Ashwell Music Festival 2018

London Oriana Choir

Saturday 20 May 2006 7.30 pm – St Mary’s Church Ashwell

In this section:


Songs of Slavery

Richard Allain, American Spirituals 1

Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel?
Were you there?
Walk Together, Children
Gonna sit down and rest awhile

Ruggero Leoncavallo, Si pu ó ? from I Pagliacci

Giuseppi Verdi, Chorus of Scottish Refugees from Macbeth

Giachomo Puccini, Che faranno i vecchi miei from La Fanciulla del West

Giuseppi Verdi, Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Nabucco

Alexander Borodin

Ni sna, ni otdikha from Prince Igor
Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor

Songs of Freedom

Ludwig van Beethoven, Prisoners’ Chorus / Fidelio

Trad (Lowry air. Hugh), Amazing Grace (Lowry air. Hugh)

Richard Allain, Walking for Water / Jake & the Right Genie

Bob Chilcott, The Making of the Drum

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Non pi ù andrai, farfallone amoroso/
The Marriage of Figaro

Trad (air. Mike Brewer), Two African Songs

O-re-mi (air. Brewer)
Zulu Freeedom Song (air. Brewer)

Richard Allain, American Spirituals lI

Scandalise my name
Steal Away
Don’t you weep when I’m gone

Georges Bizet

March of the Toreadors from Carmen
Toreador’s Song from Carmen

Richard Allain, `Tis me 0 Lord

Programme notes

This evening’s concert features an eclectic mixture of ethnic music and opera, inspired mainly by the common theme of slavery and its antithesis – freedom.

The idea came mainly from a desire to perform (and perhaps record) Richard Allain’s stunning new set of American Spirituals, coupled with a feeling that it was about time a choir as big and as expressive as the London Oriana Choir tackled some opera choruses. It then seemed natural to invite a talented young opera singer to join us in the fun and we are delighted that Dong Jun Wang will sing with us tonight. Thus the programme developed into two related halves.

Songs of Slavery

The classic American Spiritual grew out of the misery and oppression of the African slaves forced to work on plantations in North America. These songs were rooted in an oral folk-song tradition and a deep spirituality, faith and devotion to God. The words of the songs allowed those that sung and heard them to believe that, even if this life was a miserable one, the afterlife would be a glorious and triumphant contrast. Even if you do not have a faith in a God, it is virtually impossible not to be moved by the deep faith and the sense of optimism which was responsible for the development of these songs, and which was also engendered by them.

American Spirituals form the emotional heart of tonight’s concert. Richard Allain is a young London-based composer and teacher whose music is extremely popular with the London Oriana Choir. When our conductor David Drummond asked Richard to compile a collection of his spirituals for this concert, he not only did so, but arranged a new spiritual especially for us, Were you there?

This first set of Allain’s American spiritual arrangements begins with a lively and funky setting of one of the most popular spirituals. Didn’t my Lord expresses hope of deliverance from worldly oppression based on the scriptural evidence of the bible.

The second piece, Were you there is a simply beautiful tune. Richard has kept the chorale-like character of the melody and imbued it with his own delicious harmonies, particularly rich on the “oh’s” of the refrain and varied in the repetitions of “tremble”. This was a spontaneous dedication to London Oriana from Richard and we are grateful for such a gem of a setting.

We know that the injustices and oppression of the black Americans in slavery were many and frequent. Spirituals such as Walk together, Children with their message of hope of eventual release from the persistent grinding down of humanity were common. The optimism of the text and delivery helped to keep people going as they worked. This one comes with a swing beat and a mezzo soloist.

Gonna set down conveys all the burden of life here on earth a burden of such weariness that the thought of ending it all and “resting” seems unbearably sweet. Richard conveys this with an opening of exquisite intensity – the humming of the choir, in lazy sweet and sour harmony, sounding like they are literally tasting the sweetness of death. A more up-tempo middle section with a groovy bass line tells the story of Mary going to heaven before the sufferer returns to the reality of her starving children. Nowhere is Allain’s mastery of harmony and his ability to ring the emotion from any given situation better illustrated than in the phrase “when my good Lord calls me”. This short phrase acts as a transition to the reprise but the unusual rising harmonic clashes express at one and the same time both pain and relief, despair, hope and expectation.

Leoncavallo’s opera Pagliacci (The Clowns) is set in Calabria in the 1860s and involves interplay between the dramatic activity of a group of comic actors and their real-life emotions, played out before a village audience and which ultimately end in tragedy. Here we experience a different form of slavery. Everyone knows the stereotypical image of the clown – a tortured and sad human being trapped behind the smiling mask and trappings of his profession, his true emotions enslaved to the outward display of comedy. Nowhere is this more evident than in Tonic, who delivers Si puó – the heart-rending Prologue to the opera.

