Lavish production of Elijah reviewed

Nigel Williams reviews Epsom Choral Society‘s performance on Saturday 18th November of Felix Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah staged in the town’s St Martin’s Church.

The Old Testament prophet’s story was lavishly told with five soloists, an orchestra of strings, brass, woodwind, timpani and organ, and a chorus of several dozen well-drilled and responsive singers under conductor Julian Collings.

Your reviewer had attended their open rehearsal early in the term, when Marion Lea was supplying
single-handedly (well, two-handedly) all the orchestra’s notes on the piano and the chorus were learning
how their parts fitted together. In the time since, Epsom Choral Society turned early sketches into a
complete painting. An “iron” sky could be coloured by high woodwind chords, limping string phrases
could suggest Elijah’s weary departure for the wilderness, and ringing timpani and organ chords
underpinned a song of pious thanksgiving for the end of a famine. Felix Mendelssohn knew how to
deploy an orchestra and the best way to appreciate it was to hear it live.

The Choral Society’s task was to project their sound from the tiered staging behind the orchestra and
unfold a series of choruses with very different challenges. In chordal passages they needed to keep in
tune with each other, whereas in complex contrapuntal turn-taking movements the challenge was also
keep up with the tempo and find their entries in among all the other notes. Elijah is also a big sing. It
needs a lot of volume to deliver its full dramatic grandeur. They deliberately avoided over-singing the
afternoon rehearsal, so there was still something in the tank even by the final two choruses, delivering
whirring scale passages as Elijah went by a whirlwind to heaven. Those words ended very loud but
began with some dramatic rapid whispering. Mendelssohn’s style relishes the idea of light “shining forth”.
In one of those contrapuntal passages, the tenors, though fewer in number, still had that luminous quality
more than two hours into the concert.

Before then, we had heard ample demonstrations of prowess from elsewhere in the choir. Not quite as
outnumbered as the tenors, basses had a difficult task to make their entries clear when competing with
organ, timpani and low strings but they were up to it.

Elijah is very much an English piece, written in the tradition of German composers working this side of
the Channel. Mendelssohn was keen to make his lines fit the words of his English translator, William
Bartholomew, and Choral Society made sure we heard them. You don’t often hear the word “laveth” in
song but we heard it on Saturday. The most German-sounding moment came when the Angels’ trio “Lift
thine eyes to the mountains” was sung by the choir sopranos and altos, instantly painting a scene of
alpine villagers, with a lightness of touch that belied words about a foot that shall not be moved. There
were not so many opportunities to show off delicacy and beauty of singing tone. They took that one, and
the serene full-choir chorus that followed, “He, watching over Israel, slumbers not nor sleeps.” I missed
“He that shall endure to the end”, cut for reasons of timing, which I think would have showed them off

Having an orchestra, the English Sinfonietta, and five soloists was a luxury. Treble Brandon McGuinness,
taught singing at Epsom College by Christopher Goldsack, sang a resolute succession of top Gs while
the orchestration changed underneath him. It is worth hearing those notes while they last. I have heard
John Findon (tenor), Elizabeth Findon (soprano) and Judy Brown (mezzo) before and fully understand
why they regularly get invited back. Judy Brown got the show-stopping movement, “O Rest in the Lord”.
She kept it simple, with a voice both unaffected and affecting, offering half reassurance, half lullaby. They
also gave us some delectable ensemble singing in the soprano-mezzo duet “Zion spreadeth her hands”
and quartet “Cast thy burden upon the Lord”.

By far the largest role went to bass James Geidt as the prophet himself. Accustomed to operatic
performance, he learnt much of his part by heart, so when singing he could look to the audience or the other performers. He brought a voice that was rich and treacly and looked the part with a luxuriant Old-
Testament beard. His acting skills led his character from pompous confidence through fear and weariness to final moments of joy.

There was plenty of joy. Epsom Choral Society had learnt their parts well. They sang of rescue,
perseverance and redemption, themes that were joyful enough, but they could also take pleasure in
performing to high standard.

Nigel Williams belonged to St Martin’s Church choir for almost twenty-five years alongside several Choral
Society members, singing second bass and composing a handful of pieces for them to sing. His edition
of Am Himmelsfahrtstage with English translation is available from the Choral Public Domain library.

Ukrainians uplift all in Epsom evening of culture

Ukraine Choir and other performers

On Saturday 11th a choir of locally settled Ukrainians crowned an evening of their nation’s culture at Epsom Methodist Church. Several folk songs preceded a rousing rendition of the National Anthem of Ukraine, bringing the audience to their feet, right hands on hearts.

