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Arts & Entertainment

Robin Nelson on the Mozart and Mendelssohn works to be sung in Marlborough by the Swindon Choral Society


Robin Nelson with the Mozart score Robin Nelson with the Mozart score Mozart's C Minor Mass is, says Robin Nelson, a "complete and utter world beater".  He is busy rehearsing it with the Swindon Choral Society for a performance in Marlborough College Chapel on Saturday, March 19 - the full details are here.

The Mozart Mass will follow a performance of the choral part of Mendelssohn's Hymn of Praise - a work not as often performed as the composer's Elijah, but, says Nelson: "It is full of nice juicy harmonies - it's lovely."

Robin Nelson, former head of music at the College and now living in Avebury and - incidentally - writing his highly entertaining musical memoirs for Marlborough News Online, has been Musical Director of the long-established Swindon Choral Society for the past twelve years.

The Society performs four times a year drawing on a membership of about 100 singers, who come from a wide area including Cirencester and Marlborough.

"I like", he tells Marlborough News Online, "doing really great pieces. Together over the years we've done Bach's St John Passion and his B Minor Mass, Beethoven's Missa Solemnis - and last year Dvorak's Requiem."

Next of their 'great pieces' may well be Handel's Solomon - which includes the much-loved instrumental passage 'The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba'.

For next month's performance, Robin Nelson will be mustering 90 voices of the Swindon Choral Society, the Oxford Sinfonia - a chamber-based group which specialises in Mozart's work - and four experienced soloists.

Elizabeth Atherton Elizabeth Atherton Elizabeth Donovan Elizabeth Donovan Both the Mozart - much of which is written for the chorus in eight parts - and the Mendelssohn call for two soprano soloists.   He has persuaded Elizabeth Atherton and Elizabeth Donovan to join this performance.  They both have wide experience in opera as well as oratorios and masses.

Elizabeth Atherton has sung many times with the Swindon Choral Society - most recently in Dvorak Requiem, which also featured tenor Alexander James Edwards who will be singing in the Mendelssohn-Mozart presentation. The bass soloist will be Alex Jones.

Some people, says Robin Nelson, think much of Mozart's early work is "not very profound", but then he composed three pieces that are both profound and very beautiful: the Requiem written on his deathbed and left unfinished, his Ave Verum Corpus setting of a fourteenth century hymn for the Eucharist, and his great C Minor Mass which is also an unfinished work.

This Mass - "Essentially it is", says Robin Nelson, "an incomplete masterpiece" - was written to show his doubting father how good his son was at writing on serious and great themes, and as a votive offering for his bride, Constanze - a singer in her own right and someone his father thought was unworthy of marriage to his genius of a son.

The Mass lacks an Agnus Dei: "It's so frustrating that it's incomplete."  Some conductors choose to repeat the opening Kyrie to close the work.  

The score for the Mendelssohn Hymn of Praise is huge.  The work is known officially as the second of Mendelssohn's five symphonies - written for the Birmingham Triennial Festival and delivered three years late.  

Its first 72 pages are scored for orchestra alone - a symphonic prelude in three parts.  Robin Nelson and the Swindon Choral Society have chosen to perform only the choral part of the work, which is constructed on the lines of a Bach cantata.  

Mendelssohn was, Robin Nelson explains, "besotted by Bach - and recognised what a towering genius he was."  He was one of the first to revive interest in Bach's music, which, a hundred or so years after his death, had fallen out of fashion.

The Hymn of Praise shows clear influences of Bach - most obviously in the reworking of the Bach chorale Now thank we all our God.  In a work of ten choral movements, another highpoint is the duet for two sopranos with chorus I waited for the Lord.

The Mendelssohn is sung in English and the Mass, of course, in Latin.  Proceeds in excess of costs will go to the Marlborough Brandt Group.

The Swindon Choral Society is giving Marlborough a chance to hear two pieces of music - one a true masterpiece, the other a lovely piece by a follower of Bach.


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The dead rise in Marlborough

ZombieZombieIt’s the newspaper trope we always wanted to use – heralding the zombie apocalypse. But the dead really will be rising in Marlborough today (Thursday).

