OGC newsletter 2005 [newsletter 2006]
Katie Birtill DipABRSM

Katie Birtill Congratulations to our last Head Girl, Katie Birtill, who has been awarded the DipABRSM singing diploma - the fruit of nine years' singing with OGC and hard study. In just one month after A-levels last year Katie sang the leading roles of Dido in our production of Dido and Æneas (Holywell Music Room, Oxford) and Adelaide in Guys and Dolls (Wycombe Swan Theatre) - an amazing display of versatility.

Katie has spent part of her gap year working in a hospital in Ghana before studying medicine - "I'm missing choir and our singing lessons". Her email address is .

BBC filming in Venice, November 2005 (Vivaldi Project)

the choir after filming the Gloria, with Eric (costume designer) in frontWorking closely with Micky White, the resident Vivaldi researcher at La Pietà in Venice, our musical director, Richard Vendome, has recently launched the Vivaldi Project, dedicated to presenting his music as it may have been heard.

During five days in November we recorded and filmed three different programmes for the BBC on location at La Pietà. The "Schola Pietatis Antonio Vivaldi", consisting of 18 past and present members of Oxford Girls' Choir (aged 14-32), together with seven older ladies, replicated Vivaldi's choir in size, age and vocal range; our two lowest voices can sing down to bottom F on the bass stave!

Antonio Vivaldi, as well as being a composer, taught at the Ospedale della Pietà for much of the first half of the 18th century. Michael Surcombe (BBC) and Richard discussing the scheduleThis was one of four such institutions in Venice - a home for abandoned and unwanted babies, often the children of prostitutes. The boys there were trained in stone cutting, weaving and shoe making, so they could leave at 16 with a skill for the future. The girls however, unless they got married or became nuns, stayed there for the rest of their lives.

It was Vivaldi’s job to train those girls who showed musical promise (about 10% of the total) to sing and play instruments during services at La Pietà. They became fantastic musicians, famous throughout the world. Vivaldi wrote many of his works for this female musical establishment, and evidence suggests that all the vocal parts were sung by women, including tenor and bass.

Sophie lighting the candlesOn 9th November we travelled to Venice with 17 female members of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment / Jerwood Experience to sing and play at La Pietà, staying in a hostel close to where the orphans used to live. Having learnt the Vivaldi Gloria by heart, we recorded it in full costume for a documentary about Vivaldi’s girls. The boned corsets of our 18th century costumes were rather constraining - one girl fainted during a filming session and had to have her stays loosened! We were filmed by candlelight (rather dangerous given the amount of flammable hair spray keeping our 18th century hairstyles in place), behind the grills in the galleries looking down on the main body of the church. There were wires and monitors everywhere, which made walking in the full skirts a challenge!

Throughout our journey and time in Venice we were trailed by a camera crew making a documentary about us reconstructing Vivaldi’s choir. They filmed us doing practically everything, including eating, shopping and fainting!

filming the Gloria - sopranos and altos in the south cantoriaOne full day was spent recording and practising Vivaldi’s music for Easter Vespers for BBC Radio 3, which will be broadcast next year. We had to record the vespers as if it were a live concert, standing for three hours continuously. At this point it was my turn to keel over!

Catherine Bott, the singer, early music specialist (and singing voice of Ermintrude in the ‘Magic Roundabout’!) will present the radio programme and came to Venice to interview us. We all had an absolutely fantastic time, despite long hours of being rehearsed, recorded, dressed and made up.

Rosie Dilnot (pictures by Peter Kent and Micky White)

Oxford Youth Choirs at the Mediterranea Festival, Gozo, 23-29 October 2005

Fifty-two members of Oxford Youth Choirs, including some of our growing Boys' Choir, have recently returned from a highly successful week in Gozo, Malta.  The senior girls gave a concert of classic jazz on the first night of the tour, to much acclaim, in the Concert Hall of St George's Basilica, with Colin Good in dazzling form at the piano. 

