Audiences are in for a treat at the end of this month when Opus 48, Oxford’s newest medium-sized choir, launches its second season at the end of this month with an enticing selection of exquisite, moving and dramatic choral works spanning the 19th and 20th centuries.
In Unaccompanied Choral Masterpieces, the 60-strong choir will perform Arvo Pärt’s Magnificat, Howells’ Requiem, spirituals from Tippett’s A Child of Our Time, Duruflé’s Four Motets, and selections from Verdi’s Four Sacred Pieces and Vaughan Williams’ Shakespeare songs.
“We haven’t done unaccompanied repertoire before, because for non-chamber choirs that is a big ask,” says conductor David Crown. “I wanted to test the mettle of the choir in terms of responding to different genres of music, and I’m very excited about some of the sounds they are making.
“There’s some stuff that people might not have heard, but it’s all really beautiful music, from the limpid quality of the Duruflé right through to the spare sound world of Arvo Pärt.”
In a city already teeming with choirs, it seems a bold move to bring yet another one into the mix. But Opus 48 – named in honour of Fauré’s Requiem – has more than justified its existence during its first year, having already notched up acclaimed performances of Brahms’ Requiem and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana as well as a ‘Come and Sing’ event focusing on spirituals from Tippett’s A Child of Our Time.
So what prompted the formation of the choir?
“There were a lot of reasons behind it,” David says. “A group of about a dozen of us felt that we would like something slightly different to what was on offer. What we were aiming for was a medium-sized choir, which can encompass some of the more intimate stuff and sing some of the big works as well.
“We have around sixty members at the moment, and it’s a really good balance. I’m really delighted that we have a good tenor section and a good bass section, and there’s also a really good age span, from post-graduate students to more mature members!
“Although I already knew some of the singers, the vast majority had never met before, and that’s really encouraging too.”
For David, an important aspect of the choir is the emphasis placed on working with the singers on improving their vocal technique.
“What I want is people who are committed, who are serious about their singing and are interested in their own vocal development,” he says.
“I spend a lot of time working on the sound and the vocal production, and I think that’s something that the singers really like. They actually feel that within a term they’re not only learning a piece but also becoming a better singer at the same time, and that for me is very important.
“It’s a slightly more soloistic approach, if you like. I find that the better and more consistently people are singing technically, the more you get a different sort of blend, which is really exciting. So it’s really close to my heart in terms of choral singing.”
David – who also conducts Cheltenham Bach Choir and the Oxford-based vOx Chamber Choir – admits that he works all three of his choirs “quite hard”.
“I want them to be as good as they can be,” he says. “It’s all about encouraging people to try to do something that they might not have tried before, and just pushing themselves in that way, and I think for good singers it’s great fun to be singing really well.
“I do feel we’re getting there. We’re on a journey still. No one’s going to claim you’re going to get a finished product in your fourth term, but it’s very much going in the direction I want it to go.”
Coming up next for Opus 48, on 14th December, is an hour-long, family-friendly Christmas concert at the University Church, with proceeds going to the Stroke Association. Next March the choir will sing Handel’s monumental oratorio Israel in Egypt, and the season ends with Rossini’s lovely Petite Messe Solennelle.
“We’re doing the three-part version of Israel in Egypt, which is hardly ever done and is like a mega choral tour de force,” explains David. “That’s in the Sheldonian, so I’m really excited about that.”
Opus 48 is at the SJE with ‘Unaccompanied Choral Masterpieces’ on Saturday 30th November at 7.30pm. Tickets: 01865 305305 or www.ticketsoxford.com.
For more information about Opus 48, including auditioning for the choir, visit www.opus48choir.co.uk.