review of the Carnival of the Animals

July 2, 2022

What an amazing finale to the Ely Arts Festival this year! On Friday 1st July, Ely Cathedral was packed. There were 300 children on stage with a full orchestra including pianists, the conductor, Chris Parsons, and a fine soloist, Betty Jones.

The driving force behind it was Chris Parsons and he must have spent hours working towards this splendid evening’s entertainment.  It was time well worth spending.

The concert opened with a wonderful surprise. We were expecting to see the children wearing their fantastic animal masks parade down the aisle of the nave in Ely Cathedral to take their places on stage in the octagon. However, when I turned round to see the children, I was amazed to be met with a huge creature – that was the Ely Eel. It was spectacular indeed.

The programme of music was most fitting and included movements from the ‘Carnival of the Animals’ by Saint Saens, the Lion King, and the Jungle Book. Other pieces included: ‘The lion Sleeps Tonight’ by Solomon Linda, ‘Walking the Dog’ by George Gershwin, and the premiere of ‘The Eel’ by Jonathan Brigg.  This new piece had striking themes and featured brass instruments to reflect the majesty of this creature.

The best part for me was when Chris had everyone joining in with movements to create the sounds of jungle rain. With his infectious joy there were very few of us who could not help joining in the hand clapping, the clicking of fingers, the knee slapping or thumping of feet under his direction.

The choirs that took part came from Ely College, Ely St John’s, Ely St Mary’s, the Lantern, Littleport Community, primary schools from the Rackham, Stretham, Sutton and Wilburton, and Witchford Village College. Their wonderful, jubilant voices added considerable vitality to this exciting evening.

The soloist was clear and strong, giving an edge to ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ and the orchestra which contained professionals and sometimes students from the City of Ely College, was magnificent. The pianists, Jonathan Brigg and Tom Nichol, were highly skilled and raced across the keys with accuracy and abandonment in the finale of the ‘Carnival of the Animals’.

We were treated to a calm, serene break with Glenn Demspey playing ‘The Swan’ on the church organ.

This evening was highly successful and it not only gave the children a chance to enjoy the thrill of taking part in a huge musical, but it gave some of them a chance to hear a live orchestra and to be in Ely Cathedral for the first time.

We look forward to a similar spectacular evening next year!

Ely Eel

Review: Suffolk Philharmonic in Ely Cathedral on the 25th June 2022 

June 27, 2022

A splendid concert of works by Mendelssohn was held in Ely Cathedral on Saturday.  It featured Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Leslie Olive and it was certainly a concert well worth attending. The best of Mendelssohn was featured: his ‘Hebrides Overture’, his violin Concerto and his Italian Symphony.  

The Overture swept us into the feeling of depth and spaciousness of huge waves swelling and dying at this famous landmark that Mendelssohn visited when he came to England. The rich textures were leisurely nurtured and the familiar melodic material made beautifully resonant or playful as the music decreed. The evocative sounds that Mendelssohn created fed our imaginations as we remained transfixed with this fine performance.  

When I was a music student, in my second year, I would sit in my college room with my feet on the mantlepiece over a roaring wood fire and Mendelssohn’s violin concerto playing constantly: sheer bliss. There is something that captures your thoughts and emotions in Mendelssohn’s unforgettable music. Even then, the violin soloist, Charlotte Saluste-Bridoux, managed to bring something new to this work that had become so familiar to me. Somehow, when playing perfectly accurately, she added her own unique emphases and suggestions of extra, meaningful phrasing to the melodic material which made the music come alive. She was also especially expressive in the softer more thoughtful sections. With her phenomenal technique, she exalted in the rapid arpeggios and melodic combinations.   

The ’Italian’ symphony was splendid. It’s joyous and playful characteristics in the first movement were performed with refreshing abandonment while at the same time, every subtle underlying expression was clearly portrayed. In the second movement, there was no mistaking the sense of a procession with its measured ‘walking pace’ speed. The woodwind featured positively and strongly in this movement as did the marked, shorter notes in the lower strings. The third movement provided a graciousness interlude with the horns having a particularly successful display. The work ended in the rapid revelry of the fourth movement that made a fitting and joyful ending to this grand event.  

