Haydn’s Creation at St John at Hackney, 29th March 2014

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Hackney Singers wowed a full audience at St. John-at-Hackney on Saturday the 29th of March with a sensational rendition of Joseph Haydn’s The Creation, designed to tell the story of God’s creation of the world. “From the moment that the choir sang ‘and there was…LIGHT’ the audience were grabbed”, said audience member and local resident Brian Troath.

People travelled from well outside the M25 to Hackney to hear the local choir’s rendition of the Austrian composer’s masterpiece. “This was a wonderful setting in which to hear Haydn’s superb creation”, said audience member David Leibel. “The choir were full of energy which could be felt by the audience and I heard every word. The soloists seemed top notch and the organist – who had so much to do – performed brilliantly.”

The choir were accompanied by Organist Andrew Storey, who is also the choir’s repétiteur. This represented a challenge, as Haydn’s oratorio was written to be accompanied by a full orchestra. “The Creation is a tough call for the organist, who really has to know what they are doing”, said an audience member. “He had an absolute grasp of what it was all about.”

The 150-strong choir, which draws its members mainly from Hackney and the surrounding London boroughs, were accompanied by Soprano Elizabeth Roberts; Tenor Mark Chaundy and Bass Colin Campbell. Roberts performs internationally, and was chosen as Soprano soloist for the entry of the Olympic Flame during the London 2012 Olympic Games. Chaundy and Campbell have appeared internationally and are both accomplished Opera performers.

“The soloists rose to the occasion, and it was immensely satisfying to see their wonderful enunciation reflected by the choir”, said Conductor Mark Shanahan, himself an accomplished international performer. “I was genuinely impressed, not just by the diction, but also by the energy from the choir, which filled the space”.

The spectacle left certain audience members hungry for more. “The choir looked lovely and the colours really lit up the stage. I thought the soloists were wonderful and the choir was in spectacular form, singing its heart out to the heavens. I wish there was an ‘encore’ at these concerts. I wanted more!”




Hackney Singers The Creation

Poster design Thomas Matthews

Hackney Singers

Conductor Mark Shanahan
Organ Andrew Storey

Soprano  Elizabeth Roberts
Tenor  Mark Chaundy
Bass  Colin Campbell

Haydn  The Creation

7.30pm Saturday 29th March 2014

St John at Hackney
Lower Clapton Road E5 0PD


150-strong Hackney Singers perform The Creation, inspired by the book of Genesis, the Biblical book of Psalms and Milton’s Paradise Lost. Sung in English, Haydn’s masterpiece is conducted by renowned opera conductor Mark Shanahan, accompanied on the organ by the choir’s répétiteur Andrew Storey.

Hackney Singers, who recently celebrated their 40th anniversary and last sang The Creation in 1988, return to the Georgian splendour of St John at Hackney for the first time since October 2012 for what is set to be a stunning performance.

Josef Haydn The Creation

When Josef Haydn attended the great Handel festival in London in 1791 he was blown away. Although they were over half a century old, he’d never before heard any of Handel’s wonderful biblical oratorios – the likes of Saul, Israel in Egypt, Judas Maccabaeus and of course Messiah – and he was stunned by their scale and grandeur.

He’d written an oratorio himself several years earlier – The Return of Tobias (1774) – but in truth this was more of an unstaged opera, dominated by solo singers and with only a modest role for the chorus. Haydn must have thought to himself, ‘I could do something like that’. And in fact the opportunity to do so soon presented itself. While he was still in London his friend and impresario Johann Peter Salomon gave him a libretto, said to have been put together by a Mr Lidley or Lindley, based on the story of the Creation as told in the first chapter of Genesis and as reimagined by John Milton in Paradise Lost. He was attracted by the project, but he seems to have felt that his English was not up to the task of setting the text to music, so he put it away in a drawer.

The idea did not go away, however, and in the mid 1790s Haydn returned to it, fortified by a German translation of the libretto by Baron van Swieten. He worked on the music through 1796 and 1797, and Die Schöpfung (‘The Creation’) was premiered in Vienna on 30 April 1798, with Haydn himself conducting. ‘Such was the excitement of the city that eighteen mounted and twelve foot police were engaged to control the crowds, and this despite the semi-private nature of the performance. The Creation was an enormous success, the greatest Haydn had enjoyed since London’ (H.C. Robbins Landon, 1967). An equally successful first public performance followed the next year, after which one member of the audience enthused: ‘In my whole life I will not hear another piece of music as beautiful; and even if it had lasted three hours longer, and even if the stink and sweat-bath had been much worse, I would not have minded. For the life of me I would not have believed that human lungs and sheep gut and calf’s skin could create such miracles. The music all by itself described thunder and lightning, and then you would have heard the rain falling and the water rushing and the birds really singing and the lion roaring, and you could even hear the worms crawling along the ground. In short, I never left a theatre more contented, and all night I dreamed of the creation of the world’. Audiences all over Europe took it to their hearts in the ensuing decades, and The Creation has since gained a place perhaps second only to Messiah in music-lovers’ lists of favourite oratorios.