Teenagers will be transforming themselves into zombies as part of the Happiness arts day, which takes place at the former Youth Centre in St Margaret’s Mead.

As well as getting made up, the young people will have the chance to learn more about the entomology of zombies, and decide for themselves how the undead state – real or imagined – equates to their own happiness.

Thirteen to nineteen year olds will also be given the opportunity to create a graffiti mural, and have a go at The Lyric Generator, How to Survive a Story, No Rules Junk Art, karaoke, spontaneous dancing, vent-a-wall, inside-my-mind box, Spoil-a-space, and N.O.I.S.E. over the programme of events, which continues on Wednesday evenings at the former Youth Centre until Easter.

But it’s not all fun and games: participants can also gain a nationally recognised Arts Award.

Happiness Arts is funded by Arts Council England and the Marlborough Community Youth Fund. It is aimed at teens aged between 13 and 19, or up to 25 for young people with disabilities.

Attendance is free, and the drop-in, drop-out event runs from 11am until 4pm. For more information log on to


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Wiltshire's youth orchestra becomes the West of England Youth Orchestra

The West of England Youth Orchestra rehearsing at the Wiltshire Music CentreThe West of England Youth Orchestra rehearsing at the Wiltshire Music CentreThe Wiltshire and Swindon Youth Orchestra has a new name - its members have chosen to call it the West of England Youth Orchestra.

A change of name became necessary when Wiltshire Council stopped funding the county's two youth orchestras - classical and jazz.  A decision made as part of its austerity programme that cut the county's school music service.

Last autumn the Wiltshire Music Centre (WMC) in Bradford on Avon took over responsibility for running the orchestras.  And in order to make them viable, WMC widened the catchment area to include young musicians from Bath and North East Somerset (BSANES) and beyond.

The classical orchestra was founded in 1964.  It provides tuition and performance opportunities alongside professional players for young people playing at and above the Grade Seven standard.

In addition to an existing transport support scheme for young players living far away, a new bursary scheme has been introduced to assist with fees.

James Slater, WMC's Artistic Director, is delighted the players have chosen the new title for their orchestra: "There are not many youth orchestras playing at this standard in the country, so it's important that young people can join from further afield.  The orchestra performed two sold out concerts at the Centre last month, so now everyone is just looking forward to the next course."

The commercial property company HPH Ltd of Bath are the two orchestras main sponsors - and the orchestras receive financial support from Wiltshire Music Connect (funded by Arts Council England), Swindon Music Hub, BANES Music Service - and private donations.

The West Country Youth Orchestra meets three times a year in the school holidays to rehearse and perform symphonic works.

Their next concert - under their professional conductor Timothy Redmond - is on 1 April 2016, when they will perform Dvorak's Cello Concerto in B minor with leading British cellist Matthew Sharp, and Laura Rossi's score Somme100 FILM - commissioned by the Imperial War Museum as a live soundtrack to the 1916 film The Battle of the Somme.   It marks the centenary of the Battle.

Full details of this concert can be found here.

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St John's choir sings in national competition finals


The massed school choir finalists at the Festival HallThe massed school choir finalists at the Festival HallFor the 29 girls of the St John's Academy Chorus singing in the finals of the Barnardo's National Choir competition at the Festival Hall was a tremendous experience.  But nine of its members came back from London and soon went into the last rehearsals for the production of We Will Rock You - the schools version.

St John's was one of only six secondary school choirs in the county to get a place in this national competition after they impressed the judges with the video clip they sent for the elimination round.  Twenty-three choirs performed at the finals last Tuesday' (February 9.)  

It was the first competition the choir has entered. Each choir had to sing one of their competition pieces in the evening concert as well as joining in two massed choir numbers.

St John's had beaten several school choirs which regularly make the finals of this competition and at the Festival Hall they faced stiff opposition.  They did not win the competition, but their director, Max More, was very pleased with the choir's achievement.

