Catsfield Quire

In the 18th   & 19th centuries St. Laurence Church had a Quire, a group of singers and other villagers who played perhaps fiddles, a cello, a flute, a clarionet maybe even a bassoon.

The musicians having played for a dance on the Saturday night  would turn up on Sunday together with the singers to lead the service up in a gallery at the west end of the church.

Who played what or who sang is not known but what they sang and played is, thanks largely to one man, Canon Kenneth H MacDermott.

In the late 19th century when he was curate of Hurstpierpoint he began his research into this music prompted by an old manuscript book he was given. He wrote to over 200 church choirmasters seeking information about church bands and their music. With the resultant information he was able publish a book entitled ’The Old Church Gallery Minstrels’.

Amongst the documents he received were 9 books from Catsfield, some from Miss Louisa Blackman (grand-daughter of a Robert Blackman) and some from a Mr T C Poulter, whose    great-grandfather, a Mr Crouch, was a musician in the band.

They of course were all hand written and most quite tricky to decipher, they contained 175 different items of music.

Almost 25 years ago some of this robust music, with strong tunes and words, was published in a book entitled ’The Singing Seat’ (another name for the west gallery).

So to celebrate Sussex Day, Sussex Harmony, a West Gallery Quire, is returning to Catsfield to perform a selection of these pieces interwoven with readings and snippets of history from the period.

The concert is on 16th June in the Village Hall starting at 7.30p.m.

It will be free to come in BUT there is a retiring collection. Refreshments will be available and participation in singing some of the pieces will be encouraged

Opus Theatre – World Series


Two Of The Greatest Artists Of Our Time
United Through Music

Chart-topping British soprano and international phenomenon Carly Paoli will be joined by one of the world’s most thrilling and groundbreaking concert pianists
Oliver Poole for one truly unmissable night!

Tickets for this exclusive event only £15 at ‘Hastings Tourist Information Centre’ and online HERE.

Haydn: The Creation

Temple Church Choir, London, 24 May 2018

Temple Church, with its lofty fan faulting and intricate stained glass glinting in the early evening sunshine, is a magnificent setting for a concert. And this performance of Haydn’s colourful masterpiece, sung in English, certainly did it justice – in memory of Jonathan Hirst QC who died last year and whose chambers, Brick Court, sponsored the event.

Temple Choir, which has in recent years made quite a name for itself, is authentically male with 12 choir men and 18 choir boys. They were ably accompanied by Outcry Ensemble whose string work is commendably crisp. It’s an unusual idea to place the timps at the back of the choir so that the singers acted as a muffler but it worked.

Roger Sayer, director of Temple Music, has a real passion for detail and the clear, revealing acoustic of the building allows him to fulfil it. From the first bar of the introductory Representation of Chaos, he ensured that we heard every note from every instrument. Later he and his musicians had such fun with Haydn’s witty sound  effects that the audience chuckled aloud at the “flexible tiger” and the stress on “long” and the evocative bottom E for the worm sung by bass, Jimmy Holliday. Another lovely moment was Holliday’s rendering of the descending fourths in Rolling in Foaming Billows with the flute weaving underneath.

Tenor Guy Cutting sang with lyrical warmth and terrific dynamic control especially in “In Native Worth and Honour Clad” and soprano Augusta Hebbert was  delightful in part three when she and Holliday sang their section as Adam and Eve with sparkling smiles to remind us that this is a freshly minted young couple in love. Their voices blended well because each singer was totally attuned to the other.

There was some fine singing from the choir too. Sayer clearly has a terrific rapport with them, conducting without baton and mouthing words. I particularly admired the way they did the Spacious Firmament fugue with energy that lasted right to the end and included a magnificent crescendo. It’s a testing sing for any choir and more often than not flags long before the last note.

Given the effort which had clearly gone into one of the finest – and certainly the most sensitively dramatic –  renderings I’ve ever heard of The Creation, it’s a pity they didn’t hire a harpsichord. Of course Greg Morris played the recit passages more than competently on piano but it sounded far too plummy for music of this period. It didn’t spoil it because everything else was so beautifully done but it would have been even better with harpsichord.

