"The autumn musical calendar will be heavy with remembrance to mark 100 years since the Armistice…" wrote Neil Fish of The Times in his review of last Thursday's Proms performance of Britten’s War Requiem. It was a magnificent occasion with the Huddersfield Choral Society, The Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the RSNO Chorus and RSNO Junior Chorus, the latter providing the distant boys' voices from the gallery way above us.
A number of Choir members were at the Royal Albert Hall because we love the music or simply wanted to become more familiar with it before our own performance of the work in November. Ours will be a much more intimate occasion at Cadogan Hall but the date – 10 November – is of immense significance: it will be the eve of the centenary of the ending of World War I.
The War Requiem was written for the consecration in 1962 of the new Coventry Cathedral, built to replace the mediaeval building destroyed by bombing in the Second World War. Britten, a pacifist, chose to set the traditional Latin Mass for the Dead interwoven with nine poems about the horror of war by English poet Wilfred Owen. Owen himself was killed in action on 4 November 1918, one week before the Armistice. He has subsequently become revered as one of the great war poets.
The score calls for a large choir to sing the Requiem texts together with the soprano soloist, a large orchestra and a distant boys choir, while the two male soloists sing Owen’s poems accompanied by a separate instrumental ensemble.
This performance will bring together Thames Philharmonic Choir and Kingston's Tiffin Boys' Choir, who will provide the distant boys' voices. The Thames Festival Orchestra, under their Leader Nandor Szederkényi, will contribute both the main orchestra and the instrumental ensemble, the latter conducted by Benjamin Costello. The boys' choir and male soloists will be directed from the keyboard by Ralph Allwood, a well-known choral conductor and former Director of Music at Eton College. The performance overall will be conducted by TPC's Artistic Director, John Bate. The soloists for the performance are Tenor Ben Johnson, Baritone Matthew Hargreaves and Soprano Yvonne Howard, all established opera and oratorio singers who have sung at Choir concerts over the years.
As John Bate says: "This is a mighty plea for peace and, as such, seems exceedingly appropriate to be performed as we mark the hundredth anniversary of the ending of the First World War. It is a great challenge to all who perform it, but also a wonderful experience, as it is also for those who listen."