Choral Workshop and Informal Concert 2017 directed by Gavin Carr
St Peter's Church, Shaldon
Bridge Road
TQ14 0DB
United Kingdom
Type: Choral Workshop
Date: Saturday 24 June 2017
Start Time: Registration 10.00am
Performer(s): Choral Workshop directed by Gavin Carr
Host Organisation: Shaldon Festival

Elgar: Dream of Gerontius
Conductor: Gavin Carr
Piano: Peter Adcock
Mezzo Soprano: Alison Kettlewell
Tenor: Jonathan Stoughton
Bass: Piran Legg


Edward Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38

Elgar's masterpiece The Dream of Gerontius is a complex and demanding work that tests its performers in many ways. It is to the credit of the Shaldon Festival Choir that their rendition during the 2017 Shaldon Festival was confident and crisp, with some beautiful and remarkable moments.

Conductor Gavin Carr was passionate and forceful in equal measure, driving the music when necessary and letting it flow at other times. His immense experience and humour were expertly channelled, encouraging the singers to give of their best. There were sonorous bass lines and soaring soprano lines. The "demons" were scary and there was tumult when it was demanded - Carr shaking with a passion that clearly found its way from podium to chorus.

Pianist Peter Adcock was outstanding - a delight to listen to. His rendition of the substantial Prelude created a sombre and serene ambience - perfect for the emotions that were to follow.

Tenor Jonathan Stoughton (Gerontius) has the nature of a singer accustomed to Wagnerian roles. Despite a throat infection, he produced a faultless performance - dramatic and emotional throughout. Clearly below par, he dealt with the problem and his composure was impressive.

Alison Kettlewell (Angel) sang with fervour revealing an extraordinarily rich, resonant mezzo soprano voice. The role demands a wide range of emotions which she produced with panache. The balance between tenor and soprano in the conversational sections was engaging and the dialogue effective.

Piran Legg (Priest/Angel of Agony) was excellent. His baritone voice produced powerful tones, especially in the higher passages, and clear expression throughout. Still early in his career, he showed great promise.

Workshop performances such as this will always contain aspects that may be deemed less than fully polished but on this occasion none of these detracted from a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Richard Lamming
27 June

Dream of Gerontius

This work had its first performance at the Birmingham Festival of 1900, but 'performance' may be too strong a word, for it was badly rehearsed and hardly comprehended by most of the performers and listeners. Yet Elgar on finishing it could write without boastfulness: "This is the best of me"; and this, despite subsequent masterworks, has remained the opinion of many. Elgar in an interview for the Musical Times of October 1900 said that the poem by John Henry Newman, out of which he had selected the libretto, had been "soaking in my mind for at least eight years." The subtle and many-faceted interweaving of the large modern symphony orchestra and the voices – themselves sometimes verging on the instrumental – removed at one great step English festival-choral music from its Handelian and Mendelssohnian tradition.

The opening Prelude is a successive experience of leading themes wonderfully scored, especially in the highly elaborate string parts (thanks to Elgar the violinist) and in the writing for low flutes when those strings are muted to begin the uneasy berceuse representing the fitful sleep of Gerontius on his death-bed.

Conspicuous in the opening solo is the very soft multiple division of the strings – once into no less than eighteen parts – for the "emptying out of each constituent and natural force." The first choral sound is the prayer of Gerontius's friends: Kyrie Eleison on the unaccompanied semi-chorus, with the main chorus, soberly accompanied by divided violas and 'cellos, amplifying the prayer with their petitions. The solo 'set piece' in this first part is Gerontius's Sanctus fortis ranging through many moods and serving both as prayer and declaration of faith. Within it are heard not only the multiple-strings 'disintegration' chords but also a presentiment of the devilish music of the second part. The graphic silence at Gerontius's death speaks for itself. It is broken by the trombones and the bass-solo priest wending the soul on its way with the injunction Proficiscere anima Christiana, an idea taken up in stately climax by the full power of chorus and orchestra, then going on in an ascending, consoling march towards the next world, with the opening prayer almost the last thing to be heard.

Part II begins with a tender evocation by muted strings of the new world in which Gerontius finds himself (not an accidental in sight for eighteen bars!) The "heart-subduing melody" that he hears is a presage of the Angel's alleluia refrain, which in its turn has its own beautiful refrain on the horns. The opening 'question and answer' dialogue of Gerontius and his guardian angel leads to a number of ever-bigger musical paragraphs: first a euphonious duet ("a presage falls upon me"), then the extended and bitter snarls of the demons in chorus, and to cap all, the tremendous apotheosis of Newman's great hymn Praise to the Holiest. Shortly after its close comes the intercession of the Angel of the Agony, with soft Wagnerian brass in its accompaniment. Thereafter there is the searing exposure to God's glance where at Elgar's direction every instrument must for one moment exert its fullest force. The work reaches its serene end with the Angel's farewell to the soul of Gerontius as it is consigned to purgatory ("Softly and gently"). The Angel's solo is combined with prayers on earth and the angelic voices singing Praise to the Holiest in the distant height.

