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What a professional group of “amateurs”

Updated: Jun 4, 2021

The RCS has performed Handel’s Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall on Good Friday afternoon every year since 1876, 5 years after its opening. Not since 1940/41, when the Blitz paused the tradition, have these performances been lost, but the pandemic forced the cancellation of both the 2020 and 2021 Good Friday performances. On Sunday 30th May – Project Get Singing team members Mel Field and Naveen Arles were invited to attend a choral test event at the Royal Albert Hall watching the wonderful Royal Choral Society performing Handel’s Messiah.

Also being the Royal Albert Hall’s 150th Anniversary year, this performance conducted by Richard Cooke and accompanied by the incredible Richard Pearce on the mighty Willis-Mander 4 manual organ (2nd largest organ in the UK), was even more special.

With the socially distanced restricted audience of no more than 800 seated which felt quite sparse in the magnificent 5272-seater Hall, the 53 movements began.

Four incredible soloists:- Soprano Mary Bevan, Mezzo Soprano Marta Fontanals-Simmons, Tenor Benjamin Hulett and Bass Edward Grint along with the 120 strong RCS, elevated the Hall with the most sublime sound.

Not hearing live choral music for so long made it all the more moving and exhilarating. An experience only some choirs have been able to appreciate this year.

Did the audience stand for the Hallelujah Chorus? Of course they did – it’s a tradition said to have begun in 1743, the myth being that King George II “overcome with emotion” stood at that point of the Oratorio, so people have continued that tradition.

Even though this was not officially a test event, Project Get Singing feel that the stringent planning carried out by RCS and RAH followed the Covid guidelines and risk mitigations to the letter, as would choir leaders across the UK for similar large scale indoor rehearsals.

Forgetting the strictly masked audience part for a moment, amongst some of the precautions the organisers and the very well briefed staff at the Hall managed were:-

  • The "Amateur" choir (RCS), and professional musicians were all tested before and after the concert

  • Performers were distanced and unmasked ONLY on stage in this large covid secure venue

  • The Messiah would normally last for approximately 2.5-3 hours, with an interval. This performance unusually had a 30 minute interval, which allowed for greater ventilation break.

As vocal leaders and choir members, we would all love a small part of what RCS must have experienced on Sunday.

Please sign and share the government petition to everyone wanting to rehearse as they were able to in October 2020 and eventually as we have all been rehearsing for years.


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