Susan Elkin

Music Speaks

Polyphony Vocal Ensemble to sing at St Nicolas, Pevensey

Eastbourne-based Polyphony Vocal Ensemble will be giving a concert at St Nicolas, Pevensey at 7pm on Saturday 2 June. They will present a varied selection of theatrical, modern, folk, sacred and thought provoking songs, including “Hallelujah”, “Whistle Down the Wind”, “Misty” and “Ave Maria”.

Tickets will cost £8 and can be purchased at the door. Wine and soft drinks will be available during the interval.

Churchwarden Simon Sargent commented “We are very grateful to Polyphony Vocal Ensemble for putting on this concert, with its appealing programme, in aid of the church. Now that the building has been so beautifully restored, regular fundraising is essential to maintain it in good condition.”

Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella

Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury and touring

Prokofiev’s lush score – with all its minor key melody and those evocative rhythms – dates from 1946 and part of it was written during World War II. Matthew Bourne’s idea of setting it in the London Blitz therefore makes sense, and the “Ball” in the Café de Paris – which was bombed on 8 March, 1941 – is beautiful, poignant and apt. And there are some lovely conceits, such as Cinderella (Ashley Shaw in the performance I saw) being whisked off to the dance by her angel (Liam Mower) on a white motorbike and sidecar. There’s a cinema framing device with lots of Pathe news footage too which works a treat.

This production, which has been around for a while, is currently touring nationwide and Matthew Bourne did a post-show question and answer session for the first night Canterbury audience.

Shaw first appears as Cinderella, drab in grey and bespectacled at home with Alan Vincent, her wheelchair-bound father. Given that this character doesn’t dance other than with his arms it might have been appropriate to cast a wheelchair user which Vincent isn’t – an opportunity missed?

She is bullied by a stepmother (Anjali Mehra – strong) and a chorus of individually characterised step-siblings, each of them good value in the way they convey greasy nastiness. Then, of course, she is whizzed off the glitzy Café de Paris, despite having been denied her invitation, in glittering white. Cue for some lovely muscular dancing by the men and, then for some very engaging duet work between Cinderella and her “prince”, Harry the Pilot who is styled to look like John Cleese but who dances with verve.

Like all the best ballet performances it’s an ensemble piece. The real star is Bourne’s spiky, fluid, story-telling choreography. There is no point work so the dancing feels very natural –  effectively a movement based, Brechtian drama. There’s a splendid scene, for example, when Cinderella is in hospital and her family visit – moving as one round the screens which form doors, pecking menacingly like a flock of vultures. The tiny visual subplot in which a pair of gay men fall for each other is nice too.

The second (but not by much) best thing in this show are Lez Brotherston’s stunning designs for sets and costumes. Most of the clothes are black, white and grey with filmy, flowing 1940s dresses for the women and various sorts of uniform for the men.  He provides a spacious family room at the beginning, a very convincing café de Paris amongst bombed buildings followed by shocking devastation at the end of Act 2. And we even get Paddington station and a rather good train.

This is the sort of show which could, I think attract new audiences to dance productions. Without a tutu or pair of tights in sight it feels much more like a moving piece of musical theatre than a “classical” ballet. Bravo!

Susan Elkin

Garsington Opera 2019


Garsington Opera is delighted to announce their 30th anniversary season in 2019 which will feature four new productions:

Smetana’s The Bartered Bride, conductor Jac van Steen, director Paul Curranwith Natalya Romaniw as Marenka; the British stage premiere of

Offenbach’s Fantasio, conductor Justin Doyle, director Martin Duncan with Hanna Hipp in the title role and Jennifer France as Princess Elsbeth;

Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, conductor Richard Farnes, director Louisa Muller with Sophie Bevan as the Governess

Mozart’s Don Giovanni with conductor Douglas Boyd, director Michael Boyd and Jonathan McGovern in the title role. The season will run from 29 May to 21 July 2019.

