SARGENT CHRISTMAS CONCERT
ROYAL ALBERT HALL, LONDON
12th December 2003
am I supposed to write a review when no word exists in the
English language which adequately describes the beauty of
concert was given by an array of star performers:
Soprano: Hayley Westenra
Harp: Catrin Finch
The Philharmonia Chorus
Junior Academy Symphony Orchestra, Royal Academy of Music
Organ: Ian Curror
Guest Star: Sophie Ellis Bextor
Special Guest Appearance: Barney the purple dinosaur
Appearances by: Members of the West London School
Presented by: James Allen, Gigi Morley and Pasty
the presence of: HRH The Duchess of Gloucester GCVO
so much a concert; more a Christmas party:
programme commenced at 7.30 with the traditional carol 'O
Come all ye Faithful' arranged for Choir and Audience and
was immediately followed by 'Ding Dong! Merrily on High'
performed by the Philharmonia Chorus. These immediately
got everyone into the festive spirit.
the announcements from the presenters we were given a rendition
of 'White Christmas' by Hayley and the Philharmonia Chorus.
There is something about Hayley's voice that is really very
moving. It is rich and strong yet, at the same time, gentle
and serene. That apparent contradiction is something that
cannot be explained but which Hayley miraculously achieves
every time she sings.
those of you who have never been to the Royal Albert Hall,
it may have had its acoustics difficulties over the years
(now largely resolved) but, architecturally it is quite
magnificent. I remember the first time I went there, perhaps
35 years ago. It was quite breathtaking. I imagine that,
from the point of view of a young performer, and with a
capacity audience of about 6500, it could be quite humbling
but Hayley looked perfectly at home. As ever, her voice
resounded around the auditorium and reduced so many of her
audience virtually to tears. Such was her effect on me.
left the stage and the Junior Academy Symphony Orchestra
then presented us with a rendition of 'Troika' from 'Lieutenant
Kije' by Prokofiev. I found this particularly pleasing as
it was a personal favourite within the classical repertoire
for some years but perhaps I heard it a little too often
until its novelty wore off. However, hearing it performed
live rekindled my affection for it and the balance between
the woodwind and brass sections accompanied by pizzicato
strings was quite inspirational.
was now the turn of the Choir and Audience as they joined
together to sing 'Once in Royal David's City'. This was
followed by the appearance (reluctantly at first) of Barney
the dinosaur. It took much encouragement from presenters
and children in the audience to persuade him to come out
on stage but when he did, he performed with great enthusiasm
to the obvious delight of all the children present (up to
the age of about 99, that is!).
Choir and Audience then sang 'Jingle Bells'. Okay, there
was one exception. A certain member of the audience (me)
was so excited by the prospect of the next item in the programme
that he felt too emotional to perform. Sorry!
Hayley returned to the stage, she gave that lovely little
wave of hers. I hope she never stops doing that; it is becoming
a bit of a trademark for her and is quite delightful. First,
she sang 'Away In a Manger' and I was entranced. Then came
'Pokarekare Ana' which seems to sound better and better
every time I hear it. This was the first song that I ever
heard Hayley sing and I knew immediately that she was going
to be a very special part of my life. I could not have known
then quite how special. To hear it performed live (for the
second time this week) was wonderful. This was a different
arrangement to those I had heard before with a short unaccompanied
section. In such a spacious venue, all that could be heard
was Hayley's angelic voice. Even the excited children in
the audience were silent. Were they totally enchanted too
or was I just oblivious to them?
the interval, the stage was handed over to the night's special
guest, Sophie Ellis Bextor who performed two songs from
her current CD. She displayed a natural ability to sing
and relate to the children in the front row at the same
time. One child apparently passed to her a glow stick (which
all the children were waving throughout the evening) and
she had to ask how to make it work. This short fragmented
conversation took place between lines of the song and made
it a delightfully informal occasion.
main purpose of the evening was to raise money for Sargent
Cancer Care for Children. Envelopes had been left on every
seat into which money could be donated. Collectors now came
round the audience as the Orchestra and Philharmonia Chorus
performed 'A Merry Little Christmas'. This took some time
but I barely noticed as I was distracted by what was happening
on the far side of the auditorium. I saw Hayley walking
down the steps to the front row of the stalls where she
sat amongst the audience signing autographs for those sitting
nearby. Very soon there were children from all over the
arena going over to her. Sadly, I no longer qualify by approximately
forty years and so I had to remain in my seat and adore
her from afar. From where I was, she appeared to have a
natural way with the children who were lining up to meet
her. She leant forward to each of them in turn to ask their
name and remained there for some time looking perfectly
happy to do it. A lovely thought, Hayley. I'm sure you made
a lot of children very happy.
the collection complete, the Choir and Audience sang 'The
Twelve Days of Christmas' during which all the children
in the audience had been encouraged with great enthusiasm
by the Conductor to wave their glow stick every time we
reached the line, 'five gold rings'. The effect was quite
came an arrangement by Karl Jenkins of the traditional 'Crossing
the Stone' for harp and orchestra. Catrin Finch holds the
Royal Appointment as Harpist to HRH The Prince of Wales.
'Crossing the Stone' (Tros y garreg) is the 4th movement
from 'Over the Stone', the double harp concerto commissioned
by HRH The Prince of Wales. It was written by Karl Jenkins
for Catrin and her teacher (and future mother-in-law) Elinor
Bennet and premiered in Cardiff in 2002. The original traditional
Welsh song tells of a soldier returning to Meirionydd and
looking forward to seeing old friends again.
was followed by the Choir and Audience's performance of
'Good King Wenceslas' and then the Children's Choir (490
in number) and harpist Catrin Finch performed 'Silent Night'.
Only six days earlier I had heard Hayley sing this carol
in Trafalgar Square and, in my mind, I could hear her singing
it now. How I wish she had even though tonight's version
was lovely as it was.
came 'Star Carol' arranged by John Rutter. This was perhaps
the least known work of the evening but Conductor Jonathan
Willcocks gave the audience a trial run and the final version
was a total success and enjoyed by all.
Choir and Audience continued with 'Hark! the Herald Angels
Sing' and finally 'We Wish You a Merry Christmas'. For this
last carol, all the presenters and performers returned to
the stage and, thankfully, the microphone was passed to
Hayley. I would like to think that I could detect her voice
above so many others which were, by now, raising the roof
(that won't help the acoustics!) but it was probably wishful
thinking! I have no doubt that many of us in the audience
were aware that this was the last time we were going to
see Hayley on stage before she returns to New Zealand on
Monday. Oh, how we shall miss her.
so the evening drew to a close. Or so we thought. However,
the events of the next hour including a very privileged
and delightful meeting with Hayley and Jill (her mum) will
have to wait for another time. I like to keep you in suspense!
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