Posts Tagged ‘Ely Sinfonia’

A review of ‘Verdi’s Requiem’ in Ely Cathedral on Saturday 4th May 2019

May 5, 2019

It is no wonder that this was a popular event and that this Requiem is performed so often. This night’s performance of Verdi’s Requiem given by Ely Sinfonia, the King’s Lynn Festival Chorus and soloists was magnificent. We were treated to all the emotionally-packed aria-like melodic material that we know and love from Verdi’s operas, while at the same time, these amazing musicians drew every ounce of religious fervour, excitement and reverence from the score.

Conducted by Steve Bingham, this fine choir and orchestra were able to present incredible contrasts in expression and volume. The extremely soft moments, especially in the strings, were amazing. Contrasting this, were phenomenal moments of great excitement and climax with the cathedral vaults positively resounding with fantastic voluminous sounds.

There were some particularly effective instants and these included thoughtful reverence in the Introit, spine-chilling, frenetic agony in the recurring Dies Irae (Day of wrath), eerie mystery with the words ‘Liber scriptus proferetur’ and a delightful sense of light permeating ‘Lux aeterna’.

The soloists were Aoife O’Connell (soprano), Freya Jacklin (mezzo soprano), Michael Solomon Williams (tenor) and Laurence Williams (bass). They were wonderful and balanced perfectly, enhancing the score with passionate depth and beauty.

This was a wonderful evening’s concert that brought home how important such heightened music is in our lives and how it creates episodes that reach far beyond reality. Sounds such as these take us away from ordinary humdrum problems that plague our lives at ground level. Everyone should be able to experience such sublime realms of musical genius.

The next event to look forward to is on Saturday 21st September in Ely Cathedral at 7.30 p.m. which will be Ely Sinfonia’s Twentieth Anniversary Concert featuring Martin Roscoe playing Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No 2, Beethoven’s Symphony no. 78 and Mozart’s Symphony no. 29. For more information contact or



Review of the concert given by Ely Sinfonia and Martin Roscoe concert in Ely Cathedral on Saturday 22nd October 2016 (photos featuring Steve Bingham Martin Roscoe and members of the audience Dr Arthur and Colin Wills)

October 23, 2016

review-gershwin-16-arthur-and-colin-wills-yreview-gershwin-16-steve-bingham-yEly Sinfonia members, under the directorship of Steve Bingham, were excellent on Saturday when they performed works by Bernstein, Gershwin and Aaron Copland in Ely Cathedral. They handled the tricky rhythms, rapid runs and sonorous harmonies with real aplomb. This orchestra has certainly come on a long way since it first started.

The star solo performer of the night was Martin Roscoe, a highly accomplished and experienced musician. He played Gershwin’s ‘Piano Concerto in F’ with calm assurance, using an amazing variety of touch and virtuosic technique that made the piece sparkle. He gave the impression of playing in three-dimensions, sharp melodic phrases being brought out clearly with other subsidiary phrases shaped carefully underneath.  He had that special quality that only first class pianists have; he pulled back almost imperceptivity with Gershwin’s emotional passages so that every nuance of feeling was explored. When Martin said at interval that he enjoyed his visit to Ely Cathedral, I am sure we certainly enjoyed having him come and considering his wealth of knowledge of piano concertos it is to be hoped he comes again.

Of the purely orchestral pieces for the evening, Aaron Copland’s ‘Quiet City’ appealed to me most. This mostly quiet composition was performed very well, conveying exquisitely a serenity that created a magical atmosphere, stirring the imagination wonderfully.

Bernstein’s ‘Overture to Candide’ was colourful and expressive with the changes in dynamics brought out particularly well. In Aaron Copland’s ‘Appalachian Spring’, the performers gave a highly skilful and entertaining performance giving us fitting snippets of America that ended the evening perfectly. It was heartening to hear the well known tune ‘Simple Gifts’ included. (This tune is known to us as ‘The Lord of the Dance’.)

It was indeed a splendid evening. Ely Sinfonia’s next major event will be ‘Symphonie Metamorphosis’ with works by Hindemith, Ravel and Franck on 6 May 2017 in Ely Cathedral.


Review of Ely Sinfonia’s concert on Saturday 12th March 2016 in Ely Cathedral

March 21, 2016

Steve Bingham March 2016

Under the expert baton of Steve Bingham, Ely Sinfonia presented a concert of French music in Ely Cathedral on Saturday. The varied programme included ‘Danse Macabre’ by Saint-Saëns, ‘Chants d’Auvergne’ by Canteloube featuring soloists Tara Bungard and ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ by Berlioz.

