In the evening heat of London this July, we may as well have been in a Sydney summer as the Sydney Children’s Choir gracefully and with innocent joy, took us to their heartland on the final evening of their 2013 European tour.
There were no signs of flagging spirits amongst the now-seasoned travellers at the end of this 4 week tour which has taken in festival and concert appearances in Barcelona, Lyon, Normandy, Paris and the three landmark venues in London – St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and St John’s Smith’s Square.
Conducted by Artistic Director and founder Lyn Williams OAM, the performance had the hallmarks of what the Sydney Children’s Choir has made its signature style – perfectly pitched pure toned a capella singing, a freedom from being score-bound, shimmering harmony and innovation – innovation that came in the form of choreographed singing, percussion and string accompaniments from the choristers themselves. The singers clicked, clapped and stomped their way through their repertoire, at times in traditional choral formation and at others, encircling the audience in a warm harmonic embrace.
The choir rested the sacred repertoire they had performed during their week in London and presented a programme of contemporary Australian choral music comprising classics from the SCC canon as well as newer and commissioned works.
Opening with Shall We Dream by Michael Atherton, the choir moved through Ruth MacCall’s arrangement of Waltzing Matilda, Joseph Twist’s Rain Dream, and other facets of Australian heritage and its landscape painted in music with traditional songs from the Torres Strait, and by composers Stephen Leek, Cory Kirk, Lyn Williams, Denis Newie, Dan Walker, Elena Kats-Chernin and traditional . The piece de resistance came at the end with each singer holding an illuminated diorama that told their very own story, after which the dioramas were stacked to create a bigger canvas.
As Lyn Williams said, whilst addressing the audience, part of her philosophy is to instil in the choristers a sense of “independence and ownership of performance”. Certainly there was no doubt about this in the confidence of the young choristers as they moved about the stage and delivered a flawless and polished performance. The discipline required of a choral singer was not allowed to stifle individuality.
Welcomed back to the choir as Guest Conductor was alumnus Sam Allchurch, presently undertaking post-graduate studies at the University of Cambridge. Sally Whitwell, composer, conductor, arranger and exponent of the music of Philip Glass was present in her role as the ever-reliable pianist for the choir.
Sitting in the audience with several alumni of the Sydney Children’s Choir now working in London – many of them in music careers, it was evident to me that their childhood experiences with the ensemble defined their lives to a significant extent and created life-long friendships.
Shamistha de Soysa for SoundslIkeSydney©