It is quite possible to argue that Giuseppe Verdi’s two `slavery’ choruses (Patria oppressa from Macbeth and Ya Pensiero from Nabucco) are his finest choruses. They both have as their theme the plight of an oppressed country and its people clearly no subject touched the patriotic composer’s heart more deeply. Although Verdi’s knowledge of the geography of the British Isles leaves something to be desired (in the scene, he has the Scottish refugees in a deserted place on the Anglo-Scottish border with Birnham Wood (in reality over a hundred miles away and visible in the distance!) his love for and understanding of the source material mean that Verdi’s Shakespeare operas are among his finest. Va Pensiero, the famous Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves sung by the Israelites as they lament the loss of their homeland, was widely interpreted as a Verdian political statement and it rapidly became the anthem of Italian patriotism. At Verdi’s funeral, the crowd spontaneously broke into a rendition of it.

Sandwiched between these two Verdi choruses is one of the very few operas to feature cowboys Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West. The opera was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera House, following the success of his Madama Butterfly and is based on a play, The Girl of the Golden West by David Belasco, who had also provided the play upon which Butterfly was based. The cowboys, out in the prairies, sing a haunting and nostalgic song, as they describe their homesickness in another form of professional slavery – one with which we can all identify, when work forces us to be away from our loved ones for long stretches of time.

Alexander Borodin was a chemist by profession and was only able to compose in his spare time. As a result Prince Igor took him eighteen years to work on and was incomplete on his death. The work was finished by Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov, though the Polovtsian Dances are all Borodin’s work. The libretto, by the composer, is based on an old Russian chronicle and relates to an incident in 1185 at a time of conflict between Russia and the Tartars. Igor, prince of Seversk, is defeated by Khan Konchak of the Polovtsi, who holds him as an honoured and respected captive. In his aria, Igor describes the torment, depression and impotence he feels as a prisoner, when he longs for freedom in order to save Russia. The dances, which come at the end of Act 2, are performed by Khan’s slaves to entertain Prince Igor.

Songs of Freedom

Beethoven’s Fidelio was the composer’s only opera and is set in the eighteenth century at a fortress near Seville. The libretto’s author, J N Bouilly, claimed it was based on a true story. His opera has come to symbolize the desire for and achievement of freedom from tyranny. In the opera, all the male prisoners who have been incarcerated in a deep dungeon without any natural light are allowed into the courtyard in honour of the King’s birthday.

How can I keep from singing is a beautiful arrangement for female voices, and which showsoff the beautiful tone of the Oriana’s soprano and alto voices. Listen out for the clever way that the well known hymn Amazing Grace is cleverly interwoven to the piece: it sounds as if it was always meant to be part of the piece.

Richard Allain has written several popular cantatas for children’s choirs including the Christmas Story, Bethlemayhem. This excerpt, Walking for Water is from another of these very clever and amusing cantatas, with words by Richard’s brother, called Jake and the Right Genie.

About The Making of the Drum Bob Chilcott writes:

“In 1984, I was very fortunate to visit Uganda, where a drum maker made me a beautiful drum with a snakeskin head. 171 never forget sitting in the plane to come home and seeing by chance the baggage handlers loading my drum with incredible respect and care. The drum to them is a living spirit. The poems I set are a celebration of how that spirit is brought to life. The piece enacts the ritual of constructing the drum, whose component parts are drawn from the surrounding nature – a nature that gives of itself almost sacrificially. We hear how the goat is killed for its skin, how the tree, which bleeds cedar-dark when cut, bestows the drum’s body; and how the sticks and rattles are taken, all to begin a new life as companions to the gods, music and the dance.”

Non piu andrai from The Marriage of Figaro picks up on the theme of the drum in the form of the military march style that Mozart has utilised for his light and playful aria in which Figaro warns the young Cherubino that his days of freedom are over. He has been caught philandering once too often and most recently trying it on with the Count’s wife. Now the Count has conscripted him, and Figaro enlightens him as to the very different pleasures that await him in the strictures and confines of the army.

During the nineteenth century, the Zulu people were united under their military leader Shaka and spread throughout the areas we now call Natal and Kwazulu. Tribal life centred on the village and songs were important in ritual and daily life, especially at weddings and at work. O-re-mi is an example of Nigerian ‘Highlife’ music with a strong Caribbean influence, whilst the Zulu Freedom Song was inspired by the horrors of the apartheid system in South Africa, and the turbulent political situation in that country.