The first work, ‘Danse Macabre’, contained all the ingredients of a vibrant emotional story of death as a symbolic figure. There was much swapping of instruments by these excellent performers during the evening and this was the first demonstration of this. The lead violinist coped magnificently with the demands of the composer to retune the top string of one of her instruments to bring out the sinister death-like interval of the triton (augmented fourth) that is so familiar and the dance of death that followed pulsated with rhythmic drive and vibrant, colourful orchestration.  The phenomenal technique of the conductor and instrumentalists was evident from the start and shaped this performance into something special.

Tara Bungard (soprano) has an excellent voice. Breath control, placement and projection of the sounds into the massive cathedral were perfect such that I could not help comment immediately afterwards – ‘Now THAT is how you sing!’ She coloured the songs from the Auvergne beautifully and when she reached the final one it became obvious why this work had been included in the porgramme. When the last song, Bailèro, began there was an intake of breath from the audience – this very popular song used by so many in different scenarios, floated through this huge building exquisitely – a real spine-chilling affair.  We are very fortunate to have this singer in our midst.

The evening culminated with another well-known work: ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ and all the eccentricities, heart-wrenching climaxes and extremely varied scenes from the glittering splendour of waltzing dancers to the sinister toll of the death knell were conveyed confidently and effectively by this now experienced orchestra. The fixed idea – a unique melody that regularly appeared in different guises – expressed perfectly the haunted composer’s unrequited love for the Irish actress Harriet Smithson.   This composition was not easy to play, for a number of times instrumentalists were taken well away from their normal comfort zones to create amazing effects and these performers rose to these challenges magnificently.

For more information about this phenomenal orchestra see:


A review of ‘Island and Hereward’ at Ely Cathedral on Saturday 21st March 2015.

March 26, 2015

Ely Cathedral buzzed with excitement as the stage packed with singers in preparation for a grand concert. They were accompanied by one of Ely’s finest orchestras: Ely Sinfonia and conducted by the renowned Steve Bingham. Together, they gave a first performance of two new works: ‘Hereward’ by Richard Brown and ‘Island’ by Jeremy Harmer and Phil Toms.
When the programme announces a newly composed work is to be presented, I am usually very wary – some modern compositions can be fresh exciting and meaningful while others –
However, tonight proved to be a delightful evening and both compositions were splendid with many grand moments or moments that were evocative, thrilling or just jolly. The vocal lines were clear and succinct, the orchestration skilfully and expressively designed.
The best moments for me in the first composition, Hereward, were in the second movement, ‘Battle’. I would have loved to have been up there on the stage with the performers, stamping my feet to the marching warriors. The first movement evoked the mysteriousness of the Fens perfectly while the third movement was soothing and the final movement was a joyful and tuneful final ‘Celebration’.
This work was commissioned by The High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire, Linda Fairbrother, and if you are interested in performing it, you should contact Cambridge Music or Linda on It comes highly recommended.
The second piece was an enchanting story narrated by Jeremy Harmer who composed the work with Phil Toms. Singers included Ely Imps, massed children’s voices from local primary schools, in Voco Parentis from King’s College Cambridge and the Colchester Institute Cantores Chamber Choir. The quality of performance was amazing considering the numbers involved. The soloists were excellent and featured Jack Grinstead, Lucy Pearce, Robin Horgan, Mark Hounsell,, Jan Moore and Rebecca Duckworth.
This was indeed a special community event that gave much joy to performers and audience.
Ely Sinfonia’s next event will be on the 5th of April when Ely Sinfonia will play Mozart’s Coronation Mass for the Cathedral’s Easter Mass. and a major concert to book early for will be their ‘Eroica, Music from the Romantic Era’ on 9th May at Ely Cathedral contact:
Ely Cathedral Box Office tel: 01353 660349 email:
Ely Sinfonia enquiries: 07889157222/01353721007 email

Review: Ely Sinfonia playing Elgar in Ely Cathedral on Saturday 29th March 2014.

April 5, 2014

Steve Bingham has reached astounding levels of musicality with Ely Sinfonia. In the concert last night they were positively inspired and brought Elgar’s music alive with almost tangible excitement. While strong patriotism was present, what transfixed us was the sheer joy the musicians exuded as they revelled in Elgar’s sweeping phrases, emotional exuberance, lyrical tenacity and thrilling and colourful orchestration

‘Introduction and Allegro for Strings’ was magnificent, featuring The Cassia String Quartet and refining the music with precision and soul – even in the ‘devilish’ fugue. It was sheer magic.

