"A mighty plea for peace." This is how John Bate, Artistic Director of South West London's Thames Philharmonic Choir, describes Britten's War Requiem which the Choir will perform on 10 November at Cadogan Hall. "This makes it particularly appropriate to mark the centenary of end of the First World War. It is a great challenge to all who perform it, but a wonderful experience, as it is also for those who listen." A leading light on the London choral music scene, this will be John's last Cadogan Hall concert with the Choir he founded in 1964 as he is due to relinquish his baton in 2019.
John Bate, Artistic Director Celia Catchpole, Second Soprano Sue Mason, First Soprano Fiona Murray, Second Soprano
It will also be an occasion when John and many members of the Choir honour their own family members who died or suffered as a result of war. Celia Catchpole's Great Uncle, George Ashmead Bartlett was killed at the end of the Battle of the Somme in 14 November 1916. According to her grandfather, Seabury Ashmead Bartlett, "they attacked near the village/hamlet/hill of Beaumont Hamel and were pretty well wiped out by machine gun fire. The ground was captured the following day and the bodies recovered and buried". George's wife Phyllis had recently given birth to a daughter, Georgette, whom he never met.
Susan Mason’s great uncle, George Richard Bostock Mazengarb was killed aged 20 at the Somme on 27 July 1916. The war diaries of the First East Surrey Regiment dated Saturday July 29 1916 reported: "Many wounded of several days’ duration are occupying shell holes in and around the village. It is impossible to get them away or even to provide them with the water, which they cry for as one passes." Says Susan: "My grandmother was just 18 at the time and she never forgot the impact on the family of the news of his death, delivered to the house by telegram." George's body was never recovered and he has his name carved into stone at the memorial site at Thiepval. (For more on George Mazengarb, read Susan Mason's blog: https://www.thamesphilchoir.org.uk/blog).
Lewis Gordon was a conscientious objector in the First World War and ostracised by his family. But he will be remembered with pride when his great-niece, Fiona Murray sings at Cadogan Hall. “Great Uncle Lewis worked as an ambulance driver and stretcher-bearer”, said Fiona. “It’s particularly fitting to remember him when singing this work”, she said, “as Britten, too was a conscientious objector.” She will also be remembering his brother John, who was killed in 1917, and his brothers James and George who died soon after the war as a result of the mustard gas they inhaled during battle.
The War Requiem was written for the consecration in 1962 of the new Coventry Cathedral, built to replace the medieval building destroyed by bombing in the Second World War. Britten, a pacifist who registered as a conscientious objector during the Second World War, chose to set the traditional Latin Mass for the Dead interwoven with nine poems about the horror of war by English poet Wilfred Owen, described by Britten as "our greatest war poet". Owen was killed in action on 4 November 1918, one week before the Armistice.
The Cadogan Hall concert, on Remembrance Day weekend, brings together Thames Philharmonic Choir and Kingston's Tiffin Boys' Choir. The Thames Festival Orchestra, under Leader Nandor Szederkényi, will contribute both the main orchestra and the instrumental ensemble, the latter conducted by Benjamin Costello, together with the male soloists. The boys' choir will be directed by Ralph Allwood, a well-known choral conductor and former Director of Music at Eton College. The performance overall will be conducted by Thames Philharmonic's Artistic Director, John Bate. The soloists for the performance are Soprano Yvonne Howard, Tenor Ben Johnson, and Baritone Matthew Hargreaves, all established opera and oratorio singers who have sung to great acclaim with Thames Philharmonic Choir over the years.