We might not be anywhere near ‘back to normal’, as far as regular concert-going is concerned, and we know that the situation is always going to be volatile for some time. But meanwhile, Plymouth Philharmonic Press Officer, Mary Johnson, is always keen to let us know what the choir has been up to, and share its plans for the coming months.
‘Looking Lovely’, the noticeboard at the entrance to The Garden House, announced treasures such as Geranium ‘Rozanne’, Rodgersia, Agapanthus, Eryngium ‘Big Blue’, Monarda, Knautia, Penstemon and Helenium to name but a few, to be found in swathes and drifts in brimming borders. On Monday 19 July there were, however, further delights, as members of the Plymouth Philharmonic Choir gathered and sang on the front lawn in the idyllic setting of one of Britain’s finest gardens.
For Head Gardener Nick Haworth, gardening means selecting the best forms and cultivars to ensure diversity of seasonal interest – always innovating, always refining. Harmony and counterpoint like the work of a good choir. Plymouth Philharmonic Choir are used to performing concerts of three or more major choral works a year with a full orchestra and nationally-renowned soloists. Training and nurturing voices of current and new singers, blending to create sublime harmony and being at peak perfection on concert days for participants and audience-members’ delight.
Revive, strengthen and flourish
Like a drought-stricken plant, voices need to revive, strengthen and flourish again. To begin that process it was a very appropriate choice, by Musical Director Christopher Fletcher, to select works from the aptly named A Sprig of Thyme by John Rutter. The folk songs requiring a narrower vocal range and with their familiar melodies, were straightforward to sight sing and provided time for brains to get back into gear with the intricacies of musical notation and dynamics! In line with the words of the first folk song The Bold Grenadier – “I am going a-walking by the clear crystal stream to see cool waters glide and hear nightingales sing”, the choir enjoyed a stroll in the shade through the arboretum to the lake, where bird song took over the accompaniment.
An afternoon spent in the most beautiful surroundings with glorious weather would always be special, but all of this, and on a day which saw the further relaxing of restrictions, meant that the words sung, took on greater significance in the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves by Giuseppe Verdi – “When will grief and lamenting be over … Hear the voice of thy people at last.” From what was once the vicarage, singing down the valley to Buckland Monachorum church, the afternoon ended with the chorus And the Glory of the Lord from Handel’s Messiah. It’s doubtful that the tear in my eye at the end of such a joyful couple of hours could be attributed to the very high pollen count!
The choir is preparing to start rehearsals on Thursday 9 September 2021 (further details will be available in due course on the choir’s website www,plymouthphilchoir.org ). In the meantime enjoy your own special visit to The Garden House, which is open Tuesday – Sunday from 10.30am to 5pm and on Bank Holiday Mondays (for further details visit www.thegardenhouse.org.uk ). And if you hear a few bars being hummed in the acer glade or meadow it may be a member of the Plymouth Philharmonic Choir returning to share this garden’s many delights with their friends and family.’
Philip R Buttall
top image: Plymouth Philharmonic Choir at The Garden House. Courtesy of Howard Perks