Cllr. Kieran Persand (Conservative: Horton Ward of Epsom and Ewell Borough Council) welcomed all. He said “In the face of adversity, the world has witnessed the unwavering spirit of the Ukrainian refugees. They have been forced to leave behind their homes, their loved ones, and the familiar landscapes of their homeland. It has been incredible to see how our community has stood with and welcomed them in and that should be celebrated too. Hosts who have offered shelter, compassion, and a sense of belonging – I thank you. It shows what can be achieved when communities come together.

The social and cultural evening was opened by Diana Zadorizhna, a young vocalist, accompanied on the piano by her mother, Natalia (also the Choir’s director). Along with Diana, young Nika Vlasova, who played the violin, will enter the first round on Tuesday 14th November, of the Rotary Club of Great Britain’s annual music competition, taking place at Epsom College.

Maria Zhornikova, a professional pianist, played several pieces by Ukrainian composer Valentyn Silvestrov. Yulia Komyshan, a regular performer at the Ukraine music evenings, delighted once again with varied pieces played on the Ukrainian bandura instrument.

Young Daniel Stets read a poem in both English and the original language by the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko.

The Ukrainians expressed their gratitude to Nina Kaye and Jo Sherring and all in the Epsom Refugee Network, that they lead, for the relief they have brought to their lives.

If you wish to be informed of future Ukraine cultural evenings please contact the organiser Lionel Blackman at epsommusicsoc@gmail.com

New Conductor – New Sounds

Epsom Chamber Choir.

Epsom Chamber Choir, directed by their new conductor Jack Apperley, provided a feast of contemplative music in their Evening Meditations concert on Saturday night (28th October). The harmonious sounds of the well-blended voices pleased the ear in the excellent acoustics of St. Martin’s Church, Epsom.

In the opening piece, In splendoribus sanctorum by James Macmillan, we were soothed by a velvety start before a heart stopping moment when the saxophone began to interweave its seemingly improvisatory melodies into the texture. The piece ended with echoing instrumental phrases from the back of the church. The scene was set for an evening of saxophone music blending effectively with the human voice.

The soprano and alto saxophones, beautifully played by Naomi Sullivan, featured in many of the works, bringing new and interesting harmonies to some 16th and 17th century pieces by Orlando Gibbons and Thomas Tallis, and adding atmosphere and colour to contemporary works such as O Wisdom by Will Todd. Paul Mealor’s piece for male voices I saw eternity had the saxophone blending in effectively with the voices, while wind chimes added an ethereal sound. Naomi also played arrangements of two flute pieces by J. S. Bach and C. P. E. Bach.

Many of the works with saxophone were arranged by the Yorkshire born saxophonist Christian Forshaw. They brought back memories of the now disbanded Hilliard Ensemble with their recordings of a cappella singing and improvised saxophone accompaniment.

Much of the programme involved quiet tones, but just before the interval we were treated to a sax solo entitled ….so this is what happened by Christoph Enzel – a loud, rousing, multiphonic piece, sounding like a whole band rather than just one instrument.

The concert also included soaring close harmonies in Cecilia McDowall’s The Lord is good and Gail Randall’s simpler setting of George Herbert’s The Call. Herbert Howells Requiem, a relatively short reflective work, was performed with great attention to the speech rhythms and dynamics. The solo lines in this and other pieces in the programme were sung beautifully by different members of the choir and the saxophone blended well with the voices.

Susan Morris

Expect miracles from Epsom Choral Society

Epsom Choral Society

Epsom Choral Society, renowned for its diverse and engaging programming, will be performing Mendelssohn’s masterwork “Elijah” on Saturday, 18 November 2023 at 7:30pm at St Martin’s Church in Epsom.

Prophet Elijah detailed in the Madonna and Child with Saints by Andrea di Bonaiuto

Under the baton of their music director Julian Collings, the performance will bring together a stellar cast of soloists, including soprano Elizabeth Findon, mezzo-soprano Judy Brown, tenor John Findon, and bass James Geidt. These outstanding vocalists will join forces with the Epsom Choral Society to transport audiences through the dramatic and uplifting narrative of Mendelssohn’s powerful oratorio. There will be a special solo appearance by 14-year-old treble, Brandon McGuinness, a pupil at Epsom College.

A landmark in the choral-orchestral repertoire, “Elijah” is acclaimed for its vivid storytelling and emotional intensity, featuring grand choruses, captivating arias and thrilling ensembles.

Elijah was a prophet and a miracle worker who lived in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of King Ahab (9th century BC). God performed many miracles through Elijah, including resurrection, bringing fire down from the sky, and entering heaven alive “by fire.”