The 2018 Season is now 95% sold to date.  It opens on 31 May for seven weeks and features four new productions, including the world premiere of The Skating Rink by leading British composer David Sawer with a libretto by award-winning playwright Rory Mullarkey, Verdi’s Falstaff, Richard Strauss’s Capriccio and Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte.

Maidstone Symphony Orchestra

The Mote Hall, Maidstone, 19 May 2018

An all-Russian evening to end the season – and what a splendid season it has been as Peter Colman rightly notes, with an equally exciting programme in view for the autumn.

The evening opened on familiar ground with Tchaikovsky’s overture Romeo and Juliet. In his introductory remarks – always a welcome start to the evening – conductor Brian Wright had noted that the royal wedding was not in view when the programme was planned and he hoped that the outcome for the royal couple would be somewhat better than that for Shakespeare’s lovers.

The overture opened with a brooding tension which was held throughout, the emotional outpouring coming with all the intensity of snarling brass and rasping woodwind.

Prokofiev’s third piano concerto linked in quite well with the emotional power very much in evidence. Pianist Martin James Bartlett may have had an injury to his thumb but there was no evidence of this is the quality of his playing or the staccato, percussive attack he brought to his reading. The occasional romantic reflections become all the more effective in the midst of such challenging attacks on our senses. His encore, a gentle piece of Schumann, was all the more moving in the light of the contrast to the Prokofiev.

After the interval Shostakovich’s First Symphony sat comfortably within this company. Its tongue-in-cheek opening movements were very well structured, with a strong sense of line and pace. Then came the bleakness of the third movement with its fine opening oboe solo and developing sense of depression. If the finale tries to overcome this darkness it only does so by fits and starts, and Brian Wright’s approach left us wondering just how enthusiastic we should be about the bombast of the finale. For a student piece, this is amazing and makes us eager to hear how Shostakovich develops this near schizophrenic approach to composition in the later symphonies.

The new season opens on Saturday 13 October with familiar works by Britten and Mussorgsky, and Shostakovich cello concerto no1 with Michael Petrov. Season tickets now available and individual concerts at

Yesterday Once More @ Opus Theatre

For music fans everywhere, the Carpenters music was the soundtrack to the ‘70s. Hauntingly beautiful songs like Close to You and We’ve Only Just Begunmade Richard and Karen Carpenter international superstars.

Kent-based soprano Rebecca Robinson and pianist Mark Heller are touring a captivating show charting the meteoric rise to fame of the brother and sister duo, and they will be appearing at the Opus Theatre, Hastings, on Saturday 2 June, at 7.30pm.
Featuring many classic and much-loved Carpenters songs, Yesterday Once More charts Karen’s extraordinary musical achievements, reveals the turbulent lives that lay behind the glamour and success, and tells the story of her long and unsuccessful battle with anorexia.

This memorable and moving show pays tribute to Karen Carpenter through song, story and video footage. Intimate piano and vocal arrangements showcase The Carpenters’ songs in all their poignant beauty.

Tickets are priced at £13 (£15 on the door), and are available at Hastings Tourist Information Office and online by clicking HERE

Grand Organ Gala Concert

Royal Albert Hall 15/5/18

The wonderful RAH Willis/Harrison organ is not played nearly enough and so it was a particular thrill to be part of the audience for this well supported concert – the culmination of a day of music-making, celebrating this instrument and exploring the world of organ music in general.

Three first class organists shared the bill and it was Wayne Marshall who opened the proceedings with a thrilling, if somewhat idiosyncratic rendition of Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D minor, BWV565.

He remained at the console to demonstrate a selection of stops as we were treated to a rare glimpse inside the organ. A guided tour from the genial and energetic Michael Broadway, custodian of the organ, as he climbed around inside with a cameraman – was relayed to the two large screens either side of the pipework and in dialogue with Tom Daggett, Organ Outreach Fellow at St Paul’s Cathedral, who proved to be an excellent MC throughout the evening.

