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Musical ambassadors take the sound of Huddersfield around the world

Three choirs and an orchestra have taken the sounds of Huddersfield to foreign shores

Members of Marsh Ladies Choir and the Cant'on Chant in Angouleme, France, during a June 2017 tour

From the modern metropolis of Toronto to the northwest region of rural Normandy, Huddersfield singers and musicians have been travelling far and wide this summer.

In the past few weeks alone, three choirs – Huddersfield Choral Society, Colne Valley Male Voice Choir and Marsh Ladies Choir – and Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra have been musical ambassadors for Kirklees.

In early June, 75 members of the world-famous Choral Society made an epic journey to Canada as guests of the The Toronto Mendelssohn Chorus. It was the first long-haul engagement for the 181-year-old choir for nearly a decade and, it is hoped, marks a return to the days when the choristers were frequent flyers.

As choral society chairman Jeremy Garside says: “In the early to mid 2000s we went to Japan, Portugal, France and Belgium, all over Europe.

“A lot of our tours in recent years have been short haul. But now we are trying to get touring back on the agenda.”

Their performance of Belshazzar’s Feast, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, was dedicated to the victims of the London Bridge terrorist attack in London on June 3.

Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra, currently celebrating its 125th anniversary, also spent the first days of June away from home, having made a 13-hour cross-Channel journey to Normandy. The musicians had been invited to perform Mozart’s Requiem in St Lo for the 60th birthday celebrations of an ex-pat former BBC Singers’ soprano Frances Hook. They also gave a concert of Sibelius’ 2nd Symphony at L’abbaye Saint-Vigor de Cerisy. The orchestra’s principal trumpet Phil Robertson was briefly re-united with his daughter and fellow trumpeter Rebecca Pianon, who now lives in France. Rebecca played a trumpet solo in the Abbaye concert.

Members of Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra on their recent trip to L'Abbaye Saint Vigor de Cerisy in France in June 2017

It’s rare for the orchestra to travel abroad but according to publicity officer Chris Woodhead the trip has whetted the members’ appetites for more. In fact, they’ve accepted an invitation for a far-flung concert series in China at the end of the year. He explained: “We’ll be based in Shanghai but giving eight or nine concerts from there. The furthest we’d been before going to France was to the Isle of man back in 2014.” They have also been invited back to Normandy.

Members of the award-winning Colne Valley Male Voice Choir recently returned from Wales, where they sang in the opening concert of the International Eisteddfod in Lllangollen. It was a special honour for the choristers as the world-famous choral competition is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. The Colne Valley choir, now in its 95th year, was the first male voice ensemble to take to the stage at the first Eisteddfod and were invited back for the diamond jubilee celebrations.

Over the years the choir has embarked on a number of European tours but in recent years has focussed on performing in the North of England.

France was also the destination for Marsh Ladies Choir in the first week of June when the choristers performed in Angouleme in the Charente region. The trip had been arranged by ex-pat Michael Shaw, who is a friend of Marsh ladies’ chair Helen Clayton and the only English member of the Cant’on Chant choir, which is based in the region. For one of their concerts the ladies joined forces with the French choir.

While they had three official concerts, the 25 choristers also managed to squeeze in an unofficial, impromptu ‘flash mob’ performance at Limogues Airport on their return to the UK. Hilary Robertshaw from the choir explained: “We were three hours delayed home and ended up in the departure ‘cupboard’ – it’s a very small airport – and as we saw the plane come in we started to sing Siyahamba (an African hymn whose title means ‘we are marching’ in Zulu) a capella. We also made up a verse of our own.”

It‘s around a decade since the choir last performed abroad, but Hilary says the French trip has given them a taste for travel. “We’d love to go back,” she said. “But it’s quite an expensive trip so we’ll probably have to wait a couple of years.”

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