This performance promises to deliver a night of wonderful music, underlining Mendelssohn’s genius for expressing profound spirituality and human emotion through music.

“We are delighted to present this enduring classic of the choral repertoire, conducted by Julian Collings and featuring an exceptional quartet of soloists. In Mendelssohn’s dramatic setting of the story we will be evoking earthquake, wind and fire in what promises to be an unforgettable evening of music at St Martin’s in the heart of Epsom.” commented Isobel Squire, chair of Epsom Choral Society.

Entry is £18, or just £9 for students and under-18s.

Tickets are available via the Epsom Choral Society website www.epsomchoral.org.uk or on the door on the night.

Epsom Choral Society is a community-based choral group with a rich history dating back to its formation in 1922. The society brings together music lovers from Epsom and the surrounding area, providing a platform for local talents to perform major choral works. The group is committed to fostering a love of music in the community and regularly collaborates with nationally and internationally acclaimed artists.

ECS puts on at least four concerts each year which attract a loyal following. Epsom Choral Society is a friendly choir – they do not require auditions but do aim for high performance standards. Rehearsals are on Wednesday evenings under the baton of their Musical Director, Julian Collings.

Related Reports

Elijah returns to Epsom before the end of times


New home needed for disability theatre group

Freewheelers theatre in action

A performing arts charity that won the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service has been made homeless after crumbly concrete was found in the hall it had called home for the past 17 years.

Freewheelers in Leatherhead is on the lookout for a new base – ideally one suitable for its disabled theatre and media company members.

On Tuesday, October 17, the group was forced out of its Bridge Centre base after the dangerous Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) which can collapse in an instant and without warning was discovered throughout the building’s roof.

For safety reasons, the building cannot be used nor accessed by any groups, according to Surrey County Council.

Posting to Facebook, the  Freewheelers charity said: “We are homeless and sending out an SOS!
“Freewheelers are looking for a new home in or around Leatherhead. Do you know of an accessible space or spaces, suitable for our disabled theatre and media company members? We need spaces for dance, drama, film making and music on Mondays, Tuesdays and Friday mornings.”

“We are a diverse and creative company of people with disabilities based in Leatherhead, Surrey. We work alongside directors, producers, composers, artists and writers, to co-create and produce engaging, thought-provoking, funny, joyous and highly entertaining theatre, dance, film, and music.

For over thirty years we’ve been a force for change and artistic excellence in the world of Disability Arts.”

Freewheelers website.

Survey work is being carried out at the Clare Crescent site and Surrey County Council has confirmed that it is also actively helping the search for a new suitable location for the group while the centre is closed.

A spokesperson for the county council said: “We have been in constructive dialogue with the Freewheelers Theatre and Dance Company this week so that we fully understand their requirements. We are currently working at pace alongside Freewheelers to help find a suitable location for them to use while the Bridge Youth Centre is closed.”

They added: “The closure of the youth centre will allow further investigations to take place so that we can be assured the building is safe. We understand that the short notice closure of the Bridge Youth Centre may be challenging for groups that use the building and the residents they support. However, as residents would expect, safety is our top priority.”

Other groups who regularly use the Bridge Youth Centre have been offered temporary alternative accommodation, the council said adding that they were working to ensure anyone who may need to access equipment or items stored in the building will be able to do so safely.

They said “At present, as the discovery of RAAC in the building is very recent, we need to carry out further inquiries before we can provide any details on proposals to deal with the RAAC or timelines for re-opening.”

Image courtesy: Freewheelers

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in Epsom

Chitty bang bang in Epsom

Following a successful run of Little Shop of Horrors last November, Leatherhead Opera Society have been busy  preparing for their next musical production, and it’s a big one! 

The title character in this show holds the record for the most expensive stage prop ever, and  with “Chitty Hire” on board, this production certainly won’t disappoint. This November, LOS proudly present a dazzling production of the beloved musical “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” at  the Epsom Playhouse. This amateur production is set to captivate the hearts of audiences  young and old with its enchanting story, memorable tunes, and the sheer excitement of live  theatre. 

The musical, with a book by Jeremy Sans and music by Richard and Robert Sherman, is  based on the classic 1968 film, which follows the adventures of the eccentric inventor  Caractacus Potts (played in this production by Joe Black) as he rebuilds a magical car and sets  off on a whirlwind journey with his children Jeremy and Jemima. They are joined along the  way by Truly Scrumptious (played by Charlotte Fisher) and together they must outwit the  villainous Baron & Baroness, as well as the evil Child-catcher – prepare to experience heart warming moments, daring escapades, and the power of imagination throughout! 