Richard Allain kindly dedicated Steal Away to David Drummond and the London Oriana Choir. The Tippett setting of this spiritual had long held cult status with the choir in the form of a “Tour” anthem. It was difficult to imagine there ever being another version! But Allain’s version is very special it is more contemporary yet less busy, the vocal lines (particularly the tenors in the first phrase) are so beautiful that the spiritual has taken on a magical calm, and the harmonies at times seem to vibrate with anticipation of a new home. Indeed listen to the two harmonisations of that word “home” with all its subtext. The first is treated not as a familiar resting place, but as a new, and strangely comforting destination. The second comes after a transcending and unexpected upward sequence lands us in a home that is distant, imaginary, heavenly and glowing before bringing us back to earth – the deep earth.

Scandalise My Name is a hugely entertaining and demanding upbeat gospel number, which contrasts dramatically with the mood of Don’t you weep when I’m gone. This piece was one of the earliest of the Allain spirituals sung by LOC and originally written for the National Youth Choir. It is arguably the most popular for its fabulous rich eight-part harmony and emotional outpouring.

Bizet’s Carmenis one of the most enduring and popular operas of all times. Tonight’s excerpts are the famous and colourful March of the Toreador’s followed by the incomparable Toreadors’ Song.

The concert concludes with a final spiritual from Richard Allain. ‘Tis Me, O Lord is a gospel number in which a simple melody is repeated, eventually in canon, over an assortment of wild gospel fun.

Programme notes written by Simon Funnell
Introduction and additional material
written by Dawd Drummond

London Oriana Choir

The London Oriana Choir is one of Britain’s leading amateur choirs and one of the most exciting choirs in London. Founded in 1973 by Leon Lovett, it has since 1996 been under the directorship of David Drummond, who has further developed the choir with his vision, innovative teaching ideas and new repertoire.

Despite its amateur status the London Oriana Choir aims at the highest possible standards, with emphasis placed on diction, expression and tone quality. Choir members have access to the choir’s two professional singing teachers and are regularly auditioned. The repertoire of the choir is broad, ranging from contemporary commissions to the great choral and orchestral works by Verdi, Brahms, Mozart, Handel and Bach. The choir is often accompanied by professional orchestras and has recently performed with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Canzona, the English Baroque Orchestra, the Brandenburg Sinfonia, and Fine Arts Brass. Other concerts have featured organ, piano, guitar, percussion, brass and even bagpipes. A capella music is sung in many languages and in all styles from early Renaissance to the present day, from secular to sacred, classical to jazz and including popular and ethnic music.

The choir performs in London’s major concert halls, such as the South Bank, the Barbican, the Royal Albert Hall, St John’s, Smith Square and St James’s Piccadilly. This season the choir will perform at Southwark Cathedral and Douai Abbey to celebrate its tenth anniversary with current Artistic Director David Drummond. Abroad, it has given concerts in such venues as the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris and the Pushkin Palace outside St Petersburg, at festivals in Aix-en-Provence, Strasbourg, Aachen and Cork, and at other important venues in Russia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Holland, France, Germany, Spain and Belgium. This summer the choir performed a successful tour to Berlin, and has plans to tour to Reykjavik in 2006.

AB well as its own concert series, London Oriana Choir is often invited to sing for other organisations including BBC television. Of the choir’s three commercial CD recordings the most recent – a world premiere recording of Sir Henry Walford Davies’s cantata Everyman, accompanied by the KSO – received Editor’s Choice awards in both Gramophone magazine and International Record Review.

More information about the choir may be obtained from the London Oriana Choir from the website:

The members of the London Oriana Choir from whom tonight’s singers are drawn are:

Soprano 1: Lorna Allen, Elizabeth Alston, Jackie Bedford, Ariane Charlebois, Rosie Gilbert, Naomi Kerbel, Jessica Lawrence, Tracy LeBrun, Jessica Lichtenstein, Liz Mantle, Laura Owen, Lucy Payne, Carol Poole, Natasha Price, Julia Riddle, Caroline Scott, Kath Skinner, Keston Smith, Fiona Tong

Soprano 2: Lucy Ambridge, Sarah Binnie, Emily Bone, Wendy Cawthorne, Cecily Crampin, Eleanor Crow, Emma Davidson, Anna Davies, Jenny Goodwin, Louise Graham, Naomi Hudson, Katie Jones, Anne-Sophie Lanier, Ayla Upine, Alex MacLaren, Jill McCullough, Beth Mitcheson, Lucie Rauwel, Vivien Slade, Emma Sutton, Lucia Wilde