It is hoped that Suffolk Philharmonic will come to Ely Cathedral again.  

Review concert by Ely Sinfonia Saturday 30th April 2022

May 3, 2022

It’s at times like these that we really appreciate the first-rate concerts that we have in our magnificent Ely Cathedral. These delights are such a contrast to our current war-torn Europe. Tonight’s splendid event featured Ely Sinfonia which played a tribute to Ukraine by performing its national anthem at the beginning of the concert. The audience stood in spontaneous sympathy. Added to its poignancy was the magnificence of the centuries-old cathedral vaults and the current artwork depicting ‘After the Fall’.   

The music played tonight was Dvorak’s ‘Serenade for Strings in E major’ and Mahler’s first symphony.

Under the expert directorship of Steve Bingham, these works flourished.

The Dvorak allowed us to revel in full, rich harmonies and sustained lyrical melodies that drew us into the swell of the music. The richness of the massed stringed instruments was infused with warmth. Glorious modulations opened up the fabric to exhilaration and light. This charming work in the hands of these fine instrumentalists took us on an amazing, varied journey ranging from joyful emotional heights, rhythmic buoyancy, rapid sweeping climaxes to delicate wistfulness. It is no wonder this attractive work is so popular.

Mahler’s symphony, on the other hand, gave us much to think about and as I left the concert, my mind was still buzzing with the excitement of the work. At first glance, we felt that we were on a jaunt to the countryside with the music full of references to folk tunes and bird calls. However, there was a sophistication and cleverness in the way they were interwoven, juxtaposed and orchestrated to create a cohesive, many-faceted and intriguing work.

When the symphony opened with its very soft, slow and eerie introduction, we knew we were being gradually drawn into something deep and meaningful.  This some 80-strong orchestra was exploited to the full, the timbre of each instrument given rare equality and depth. We had the ‘usual’ jauntiness and warmth of the strings, the occasional burst of a fanfare from the brass, woodwind bird calls and the accentuating percussion. However, also in the mix was the double bass opening the third movement with the round ‘Frere Jacques’ in a minor key, the visceral rumbling of drums, blaring French horns and demonic laughter in the final movement. The depth of contrast was phenomenal with the pastoral tranquillity in the opening movements to the agitated and passionate storm of the final movement – somewhat reminiscent of a ‘Dies Irae’ (‘Day of Wrath’) in its most violent form.  All life was here and such meaningful effects were only possible through the unsurmountable skill and dedication of these excellent instruments led by their phenomenal conductor, Steve Bingham.

We were indeed given an amazing and memorable experience.

The next event to look forward to by Ely Sinfonia will be their concert on 24th September in Ely Cathedral at 7.30 p.m. featuring flautist Thomas Hancox playing Carl Neilson’s flute concerto.

Pictured: Conductor, Steve Bingham

 

Lighting up the star at St Andrew’s Church Witchford

April 14, 2022

The team is ready to light up the star. 

Pictured are Brian Setchell, Keith Dolan, Keith McCourt, Peter Norman and George Jellicoe. They are preparing to light up the star on the 12th century tower of St Andrew’s Church Witchford to celebrate Easter.  This initiative was started last Christmas when the villagers asked if it could be lit up again at Christmas and Easter in memory of Anna Hult, a previous vicar who had recently died. 

On Sunday 17th April, Easter Day, the star will be lit up again with a small ceremony at 830 p.m. that day (weather permitting).  One of the members, Keith Dolan, is an ex-fireman and he says: “I am pleased to be able to use my skills for a good purpose again.”