The Leatherhead Operatic Society’s cast and crew have been hard at work for the last few  months under the watchful eye of director John Harries-Rees, and are perfecting this  production with their talent, dedication and passion, which is sure to shine through in every  performance. With musical direction from Sam Fisher, and choreography by Louise E.  Wilson, this production features a talented ensemble of local actors, singers and dancers, all  coming together to create a show that promises to be a ‘fantasmagorical’ treat for the whole  family. 

“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” boasts a memorable score, with songs including “Truly  Scrumptious,” “Hushabye Mountain,” and of course, the hugely popular “Me Ol’ Bamboo”. Audiences can expect top-notch musical performances that will have them humming the  tunes long ager the show has finished! 

This production is a must-see for all ages, and the Epsom Playhouse is the perfect venue to  bring this timeless tale to life. Don’t miss this chance to experience the magic of “Chitty  Chitty Bang Bang” with your friends and family. Tickets are on sale now and selling fast, so  make sure to secure your seats early!  

Performance Details: 

Dates: November 21st – 25th, 2023 

Venue: Epsom Playhouse, Ashley Avenue, Epsom, Surrey, KT18 5AL

Tickets can be purchased from www.epsomplayhouse.co.uk or by calling the Box Office on  01372 742555.  

The Leatherhead Operatic Society started way back in 1904, and since then have staged hundreds of musicals old and new, including Beauty and the Beast, Hairspray, South Pacific, Oklahoma, My Fair Lady, Camelot, Guys and Dolls, Oliver, Fiddler on the Roof etc.

Image – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the Epsom Market Square

Glyn students brighten the Borough

Mural Art Upper High Street Epsom

Epsom & Ewell Borough Council and Glyn School have come together to transform an unused building on the site of the Upper High Street car park with a community mural funded through the Government’s Safer Streets initiative.

Ten local secondary school students recently worked in collaboration with the council and international graffiti artists from Positive Arts to create a large scale mural celebrating the biodiversity within our borough. The artwork has dramatically improved the aesthetics of the building, which previously looked tired and in need of renovating.

Giving support to the project, Councillor Clive Woodbridge, Chair of the Community & Wellbeing Committee at Epsom & Ewell Borough Council, said: “It is a goal of the council to ensure that our natural environment is both celebrated and accessible to all. This project showcases how culture and creative practices can help to elevate the natural landscape of our borough in new and colourful ways.

“This type of project sits within the emerging Cultural Strategy for the council, which seeks to nurture and champion the creative talents within our community while increasing access to creativity for all to enjoy and engage with. The students’ teamwork has also been extremely impressive and is something to be proud of”.

Julian Phethean from Positive Arts said, “The young people were really determined to produce something they could be proud of and that’s exactly what they achieved!

“All of the students worked well in a team, made a positive social impact, and displayed a high level of creativity, focus and drive.”

A spokesperson for Glyn School said: “The students involved thoroughly enjoyed this unique experience to give back to the community in a very different way.”  

Elijah returns to Epsom before the end of times

Epsom Choral Society rehearsal

On Wednesday 20th September, Epsom Choral Society held an open rehearsal at St Martin’s Church, Epsom, their usual concert venue. An ‘open rehearsal’ served a double purpose. It was part of the preparation for their concert, performing Felix Mendelssohn’s Elijah on 18th November. It was also a bid to attract some new singing members by offering a chance to come and try it out.

I went along.  I enjoy Mendelssohn’s music and it is easier to appreciate after an attempt at performing it. As Wednesday’s weather approached biblical proportions, it was a good night for singing about whirlwinds droughts and floods.

After a welcome from choir chairman Isobel Squire, conductor Julian Collings began the rehearsal. The whole work has about 40 songs. The choir sings in about half of them. Usually, a rehearsal would entail concentrating on a few items, looking to correct some mistakes, find the music among the notes and then sing each piece all the way through. Wednesday was more of a taster. We sang fairly quickly through almost all the choral numbers, saving the detailed work for Julian’s favourite movement, ‘He, watching over Israel’. The conductor’s role is to know the music inside-out (he does!), warning which notes are likely to go wrong and suggesting ways to make them sound better. Once the notes are correct, the next stage is suggesting how to shape them to bring out the musical effects.

No-one has to sing alone. Epsom Choral Society has room for some new members but they do have all parts covered. There are confident singers among sopranos, altos, tenors and basses. Any newcomer will be adding to the overall sound, not sticking out while searching for the notes. They also have an expert pianist, Marion Lea, who can highlight  the choir parts while learning or pretend to be an orchestra when everyone is singing something through.