The ‘Sea pictures’ were sung by the impressive mezzo-soprano Hannah Pedley. Voice and orchestra captured the messages and atmosphere of the poems beautifully.

The evening culminated with one of the most vibrant performances I have heard of the popular ‘Enigma Variations’. Highlights for me included the familiar seventh variation (Troyte) in which they created a fantastic storm, while the well-known ‘Nimrod’, the ninth variation, was particularly dynamic, maintaining its inherent potency with exquisite control.  All the other characters were there in full splendour including the charming Caroline Alice Elgar, the composer’s wife, the bombastic local squire who ‘spoke’ very energetically, the stammering Dora Penny and the accident-prone bulldog.

This was indeed a splendid evening.

The next performance by Ely Sinfonia will be as part of the Ely Festival and they will be presenting Mozart for Midsummer on Friday June 20th in Ely Cathedral Presbytery at 8 pm.


Review of Ely Sinfonia’s Concert on Saturday April 13th in Ely Cathedral

May 11, 2013

Ely Sinfonia, an orchestra of professional and amateur musicians founded in 1999, has grown to a sizeable and effective group who gave e most enjoyable concert in Ely Cathedral on Saturday.

The programme was well chosen and included the popular ‘Hebrides Overture’ (Fingals’ Cave) by Felix Mendelssohn, ‘Horn Concerto no 1’ by Richard Strauss and ‘Symphony no 2’ by Johannes Brahms.

The opening overture by Mendelssohn was delightful. The performers captured the spirit of this moving piece. What was particularly noticeable was the highly expressive phrasing that gave Mendelssohn’s wonderful melodies emotive depth.

Nick Wolmark, French horn soloist, joined the orchestra to perform the first horn concerto by Richard Strauss. There were some wonderful moments in his performance and when the first notes of the instrument echoed in the high vaults of the Cathedral it was obvious that this was definitely the best place to choose to perform this work. Nick’s playing was beautifully sonorous and crucial notes were given strength and validity in his performance. The subtlety and smoothness he achieved in the second movement was particularly impressive. The orchestra was particularly good in this work and gave the soloist strong, effective support.

Brahms at the best of times is challenging to play but his second symphony was well worth the effort for these performers.  There were some glorious moments and the opening of the third movement was one of the most magical of the evening. The sweeping melodies of Brahms were beautifully played and there were many times when the instrumentalists were able to let us glimpse the genius of Brahms’s writing with his many interweaving melodic echoes and reminiscent strands coming together in a complex cohesive texture.

This was indeed a very pleasant evening. The next concert on Saturday 28th September 2013 730 in Ely Cathedral should not be missed.

Review of A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra in Ely Cathedral on Saturday March 3rd 2012

March 5, 2012

A new spark of excitement was created by Steve Bingham when he conducted Ely Sinfonia for their concert A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra in Ely Cathedral last Saturday. Under his baton, not only did the orchestra perform to considerably high standards, but an extra sense of liveliness, camaraderie and joy permeated their performances.

The concert opened with the première performance of Somniare by Alex Cook, winner of the Cambridge Youth Composer of the Year 2011 prize. With small groups of instruments scattered throughout the Cathedral, this budding new composer was able to create an intriguing atmosphere as strands of sounds were suspended in the vaults of the Cathedral and  came together in long enduring sound combinations give a sense of belonging and a feeling that we were immersed in an expansive film score.

Ravel’s Bolero is a very popular addition to the programme. Although the composer is said to have joked about the piece having no music, this orchestra proved otherwise. As the different instruments came in above the constantly repeated rhythm, in the snare drum, it soon became clear that this was no ordinary performance. None of Ravel’s intentions were lost while the soloists added their individual expressions that brought out the uniqueness of their instruments’ sounds while at the same time giving the composition delightful and meaningful colour and development.

I have heard Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra a hundred times and more. (I taught music in schools for years.) Consequently, it was with a little trepidation that I waited to listen to this piece yet again. However, I need not have feared. This performance was definite proof that a live performance beats any recording. Steve exuded enthusiasm as he introduced the piece and added his own limericks to introduce the children to the instruments as they played in turn. It was quite moving to see the youngsters sitting on cushions in the octagon in front of the orchestra remaining quiet and interested throughout the evening’s performance. The extra vitality and colour that this orchestra added to this very well known composition made it a real joy to hear again.