Ely Choral Society in Ely Cathedral April 9th 2022

April 14, 2022

Review: Ely Choral Society Concert on Saturday 9th April in Ely Cathedral

Ely Choral Society presented a magnificent concert on Saturday. Under the directorship of Andrew Parnell, the choir produced some splendid sounds creating moving effects, ranging from moments of reflection with gentle, peaceful well-blended harmony to tremendous, dramatic climaxes. This night celebrated Andrew’s 20 years as conductor of the choir and the first premier of his composition, The Alpha and Omega was a very fitting and moving tribute.

The shadow of Ukraine was present at this concert, with the conductor and choir members wearing ribbons with Ukraine’s colours and the collection afterwards was for Ukraine and its suffering people.

The programme was well-chosen to reflect this. The first piece, ‘The Peacemakers’ by Sasha Johnson Manning, had its premier too, and the audience in Ely Cathedral was mesmerised as this fine choir sang unaccompanied. The title was echoed splendidly in the words and beautiful soft harmonies of the music.

This plea for peace was aptly followed by Andrew’s ‘Alpha and Omega’ that used texts from the Bible, reassuring us that God is ever-present and ever powerful and is an eternal source of succour and relief. It was clear that Andrew knew all about choirs and how to use them effectively. Many times, his music asked the women voices in angelic thirds, to be followed by the deeper reassuring men’s voices before joining together, giving the feeling that there were indeed two powerful elements at play. The soprano soloist, Tara Bungard, reflected the words ‘a pure river of water of life’ perfectly with a delicious purity in her voice while the pianists, Maurice Hodges and Marie-Noelle Kendal accompanied cohesively giving tremendous weight to the climaxes.

The final work of the evening was Brahms’ ‘Requiem’ another fitting composition for the theme of the concert. The dark, haunting depths of the second movement that recur: ‘Dan alles Fleisch es ist wie gras’ (For all flesh is like grass) optimised the overawing effects that death has on us. Hearing this work in German was indeed the right decision – the music matching the natural stresses and meanings of the words so well. Thanks go to the programme producer for providing the translation to assist those of us who are not fluent in German!

In this work, Brahms’ familiar expansive style was quickly recognisable and particularly well managed by the performers. The pianists were being asked to stretch their fingers and master phenomenal passages, and the choir was given the opportunity for their voices to rise heavenward with delightful swells in the rising phrases. The baritone soloists, Jeremy Burrows, gave an impressively moving performance, giving strength to the pathos of the words that reflected the brevity of our human lives. This was indeed a very moving concert. Their next event will be on Saturday the 10th of July at 6 p.m. in the Hayward Theatre, King’s Ely.   

News item with comment

March 15, 2022

re democracy

It is not just Europe where the erosion of democracy is happening. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that the new trading company, set up by East Cambridgeshire Council as an independent company, has been permitted to take money away from the control of the group of people we elected as members of our district council. If I read the report correctly, over 6 million pounds has been lent by the council to this company which is involved in building. I understand that the company is led by one person, albeit, a very capable person and that a quorum of 2 are needed to make decision over these huge sums of money. Surely this reduces considerably ‘democratic’ control which is a principle that is at the very heart of this country?

If our District Council has over 6 million to spare, what stopped this council from building social housing itself? I say ‘social housing, rather than ‘affordable’ housing, for affordable houses are below the market price and not always affordable.

With the likelihood of more and more genuine refugees needing accommodation, isn’t now the time that we and the council should be preparing places for them to live? It is not as if it would be a waste of money. Real refugees want to continue the jobs and professions they were engaged in previously. They would be paying rent to the council and helping our local economy.

Review: Concert by Ely Consort on Saturday 12th March 2022 in Ely Cathedral

March 14, 2022

Ely Consort, directed by Matthew Rudd, gave a concert of astounding beauty last Saturday night. The event took place, very appropriately, in the intimate setting of the presbytery at the east end of Ely Cathedral. We were made to feel very much a part of this profound musical experience. 

