Local choirs unite to mark Armistice centenary

Alliance between two choirs is finale for local commemorations of 1918 truce, writes Andrew Sackett

South West Essex Choir

South West Essex Choir in rehearsal

Nearly 300 local singers and musicians will perform Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem to commemorate the Armistice which ended the First World War 100 years ago this month.

It will be a joint venture between South West Essex Choir (SWEC), London Forest Choir (LFC), and Forest Philharmonic Orchestra, together with children from Chingford Parish Church and schools across Waltham Forest.

As SWEC’s musical director, I am delighted to be collaborating on such a major project. Britten’s War Requiem is one of the outstanding works of the 20th Century and this is a very exciting opportunity for all those taking part, as well as a rare chance for the audience to experience it.

Britten, a staunch pacifist, composed the piece to celebrate the opening in 1962 of the new Coventry Cathedral, which replaced the previous building destroyed by bombs in the Second World War. In memory of the war dead, Britten combined a requiem mass with poems written by the renowned war poet Wilfred Owen.

Owen, a soldier, was killed in action just a few days before the Armistice and vividly described the horrors of the trenches and gas warfare. The result is a moving and powerful outcry against man’s inhumanity to man.

LFC’s musical director Jonathan Rathbone will conduct the full chorus and orchestra, while I will conduct a smaller orchestra accompanying the two male soloists.

The performance on Saturday 17th November at Walthamstow Assembly Hall will be the finale for local commemorations of the 1918 Armistice. There will be exhibitions about the First World War before the concert and also at the Magistrates Café next to Waltham Forest Town Hall, where there will be free talks on the evening of Wednesday 14th November linking the First World War with current conflicts and their impact on children.

Our aim is to attract new audiences to classical music, particularly young people, and to establish links with community groups and those with recent experience of conflict. The concert is supported by the Arts Council, Waltham Forest Council, and the Charles S French Charitable Trust.

Tickets for Britten War Requiem on Saturday 17th November cost from £18 in advance or from £16 on the door. Students and benefit recipients can pay £8, and children £3.
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