He wrote four horn concertos, but how many litanies? Mozart keeps the Fellows guessing...


After the two long days of rehearsals for the National Youth Chamber Choir concert at Cadogan Hall, we made our way by train to Gresham’s School in Holt, Norfolk. We were picked up from Sheringham station by the Director of Music himself, John Bowley. As always, the world of music proves to be incredibly small: I found that John was the husband of Nicki Kennedy – one of the regular singing teachers for NYCGB, with whom I have had quite a few eye-opening lessons whilst on NYCGB courses. Nicki also works at Gresham’s and is Head of Singing and director of the Prep School Chapel Choir.

When we arrived at the school we went straight to the chapel to record a setting of the Nunc Dimittis written by Sixth Form student Sam Aldersey-Williams for his exam coursework submission. Sam is not only a talented composer but an organist too, accompanying us from the manuals during the recording. We enjoyed singing this accomplished piece of music and we wish Sam all the best with his results and future compositions!

Sam is of course following in illustrious footsteps. Benjamin Britten went to school at Gresham's and actually wrote one of his most frequently performed choral pieces ‘A Hymn to the Virgin’ at the age of 16 whilst recuperating from illness in the school’s sickbay. The school recently opened the Britten Building in his honour, a fantastic new facility for music education and performance. That said, some of Britten’s germs must have been still lurking around as a variety of sore throats and colds plagued the Fellowship during our few days together with Jacob and Sarah Lucy having to bow out of scheduled events at various points. If only we could all rattle off a masterpiece whilst suppressing a cold…

After a short rehearsal to prepare our octet repertoire we joined with the Schola Cantorum of Gresham’s and the European Union Chamber Orchestra (EUCO) to rehearse for the evening’s concert in which we were to perform Haydn’s 'Little Organ Mass' and Mozart’s 'Ave Verum Corpus' and 'Litaniae Laurentanae' - in which last work the eight Fellows had all been assigned small solo sections. In his prolific composing career, Mozart had annoyingly written multiple Litaniae’s and due to a mix-up, excitingly discovered in rehearsal, the Fellowship had been given a different one to prepare to the one scheduled for performance. Thankfully there were spare copies of the right version and the solos were not as demanding as the ones we had prepared! It was perhaps an unwanted experience but it is something I imagine can happen quite often in the professional world. John Bowley went above and beyond to make sure we were all prepared to perform. I am always in awe of the talents of the other Fellows but they really shone through in that concert, singing with such confidence and musicality as if they had sung the solos a thousand times.

The following day's concert at St John's, Smith Square was perhaps more calm as we were repeating the programme we performed at Gresham’s. It was lovely to see two past Fellows on the day - Elspeth Piggott who was filling in for Lizzy and also Jamie Wright who as an Old Greshamian was in the audience to support his old school. We had less to do in this concert as we didn’t have to perform our octet repertoire but the wear and tear of singing five days straight was beginning to show. I found my mind was more tired than my voice which meant I really had to focus to keep in control of my technique. Maintaining balanced posture was also a real effort and I felt the NYCGB Alexander Teacher’s advice ringing in my ears. It’s also important to make sure you’re hydrated whilst singing for an extended period of time and Nathan was clued up to this, filling up his water bottle at any opportunity and taking small sips regularly. He even nicknamed water ‘liquid gold’, maybe it won’t feature on a Chanel advert anytime soon but I think he’s got it spot on!

After we had done our bit we were treated to a mind-blowing performance of Mozart’s fourth Horn Concerto from EUCO and 2016 BBC Young Musician finalist Ben Goldscheider. It was a real inspiration to see the amount of control and presence both Ben and the orchestra had on stage. You felt as if you desperately needed to listen to every note because they clearly had a profound knowledge and love of this music that they were happy to share.

That's it for this episode. We're looking forward to being reunited at the next Fellowship event - at Abbey Road!