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Review: War and Peace, National Youth Choir of Great Britain, Hall One Sage Gateshead

Rob Barnes has his breath taken away during a memorable and eclectic evening in the company of young singers at the top of their game

The National Youth Choir of Great Britain performing last year at the Royal Albert Hall
The National Youth Choir of Great Britain performing last year at the Royal Albert Hall

Hot on the heels of the Festival of Youth Orchestras at the beginning of August, Sage Gateshead has finished the month with a concert from la crème de la crème of the UK’s young singers in the 16–22 age range.

From the opening moments, when the National Youth Choir of Great Britain spread themselves along the side balconies as well as the stage, to perform an English medieval war song, complete with chest beating and vocal percussion in a surround-sound experience, the audience knew it would be a special evening of virtuosity.

And so it proved, with the choir of 100+ showing its breathtaking ability to climb choral Everest time and time again.

They displayed all that might be expected of our premier youth choir, but went far beyond this expectation with their sheer breadth of style, taking all genres in their stride without missing a beat.

From medieval vocal interplay to Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces from de Victoria and Schutz, and through the classical timeline to some of the greatest 20th century pieces from Barber, Stanford, Herbert Howells, and John Rutter, their joy and skill in performance was evident throughout. And when the full choir first came together on stage, they discarded their music dramatically and presented Tippett’s Five Spirituals from A Child in our Time from the heart in a truly life-affirming way.

The real surprises of the evening were reserved for a big-band jazz and scat rendering of Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho, and scaling the heights of Arnold Schoenburg’s monumental Friede auf Erden.

Amongst all of the fine soloists, a special word for Bethany Partridge, who stood far above the choir to perform a faultless top soprano in Stanford’s mesmerizing part-song The Bluebird.

There was a world premiere of Uncertain Sea, John Casken’s setting of Beadnell poet Katrina Porteous’s works about the dwindling fishing community on the North East coast.

Prior to the choral performance of this work with its wonderful imagery, we were treated to a reading of the poems by the author, steeped in Northumbrian dialect.

And another feather in the cap for Sage Gateshead’s youth music programme was how the students on their Youth Summer Sing camp sung their own pieces, including Gaelic and Latin at the start of the second half, and then joined NYCGB. This level of collaboration continues to bear ripe fruit.

There were over 20 pieces for the enthusiastic audience to savour – truly a night to remember for all who were there, singing or listening.

Rob Barnes


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