The plan of The Creation is fairly straightforward and conventional. It is divided into three parts. The first describes the creation of heaven and earth, the land and the sea; the second the creation of animals and human beings; and the third Adam and Eve’s domestic life in the Garden of Eden. The narrative of the successive stages of the Creation is in the hands of the three archangels, Gabriel (soprano), Uriel (tenor) and Raphael (bass). The main role of the chorus is to intersperse the story with glorifications of the Creator.

It has to be admitted that the text of The Creation is problematical in places. When it was first published, Haydn took care to ensure that it had an English libretto as well as a German one, because he wanted to maximize its sales in the important British market. This seems to have been the original libretto given to Haydn by Salomon, but with some significant amendments by van Swieten. Largely, it would appear, as a result of these changes the English is less than idiomatic in places. Some of its vocabulary is rather quaint (the ‘flexible tiger’ in Raphael’s enumeration of God’s new creatures never fails to raise a smile, for example), and word-order inversions can make the meaning hard to unpick (in the chorus ‘The heavens are telling’, for instance, ‘the wonder of his works displays the firmament’ actually means ‘the firmament displays the wonder of his works’ – the word order works in the original German, but not in English). These infelicities have been perpetuated in subsequent editions, but the latest Novello version (1999) edited by Michael Pilkington, which Hackney Singers are performing this evening, does at least iron out some of them.

But never mind the words. What music! The whole oratorio sees Haydn at the very top of his game, but surely none of it is as arresting as the opening ‘Representation of Chaos’. This is deeply mysterious music of great harmonic daring, highly avant-garde for its day, evoking the primordial confusion out of which God created the universe. Haydn follows this up with a coup de théâtre in the succeeding chorus, announcing the creation of light: the words ‘and there was light’ begin pianissimo, but at ‘light’ there is a sudden fortissimo outburst (Haydn played a similar trick on his audience in his ‘Surprise’ Symphony (1792)). The recitatives and arias that follow are wonderfully descriptive, as Haydn conjures up in his music, for example, a variety of meteorological phenomena in No.3 and a gallery of beasts of the field in No.20 (concluding well below the stave with the worm), and matches the bucolic text of No.8 with suitably pastoral music. Listen out in particular for No.12, in which a majestic evocation of sunrise is balanced by a ravishing depiction of moonlight. The next number, concluding Part 1, is ‘The heavens are telling’, probably Haydn’s best-known chorus. Like the rest of the choruses in The Creation, it is a full-throated paean of praise to God. Part 3 is of deliberately lower musical wattage than the preceding two, dealing as it does with the relationship of Adam and Eve (in terms highly uncongenial to a twentyfirst-century feminist) rather than the mighty workings of the Creator, but it too ends with an exultant chorus in praise of God.

© John Ayto 2014

Elizabeth Roberts, Soprano

Elizabeth RobertsElizabeth Roberts studied at Newcastle University, winning the David Barlow Memorial Award for music.   Extensive oratorio performances keep her busy throughout the UK and have recently taken her to Rome (works by Bach, Mozart and Brahms), Spoleto (Vaughan Williams with the Berkshire (USA) Festival Choir), and Darmstadt (Vaughan Williams’ A Sea Symphony with the Philharmonie Südwestfalen under Wolfgang Seeliger).  In 2012 she performed Carmina Burana in Beijing with the Peking Sinfonietta.

She made her debut on BBC Radio 3 and at the Royal Festival Hall with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Birtwistle’s The Second Mrs Kong (Terror/First Woman) under Martyn Brabbins, directed by Kenneth Richardson.
Elizabeth also appears on two recordings with the BBC Symphony Orchestra:  Chausson’s Le roi Arthus under Leon Botstein; and Josef Marx’s Herbstchor an Pan under Jirí Belohlávek.

She made her Italian stage debut in 2006 as Lauretta (Gianni Schicchi) (Vernon Mound director, Nicoletta Conti conductor) in Monteleone di Spoleto and touring Umbria. Other roles include:  Salome (Hérodiade) in Valladolid, Spain; Tosca (Tosca); Mimì, Musetta (La bohème); Contessa, Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro); Fiordiligi (Così fan tutte); Adina (L’Elisir d’amore); Countess of Dunmow (A Dinner Engagement); The Plaintiff (Trial by Jury) and Mabel (Pirates of Penzance).

Elizabeth is also an accomplished recitalist and was one of seven singers selected for a week of intensive study with Malcolm Martineau at Crear, Scotland.

She was honoured to be chosen as soprano soloist at the entry of the Olympic Flame and lighting of the cauldron in the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games.