Alto 1: Alison Blunt, Imme Bodammer, Clare Buckham, Sarah Bulling, Kirstie Byrne, Cathy Chapman, Jane Clifford, Susan Dean, Juliette Delville, Sundiatu Dixon-Fyle, Suzanne Filteau, Del Howard, Diane Jackson, Vicky Lack, Emma Laing, Nina Lennhot Clare MacIntosh, Philippa Makepeace, Rebecca Mitchell, Angela Partington, Ruth Symons, Natalie Treacher, Joanna Turner, Lars. Wilson

Alto 2: Sarah Corfe, Jennie Evans, Seka Graovac, Kate Green, Laura Hammond, Lucy Hibbert, Sonia Johnson, Morag Johnston, Clem Jones, Harriet Leach, Gayle Montgomery, Lizann Peppard, Caroline Timmins, Lesley Wilson

Tenor 1: Andrew Anderson, Chris Bell, Paul Hadfield, Ken Kilfedder, Cohn Poole, Paul Quain, Tim Swanwick

Tenor 2: John Eade, Simon Funnell, Peter Garrard, Chris Glover, Alvin Martin, Miles Meacock, David Waterston, David Williams

Bass l: Alex Bosworth, Paul Clarke, Yury Jakymec, Andrew Leach, Roger Molyneux, David Morris, Brendan Quinn, Jon Ruxton, James Sheehan, James Soothill, Tom Spanyol, Julian Tolan, Chris Weston, Dan Whitehead

Bass 2: Graham Bamping, David Banbury, Mike Bolton, Peter Griffiths, Mark Hewis, George Home-Cook, Willi Jaundrill, Jonathan Langford, Andrew MacLaren, Piers Northam, Asboeryn Nybo, Edward Payne, Martin Saugnac, Ashley Stevenson

David Drummond

Musical Director

This year, the London Oriana Choir are celebrating David Drummond’s tenth year as Musical Director.

David Drummond has conducted opera for ENO, Gothenburg Opera, Scottish Opera and Kharkov Opera in the Ukraine.

Orchestras he has worked with include the London Mozart Players, Kharkov Philharmonic and the BBC Concert Orchestra with whom he recorded the “Olympics 2000” music for the BBC. He collaborated closely with Sir Michael Tippett on a definitive version of the composer’s Fourth symphony and he has directed concertos with soloists such as Tasmin Little, Julian Lloyd Webber, John Harle and Peter Donohoe.

David is a former Chorus Master of Scottish Opera and ENO and has worked with choirs throughout Britain. He is a member of the coaching staff at the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, and has been an adjudicator for the BBC Radio 3 Choir of the Year.

He was Director of Music & Opera at UCL from 1991-2001 where he researched and conducted neglected operatic repertoire, including a world premiere of Cesar Franck’s Hulda and three British premieres: The Ballad of Baby Doe, Peter Heise’s Drot og Marsk, and Kullervo by the Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen.

Among the operas he has conducted are Don Giovanni, Katerina Ismailova, Turn of the Screw, Carmen, The Lighthouse and The Merry Widow for Gothenburg Opera; Die Fledermaus, The Mikado and The Magic Flute for English National Opera; Street Scene for Scottish Opera and Boris Godunov for Kharkov Opera.

David Smith


David Smith completed a Postgraduate Diploma in piano accompaniment at the Royal Academy of Music, studying with Michael Dussek and Vanessa Latarche, and won the Shinn fellowship for the academic year 2003-4. He now works as accompanist to Elizabeth Ritchie at the RAM.

He is in great demand as a partner of both singers and instrumentalists, and has performed in venues such as the Wigmore Hall, St John’s Smith Square and Bath Pump Rooms. During 2005 he partnered two finalists in the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World and two YCAT semi-finalists and he has recently been accepted onto the Live Music Now scheme. Competition successes include the Vivian Langrish Accompanist Prize, as well as the Michael Head and Bliss Prizes. He was a semi finalist in the Royal Overseas League Competition 2003 and was awarded a masterclass for the Young Songmakers’ Almanac 2003.

David also takes a keen interest in 20th Century and contemporary music and has performed in masterclasses with Gyorgi Kurtag and Peter Maxwell Davies, as well as appearing many times with the Manson Ensemble. He has worked with many choirs, including Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and Epworth Choir and is currently accompanist to the London Oriana Choir.

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