Behold the Sea! – “exhausting but exhilarating” – a view from the second altos


I usually sing in the back row of the second altos, but for this concert found myself on the front row between Adrienne and Barbara – and behind the trombones! I felt very exposed but, like everyone else, I was determined to do justice to this exciting programme. I’ve always enjoyed sea songs and sea/water inspired music, so I was really looking forward to this concert. I’ve been a member of ACS long enough to remember singing the Stanford and Vaughan Williams 20 years ago – but the Britten was to be a real bonus.


We were a bit tentative at certain points during the afternoon rehearsal – trying hard to hold ourselves back so that we had something left for the evening. Singing with a live orchestra is very different from practising with a recording. And so much to remember! But Steven, our Musical Director, as well as conducting the 51 piece orchestra, managed to give us far more help than we’d been led to expect. Like everyone else I was counting furiously, trying to get the entries right despite the changing time signatures, and watching Steven even more than usual. We were all ready for our tea!


In the evening concert itself I was particularly looking forward to hearing and seeing ‘live’ the Four Sea Interludes from ‘Peter Grimes’. The start of ‘Dawn’ with the violins playing so high is a real goose-bump moment – and didn’t disappoint. ‘Storm’ is loud and discordant, wonderfully conveying the violence and energy of a storm at sea – I felt I was actually in it! Britten’s superb portrayal of the sea in all its moods – he lived by the sea and knew it well – was given an excellent rendition by the Manchester Philharmonic.


James Rutherford’s voice really suited both the Stanford Songs of the Fleet and the Vaughan Williams – clear and accurate with an engaging variety of tone and expression. And a special thank you to Sally Harrison for stepping into the VW role at two days’ notice. Her first entry needed to be arresting – and it was! Goosebumps again. Her voice really soared – lovely. Super performances from both of them in solo and duet passages. Some of my guests thought that the orchestra was a little too loud for them at times – but were most enthusiastic about their delivery.


As for ourselves, it wasn’t a flawless performance, but I felt we lifted ourselves and performed with great commitment and conviction. All the audience comments I heard were exceptionally complimentary – “very evocative of the sea in all its changing moods, absolutely stunning, real wow factor when both orchestra and ACS were at full volume, wonderful contrast with the quieter choir-only sections”. (And thank you, VW, for some lovely alto passages).


It was all over too soon. I couldn’t believe it when I turned the last page – already! After the jitters and teething problems of the afternoon, I felt it was an outstanding concert. All the hard work, extra rehearsals, listening to the CD’s and practising at home had paid off. Thank you everyone for giving me such an exceptional evening, and especially to Steven for holding it all together and continuing to inspire us. I am so glad I was able to be a part of it.


PS And thank you, Anne Bullock, for an interesting and appropriate display in the foyer. Always worth a look!


Jenny Williams – Alto 2