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Joy and meditation when Sir Peter Beale conducts singers of the Avebury Vocal Ensemble in Aldbourne

Sir Peter Beale at home in AveburySir Peter Beale at home in AveburyLate October is a good time for music in the Marlborough area.  Next Sunday the fifth series of Brilliant Young International Musicians recitals starts at St Peter's Church (see later preview.)  And on Saturday (October 22) St Michael's Church in Aldbourne hosts a concert by the Avebury Vocal Ensemble conducted by Sir Peter Beale.

Piano solo or the human voice with orchestra - the choice is yours.  St Michael's will echo with the music of Vivaldi's Gloria - which, Sir Peter told me, 'swings along - jumps along'.  And also the Faure Requiem - 'a more meditative piece' chosen to mark the centenary year of the Battle of the Somme.

The Avebury Vocal Ensemble is only loosely connected with Avebury village - its name has more to do with the AVE of its logo - the Ave meaning 'hail' (or 'farewell') that appears in the titles of so much of the repertoire of religious music.  The Ensemble draws its singing members from a wide area around Marlborough, Swindon and north Wiltshire.

But then the Ensemble's conductor, Sir Peter, does live in Avebury - with his wife Mary.  He bought a house there in 1977 with his first wife, Julia, who died in 2000.

Sir Peter was attracted to the world of music from an early age.  For six years he was a chorister at St Paul's Cathedral: "My life was transformed when I was accepted as a chorister."   He became Head Chorister and spent three years in Cornwall when the choir school was evacuated to Truro.

Later he was a choral scholar at Cambridge and while qualifying in medicine, sang professionally to help pay for his studies.

He was in the last but one group called-up to National Service: "I enjoyed it so much I had no qualms about signing on permanently."  So started a military career which ended with four years as Surgeon General of the British Armed Forces and the rank of Lieutenant General.

He has five surviving children - the first is the actor Simon Russell Beale who was born while the Beales were stationed in Penang during the Malaya Emergency.  Incidentally, Simon followed in his father's footsteps as Head Chorister at St Paul's - but rejected a career in music and chose acting instead.

Two other sons now work in hospital radiology departments and his daughter is a GP in Newbury.  The fourth son was a professional singer and now manages the rising  chamber choir ORA.

Sir Peter is fanatical - that's my word, not his! - about singing.  The Avebury Vocal Ensemble chooses popular choral pieces t- hough he admits he does influence their choice!  

Sir Peter insists members can sing in tune and can sight read music.  This means he can rely on them with just four rehearsals in the lead up to their five or six concerts a year.  And then rehearsals on performance day sometimes with an orchestra: "Financially we live on a bit of shoestring - deliberately. And sometimes we can afford a scratch orchestra."

At next Sunday's concert in Aldbourne the Ensemble will be accompanied by the AVE chamber orchestra - a ten-strong group which includes a professional cellist: "They're all good."

The Vivaldi Gloria is, Sir Peter says, "Just a glorious piece - one of his best - incredibly tuneful and joyous with good opportunities for soloists.  The Vivaldi swings along - jumps along - whereas the Faure is a more meditative piece."

The concert will begin with Monteverdi's Beatus vir ("Beatus vir, qui timet Dominum..." - "Blessed is the man who fears the lord.")  Sir Peter: "It's glorious - a very happy piece - good to start off with."  Then the audience will be roused with Vivaldi's trumpet and oboe openings.

The second half of the concert will open with a Beethoven string duet played by members of the orchestra, leading into the Faure Requiem.

The concert in St Michael's Church Aldbourne is on Saturday, October 22 and begins at 7.30pm.  Details and information about tickets can be found on Marlborough.News' What's On calendar.

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  • Town-Hall-2011-05-03 08-
  • Marlborough-2013-04-18 St Peters
  • Silbury-Sunset---10-06-08-----07
  • IMG 8472
  • IMG 9097