For the Yorkshire Philharmonic Choir, the 4th of July couldn't have been anything other than a celebration to end their 2014/15 season. The audience was guided through this American tribute by compere Graham Heley. The evening featured the choir, conducted by Andrew Padmore, with Tom Moore on the organ/piano and guest soprano Laura Barnes. There was much to look forward to as even before the choir made their entrance, television monitors portrayed images of the vast American outdoors accompanied by the soundtracks from films such as 'The Big Country' and 'Last of the Mohicans'.
The opening piece was Mack Wilberg's arrangement of 'My Country 'Tis Of Thee', which set the tone for a powerful evening. Whilst singing, the choir made their entrance from various positions in the cathedral and came together as one unified body on the stage in time to erupt with the rousing words 'Our Father's God, to thee, author of liberty, to thee we sing'. This unique entrance made the choir a part of the audience and was inspired by the fact that the east end of the Cathedral is in the early stages of renovation. This way of using limited space gave the opportunity for the audience to enjoy a stereophonic listening experience and the choir took full advantage of this as the evening progressed.
Organist Tom Moore gave a colourful and faultless performance of 'Variations on America' (Ives), perfectly capturing the different moods of each variation - some of which were rather light hearted indeed!
The choir concluded the first half with Leonard Bernstein's 'Chichester Psalms'. Treble Akhilesh Gairola (a Wakefield Cathedral chorister) sang the solo in the second movement splendidly, with purity and great ease. The choir were joined by Rhian Evans on harp and percussionist Harry Percy who added much in the way of texture and mood. Composed in Hebrew it is a representation of true religious affirmation that may be unfamiliar to the layman, but surely one would be grateful for the introduction to such a dramatic, exciting but yet in places, serene work.
More familiar ground came after the interval with the superb 'Battle Hymn of the Republic' once more taking advantage of space with the men of the choir in place and the ladies marching to join them. The audience were invited to join in towards the end and duly entered into the spirit of the evening.
Three pieces by soprano Laura Barnes, followed: Richard Rodgers' 'My Funny Valentine', Aaron Copland's 'Heart, We Will Forget Him' and George Gershwin's 'Summertime'. Until last year, Laura was a member of the choir and it was wonderful to see and hear her former colleagues cheer and encourage. This admiration was much deserved however, as she delighted the audience with her vocal flexibility, control and engaging interpretation of the text.
The choir continued with Samuel Barber's Agnus Dei; the composer's arrangement for voices of his famous 'Adagio for Strings'. The modern, yet gentle strains of Eric Whitacre's 'The Seal Lullaby' followed with the set concluding with Morten Lauridsen's 'O Magnum Mysterium' - the beautiful melodic lines of all three pieces echoing around the Cathedral thanks to its generous acoustic.
To finish a wonderful evening, Laura sang Bernstein's exuberant aria 'Glitter and be Gay', from His opera 'Candide', demonstrating not just her vocal ability but also her consummate acting skills! The choir then cleverly moved around the cathedral to perform 'Lullaby of Birdland', 'A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square' and 'The Way You Look Tonight', causing great interest with the latter as they chose individuals in the audience to serenade!
The whole evening was a rousing and innovative success and a fitting celebration America's finest musical traditions. It was perfectly topped off with an encore which could have been none other than 'New York New York!, rapturously received by the audience.
It's hard to wait for a new season to start, but the choir will be back in Wakefield Cathedral on Saturday 24th October with works by two of this county's foremost contemporary composers. The concert will feature John Rutter's 'Requiem', and Bob Chilcott's 'A Little Jazz Mass'.
Fast on the heels of this, the choir will be presenting Handel's Messiah on 21 November in Dewsbury Town Hall. However, before all that you are invited by the choir to 'Come and Sing with Them' at their Open Rehearsal on Tuesday 8th September, 7:30pm, Mulberry House, Margaret Street, Wakefield, WF1 2DQ. Surely an experience anyone who aspires to sing wouldn't want to miss?
Authors David Bulmer and Ruth Strydom