Hetty talking to tenor Joseph Calleja
La Bohème act 2 - crowd scene in rehearsal
in the green room - Boys' Choir playing cards

When we arrived at the Teatru Astra the following day to join in rehearsals for La Bohème it was hard to imagine that the production would be ready to open within the week. In pride of place as Rudolfo was Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja, now a household name in major European and American opera houses. Our singers were there to provide part of the children’s and adult choruses. Men were playing cards and watching football in the foyer, carpets were still being laid and seating was being installed. Costumes were still to be fitted and our choir members needed to find their places amongst the large chorus. We had underestimated, however, the skills and dedication of the theatre’s supporters. The Teatru is not just a place for occasional plays or operas: it is at the hub of the island’s community, a place for meeting friends and regular music making. La Stella Philharmonic Society, the first musical society in Gozo, is based in the Teatru and provides a musical education to Gozo youths principally through its renowned Philharmonic Band. The band is led by Maestro Joseph Vella, who also was the opera’s Musical Director. After a rehearsal in the band’s impressive practice room, where a grand statue of St George slays his dragon, the Oxford singers were ready to join the larger chorus. Parts as street people, ragazzi and bandsmen were allocated and as rehearsals continued the restoration of the theatre continued around us. The transformation was complete in time for the opening night. In the foyer an exhibition commemorating Trafalgar replaced the card tables and the Gozitans packed the opera house, justifiably proud of their own victory!

OGC singing Pampani in Baroque Concert, 28 Oct 2005
Richard playing new Gozo organ, 28 Oct 2005

On Friday the senior girls took part in a baroque concert at St George’s Basilica, to inaugurate the organ which Richard has built there (right).  Again, there was standing room only, and the Mediterranea Festival organisers, whose guests we were, were hugely impressed.  Richard had demonstrated the organ to H.E. the President of Malta before mass on the Sunday morning. The schedule of evening rehearsals and concerts meant that the days were free to enjoy the Gozitan landscape, sights and wonderful weather, not to mention a memorable boat trip which included snorkelling in the Blue Lagoon. We have a standing invitation to tour there again. [more...]

Catherine Dilnot, Philip Wilkinson

  • Baroque Concert at St George's Basilica, Gozo, 28 October 2005
  • La Bohème review

Election of officers and committee 2005-6

At the Annual General Meeting held on 25 June 2005 the following were elected:

Chairman - Tim Gardam
Secretary - Juli Warder
Treasurer - Catherine Dilnot
Committee - Louise Gullifer, Anna Orlowska, Nancy-Jane Rucker, Philip Wilkinson

Felisa Deas succeeds Nancy-Jane Rucker as Administrator.

The Planets, Weston Auditorium, University of Hertfordshire, 11th June

A group of OGC girls joined forces with the Mid Herts Youth Chamber Choir in an excellent concert at this splendid new concert hall. James Ross conducted the St Albans Symphony Orchestra and the girls performed the wordless chorus in Debussy`s Third Nocturne, "Sirčnes", and, after the interval, as the receding "angels" in Neptune, the final movement of Holsts's Planets. Standards were high: the huge orchestra performs to near-professional standards. The girls made a superb contribution and received many congratulations.

We would like to thank Adrian Inscoe for providing a the minibus and Peter Twitchin of Mid Herts Music Service who was chorus master on the night. And not least the ten girls who turned out in the midst of exams and performed so well.

Peter Kent

Oxford Girls' Choir 21st Anniversary Concert, 23rd April 2005

Musical Director Richard Vendome rehearsing Haydn's "Nelson Mass" for the choir's 21st Anniversary Concert (pictures courtesy of Oxford Mail and Times).

Soloists included distinguished former members Catherine Young (OGC 1991-2002), now on the opera course at the Royal Academy of Music, and Lucy Ballard (OGC 1984-88), London-based professional mezzo and graduate of the Royal College of Music.

[view concert programme]

Pennie Kennedy's Big Birthday Bash, 10th April [programme]

Occasionally the choir performs at social events. On Sunday 10th April nine girls and staff sang jazz to 120 guests at a magnificent party held in Lain's Barn, near Wantage, to celebrate Pennie Kennedy's big birthday.

They were accompanied by pianist Colin Good, an old friend of the choir (and of Pennie!). Colin produced four new arrangements for the occasion - "Visions", "There ain't no sweet man", "San Francisco" and "They say it's wonderful" - some of which will be heard at the choir's own "birthday bash" at Oxford Town Hall on 23rd April.
   in the sun between rehearsal and performance
newsletter 2004

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