On Monday afternoon, a large and appreciative audience was treated to the first performance of Samson by the renowned choral composer, Jonathan Willcocks.
This project was conceived just before the pandemic began and sought to draw many of the strands of the RGS community together in one place to make music. Culminating in a performance at Guildford Cathedral, this concert combined not only the musicians from the RGS Lower School Choir, First Form singing classes and Lower School Chamber Orchestra, but also the RGS Prep Choir, and professional musicians from Southern Pro Musica. We were also delighted to be joined by twenty-five members of our Strictly Strings orchestra, comprised of pupils from Years 5 and 6, who have recently graduated from our string scheme, which delivers free string tuition across several primary schools in the local area.
The concert opened with four short choral pieces performed by the RGS Prep Junior Choir under the direction of Sian Ford. This outstanding performance, all sung from memory, was truly impressive. With some notable solos from such junior boys, the future of singing at RGS Prep and, in turn, the RGS looks bright. The RGS Lower School Choir followed and, under the baton of Lorraine Wild, they sang Peter White’s Vent Frais and Benjamin Britten’s The Ploughboy. The choir was on top form and performed with real sensitivity, handling some tricky harmonic passages with ease.
Then it was the moment that we had all been waiting for – the first performance of Samson. This new choral work, composed especially for the music departments of the RGS and RGS Prep, took the biblical story of Samson and Delilah for its inspiration. The Old Testament is full of dramatic stories and that of Samson has it all – bitter rivalries, romance, betrayal, and destruction. Willcocks’ score masterfully navigates these extremes of human emotion from the outset. We were delighted to welcome Hugo Herman-Wilson, fresh from his performance at Glyndebourne, to sing the role of Samson. Hugo’s powerful voice left us all shaken in his depiction of the destruction of the Philistine’s temple. Hannah Dienes-Williams’s portrayal of Delilah beguiled the audience in her tender love duet with Samson, whilst the anguish at her betrayal of her lover was agonisingly depicted in her grief-stricken vocal laments. The final movement saw everyone present come together to sing the final verse of John Chadwick’s hymn, Eternal Ruler of the ceaseless round. This rousing performance, with performers and audience alike united in song under the baton of Sam Orchard, was a fitting conclusion to what had been an inspirational afternoon of music making. The performance was met with rapturous applause and standing ovations aplenty, which was deeply gratifying for the performers and composer alike. With around 200 performers involved, to say that this was a logistical and musical challenge is somewhat of an understatement. However, every single performer rose to the challenge, giving their all in a performance that left both audience and performers alike with a sense of pride and awe at what had been achieved.
To view photographs from the event please click here.