choral Society is preparing for its diamond anniversary concert and a new work by Durham-born composer Will Todd.

The choir, which can muster nearly 100 singers from across the region, is thinking big for its landmark concert at Sage Gateshead.

Choir chairman Charmian Marshall says: “We first went to Sage Gateshead in 2005 when we were the first independent choir to hire Hall One.

“The second time was in 2007 when it was Len Young’s last concert with us. We managed to cover our costs and give some money to Nepac (North East Promenaders Against Cancer) and The Children’s Foundation.

“We’re going back on November 29 this year and decided we’d commission a new piece of music from Will Todd which meant we had to put in a bid to the Arts Council before Christmas. We got the money in full.”

Len Young, incidentally, was with the choir for more than 30 years. He joined as choirmaster in 1976 and conducted it until that very last concert in 2007 when it performed Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius.

Stepping into his shoes as musical director that same year was the well-connected Mark Anyan, a professional tenor soloist who is also general manager of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain and musical director of youth choir Quay Lasses at Sage Gateshead.

The chance to hear a new short work by Will Todd will be a big draw at the November concert. The 44-year-old composer is making a name for himself around the world with his best-known work, the jazz-inspired Mass in Blue, having been performed more than 100 times since its premiere in 2003.

Other pieces which have received a rousing reception in the North East include his Saint Cuthbert Oratorio, which was premiered in Durham Cathedral in 1995 and was performed there for the fourth time last year, and The Burning Road, a cantata based on the Jarrow March.

Todd, who has an American tour coming up in October, once again proved his versatility with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, an opera for children performed last summer by London’s Holland Park Opera. Audiences and critics loved it.

But what of the November premiere in Gateshead?

Charmian Marshall says: “The themes we gave to Will are to do with Tyneside, its places, its landscape, its people, its history, its music... all that in eight minutes!”

Having had this idea, she adds, she bumped into North East writer Michael Chaplin and read his book, Tyne View, an account of a walk along the river he took when writer-in-residence at Port of Tyne.

The book has already inspired Michael’s own play Tyne, created by Live Theatre and to be performed shortly at the Theatre Royal and the Customs House, South Shields.

“Everything I’d thought about is in there,” says Charmian. “It’s a fantastic book and he’s such a nice chap. You can’t be too specific about these things but we have mentioned it to Will Todd.”

The choir will also return to The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins. Coming near Armistice Day in the centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War, they thought it was appropriate.

In 2004 the choir gave the work its Tyneside premiere in the banqueting suite at Newcastle Civic Centre to mark its golden anniversary.

The history of the Newcastle choir is intricate. It began in 1954 as the St Andrew’s Singers, founded by dentist’s son John Healy at St Andrew’s Church, Gallowgate, where he was organist. He was the driving force until he stepped down as choirmaster and organist in 1975.

The choir adopted its current name in 1986 to coincide with the Newcastle Maritime Festival and the first visit of the Tall Ships Race to the Tyne.

Before the anniversary concert, the choir returns to the Civic Centre on March 29 to perform Magnificent Magnificats, double billing for the famous musical settings of Bach and John Rutter with Orchestra North East and soloists Lisa Swayne, Elizabeth Simmons, Stephanie Lewis, Michael Bradley and Dominic Barberi.

For tickets to that concert, tel. 0191 2854868 or 0191 2866338. Buy tickets for the diamond jubilee concert at Sage Gatesahead from the venue on 0191 443 4661 or www.sagegateshead.com

And if you want to join the choir, a major musical force in the North East for six decades, Charmian says new members are always welcome. For details tel. 0191 2866338 or 01207 560555 or at www.newcastlechoralsociety.org.uk

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