I always look forward to the concerts of London’s City Chorus, but there was an added poignancy tonight, as this is likely to be my dear friend Noriko’s last concert with the choir before she and her husband, George, move to Japan. Fitting, therefore, that this also happened to be City Chorus’s “Spring” concert – a season that most of us associate with new beginnings.
One of the reasons the concerts are so enjoyable is because of their location – St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, just across the road from the Old Bailey. There has been a church on this site since Saxon times and over the years it has been through a number of incarnations, including a complete rebuild in both the 15th and the 17th centuries (it was completely gutted by the Great Fire of London in 1666). Like most churches with long histories, St Sepulchre has a somewhat grisly past; you would never guess, from its serene interior, that during the reign of Mary I one of its vicars was burned at the stake for being a heretic – or that the handbell which resides in a glass case behind the nave is known as the Execution Bell, because it used to be rung to mark the execution of a prisoner at nearby Newgate Prison. Remember the old nursery rhyme ‘Oranges and Lemons’? The phrase “Bells of Old Bailey” is a reference to this very handbell.
It’s not these grisly events which make St Sepulchre so appealing as a concert venue, I hasten to add, it’s the grace and elegance of this centuries-old building (but the historical nuggets above were too good to leave out).
By far the best reason of all for coming to these concerts, though, is the passion, determination and sheer talent of the City Chorus Choir, none of whom are professional singers, although on performance nights they are joined by guest professional soloists. That the Choir is so good is due in no small part to the its musical director, Paul Ayres, whose name may well be familiar to you; Paul has many strings to his bow, composer and conductor among them, and is associate accompanist of Crouch End Festival Chorus. His love of music is tangible, and transmits itself to everyone around him.
Tonight’s concert featured works by two composers: Vivaldi’s Magnificat, which dates back to 1719, when Vivaldi was just starting out in his career, and Duruflé’s Requiem, completed in 1947 and heavily influenced by Gregorian chant. I had never heard either of the pieces performed live before and it’s difficult to put into words just how beautiful, and how uplifting, they are. There is a real purity to both their words and their music, and glancing around me I could see just how moved everyone in the audience was. That, though, is the power that music has, isn’t it? To transport us away, just for a while, from the rigours of everyday life and the seemingly endless horrors that confront us every time we switch on the news. After the final, emotive, note had been sung, I left St Sepulchre reluctantly, but with a discernible spring in my step, grateful that the week had concluded with such an optimistic finish.