After interval we were taken into a deeper realm with Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. The four movements of the piece reflected a wide range of emotions and expressions. The skill of the composer and the accomplishment of the performers created a sense of poignant stillness that developed into angry outbursts or deep Russian moodiness. Strong vehement themes exuded potency, and in the second movement particularly, different instruments brought extra character and tones to the proceedings. In the third movement Shostakovich’s skill in using intervals and melodic shape to mix the emotions creating an underlying sense of sadness that permeated the work, while also adding tinges of beauty, fondness and hope. There were many glorious moments when a distinctive Russian voice emerged, especially in the deeper instruments. The final movement contained moments of anger and agitation that were momentarily suspended in delightful episodes of respite only to break out again into expressions of frustration and anxiety, ending with a final unfettered declamation by the drum. This was one of the most exhilarating and inspired performances by Sinfonia I have heard.

Rosemary Westwell


Future events:

Saturday May 26th Linton Village College 7.30 as part of the Linton Music Festival playing Bruch’s violin concerto, Rossini’s Thieving Magpie Overture, Elgar’s Serenade for Strings and Mozart’s Symphony no 40.

Saturday September 29th in Ely Cathedral at 7.30 p.m. Fauré’s Requiem and two works by Samuel Barber: his Adagio for Strings and Knoxville – Summer of 1915 for soprano and small orchestra.

Rosemary Westwell

Review Carols by Candlelight in Ely Cathedral

December 27, 2010

Ely Cathedral, one of the largest Cathedrals in the UK, is hardly the place where you would feel at home or intimate with the coziness of a family gathering, but Paul Trepte, Ely Cathedral Choir, Ely Sinfonia, Ely Imps and Jonathan Lilley achieved all of this in their fund-raising concert Carols by Candlelight on Wednesday 22nd December 2010. Resplendent in the Royal red, Paul managed a packed Cathedral with the warmth and friendliness of the best of benevolent managers. Clutching a candle given to us on entry to the Cathedral, we had plenty of opportunity to sing our favourite carols: Once in Royal David’s City, While Shepherd’s Watched, The Holly and the Ivy, Good King Wenceslas, See Amid the Winter’s Snow, and O Come all Ye Faithful to name but a few. Ely Cathedral Choir excelled themselves (as usual) with beautiful, sonorous performances of Bob Chilcott’s Nova Nova, Christmas Fantasia by Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Carol of the Magi by John Rutter. James Rees, baritone, featured as a worthy soloist. The large choir of young singers, Ely Imps, gave events special charm with their fresh young voices singing Sing we then Merrily by William Byrd, I wonder as I wander by John Jacob Niles and Waltz of the Snowflakes by Peter Illych Tchaikovsky. Waltz of the Snowflakes was a charming picturesque piece in which Ely Imps were joined by the Choristers and Ely Sinfonia. The well established local orchestra, Ely Sinfonia, produced a light agile sound that supported the singers admirably. The performance of movements from George Bizet’s Jeux d’Enfants was light-hearted, energetic and rhythmically exciting. Jonathan Lilley accompanied with usual panache and as he dashed from organ to piano and back not a note was out of place. Proceeds from the concert will benefit the Cathedral’s Christmas Charities (Guide Dogs for the Blind, Oliver Zangwill Centre, St. John’s Hackney and Link House) and the Ely Cathedral Trust. Contact:

Ely Sinfonia’s Travellers’ Tales in Ely Cathedral 2nd October 2010

October 13, 2010

Since its inauguration in November 1999 Ely Sinfonia has developed into a formidable presence in the musical world in Ely and a number of new faces in the orchestra this time added to the vibrancy and sparkle of this fine group of instrumentalists. In spite of competing with a number of high profile events in the area on Saturday night, the orchestra gave a splendid performance of Rossini’s Overture to ‘Italian Girl in Algiers’, ‘Harold in Italy’ by Berlioz and Gershwin’s ‘An American in Paris’.

Under the baton of Steve Bingham, the mischievous humour of Rossini was always present. With a strong sense of excitement and drive, the orchestra tantilised the listeners with tremendous variety of expression. Precise rhythms, joyful climaxes and virtuosic accuracy in the woodwind were the order of the day. This was an excellent choice for the opening of the concert – a choice that captured the attention of the audience immediately.

