Saturday 1 December 2012

The Big Give - Gabrieli Young Singers' Scheme

Paul McCreesh and forces recording Elijah in 2011 © Ben Ealovega
Paul McCreesh and forces recording Elijah in 2011
© Ben Ealovega
The Gabrieli Consort and Players' project in this year's Big Give is their Young Singers' Scheme. The first fruits of this scheme were unveiled this year with the stupendous recording of Mendelssohn's Elijah (see my review on this blog), with a choir which included the Young Singers alongside Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir and Gabrieli. In January 2013 Paul McCreesh is going back into the studio to record Britten's War Requiem with the Young Singers and their Big Give project will help.

The basic financial facts are that Gabrieli already has money pledged, if they can raise £10,000 during the three days of the Big Give (6, 7, 8 December) then they will have a total of £20,000. Some of this will go towards the War Requiem recording, but the majority will go towards other activities with the Young Singers.

The activities often fall under the radar of  concert goers, only aware of the more high profile Gabriel Consort and Players gigs. But Paul McCreesh conducted a programme of Bach and Mendelssohn motets at the Ulster Festival, with the Ulster Youth Choir and 12 members of the Gabrieli Consort singing alongside them. This was a new opportunity for the choir, getting experience of consort singers alongside distinguished professionals. And it also brought Gabrieli to a new audience. There are plans for Haydn's The Seasons at the Brinkburn Festival (2013 will be Paul McCreesh's as director of the festival), with the North East Youth Chorale plus the Gabrieli orchestra.

'Even though I was already familiar with Elijah, I found these sessions extremely useful as we studied the music in such depth', youth choir member after coaching with Paul McCreesh

With the Young Singers Scheme, Gabrieli have not created their own choir, instead they work with four established choirs, Ulster Youth Choir, Taplow Youth Choir, North East Youth Chorale and Cheetham's School of Music.  The Young Singers Scheme events and allied training are done through the choirs' directors. Susie York Skinner (Gabrieli's Chief Executive) says they see this as supporting the choirs' directors in their work. Gabriel is a small organisation, which means that it is able to be flexible and respond to the needs of individual choirs.

Singers from Gabrieli go to visit the choirs for training events and money from the Big Give will help to expand these activities. Gabrieli works with the choirs over a long time, personnel may change, but the long term results are constant as can be seen on the recording of Elijah (and the allied Proms performance).

'I liked the fact that they took us out of our comfort zone by seating us next to strangers, it allowed us to make new friends and also feel more comfortable asking for help from the professionals. I also like seeing how much I have been able to improve through this course, such as my pronunciation.', youth choir member after Elijah recording sessions, August 2011

Choir recording Elijah in 2011
© Ben Ealovega
For the War Requiem there will be 60 young singers plus 60 singers from Gabrieli and a similar number from the Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir (who also sing on the Elijah disc). The various youth choirs have different age ranges (with singers from 14 to 21 in the different choirs) and there are even some alumni returning for the War Requiem. Susie York Skinner sees their activities developing as a series of themed strands suitable for the various age groups.

'I am totally in favour of giving young people the 'big oratorio' treatment. They love to be involved in such projects and realise, often for the first time, the power of music; it is not just the stature of these great works, but also that the musical experience is about community and team work. For me, the choir is a microcosm of how I think society ought to work - men and women working together on a common cause, each giving their own special talent to the whole event and getting caught up in the power of the experience. And this is all the more vital today, as so many people inhabit their own world, seeing it via the computer, mobile phone, video game, internet, facebook, twitter and the rest. My experience is that for many young people these projects can be life-changing.' John Forsyth, Director, North East Youth chorale

Plans for the Young Singers Scheme for rest of the year are fluid as Gabrieli juggles scheduling and funding. But ideas being mooted include a residential course, and a large scale concert. School children nowadays have many activities competing for their attention which means it sometimes can be tricky to get the focus and attention that music requires, so such large scale events are key.

'My expectations of this experience were a shadow of how valuable and fantastic it has been', youth choir member after Elijah recording, August 2011

The feedback so far has been positive, if revealing. Susie York Skinner explains that in written feedback, the young singers responded positively saying that they gain insight into what it takes to be a professional singer. But verbal feedback suggests that the young singers though inspired, rather have their eyes opened to the sheer hard work involved. At the recordings sessions, the Young Singers participate at the same high level as the mature professionals. When I spoke to Paul McCreesh at the launch of the Elijah disc, he made it clear that the Young Singers had been astonishing in their capacity for learning and for contributing at the same high level as their adults.

'The enthusiasm from these choirs is just wonderful - not just the enthusiasm but the way that they sing, the energy they have and their sheer willingness to do what is necessary. They make a gloriously unified sound that is just so healthy - it's gorgeous to listen to! The choirs have been fantastic to work with; I've never been on stage with so many people and it has been absolutely thrilling to be involved in this!' Sarah Connolly CBE, August 2011 after recording Elijah.

The Gabrieli Young Singers' Scheme is far more than a community project. By working with four talented youth choirs, Gabrieli are enabling young singers to perform at the highest level, gain valuable training and most importantly gain insight into just what it takes to be a professional singers. And we are getting some damn fine recordings in the process.

'PAUL MCCREESH = LEGEND', youth choir member

The Gabrieli Consort and Players will be appearing at the Spitalfields Winter Festival on 15 December 2012 alongside Copenhagen Royal Chapel Choir, conducted by Paul McCreesh in a programme build around Britten's A Boy was born. Further details from the Spitalfields Winter Festival website.

Gabrieli Consort and Players at the Big Give

Elsewhere on this blog:

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