The pieces performed were by Spencer, Harris, Bononcini, Gjeilo and Cherubini. Although a number of these composers are not very well known, their music was very approachable, meaningful and resonated with potent expression. The highly experienced and competent conductor valued every sustained passage and it was obvious that the choir members were thoroughly engrossed in the making of their mesmerising music.

The two works that opened the concert were unaccompanied compositions by Spencer and Harris. Williametta Spencer’s ‘At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners’ was performed with polish and keen exploration of the contrasts. ‘Bring us O Lord’ by Sir William H. Harris, had tremendous depth achieved by the magnificent blending of two separate choirs.

In Giovanni Bononcini’s ‘When Soul was King Over Us’, the choir was joined by a small group of effective instrumentalists: a string quartet and a single harpsichord/piano player who worked well with the overall fabric of the music. This piece, perhaps more than any, created variety in the choice of solo groups of voices, strikingly different styles, including beginning with an emphatic dotted rhythm, or moving into moments of counterpoint.

The title itself was enough to indicate a work of powerful effect in Gjeilo’s ‘Luminous Night of Sound’. The work featured the piano as an integral and important ‘soloist’ that was soon joined almost imperceptively by the equally important choir and other instrumentalists.

The crowning glory of the evening was ‘Requiem’ by Cherubini. The exquisite, soft tranquillity that these fine singers evoked was matched with the potency and dramatic effect of the climaxes produced. The keyboard performer, Roland Robertson, played the cathedral organ in this composition and was able to create some impact with this magnificent beast. This was indeed a work that epitomised the sentiments that we say to the dead: ‘Rest in peace’. The majority of the movements were sustained sounds of exquisitely gentle, reverence and awe, except for the Dies Irae with its frightening edgy drama from the organ and sinister ‘snapping’ voices from the choir.

This was indeed a most successful concert. We look forward to their next event: ‘The Grand Tour’ on Saturday 2nd July in St. Andrew’s Church Sutton. For more information, please search the web (including Facebook) for ‘Ely Consort’.    

Review: The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the Corn Exchange in Cambridge on the 19th February 2020.

February 20, 2020

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Domingo Hinoyan and  Leon McCawley gave a splendid concert in the Corn Exchange in Cambridge on Wednesday 19th February 2020. This fine orchestra conducted by Domingo Hindoyan, knew how to inspire the audience. The performers expressed every nuance of their phrases with complete involvement and understanding.

The works performed included. Glinka’s Overture: ‘Life for the Tsar’, Beethoven’s piano concerto no1, featuring Leon McCawley as the piano soloist, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5.

In Glinka’s overture the orchestra brought out touches of unmistakeable Russian flavour both in folk-like light-heartedness and contrasting dramatic melancholy. .

Leon McCawley, in Beethoven’s first concerto, was superb. Most professional musicians know that even the simplest of phrases needs a great deal of care to play them well and he understood this principle well. His finger work was agile and precise and could be delicate, virtuosic or emotive as required. There was some particularly clear pedalling in his performance too. He is undoubtedly a magnificent piano soloist and intuitive musician.

After interval, Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony reminded us again of the richness and pathos of the Russian psyche. Beneath the charm and beauty of Tchaikovsky’s tuneful melodies the performers brought out a feeling of sadness and unresolved passion.  This large orchestra fully explored the different colours of the separate sections effortlessly and with panache. The performers were undoubtedly extremely talented and assured.

This was indeed a delightful concert. The next one in the Boldfield Computing series will be on Tuesday 10th March contact cornex.co.uk/orchestral.

Review of the European Union Chamber Orchestra in the Cambridge Corn Exchange on Friday 31st January 2020.

February 8, 2020

On this auspicious evening, the last night of the UK’s membership of the European Union, the European Union Chamber Orchestra gave a highly successful concert. The Cambridge Corn Exchange was filled with music of the best quality that kept the audience transfixed and, in the words of the conductor, Eva Stegeman, the music the performers played spoke more than words could suffice.

