Nicholas O'Neill, Chorus Master and Composer in Residence
The Guards' Chapel was a new venue for the Parliament Choir, which I felt worked very well for us. The acoustic is resonant without being overwhelming, and our placement allowed the sound to project vividly and clearly into the building itself. It was a little worrying to find leaflets in the chapel which described the organ as “at the end of its useful life”, but I soon found out that this description was wide of the mark, as the instrument seemed to be some way beyond that point...
Haydn’s ‘Missa Sancti Nicolai’ really sprang to life once the Choir was aware of the verve and colour present in its orchestral accompaniment, and we responded well to the elegance of its writing, while those rare moments of darkness in the piece, such as in the opening section of the Agnus Dei, were communicated with intensity.
My only regret about the première of my work ‘A Certain Everlasting Polyphony’ was that my seat at the organ was behind the Choir and players, so I was only able to experience in part what was described to me afterwards as a “spine-tingling performance”. The audience seemed to respond enthusiastically to the unusual subject matter, and it is clear that the Choir was fully committed to the performance; I was delighted with the result. The horn players were confidently awry at one point, but otherwise this was a wonderful first appearance for this piece, which many people seemed to enjoy.
More enjoyment was to come in the ‘Trumpet Concerto’, though, which positively fizzed with energy as Erika Curbelo handled its demands with ease, and with a richness of tone that, at times, was positively jazzy. This was an effervescent performance, the details of Haydn's writing emerging from the orchestra with real clarity, and all supporting a soloist playing with conviction and verve.
After the restrained elegance of the Mass, the ‘Te Deum’ is all about show, a typical piece of Haydn in his assured maturity. We managed light and shade, loud and soft, and it is a pleasure to be able to report that even the tricky fugue at the end stayed on the rails. No doubt our sight lines to Simon's excellent direction were helped by the staging, but this really was a testament to what an attentive and committed Choir can do.
The Parliament Choir continues to perform to a commendably high standard, certainly at least on the level of many choral societies and possibly above. There is always room for improvement, but we should be proud of what we have achieved, and we sent the audience away bubbling with delight.