Chichester Singers to open the Festival of Chichester

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The Chichester Singers offer the opening night’s concert for this year’s Festival of Chichester with the promise of something rather different.

Their programme in Chichester Cathedral on Saturday, June 15 at 7.30pm will offer a swing and jazz feel. Musical director Jonathan Willcocks is promising an evening of buoyant musical colour, contrasting the rhythmic energy and jazz influences of John Rutter – Birthday Madrigals and George Shearing – Songs and Sonnets with the vibrant Spanish sound world of Ariel Ramírez – Misa Criolla.

“The summer concert is always special and this one is slightly different from our usual repertoire. It is all jazz based. George Shearing was a very well-known jazz composer, and John Rutter, who was a huge admirer and close friend of George Shearing, wrote the Birthday Madrigals for him. Plus we have got the Argentinian composer Ramírez who fused folk music with jazz influences.

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“The Shearing and the Rutter are natural partners in that they both are suitable for large mixed choirs and they both have an accompaniment of jazz piano and percussion. They are natural partners plus the fact that one was inspired by the other. The Birthday Madrigals are a nice fusion. There are five pieces that have some of the characteristics of the madrigal which was 16th century but very much has a jazz feel. George Shearing was present at the first performance in 1995.

Jonathan Willcocks (Paul Stead Photography)Jonathan Willcocks (Paul Stead Photography)
Jonathan Willcocks (Paul Stead Photography)

“I have never conducted the Birthday Madrigals before. I'm very well aware of all the music that Rutter wrote and I have performed a lot of his core classical works. This is a little outside of his natural choral feel with its jazz feel. I've known the work for some time and it fulfills one of my aims which is to have at least one work a year that I have not done before. I just love new challenges to keep the whole thing fresh. The advantage of having been around the block is that you have a lot of experience and the fact is that the great works are always wonderful to revisit, like in theatre it's wonderful to come back to Shakespeare but if you did nothing else other than revisit things you know well it really wouldn't be great for the singers. And they are enjoying the challenge which is to sing with a swing. You get a feel for the really tight rhythmic precision that it needs but also the loosening of the usual constraints of classical music, and that's really good for the singers. To do something that's really outside their comfort zone means that next time they sing Messiah or Verdi they will certainly be that little bit better. There is a real energy and enthusiasm for this.”

As for the Ramírez: “It's a wonderful piece. It was written in 1960s and I think the interesting thing about it is that he was such a great admirer and scholar of Argentinian folk music but that it has some of the feel of jazz. Misa Criolla is a work which is a setting of the mass but with the Spanish text. It has the conventional movements of the mass but it's very vibrant and colourful and uses Spanish guitar. There's so much rhythmic life to it. It is unmistakably Argentinian and the choir are enjoying it. It is one of those works that overnight made the name of Ramírez.”​