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23 December 2009

Sydney Chamber Choir sings Australian repertory in Spain

Sydney Chamber Choir at Tolosa Festival Image: Sydney Chamber Choir at Tolosa Festival  
© www.sydneychamberchoir.org

In October and November 2009, Sydney Chamber Choir travelled to Northern Spain where it had been invited to participate in the 41st Tolosa International Choral Festival. The Tolosa festival brings together, by invitation only, many of the finest choirs and vocal ensembles in the world to perform and compete in front of an international judging panel. Sydney Chamber Choir is the first Australian choir to participate in this festival. One of the festival's features is a series of free concerts, by the visiting groups, in various villages around the Basque region of Spain. As part of Sydney Chamber Choir's participation, we performed in six such concerts, often in the glorious acoustics of local churches.

An important aspect of the tour was the choir's inclusion of a significant amount of Australian music in the repertoire. The unique sounds of Ross Edwards's Mountain Chant and Elliott Gyger's quirky arrangement of 'Waltzing Matilda' as well as Nigel Butterley's Exultate Domino provided the audience with an important insight into the quality and diversity of Australia's choral music (see below for a list of the Australian repertoire taken on tour). This music, alongside the compulsory competition pieces, including music from the Spanish Renaissance as well as folk-inspired works sung in Basque, brought forth standing ovations from capacity audiences. It often felt like everyone from the village had turned up to hear the novelty of an Antipodean choir!

We appeared in Basque and Spanish newspapers, were filmed by local television stations, and greeted with enormous warmth and hospitality. Our Spanish-speaking tenor, Miguel Iglesias, was able to explain to our audiences the background to the music we performed, including an explanation of the ever-perplexing textual complexities of 'Waltzing Matilda'.

In the competition, Sydney Chamber Choir gained a very credible 3rd prize in both the sections it was eligible to enter, performing at a standard comparable to some of the best choirs in Europe and Asia whose vocal forces were up to twice our number. Although it was very satisfying to have gained this recognition, in many senses the competition was less important than the opportunity the tour gave use to truly refine our own practices and to contemplate what we might be able to achieve in the future. Moreover, the overwhelming response to the Australian music we performed on tour made us truly proud of the quality of choral music currently being produced back home.

Australian Music Performed on Sydney Chamber Choir's tour of Spain:

Nigel Butterley: Exultate Domino
Ross Edwards: Mountain Chant
Percy Grainger: Brigg Fair
Elliott Gyger (arr.): Waltzing Matilda
Stephen Leek (arr.): South Australia
Peter Sculthorpe: 'Canticle: Lullaby' (from Requiem)
Paul Stanhope: Lament (from Exile Lamentations)
Dan Walker (arr.): Africa

Further links

Sydney Chamber Choir (www.sydneychamberchoir.org/)
Tolosa International Choral Competition (http://www.cittolosa.com/en/choirs/index.htm)
'New Australian compositions for chamber choir' - an article by Paul Stanhope in Resonate Journal #5
Sydney Chamber Choir performs in Spain - YouTube

Paul Stanhope is Musical Director of Sydney Chamber Choir and also a well-respected and highly versatile composer. His chamber music compositions will be featured in 2010 by Musica Viva.


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