Tippett A Child of Our Time at St John’s

“It nearly blew the roof off!”

“It was so beautiful, some people near me were crying”

“I was impressed by the sheer guts of the sound”

“I was completely entranced”

click here for press release

On the 15th May excitement was mounting at the afternoon rehearsal for the performance to be put on the same evening of Tippett’s A Child of Our Time.

photo: Imogen Radford

The concert, the culmination of nearly a year’s rehearsal of this difficult work, was a triumph.  Members of the audience were moved to tears by this moving and dramatic piece, and responded with a standing ovation.

Spring Concert
Saturday May 15th at 7:30
Elgar: Serenade for strings
Barber: Adagio for Strings
Tippett: A Child of Our Time
Linda Richardson – Soprano John Graham Hall – Tenor
Ann Taylor – Mezzo-Soprano Andrew Greenan – Bass
Mark Shanahan – Musical Director
Forest Philharmonic
St John at Hackney, Lower Clapton Road, E5

Michael Tippett began writing ‘A Child of our Time’ on the eve of the Second World War. He had been moved by the desperate actions of a young Polish Jew in the face of Nazi persecution, which led to one of the most terrible massacres of Jews in Nazi Germany in 1938, Kristallnacht.

‘A Child of our Time’ is a statement of solidarity with the oppressed, and an account of one young man’s struggle for social justice.  The use of spirituals, the song of the black American slaves and their descendants, gives the unfolding story a global perspective. © John Ayto 2004

Audience members expressed their appreciation of this rarely performed piece.

“I’m not normally attracted to ‘modern music’ and went to this concert only looking forward to the Elgar & Barber. But the opening chords of Child of our Time & the beautiful staggered entrances of the choir set my spine tingling, and from then on until the end I was completely entranced. I want to hear this music again!” said Brian Troath.

Celia Smith said: “This was my first Tippett concert.  I’m converted!”

Will and Valerie were impressed by the powerful spiritual ‘Go down Moses’.  “It nearly blew the roof off”, Valerie said.

Mike Dempsey, a member of the renowned Bach choir who lives locally, said “I was impressed by the sheer guts of the sound.  I enjoyed it because it was obvious the choir enjoyed performing it.”

Monica Forty normally performs in the choir but wasn’t able to do so this time.  She said, “I’ve come to feel the emotion of the piece, the intensity and the colours.  The hankies were out on our row, especially during the marvellous spiritual ‘Steal away’ “.

Ben Raouf was so inspired by the concert that he’s decided to go along to have a go at singing in the choir.  “It was so beautiful, some people near me were crying, but all of them were clapping at the end”, he said.

Mark Shanahan, who has been musical director of the choir since 1998, and the Forest Philharmonic orchestra since 1991, was overwhelmed by the performance and the audience response.

“The orchestra, the soloists and the choir gave a soul-stirring performance.  The soloists all have distinguished oratorio and operatic careers, and this made it a wonderful dramatic performance.  The choir had a tremendous commitment to what the piece is about — they weren’t just singing notes.  It takes a different sort of courage to perform this style of work, and it was all the more powerful because they felt the relevance of the story told in the piece in the light of world events today.

The audience clearly sensed this.  At the end of the piece the audience applauded, but when I called the chorus to their feet the audience responded wildly, giving a standing ovation.

In a few years time choir members will look back on tonight as the night when their development as a chorus changed direction.  They are moving on to a new level of excellence.”

One member of the choir, alto Megan Griffith, said “We’ve been rehearsing this for a year, and now I’ve got it under my skin”.

Bridget Saunders, soprano in the choir, found the story in the piece almost too much. “I had tears running down my face in the rehearsal, and I found performing it in the concert very affecting.

All of the soloists spoke of their feelings about this piece of music.

The tenor, John Graham-Hall, said “It’s a fantastic piece.  It comes over particularly dramatically in such an impressive church”.

Andrew Greenham, the bass, said “Every time I’ve done this piece it’s had a different resonance.  We know about what was happening when it was written, but it has as much relevance to events in the world today.”

Soprano Linda Richardson said that she understood how difficult the piece it was for the choir, “It’s nice to see them doing it so well.  It’s exciting — there are so many different emotions expressed in it.”

Ann Taylor, mezzo soprano, echoed Linda and added “This was the first time either of us has performed it, and it was a great occasion.”

One of the orchestral pieces performed in the concert, Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, is an emotionally charged piece that was written for string orchestra in 1938.  It has become an unofficial American anthem of mourning, played after the death of President Kennedy, and more recently capturing the mood when it was played at the anniversary commemoration of the 11 September attack on the World Trade Centre.

The orchestra also performed Elgar’s Serenade for Strings.

Leader of the Forest Philharmonic, John Crawford, said about A Child of Our Time, for which the orchestra was joined by the choir and soloists, “It’s wonderful to see a local community choir take on and get to grips with such a large and complex piece of music.  We’ve done it many times, with big professional choirs, but this performance is particularly exciting because of what they put into it.”

Andrew Storey, repétiteur, accompanist for Hackney Singers since 1990, has seen the choir gain confidence while learning this piece. “I was very impressed by them in rehearsal, and the performance was absolutely terrific, stunning.  I was really proud of them.”