Little Britten

3 02 2013


Conductors: Dr Karen Grylls and David Squire

Organist: James Tibbles


A Hymn to the Virgin

Rejoice in the Lamb

Voluntary on Tallis’ Lamentations

Prelude and Fugue on theme of Vittoria

Sacred and Profane

Five Flower Songs

Festival Te Deum

Wednesday 20 March, 2013

Holy Trinity Cathedral, Parnell

Auckland Arts Festival 2013 has invited New Zealand’s finest choirs to raise the roof of Auckland’s Holy Trinity Cathedral for a special concert on 20 March. Performing an array of choral works by one of the 20th century’s leading composers, Benjamin Britten, and conducted by the esteemed Dr Karen Grylls and David Squire, the award-winning Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir and the New Zealand Youth Choir will join forces to mark the centenary of Britten’s birth.

Opening what promises to be a truly moving programme is the meditative A Hymn to the Virgin. An unaccompanied carol, the hymn is one of the earliest examples of Britten’s church music, composed in 1930 when he was just 16 years old. Rejoice in the Lamb, sung by the New Zealand Youth Choir, was excerpted from the poem Jubilate Agno by eighteenth century poet, Christopher Smart, who was in an asylum when he wrote the poem. Whilst there are playful elements of madness in the text, for example “For I will consider my Cat Jeoffrey … a cat, surpassing in beauty, from whom I take occasion to bless Almighty God…”, the work is, at its core, striking and deeply religious.

Accompanying the choristers, respected organist James Tibbles, who is also appearing in the Auckland Arts Festival’s Coffee with Mr Bach, will be giving the New Zealand premiere of Voluntary on Tallis’ Lamentations, a recently discovered Britten organ solo. Attendees to both Little Britten and Britten’s War Requiem, being performed on 23 March at the Town Hall, might notice a recurring theme across both works, one that can be heard in both the Lamentations and in War Requiem’s Agnus Dei. James will also be playing Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Vittoria, the most popular of Britten’s organ works and was written for St Matthew’s Church, Northampton, to be performed on St Matthew’s Day 1946.

Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir will be performing one of Britten’s last completed works, Sacred and Profane for unaccompanied voices in five parts. Composed in 1975, the work is a collection of eight short medieval English poems. Voices New Zealand will also be performing Britten’s Five Flower Songs which were written in 1950 as a 25th anniversary present for friends Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst who were keen botanists.

To conclude the programme, both choirs will come together for a glorious rendition of Britten’s Festival Te Deum, accompanied by James Tibbles on the organ. Little Britten is dedicated to the memory of David Carson-Parker who died suddenly on Sunday, 21 October 2012. David was Chair of Choirs Aotearoa New Zealand Trust for many years, and a true patron of the arts.

Since forming in 1979, the New Zealand Youth Choir has achieved success world-wide. Performances across the globe and nine international tours have firmly established the choir’s reputation for consistency, creativity, energy and excellence. Comprising 60 singers aged 18-25, the choir has represented New Zealand at multiple World Choral Symposiums; won the ‘Choir of the World’ title at the International Music Eisteddfod in Wales (1999); performed at a convention of the American Choral Directors’ Association; released a CD, Gaude, to critical acclaim (2004); and competed in several international choral competitions.

Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir was formed in 1998 by the New Zealand Youth Choir Board, with Dr Karen Grylls as its first and only Artistic Director. As a nationally selected choir of the highest calibre, Voices New Zealand is a chamber choir capable of performing a wide repertoire. Many of the singers are alumni of the New Zealand Youth Choir. The choir made its début at the 1998 New Zealand International Arts Festival in a recital with the New Zealand Chamber Orchestra and Keith Lewis. They have gone on to win awards at the Tolosa International Choral Competition in Spain; collaborated with the prestigious Aradia Ensemble from Canada, resulting in the completion of a world premiere recording of the Vanhal Masses for Naxos; represented New Zealand at the first Asia South Pacific Symposium on Choral Music in Singapore; released a CD entitledSpirit of the Land which won Best Classical Album at the 2006 New Zealand Music Awards; and represented New Zealand at international chamber choir competitions and world choral music symposiums.

Karen Grylls is Associate Professor in Conducting and Head of Choral Studies at The University of Auckland. In addition to being Musical Director of Voices New Zealand, she holds a role as Artistic Director of the Choirs Aotearoa New Zealand Trust, the managing body for the New Zealand Youth Choir and Voices New Zealand. Grylls is much in demand as a choral clinician and invitations to adjudicate have taken her all around the world. She also has many CD recordings to her credit. In 1996 The University of Auckland honoured her with a Distinguished Teaching Award and in 1999 she received an ONZM for her services to choral music.

David Squire is Musical Director of the New Zealand Youth choir, and one of the country’s most prominent choral clinicians. A founding member of the New Zealand Association of Choral Directors, he is also a national conducting mentor for this organisation. He completed his Bachelor of Music degree at The University of Auckland, with an emphasis on conducting and composition. He studied singing with Isabel Cunningham, Glenese Blake and Beatrice Webster, and conducting with Karen Grylls and Juan Matteucci. In March 2011, Squire was awarded a New Zealander of the Year Local Heroes Medal for services to music education.

James Tibbles is Assistant Music Director of the New Zealand Youth Choir. One of New Zealand’s leading players of historic keyboards (harpsichord, fortepiano and organ), Tibbles has an active performing career as a soloist, accompanist, recording artist and conductor. James is Associate Head, Performance and Senior Lecturer in Early Music at the School of Music, The University of Auckland. He is Artistic Director of the Age of Discovery, who are performing at The Auckland Arts Festival on 17 March in Coffee with Mr Bach, and a member of the baroque chamber ensemble Extempore. In addition to his wide research interests, James has produced a number of CD recordings.

Both Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir and the New Zealand Youth Choir will also be performing Britten’s magnum opus War Requiem on 23 March, the second Auckland Arts Festival concert celebrating Britten’s centenary. They will be singing alongside the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Eckehard Stier, and feted Irish soprano Orla Boylan, British tenor Timothy Robinson and British baritone Ivan Ludlow.