Vaughan Williams A Sea Symphony at St John at Hackney

“Incredibly good, wonderfully atmospheric”

“Powerfully interpreted, I loved it”

“It felt like we were on a boat, they were so effective in evoking the sea”

“The quiet parts were particularly moving.”

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Photos: Imogen Radford

Spring Concert

St John at Hackney

Lower Clapton Road E5

Sat 10th May 2008

Hackney Singers

Forest Philharmonic

Conductor: Mark Shanahan

Soprano: Linda Richardson

Bass baritone: Philip Tebb

Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony

‘Behold the sea itself’ – the opening words of Vaughan Williams’s Sea Symphony. And we can scarcely avoid seeing it, in our mind’s eye, and indeed feeling its force in the pit of our stomach, as the full orchestra crashes in at the word ‘sea’. Never can vast breakers pounding against rocks, sending up great jets and spouts of spray, then washing backwards, have been so powerfully evoked in music.

The Sea Symphony certainly loses nothing in comparison with other 19th- and early 20th-century musical portrayals of the sea – Debussy’s La mer (1905), for instance, or those in Wagner’s Flying Dutchman (1843).

The sea is presented in many moods. In the second movement, for example, we are at its edge, on a silent lonely shore, gazing out over a flat calm sea at night, as the waves splash gently at our feet. In the sprightly, bracing, ozone-filled third movement, we are out at sea again, clutching at the rails as a great sailing ship battles the swell, its timbers, canvas and ropes creaking and groaning. And the final movement portrays, in its epilogue, the unknowable vastness of the ocean, for ever stretching out before the voyager.

© John Ayto

Download the programme text in 18pt type

The Audience

I started as rector here just before your concert one year ago, and I am delighted to see the church being used again by the Hackney Singers and the Forest Philharmonic Orchestra for this event. The choir and orchestra performed to great effect in the building, and it felt like we were on a boat, they were so effective in evoking the sea.  Reverend Rob Wickham, Rector of Hackney

It was incredibly good, wonderfully atmospheric, and gave a marvellous sense of seascape. I was really mesmerised by the changes of mood. It was the first time I have heard the Sea Symphony live, and I was blown away by the music and the way it was so powerfully interpreted. I found it inspirational and I loved it. Deb Laycock, choir member not singing in this piece

Wonderful, I was dabbing my eyes often during the piece. I found it very moving and I am very glad I came.  Mike Dempsey

I cried three times, especially where the piece evoked the words of the poet, and some of the quiet parts were particularly moving. The soloists were great, and the orchestra, but when the choir was singing unaccompanied it was stunning.  Monica Forty

It was very striking how 101% committed everyone is – singing their hearts out, watching Mark, coming in so confidently, keeping quite still at the end of each movement – really professional.  I was really sad not to be able to sing but I had the privilege of seeing how all the hard work had paid off. It was a great performance! Clare Wooldridge, choir member not singing in this piece

The choice of greens and blues for the choir was an excellent one. The mass affect looked brilliant, jewel-like and fresh.  An actor friend who came commented on the professional way we came on, stood etc. Christine Hodgson, choir member not singing in this piece

The Conductor

I never thought a few years ago that we would have the courage to put on such a powerful and challenging work. It’s a great credit to the choir. They have been improving the speed at which they learn the music so much lately. Not many of them have even heard the piece let alone sung it, which makes the achievement even more remarkable. It’s always nice to be joined by the Forest Philharmonic Orchestra for these big events, to give the chorus their immense support. And the Hackney Singers rose to the occasion marvellously, as ever. Mark Shanahan, conductor

The Musicians

Hackney Singers have yet again captured the spirit of the piece, and are putting over the full range of colours and dynamics, and conveying the drama of the piece. They’re singing in such a concentrated way, showing a sense of security, that I’m sure it’s going to be a delicious performance. Dan Ludford Thomas, associate conductor

I think the choir has started to feel very comfortable with the work and the English choral sound is beginning to take shape. An hour’s input from Mark at this rehearsal has started to give the performance real colour and vibrancy. Saturday evening is going to be one of the highlights of my last 18 years with the choir. It is a wonderful work sung by some wonderful people.  It was well worth doing, it sounded lovely. I was very impressed. Andrew Storey, répétiteur

It’s difficult for people to appreciate how much of an achievement it is to put on a piece like this with just one rehearsal with everyone in the choir and orchestra together. It’s sounding amazingly good  John Crawford, leader of the orchestra

The Soloists

It’s lovely to return to sing with the choir and to see them sounding so robust and healthy. I joined the Hackney Singers four years ago to sing A Child of Our Time, which was a wonderful experience. Once again I am coming to sing a challenging piece with you. It’s going to be a great concert. There’s a very good atmosphere, and the choir is working very well with the orchestra and the conductor. Linda Richardson Soprano

I sang the piece a couple of years ago, and I am pleased to be here to do it again. It’s a wonderful piece, but it’s not performed as often as it should be. It needs a good orchestra and choir and this is what we have today. Philip Tebb Bass Baritone