Youth contrasts with experience

David Burchell conducts the City Choir Dunedin and Columba Junior Madrigal Choir during a rehearsal for Saturday's Knox Church concert. Photo by Craig Baxter
David Burchell conducts the City Choir Dunedin and Columba Junior Madrigal Choir during a rehearsal for Saturday's Knox Church concert. Photo by Craig Baxter
In Rutter's Mass of the Children, the fresh, youthful voices of children contrast with the adult choir, according to City Choir Dunedin musical director David Burchell. He has asked the Columba Junior Madrigal Choir, directed by Richard Madden, to join the adult choir for its concert on Saturday in Knox Church.

It was very accessible music, to be sung, to be listened to, music everyone could connect with, Mr Burchell said.

''The children pop up frequently and it's mostly little episodes contrasted with the main choir. It's quite effective.''

Rutter combined the basic mass text, the missa brevis without the creed, with English texts that connected with the Latin texts in one way or another, he said.

''The opening movement has the English text of [17th century] Bishop Ken's morning hymn, Awake my soul and with the sun, then during the `Dona nobis pace' at the end he introduces Bishop Ken's evening hymn, All praise to thee my God this night, set to the famous Tallis Canon tune.

''By using those as bookends, he is trying to give the idea the whole thing is set in the context of a day, but I wouldn't say he follows the theme to an enormous extent.''

William Blake's poem The Lamb was introduced in the Agnus dei, which talks about the Lamb of God. It was a childish text - ''I a child and thou a lamb, We are called by his name''.

Also included was the Irish hymn St Patrick's Breastplate (''I bind unto myself today/The strong name of the Trinity''), which was a prayer to Christ to be in your life in every aspect (''Christ, be my guide today, my guide tomorrow; Christ in my days of joy, my days of sorrow'') that connected with the day's ending in the finale, Mr Burchell said.

The choirs would be accompanied by an ensemble from the Southern Sinfonia: a wind quintet, which gave a range of colour and the sustained lines you wanted for a choral accompaniment; the organ to provide more body and support; a double bass to provide more definition in the bass; and a harp for additional colour, he said.

All the works in the concert were music of the present day, mostly written in the past 20 years.

Mass of the Children was first performed in 2003 and commissioned for a choral conductors' convention in New York.

David Hamilton's Dance Song to the Creator was also written for a choral conductors' conference.

The Auckland composer was the most prolific and performed choral composer in New Zealand, Mr Burchell said.

''Like Rutter, he has a very attractive, very listenable style, very attuned to what voices do naturally, so I find them very rewarding to sing.''

The work was for a main choir and two smaller choirs which responded antiphonally, so he had divided the choir in three.

Like Rutter, Hamilton took a Latin liturgical text, the Te Deum, and set against it a text in English, this time by Kabir, a 15th-century Indian mystic poet and saint.

''It's a prayer to the creator, however you conceive the creator, `Dance my heart, dance to the rhythm of music'. It's about the joy of life and connects well with the opening of the Te Deum, `We praise thee O God','' he said.

Dance song to the creator was accompanied by two pianos, played by John Van Buskirk and Sandra Crawshaw.

Praise of creation also came into Rejoice in the Lamb by Benjamin Britten.

A cantata that falls into 10 sections, it was based on an 18th-century text, Jubilate Agno by English poet Christopher Smart.

Smart was an eccentric, if not mad, and this long rambling poem was written while he was in an asylum.

Britten took some of the best passages about the worship of God through creation, Mr Burchell said.

He knows the piece well, having sung it since he was a boy.

''There are nice little cameo moments - there's an episode that describes his cat Jeoffry worshipping God in his own way by being a cat and doing the things that cats do, like twirling around.

''There's another about a mouse; when the female mouse is attacked by a cat the male mouse says `take me on instead'. There are also various images of musical instruments, Old Testament characters, and one passage is all about sounds that instruments make: rhymes, as he terms it, of the instruments.

''It's a colourful text and Britten responds in a very spontaneous way. There's nothing there that feels contrived. It all seems to flow from the text and there's an almost divine, soft alleluia passage that comes twice in the piece, once earlier on and once to conclude it which gives the whole thing a peaceful air.''

Rejoice in the Lamb would be accompanied by the organ, played by Simon Mace.

The concert would begin with three unaccompanied spirituals, also by Hamilton.

''They are a nicely balanced set, two lively ones and a more reflective number in the middle, and they are unaccompanied and a good lively sing to get started with,'' Mr Burchell said.

Young singers have been selected for the solo parts: Cathy Sim, who sang in the choir a few years ago, is soprano for the Rutter; Clinton Fung, a student at the University of Otago who is starting to get noticed in musical circles, sings bass in both the Rutter and the Britten; Peter Wigglesworth, also a student, is tenor in the Britten; and two young singers still at school, soprano Calla Knudson-Hollebon and alto James Burchell, sing the cat and mouse respectively in the Britten.

Cantus Columba, the senior choir at Columba College, will also perform their ''Big Sing'' numbers in the first half of the concert: Christopher Marshall's Minoi, Minoi, Schubert's The Lord's My Shepherd, and George Harrison's Here Comes The Sun (arr. K. Shaw).

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