The underlying melancholy of Berlioz and the beauty of the viola, often overlooked within the bounds of the orchestra, were made apparent in ‘Harold in Italy’. The viola soloist was Brenda Stewart and she gave an excellent performance. In the first movement, ‘Harold aux Montagnes’, the instrumentalists highlighted the sonorous melodies, elongated climaxes and occasional hedonic flourishes so characteristic of Berlioz.  In the second movement, ‘Marche des pélerins chantant la prière du soir’, deep pizzicato, reflective calm contemplation and subtle almost hypnotic use of isolated discord charmed the listeners. The third movement, Sérénade d’un Montagnard des Abruzzez à sa maîtresse, indulged in a countryside feel as the performers reminded us of previous themes. The work ended with an intriguing fourth movement, ‘Orgie des Brigands’, which was introduction by the viola that was soon overwhelmed by an orgy of excitement and chattering pleasure seekers. Steve’s superb conducting created impressive precision in some quite demanding episodes in this movement.

However, the real highlight of the evening for me was Gershwin’s ‘American in Paris’. None of Gershwin’s rhythmic variation, colourful orchestration and exuberance was lost in the performance tonight.  We were swept from the busy excitement of the city, with its hectic traffic, and intermittent blaring horns to languid pensive moments of reflection. The easy swagger of the American revelling in the sights and sounds of this wonderful city was captured perfectly and not a moment was lost. Performers and audience were caught up in an unforgettable experience as they indulged in Gershwin’s unique jazzy style clothed in classical design. Steve Bingham and

Ely Sinfonia proved themselves a formidable force with this magnificent performance.

Future events include:

Wednesday 22nd December 730 p.m. Ely Cathedral’s Christmas Concert

Saturday 5th March 2011 730 p.m. Ely Sinfonia March Spectacular (local venue to be confirmed)

Saturday 2nd July 2011 730 p.m .Serenade to Music 730 p.m. Chatteris Church

Saturday 1st October 2011 730 p.m. Raphael Wallfisch play Dvorak, Ely Cathedral

Saturday 30th October 2011 730 p.m. Ely Choral Society sings Rossini’s ‘Petite Messe Solennelle’

Contact: Ely Cathedral Box Office (01353) 660349

Review of HMS Pinafore in Ely Cathedral 1st May 2010

May 3, 2010

This was definitely a night for Gilbert and Sullivan addicts. After fun-packed workshops during the day the performance in the evening opened with more opportunities for the chorus (the audience) to get it right. Then, after interval, director Ian McMillan rallied chorus, orchestra, organist and a group of fine soloists from English National opera, D’Oyly Carte and London Operetta to produce a rollicking performance of H.M.S. Pinafore – what we were all waiting for.

Local talented individuals, Nina Jellicoe (from Cambridge Operatic Society) and Graham Diss (from Ely Choral Society) found themselves important roles as Hebe and the Boatswain respectively. Then our renowned orchestra, Ely Sinfonia led by Steve Bingham, and key characters Ralph Rackstraw (Oliver White), Josephine (Deborah Crowe), Little Buttercup (Jill Pert), Deadeye (Bruce Graham), Captain (John Lofthouse) and Sir Joseph Porter (Barry Clarke) unravelled the tale of mistaken identity, thwarted lovers and the hypocrisy of rank in the navy.

We were enthralled with the antics of Deadeye, his labored movements and non-attractive personality, the upright nobleness of the much troubled Ralph, the beauty and determination of Josephine, Little Buttercup’s jolly humour, the Captain’s snobbery and the utter pomposity of Sir Joseph. The strength of their characterization was matched perfectly with their rich tones, powerful voices and excellent diction that made light of Gilbert and Sullivan’s renowned rapid patter.

The strains of ‘we sail the ocean blue’, ‘I am the captain of the Pinafore’, ‘his sisters and his cousins and his aunts’, ‘when I was a lad …the ruler of the Queen’s navee’ ‘dear little buttercup’, and ‘he is an English man’ brought it all back to us and we were soon rising to our feet, waving our Union Jacks and singing to the top of our voices.

With prizes for the best costumes in the audience, this was definitely a night to remember and it is no wonder so many came from far afield to revel in this celebration of Gilbert and Sullivan. Next year it will be The Pirates of Penzance from scratch.

Before then you might like to see the performance recommended by Nina:  ‘The Mikado’ by Cambridge Operatic Society in the last week of November (tickets available from the Arts Box Office). Tickets for the ‘Pirates of Penzance from scratch’ in the Cathedral next year will be available from the Cathedral box office nearer the time.

 Rosemary Westwell