NECOM presents its biennial choral concerts on Sunday 21st October. Stand by for another award-winning choral spectacular that will put Armidale in the national spotlight.
Imagine hearing 800 K – Year 12 students from over 30 regional schools and an 80-piece orchestra performing a breathtaking program of Australian music, including two specially written commissions from composers Dan Walker and Felix Riebl.
Sound like a huge undertaking? Not for the New England Conservatorium and AMTA (Armidale Music Teachers Association), who have been presenting this choral spectacular every two years since 2010, each one bigger and better than the last.
Preparations for New England Sings! are now in full swing, and it’s already looking to exceed the high bar that was set by New England Sings! that in the past has won the national APRA/AMCOS Awards for Excellence in Music Education and Excellence in Regional Music.
Felix Riebl is a singer, songwriter and composer of the internationally acclaimed band The Cat Empire, with a significant number of platinum albums under their belt. He has also composed music for the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony (2006), Australia Day Spectacular (2013) and Gondwana Choirs. Felix will be attending the final weekend of rehearsals and will perform with the mass choir/orchestra at the New England Sings! concerts.
Sydney composer, conductor and performer Dan Walker is one of Australia’s most in-demand choral specialists. He has been composer-in-residence for the Moorambilla Festival for the past six years. Dan is an active arranger and regularly produces work for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and record label ABC Classics. His work for television includes the iconic 2009 I Still Call Australia Home advertising campaign for Qantas.
Dan has composed three pieces for this year’s New England Sings! specifically for the primary choirs.
As the primary choirs’ commissioned composer, what is your background?
I’ve been something of a choral music specialist for the last 15 or so years, writing a lot of music for choirs of all ages, as well as singing as a chorister and soloist myself and conducting various choirs. I particularly enjoy writing music for young singers; there is an energy and an earnest quality to their voices I find particularly inspiring. I also find they are really receptive to performing new music and take command of the responsibility and sense of ownership that goes with premiering a newly commissioned work.
What is your connection to New England?
This is my second New England Sings! as composer-in-residence for the primary choirs, but my connection to New England is several generations older than that. Both my mother’s and father’s families are from Glen Innes (my grandparents lived three houses away from each other in the same street, which made visits very convenient!) and I have always had a close affinity with the history and landscape of the area.
How are you involved in New England Sings! this year?
This year I have written a series of three short works for the combined primary school choir called Fire and Light, which I will be fortunate enough to conduct the premiere of, alongside some other fabulous pieces, in the concert. In the lead-up to this I’ve been working with the wonderful choirs of the New England Conservatorium, as well as the combined schools choir, rehearsing the music and explaining the relevance of the thematic material to the singers. It has been written especially for them after all!
You mentioned your composition for the combined primary choirs is called Fire and Light – what can audiences expect to hear?
My main aim when composing for singers is that the music should be just as fun and engaging for the performers as it is for the audience. My musical influences are pretty diverse, but there are elements of pop, film and classical music in these three works. I wanted to explore the idea of light and fire as not only a destructive force, but one of inspiration and hope. As a result, the themes range from the effect of bushfires to the idea of looking towards the stars for knowledge and innovation. Quite the gamut of emotions!
What’s it like hearing your music in an event like this one?
As a composer, we never tire of hearing our own music performed for the first time. For me, the New England Sings! experience is not only a chance for these young singers to perform interesting and evocative repertoire with a large number of like-minded individuals, but also a chance for us as composers to meaningfully contribute to the Australian musical landscape. The pieces commissioned over the years for this festival have been written with inclusiveness, accessibility and enjoyment at their core, which means they continue to be performed and be enjoyed by young choristers both here and overseas long past their premiere.
In addition to a choir of hundreds, the Armidale Youth Orchestra is heavily involved in the event. Russell Bauer is the CEO of the New England Conservatorium of Music and is the current conductor of the Armidale Youth Orchestra (AYO).
Mr Bauer, it’s been a big year already for the AYO; can you tell us about how they’re involved this time around?
The timing of AYO’s programs this year could not be better. We started the year with a camp to introduce students to their new repertoire, which was then played at the annual Garden Party and the local Eisteddfod. The orchestra’s 50th birthday was celebrated in mid-August with a huge celebration concert. With New England Sings! in October, it means that the students still have seven weeks to now prepare for the largest regional choral festival in Australia.
For students who have already performed in a previous New England Sings!, they seem particularly excited about the opportunity to perform original works by Australian composers. It’s almost as though the first rehearsal of the commissioned work is like a special unveiling. After just two rehearsals of Riebl’s Angel, the students are already excited about this year’s performance.
This is your first New England Sings! since arriving in Armidale. What is it about this event that stands out to you?
What I appreciate most about this festival is that it has youth music as its focus. It is inclusive, which means that children in small rural schools have the chance to perform massed choral and instrumental works. For me personally, I’m also thrilled that New England Sings! is a showcase of Australian composition.
The New England Conservatorium will present New England Sings! in two concerts on Sunday 21st October at 11am and 2:30pm. The concerts feature many well known songs, as well as the new commissions for Combined Primary Schools Choirs and for the Combined Secondary Choir and Armidale Youth Orchestra.
Tickets have been selling like hotcakes, with over 700 of the 1,100 tickets across the two concerts already sold at the time of publication. Make sure to book early to avoid disappointment!
New England Sings! Sunday 21st October, Lazenby Hall, UNE at 11am AND 2:30pm.
Adults $25 (no concessions), FT students $15. Seating is limited, so book your tickets now.
NECOM www.necom.org.au Tel: 6788 2137.