CHORAL JAZZ & BLUES
If you regularly attend performances by the Birmingham Festival Choral Society (which we sincerely hope you do!) you will find next month’s event something of a contrast. All of the works are British, contemporary, in the jazz idiom – and, by all accounts, highly popular with audiences. The concert is called CHORAL JAZZ & BLUES: the lighter side of choral music. Moreover, it will take place not at our normal church or concert hall venues but in the Informal setting of Trefoil House in central Birmingham, with food and drink at your table while you soak up the music.
What of the music itself? The main item, Mass in Blue, written by Will Todd, is a remarkable fusion of two very different musical traditions: the sung Mass (whose European origins date from medieval times) and the Blues (of African-American 19th century origin, a forerunner of jazz). This reflects the Durham-born composer’s “double life”, on the one hand an experienced chorister and classically-trained pianist, and on the other a jazz musician in his ‘down time’.
The work, accompanied by a small jazz ensemble (piano, upright bass, drums – and a virtuoso soprano soloist) features the traditional sections of the sung Catholic Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, Angus Dei). For those familiar to conventional Mass settings, there will be much to recognise: plainchants and Latin rhythms interwoven with Blues-style syncopation, improvisation and melodies. First performed in 2003, Mass in Blue was an immediate success, and is an increasingly popular item of the choral repertoire.
Two further works in the jazz idiom feature in the programme. Songs and Sonnets is a cycle of seven familiar Shakespeare verses (including It was a lover and his lass and Who is Sylvia?) by the revered British jazz pianist and composer Sir George Shearing, who died in 2011. The concert will also include Birthday Madrigals by the popular choral composer John Rutter, who was commissioned to write this collection of songs on the occasion of Shearing’s 75th birthday.
CHORAL JAZZ & BLUES, with the Birmingham Festival Choral Society conducted by Kevin Gill, takes place at Trefoil House, Blucher Street B1 1QL, on Saturday 14 July at 6.30pm. You are welcome to bring some supper to enjoy at your own table. There will be a bar available from the start of the concert for wine and soft drinks.