The screens continued to enhance the music as we were treated to a superb performance of Liszt’s Fantasia & Fugue on B-A-C-H. Olivier Latry, was then introduced as the second organist. His first piece, Mozart’s Fantasia in F minor, K608, allowed for more variety of colours to be demonstrated. The audience appreciated his witty conversation and his enthusiasm (as he drew comparisons with organists wishing to play the works of Widor at St Sulpice) for being able to pay homage to former organist of the RAH, George Thalben-Ball. He then gave a dazzling performance of Thalben-Ball’s Variations on a theme of Paganini, the experience again enhanced by the screens making clear exactly what the organist’s feet have to do in order to play this piece!

The third organist, David Briggs, was introduced. After the interval he went on to play one of his celebrated transcriptions of an orchestral work, this time, Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite. This brought further contrast to the proceedings and highlighted the versatility and variety of effects possible through careful use of pistons and expression pedals and the ability to use the organ as a truly orchestral instrument.

Prior to this all three organists gave a fun and well co-ordinated performance of Widor’s Toccata in F.

The evening ended with another performance by all three, simply entitled, Concerto-Improvised, which I would have loved to have witnessed as all three performers are well-known for their improvisatory skill. Sadly, due to the limitations of the rail network, I had to leave before this. I was able, though, to enjoy the delightful rendition of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, with David Briggs playing the orchestral parts on the organ and Wayne Marshall in his other guise as solo pianist.

This was undeniably an evening of popular music but still with much of interest and variety. As a showcase for this marvellous instrument and for the organ in general it was superb. Entertaining and educational with much attention given to presentation and programming it drew a large, diverse and appreciative audience, I hope we shall see more of these events and that the organ may be recognised once more as a vital part of the general musical scene. Congratulations to all involved.

Stephen Page

Opus Theatre’s first World Series

A first World Series comes to The Opus Theatre, commencing this June with international professional musicians from across the world.

Speaking at the inauguration, pianist Oliver Poole, who is Artist In Residence for the series, said ‘As Artist in Residence, I am truly thrilled and honoured to welcome six incredible, inspirational and internationally renowned acts this year, together with the theatre’s director, composer and impresario Polo Piatti. The message of the series is simple: To Unite The World Through Music. I, with Polo  – together with the artists who will be arriving from all over the world – believe in one core principle: The power of music and its ability as a universal language to enlighten and bring change to our world. Each of the artists performing have stories to share, some serving as backdrops to their artistic endeavours. I am truly thankful to all of the artists for being part of the first ever World Series at The Opus Theatre. It is going to be a unique and inspirational celebration of music, storytelling and the human spirit, and we cannot wait to warmly welcome our artists and audiences for unforgettable experiences.’

More than anything else the promoters of the World Series want to ensure it is accessible to all, with music that is captivating and engaging without the need for previous study or understanding. Moreover, the series will be a not-for-profit venture, to enable as many people to attend as possible by keeping entry costs as low as is feasible.

The Opus Theatre in Hastings is considered one of the finest small concert halls in the South East. Formerly a non-conformist church, it is a Grade II listed building with superb natural acoustics.

It hosts the Phoenix Opus – a 9ft concert grand piano, one of the most technologically advanced instruments in the world. It was custom built to the venue’s exact specifications and finish, and constructed using the latest Phoenix technology including their carbon-fibre soundboard, fitted to a 1925 Blüthner Style XI acoustic body, widely considered as one of the finest acoustic bodies in existence. This makes the Phoenix Opus piano the concert grand with the biggest carbon-fibre soundboard in the United Kingdom.

The series opens on 9 June with soprano Carly Paoli and pianist Oliver Poole. Carly Paoli is internationally known for her wide repertoire and her appearances alongside many iconic singers including Andrea Bocelli and Elaine Page. Having appeared in venues as large as the O2 she is looking forward to the intimacy of the Opus Theatre and its possibilities for immediate engagement with the audience.

The next visitor is the Portuguese pianist Pedro Gomes on 16th June followed by Blato Zlato bringing fiery Balkan music from the swamps of New Orleans.

Later performances will include Marcelo Bratke from Brazil, Iranian tenor Ramtin Ghazavi and cellist Nina Kotova.

Full details are available on