Two hundred years ago, the foundation stone of the new Parish Church of St George on the site of the old Corporation Church beside the River Farset in Belfast was laid. Three years later, it was duly dedicated and opened. Two hundred years of witness to the city have passed with an emphasis through most of that on quality Church Music, so it was unsurprising that the opening concert of the Bicentenary Celebrations would be a fantastic display of church music.
The four choirs combined to open the concert with the Magnificat in C by C.V. Stanford followed by Mozart’s Ave verum corpus. Hearing these pieces took me back to singing as a boy and man in the choir of St Patrick’s Parish Church, Ballymena where we sang both pieces on a regular basis. I really enjoyed the performance.
Each of the four choirs, in turn, performed three pieces: they were all quite different in style.
St George’s sang:
- If ye love me, by Philip Wilby
- Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, by Charles H.H. Parry
- Rejoice the Lord is King, by Malcolm Archer.
The Choir of All Saints’, Worcester sang:
- Pilgrims’ Hymn, by Stephen Paulus
- If ye be risen again with Christ, by Orlando Gibbons
- Just the way you look tonight, by Jerome Kern, arranged by Malcolm Archer
St Peter’s Schola Cantorum sang:
- I was glad, by Charles H.H. Parry
- Ave Verum Corpus, by Karl Jenkins
- The Spirit of the Lord, by Edward Elgar
The Choir of Notre Dame, Worcester sang:
- Elijah Rock (African American Spiritual), arranged by Jester Hairston
- Hashivenu (Israeli Folk Song), arranged by Sally K. Albrecht
- Laudate Dominum, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, arranged by Victoria Glaser
The final pieces from the combined choirs were Colin Mawby’s Ave Verum Corpus, and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah. As the choirs began to sing the Hallejuah Chorus there was a great shift in the position of the audience. It seemed that most people stood up. I did not. I understand that there is a tradition that King George II stood at the beginning of the Hallejuah Chorus at the London Première of Messiah. As a boy, I was told that this standing which has continued for this chorus was traditional only in performances of Messiah —not at every performance of the Hallelujah Chorus! Gerry Lynch did say to me that he was surprised to see me seated – I am obviously known for my monarchist views.
Dr Emma Gibbons, Director of Music at St George’s invited the audience to join the choirs in singing Ralph Vaughan Williams’ arrangement of All people that on earth do dwell.
The concert was attended by Dame Mary Peters DBE, HM Lord Lieutenant of the City of Belfast, as well as a representative from the US Consulate. The US Consular representative was asked to pass on the condolences of the church, choirs, and audience to the people of Boston, Massachusetts following the attack on the Boston Marathon earlier in the week.
St Peter’s Schola Cantorum was directed by Nigel McClintock. All Saints’ Choir was directed by Graeme McCullough. Notre Dame Academy’s choir was directed by Kallin Johnson.
Fr Brian Stewart, Rector of St George’s tells us that during the period from now until 2016 the Parish has set themselves three challenges: reflecting, listening, and celebrating. Wednesday’s concert was very definitely about celebration. I look forward to the other events that are coming up as part of the Bicentenary. It looks set to be an exciting time.
St George’s Church is open daily from 10 am to 3 pm for visits, private prayer, and public worship. Mass is celebrated on Sunday at 8.30am, and 11 am, on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday at 1 pm, and on Wednesday at 10.30 am. Further details available on the Parish website.