Friday 29 November 2013

Christmas gala for Young Epilepsy

On Thursday 12 December a group of distinguished singers and actors is presenting a Christmas Gala Concert at St Johns Smith Square. Billed as A Celebration of Christmas in words and music the event is in aid of the charity Young Epilepsy. The gala is organised by the mezzo-soprano Jean Rigby, abd she will be joined by Dame Felicity Lott, Susan Bickley, Finnur Bjarnason, Mark Padmore, Alan Opie, Brindley Sherratt and Maria Friedman with pianist Jason Carr.

The theme of the gala is Christmas, so that each artist will be performing one or two Christmas songs, and they will join together for some ensemble numbers such as The Twelve Days of Christmas and Stille Nacht. The second half is planned to be more jazzy, for instance Susan Bickley, who was once a member of the Swingle Singers, will be singing a John Dankworth number. The event will open with carols from the girls choir Viva Voce, followed by a film about Young Epilepsy. During the film pianist Jason Carr, who also writes for musical theatre, will provide improvised accompaniment. There will be imaginative lighting as well, making the hall more festival and highlighting the purple that is in Young Epilepsy's logo.

This isn't the first gala in aid of Young Epilepsy that Jean Rigby has organised, last year there was one at Glyndebourne. Then a group of performers which included raised £108,000. And a small invitation only Christmas soiree raised £250,000 from patrons.

Jean Rigby's involvement with the charity is a highly personal one, her son Oliver was born with epilepsy and has been studying at the Young Epilepsy for six years, first in the sixth form and then in college. Young Epilepsy formed a supportive learning environment for him, after his schooling in his early teens in main stream and special schools. The subject is one that Jean Rigby feels passionate about, but she admits that she has come a long way from doing voluntary work at hospital, but still with the concern to put something back.

Last year's gala at Glyndebourne came about after a chance remark when Rigby was working there; she has a long association with the opera house (she first sang there as a student and recent appearances there have included The Cunning Little Vixen and Imago). Glyndebourne provides the house for a large scale charitable gala every two years, so in 2012 Rigby was able to arrange one for Young Epilepsy. Performers were colleagues and friends like Felicity Lott, Gerald Finley and Brindley Sherratt, it was fronted by Joanna Lumley and Timothy west, and the script was by Rigby's husband, the director Jamie Hayes.

This year's gala is not quite on the same scale, but still with a strong cast and with the same intentions of helping Young Epilepsy and filling St John's Smith Square with supporters and well-wishers. The charity is currently fund raising to build a new school to replace the existing ageing buildings, so that millions need to be raise.

Young Epilepsy is a national charity that supports the 112,000 children and young people under 25 with epilepsy in the UK. As well as campaigning for better health and education services, and providing health services and a medical research programme, the charity runs a specialist school (for pupils aged 5 to 19) and Further Education college (for students aged 19 to 25) for students with epilepsy and other neurological conductions or special needs.

The gala at St John's Smith Square promises to be a brilliant way to start the Christmas season as well as providing support to Young Epilepsy. Tickets are available from the St John's Smith Square box office, and you can download the flyer from the Young Epilepsy website.

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