"I was immensely proud of what the girls achieved. They have been telling me for weeks that it would all be OK on the day, and it most certainly was!"

"For a choir that has only been in existence for just over a year, and with limited rehearsal time, we have done commendably well. As ambassadors for St John's, the students were simply exemplary."

"For a number of the Sixth Form choir members this was their last performance before their examination schedules take over. I wish them every success and thank them for their fantastic contribution to the choir."

Max More, the school's Director of Performance, is also directing this year's stage musical - the schools version of We Will Rock You. The show is being performed over four nights, 23, 25, 26 and 27 February.

Tickets are on sale from Ticketsource.


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Summer School’s entertainment programme to be opened by Palin, closed by Elvis


Michael PalinMichael PalinOne of Britain’s best-loved personalities will be opening Marlborough College Summer School gala entertainment programme.

Michael Palin will open the programme on Tuesday, July 12. Organisers said they were “delighted, and hugely excited” to make the announcement.

The comedian, actor, writer and television presenter made his name with the anarchic comedy group Monty Python – where he created the legendary Dead Parrot sketch with Terry Jones – and later made a number of travel documentaries, trekking to the North and South Poles, the Sahara Desert and the Himalayas.

Meanwhile, the curtain will fall on the gala entertainment programme on Friday, August 5 with a performance by Lee Jackson, renowned as one of the best Elvis impersonators on the planet.

Gala entertainment programme events will be open to the general public. Tickets go on sale at 10am tomorrow (Tuesday) at


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Two big names – and one new one – make tracks for Sound Knowledge

Turin BreaksTurin BreaksTwo big names in music are making tracks for record shop Sound Knowledge this month.

On Monday, January 18 from 6.30pm, Mystery Jets will be performing a live set at neighbouring Azuza, followed by a signing session of their new album Curve of the Earth.

The indie rock band first performed in Marlborough back in 2006, on the release of their debut album Making Dens.

And on Friday, January 29, from 6.30pm, Turin Breaks will be gracing the Azuza stage, ahead of a signing session at Sound Knowledge.

Lost Property is the band's seventh album and the follow up to We Were Here, which the band also promoted at Sound Knowledge back in 2013.

It will be a fourth visit for the folk rock four-piece, who had a Top Five hit in 2003 with (Painkiller) Summer Rain.

Finally, on Sunday, January 31 from 4.30pm the Azuza stage will be given over to hotly-tipped duo Seafret, who will be playing and signing in support of their debut album, Tell Me Its Real.

Tickets to all performances are free on condition of purchase of an album. Fans can register their interest for performances on the Sound Knowledge Facebook Page.

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New year, new album – fans raise £1,500 for Marlborough musician's recording sessions

Ben performing at Marlborough Jazz Festival 2015Ben performing at Marlborough Jazz Festival 2015Fans of Marlborough jazz and pop musician Ben Cipolla have funded the recording of his new album following a campaign on the website Kickstarter.

The seven-piece Ben Cipolla Band will be heading into the studio after 28 backers pledged a total of £1,530. Ben announced the campaign had hit its target on New Year’s Eve.

“We’ve done it, on the last day of a spectacular year,” he told fans.

The band offered a range of incentives to attract backers: fans who pledged £15 will receive a free copy of the album, while those who pledged £25 will have their album signed. Three backers who pledged more than £100 will get VIP access to a gig of their choice, while one backer pledged £500 to have the band play a private gig at their home.

The band will record the 10-song album in five consecutive days at either Toybox Studio in Bristol, or Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in Box, near Bath.

As reported by Marlborough News Online back in 2013, singer-songwriter Ben started his musical career as a 14-year-old busker. In 2012 he was spotted busking during Marlborough Jazz Festival by headliner Clare Teal, and performed with her at the festival the following year.

Since then, the young musician has also performed at the Olympic ceremony at Weymouth, and a Glastonbury 2014.

The Ben Cipolla Band were voted Best Newcomer Of The Year at Marlborough Jazz Festival 2014.

Fans can catch a solo performance by Ben at st Mary’s Church, Marlborough at 6pm on Saturday, January 9.

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