It will be a night to remember – a performance of Benjamin Britten’s major work War Requiem as well as the world premiere of a WWI commemorative piece based on the letters and poems of servicemen who were cared for in the former Royds Hall Military Hospital.
The concert, at Huddersfield Town Hall on Saturday, October 18, is being staged by Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra but also features three choirs and four renowned professional soloists – a total of more than 260 singers and musicians will take part.
According to SPO secretary Chris Woodhead, it is the first time Britten’s requiem has been performed at the town hall.
The requiem, which was commissioned for the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral after the original 14th century building was bombed during WWII, is widely regarded as one of the finest compositions of the 20th century.
Coventry today is home to the newly-established Children’s Air Ambulance, which covers the Yorkshire region, and it is this charity that will benefit from fundraising at the concert.
As musical director Benjamin Ellin says: “It promises to be a very gripping evening of music-making, but essentially, at the end, it does have a message of hope. This fits perfectly with the spirit of the Air Ambulance so I am delighted that we can use the power of music to share this with the audience.”
On stage with the philharmonic instrumentalists will be members of the Huddersfield Boys Choir, The Bradford Festival Choral Society and the Bradford Catholic Boys Choir. The soloists are: mezzo-soprano Marta Fontanals-Simmons, who is currently playing the role of Mercedes in Carmen for Mid Wales Opera and was a finalist in this year’s Kathleen Ferrier Awards; Ilona Domnich, a Russian-born soprano and rising opera star who has performed with the SPO once be fore; Justin Lavender, a tenor who has sung with most of the world’s leading opera houses and is a professor of Vocal Studies at the Royal College of Music; and baritone Edward Grint, a former student of the Benjamin Britten Opera School who has performed all over Europe.
The programme, which begins at 7.15pm, will open with Letters from Home, the composition by Benjamin Ellin based on five letters and poems written by WWI patients at the Royds Hall Hospital, now a secondary school.
Benjamin explained: “I had started to research other areas for a commemorative piece then Chris (Woodhead) and his wife suggested that I explore the school archives, which is packed with texts from soldiers. There was so much material that I couldn’t use everything so I focused on five texts that say how the men felt about their experiences.”
Letters from Home complements Britten’s requiem, which intersperses the traditional Latin texts with settings of poems by Wilfred Owen, written during WWI. It is, says Benjamin, “dramatic and, at times, terrifying – a piece of three different worlds.
“You have the world of the Latin service for the dead, the text of which is powerful itself; you have the world of Wilfred Owen, which brings the piece to the here and now; and you have the world of the ethereal, of the innocent, perhaps the spiritual, which is represented by the children’s voices,” he added.
Since the premier of the requiem in 1962 it has become known as an anti-war statement – Britten himself was a pacifist.
Planning for the concert, which has been supported by Kirklees Council, began two years ago and has been a major undertaking for the SPO. As Chris explained: “It will be a big night. There’s not much that is bigger in terms of numbers of performers. We will have a full symphony orchestra, chamber orchestra, three choirs and four soloists, plus others.”
Tickets for the concert are £12 to £18 (concessions £9) from Kirklees Box Office 01484 223200, the SPO ticket secretary on 01484 850488 or tickets.kirklees.gov.uk