East Riding County Choir will be performing Elijah by Felix Mendelssohn in Beverley Minster on Saturday 3 May at 7.30pm. The soloists will be Sally Harrison (soprano) Fiona Kimm (contralto) James Edwards (tenor) and Robert Rice (baritone).
Sally, Fiona and James are well-established and highly-respected international operatic singers; Sally Harrison and Fiona Kimm both completed their studies at the National Opera Studio, whose alumni also included Lesley Garrett and Alfie Boe, while James Edwards has performed as a soloist with, amongst others, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and both the English and Welsh National Opera. Most recently, at the end of March he performed alongside the Military Wives Choir at the Leeds Castle Opera Gala. Robert Rice, a former choral scholar at Kings College Cambridge, completed his postgraduate music studies at the Royal Academy of Music, and is considered one of the rapidly-rising starts of the new generation of British baritones.
Elijah is one of only two complete oratorios (essentially operas, usually on religious themes, which are not acted) composed by Felix Mendelssohn in his short life. The German composer, who was extremely popular in England, had been mulling over the project for around six years, and may well have never actually brought himself to sit down and complete it had not been for the organiser of the Birmingham Music Festival, who contacted Mendelssohn in 1845 asking if he would act as conductor for the 1846 festival, and, possibly, provide a new work for the gathering as well. The new work was, of course, Elijah, which he struggled through the long, hot summer of 1846 to complete, living, he said, ‘the life of a marmot’, and the first, triumphant, performance was given in Birmingham Town Hall on 26 August, conducted by Mendelssohn himself.
The oratorio opens with the Israelites in dire straits; Ahab their king has married Jezebel, the Baal-worshipping foreigner who has imposed her heretical religion on the kingdom, and Elijah, the ‘Man of God’, appeals to God to ‘seal the heavens’ until the Israelites renounce Baal. Drought and famine have resulted. The story of Elijah’s ultimate triumph and ascension into heaven in a chariot of fire unfolds through music at times wildly dramatic and exciting, and at others gentle and reflective. The oratorio is one of the last works that Mendelssohn wrote; just under a month after the first performance of Elijah in his native Germany, Mendelssohn died, aged just 37. This performance by the East Riding County Choir is given in memory of their Director of Music, Dr. Alan Spedding, who died in March.
Tickets for Elijah are £8, £12 and £16, and are available from Beverley Tourist Information Centre, 34 Butcher Row, Beverley. Tickets can also be purchased on the door from 6.45 pm. Accompanied children and young people aged 16 and under are admitted free.
There will be a short interval only, so refreshments will not be available – it can be quite cool in the Minster even in May, so do bring a flask of tea or coffee!
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