The evening included works by Marcello, Mozart, Glazunov, Tchaikovsky and Haydn. The orchestra worked as one, displaying a unique, intuitive cohesion such that even the slightest turn of phrase or intricate run, no matter how rapid, was perfectly synchronised.

The star of the evening was the saxophone soloist, Jess Gillam, who wowed the audience with her astounding performance. She lived and breathed every note of her performance moving her whole body in sympathy with the expressiveness of the music.

As soon as the first piece, Saxophone Concerto in D minor, by Marcello, began, we knew that the concert would be first-class. The tone was rich and the orchestra and soloists’ sounds were perfectly balanced. The phrasing was exquisitely precise never detracting from the emotional content of the pieces.

A charming, light-hearted ‘Cassation no.1 in G K.63’ by Mozart followed. This was gentle and sometimes cheerful with effects such as lightly plucked strings helping to make this a delightful interlude before Glazunov’s ‘Saxophone Concerto. In this concerto, Jess brought out the emotional depth of this later work particularly well, exploring the wide range of the instrument and making light of the rapid runs. She used her tremendous tonguing and breathing techniques to enhance  the deliciously rich tones of the alto saxophone.

Just before the interval she played a justly deserved encore that sounded very like a luscious arrangement of the song ‘Someone to Watch over Me’. The last long note was a testament to her phenomenal breath control.

After interval we enjoyed Tchaikovsky’s ‘Elegy for Strings’ and Haydn’s Symphony No. 49, ‘La Passione’. The orchestra came into its own with these pieces, the strings’ rich tone giving depth to the melancholic themes in the Tchaikovsky and the whole orchestra proving its phenomenal cohesion especially in the Haydn, even in the very rapid Presto at the end.

This was a wonderful evening.

The next concert in the Boldfield Orchestral Series will be on Friday 7th February at the Cambridge Corn Exchange featuring the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with soloist Nicola Benedetti and ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ by Berlioz.

Box office 01223 357851 cornex.co.uk/orchestral

A review of the concert in the Cambridge Corn Exchange on Friday 7th February 2020

February 8, 2020

It was no wonder the Corn Exchange in Cambridge was packed for the concert given by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra on Friday night  was fantastic. Featuring conductor Klaus Mäkelä and violin soloist Nicola  Benedetti, the programme for the evening presented two well-known, popular works: Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major opus 35 and Symphonie Fantastique opus 14 by Berlioz. These works complemented each other very well.

The opening violin concerto required a phenomenal technique and Nicola demonstrated that she was a match for the most highly regarded virtuosic performers. She played with confident flamboyance, centring the notes exactly even in the most rapid passages. The orchestra responded particularly well in the more gentle moments. Highlights within this concerto were the Canzonetta, its instants of wistfulness and gentle nostalgia and the later rapid passages with their challenges to rhythmic cohesion.

The tunefulness of this work was contrasted by the heart-rending passion of the Berlioz. Unrequited love rarely leads to success but in this case, the gnawing angst suffered by the composer resulted in this amazing composition and its pain-drenched, fixed melodic idea (or idée fixe) that pervaded the work.  The magnitude of his feelings was matched by the huge orchestra and the colours he created swept us through a myriad of feelings. This orchestra captured the moods perfectly and had us sitting on the edge of our seats waiting in anticipation for the impending doom that we knew was coming. A whole range of moods and feelings were conjured by the composer. Even the tuneful strings were able to express smooth beauty one minute, demonic sneers the next. These fine musicians transported us easily from the gentle reveries of the opening,  with its occasional outbursts of passion, the exhilarating waltz in the dance hall, the charm of the countryside, and a sinister-military- flavoured- march that degenerated readily into a surreal and uneasy satanic Sabbath.

This was indeed a magnificent concert.

The next concert in the Boldfield Orchestral Series will be on Wednesday the 19th of February featuring the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Domingo Hindoyan playing Glinka’s Overture: life for the Tsar and piano soloist, Leon McCawley, playing Beethoven piano concerto no 1. For more information contact cornex.co.uk/orchestral box office 01223357851