Although the open rehearsal has passed, there are still plenty of Wednesdays before the concert. If you fancy a chance to discover Elijah from within an able and welcoming choir, I’m sure Epsom Choral Society’s membership secretary (membership@epsomchoralsociety.org.uk) will be very happy to hear from you.

Nigel Williams.

Digital guide to Nonsuch gardens unveiled

Diagram of Nonsuch Garden digital guide.

Nonsuch Park has joined more than 250 cultural institutions around the globe in providing a new digital guide to the formal gardens on Bloomberg Connects, the free arts and culture app created by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

This is the first digital tour of its kind for Epsom & Ewell Borough Council, and is packed full of information, interesting facts, photos, history and more. It is the perfect accompaniment to enhance the experience of those visiting the park, and also makes Nonsuch Park accessible to people anytime, anywhere. Content will be updated throughout the year, adapting to the changing seasons at Nonsuch Park.

The tour is an important part of the council’s Cultural Strategy, which is currently in development. One of the key aims of the Strategy is to increase access to culture and heritage in Epsom & Ewell and to allow people to engage with its colourful and varied cultural past in new and engaging ways.

The Bloomberg Connects app, which also features sites such as Central Park Conservancy, London’s National Portrait Gallery and Anne Frank House, is available to download free of charge from Google Play or the App Store.

Councillor Clive Woodbridge, Chair of Epsom & Ewell Borough Council’s Community and Wellbeing Committee, said “I am delighted to support this new venture which will allow our residents and visitors to access so much more in our wonderful Nonsuch Park. It is exciting that it puts us on the global map of stunning and historic cultural locations and allows people to see a much-loved part of our borough in a new way.”

Councillor Julian Freeman, Chair of the Joint Management Committee of Nonsuch Park, added,

“It’s a pleasure to not only be able to showcase some of the most beautiful areas of the formal gardens to people both in and outside the borough, but also to be able to do this in a format which allows people to journey around the area at their own pace.”

Bloomberg Connects offers free digital guides to cultural organizations around the world. The app platform is part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ longstanding commitment to supporting digital innovation in the arts. Bloomberg Connects makes it easy to access and engage with arts and culture from mobile devices when visiting in person, or anytime from anywhere. With dynamic content exclusive to each partner organization, the app provides a range of features including video, audio, text, images with alt text to assist the visually impaired; expert commentary; and way-finding maps.

The digital tour has been developed with support from the council’s Arts, Heritage and Culture team, Friends of Nonsuch, Nonsuch Voles, the council’s Operational Services team and Bourne Hall Museum.

About Bloomberg Philanthropies

Bloomberg Philanthropies invests in 700 cities and 150 countries around the world to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: the Arts, Education, Environment, Government Innovation, and Public Health.

New art fair comes to Epsom

Arts Fair for Epsom

A new contemporary art fair is coming to The Duchess Stand, Epsom Downs Racecourse, 6 – 8 October 2023.

Art Surrey opens on Friday 6th October with a Preview Evening and a complimentary glass of fizz from 6pm to 9pm and opens over the weekend on Saturday 7 October 10am-6pm and Sunday 8 October 10am-5pm.

This inaugural art fair, curated by Art Surrey and Ewell based Art Adviser and Gallery, Caiger Art, offers art lovers and collectors the chance to browse and purchase artworks from over 80 of the most exciting contemporary and traditional artists selling today, many of whom are Surrey based artists.

As final preparations get under way, Carol Caiger, Director of Art Surrey, is understandably very excited about this new Epsom venture, “Being one of the largest art fairs within the south east of England, this new contemporary art fair will the perfect place to find artwork to start your art collection, or add to your collection if you are already an art enthusiast!”

There will be over 3000 works of art to see, paintings, drawings, prints, digital art, mixed media art, photography, sculpture, glassworks and ceramics. With all artwork ranging from £50 to over £3000, there will be something for everyone.

This year the invited showcase is Surrey Sculpture Society, who will be showing a selection of their artists sculptures for sale.

Carol Caiger adds, “The bonus is, as well as awesome artwork, the Caiger Art and Art Surrey Team are on hand to give expert advice on the best artwork to buy for your home, too.”

Weekend facilities include a bar and café serving teas, coffee and food throughout Saturday and Sunday, so you can easily spend a whole day there! The venue has ample onsite parking and is wheelchair accessible.

You can have see the limited edition art fair brochure here: https://artsurrey.co.uk/brochure-2023/.

Tickets are available to buy for the Friday Preview Evening, Saturday and Sunday from