Programme notes provided by Ivor Keys, November 2010, courtesy of Making Music.

Gavin Carr
Biography 2016

With his trademark humour allied to deep vocal expertise and enormous experience in the choral world, Gavin Carr is now recognised as one of the UK's leading choral conductors. Currently Chorus Master of the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus (BSC), and Music Director of Bath Minerva Choir, he is a guest conductor with the BBC Symphony Chorus and the Philharmonia Chorus. Founder-director of Chorus Angelorum, his recordings of his brother Paul Carr's Requiem for an Angel and other major choral works have reached a world-wide audience. A choral scholar at King’s College, Cambridge before commencing an international career as a baritone, he has appeared at festivals across the globe, premiered numerous works, and performed with leading opera companies including English National Opera. Taking up conducting in 2001 and after a period as assistant conductor at the Wexford Festival and at the Cantiere d'arte di Montepulciano, he made his operatic conducting debut with an acclaimed production of La Tragédie de Carmen at the 2007 Wexford Festival. In 2011 he was invited to found the elite new Wexford Festival Opera Chorus to nurture the best young global talent, and led the chorus to enormous critical acclaim. He made his debut with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in 2011 for the Cheltenham Festival in the major new oratorio, Not in our Time by Richard Blackford, the recording of which reached the top of the classical charts. With Bath Minerva Choir he premiered his brother Paul Carr's Seven Last Words from the Cross to great acclaim; other conducting projects include Gershwin's Porgy and Bess with Sir Willard White and South West Festival Chorus, gala performances of the St Matthew Passion with The Parley of Instruments and the English Chamber Orchestra, the annual Good Friday Passions in the Lighthouse with the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, and a highly successful conducting debut on the continent in 2013 with the Bremen Philharmoniker in concert with the BSC in the German premiere of Not in our Time.

A notable debut for him in 2013 was conducting the BSC with celebrated jazz ensemble Panacea in the world-premiere of Robert Mitchells' jazz-fusion masterpiece Invocation, for the London Jazz Festival at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The 2014-15 season saw him conduct his first Mahler 8 Symphony of a Thousand with his Bournemouth and Bath forces; in 2015 he stepped in at the last minute to conduct Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera for Dorset Opera, the success of which led to a re-engagement for 2016 to conduct Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, which garnered excellent reviews from the national press. That season also saw his first War Requiem with the Bournemouth forces, James Gilchrist, Stephan Loges and Svetlana Kasyan in a memorable WWI Centenary Remembrance Day performance. He has sung its baritone solos all over the world, in the UK, in Santiago de Chile, with the Novaya Opera in Moscow, and most recently with the celebrated Estonian Philharmonic Orchestra in Talinn. Other recent singing engagements include Berlioz and Schoenberg with the Flanders Symphony Orchestra in Belgium and London, and Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde with Bath Philharmonia. He has conducted the Indian Symphony Orchestra in Mumbai and Goa in Messiah, and returned there in 2014 with the BSC in Verdi's Requiem. Future concerts are planned in India for 2018. In 2016 he became a guest conductor with the BBC Symphony Chorus, and will work with them on several projects in the 2016-17 season. He leads choral workshops throughout the UK, notably at Hawkwood College in the Cotswolds, and leads choir tours abroad (China, Cyprus, France, India, Italy, and the USA in recent years) on a regular basis. As well as conducting and singing, he has begun composing again after a long hiatus, and in 2014 premiered his WWI commemorative choral-orchestral cantata Pour out your light, O stars with William Dazeley, Bath Minerva Choir and Southern Sinfonia to considerable acclaim in Bath Abbey.

Parking Map for St Peter's Church, Shaldon


St Peter’s Church, Bridge Road, Shaldon, TQ14 0DB


1. Long Stay Public Carpark ½ mile from the church, reached through the village or off the A379 coast road to Torquay, postcode TQ14 0HP – 381 spaces, “pay & display” during the day but free after 6.00pm. Allow 15 minutes for the blue walking route shown.
2. Short Stay Public Carpark, opposite the church, postcode TQ14 0BP – 48 spaces, “pay & display” subject to a short stay 4 hour limit during the day but free after 6.00pm.
3. Extra parking – limited space adjoining the recreation ground reached from Ringmore Road but with easy pedestrian access to the Church along the estuary embankment. If using this area, please park “tidily” to maximise the usable space; this area is only available for parking as a special arrangement for the Festival.


Please telephone Malcolm Watson on 01626 873492 if you need help with letting someone alight at the church and/or need seating space for a wheelchair. In addition, there are a very few parking spaces close to the church which we can reserve for those with mobility difficulties on a first come, first served, basis.