Mark Chaundy, Tenor

Mark Chaundy, tenorMark was a chorister at St.David’s Cathedral in Wales and a choral scholar at Magdalen College, Oxford where he studied music. He then studied singing at the Royal College of Music supported by the Countess of Munster, also winning the NFMS Young Concert Artist’s Award and became a Samling Scholar.

He subsequently went on to sing with many of the major British opera companies including Glyndebourne, English National Opera, Welsh National Opera, Scottish Opera and Opera North in repertoire spanning Monteverdi to Puccini and was recently featured on BBC Radio 3’s documentary ‘Changing Voices’.

His wide ranging concert appearances include Handel’s Messiah with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Brubeck’s La Fiesta de la Posada with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican, Haydn’s Creation with the Northern Sinfonia at the Sage Gateshead, Mozart’s Requiem with the Britten Sinfonia in King’s College Chapel.
Mark is also a keen recitalist and has performed at the Wigmore Hall, St David’s Hall, at the Ludlow English Song Festival with pianist Iain Burnside and with Ned Rorem in a performance of his songs at the Tanglewood Festival. Commercial recordings include Durufle’s Messe Cum Jubilo for Harmonia Mundi.

Other recent and future highlights see Mark performing Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins for the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House, Arne Judgement of Paris at Wigmore Hall, Holst’s Savitri at The English Music Festival, Handel’s Acis and Galatea with La Nuova Musica at St George’s Bristol, Aminta in Handel’s Atalanta for Cambridge Handel Opera and Carissimi’s Jephte for the Spitalfields Festival followed by a recording for Harmonia Mundi.

Colin Campbell, Bass

Colin Campbell, bassThe English baritone, Colin Campbell, studied at the Royal Northern College of Music.

Colin Campbell has appeared as a concert soloist throughout the UK, and also in numerous festivals on the continent, the USA and the Far East. His discography includes recordings on the Hyperion, Decca, Guild, Naxos, Philips and Deutsche Grammaphon labels.

Colin Campbell’s operatic rôles include Escamillo in Carmen, Tarquinius in Rape of Lucretia, Marcello in La Bohème, Sharpless in Madame Butterfly and Figaro in Il Barbiere for Opera East; Papageno in Magic Flute and Silvio in I Pagliacci for Surrey Opera; Apollo in Alceste and Berardo in Riccardo Primo (George Frideric Handel) for English Bach Festival at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor for English Touring Opera; Malatesta in Don Pasquale, The Father in Hansel and Gretel and Don Alfonso in Così fan Tutte for Opera Brava; Count Almaviva in Marriage of Figaro, and Don Giovanni for Kent Opera Education Programme; Noye in Noye’s Fludde for Finchley Children’s Music Group; Germont in La Traviata for Pavilion Opera and the role of Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor for New Sussex Opera.

Concert engagements include Cold Genius in Purcell’s King Arthur with the Gabrieli Consort & Players; Tavener’s Apocalypse in Athens with the City of London Sinfonia; the arias in J.S. Bach’s St John Passion (BWV 245) with Trevor Pinnock and The English Concert; Thea Musgrave’s Wild Winter with the viol consort Fretwork and appearances with The King’s Consort in Purcell programmes at the Wigmore Hall and at the BBC Proms. Under the baton of Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Colin Campbell has sung the bass solos in Monteverdi’s Vespers in Cremona and Milan and the Voice of Christ in Tavener’s The World is Burning, recorded by Philips Classics.

Colin Campbell has also performed Messiah in Israel and Poland; L.v. Beethoven’s Leonore at the Lincoln Center New York, the Salzburg Festival and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw; Mozart’s Requiem in Santiago de Compostela; G.F. Handel’s Atalanta at the Halle Festival; Christus in J.S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) in Tampere, Finland; Felix Mendelssohn’s Elijah at the Trondheim Festival, Norway; Johannes BrahmsRequiem at Symphony Hall, Birmingham; J.S. Bach’s B Minor Mass (BWV 232) in Japan and Korea; G.F. Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus in Vilnius, Lithuania with Nicholas McGegan and Georg Philipp Telemann’s Die Grossmut with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Magdeburg, Germany.

In London Colin Campbell has appeared at the Royal Albert Hall with the Philharmonia Orchestra and King’s College Choir Cambridge in Ralph Vaughan WilliamsFantasia on Christmas Carols; at the Queen Elisabeth Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Edward Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius and at Westminster Cathedral with the Bach Choir and the English Chamber Orchestra in Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem. He has also performed and recorded the rôles of Saint Denis/La Voix du Christ in Marcel Dupré’s cantata La France au Calvaire to critical acclaim.

Colin Campbell created the role of Herod in Nigel Short’s opera The Dream of Herod and subsequently performed the work in Switzerland, Bermuda and the UK. He has recently performed Don Giovanni, and Germont in Traviata for Opera a la Carte and also revived the role of Herod as well as the role of Renato in Masked Ball for Surrey Opera.