Youth talents combine for Petworth Festival

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One of the great highlights of this year’s Petworth Festival will be a mass pooling of young talents when the UK’s top young musicians celebrate Shakespeare 400.

The National Youth Jazz Orchestra and the National Youth Chamber Choir join forces to offer The Play’s The Thing, a programme inspired by the Bard featuring music by composers from Duke Ellington to Ward Swingle.

The two groups combined earlier this year on BBC Radio 2’s Friday Night Is Music Night programme. Now in their biggest collaboration so far, they are giving just three live concerts around the UK, including Petworth Festival on July 29. The music includes Duke Ellington’s Such Sweet Thunder Suite, a set of jazzy portraits of some of Shakespeare’s most famous heroes and villains, works including The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams, and new music specially written for the two young ensembles to perform together. The performance will be at Midhurst Rother College, Midhurst at 7.30pm.

Ben Parry became director of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain in October 2012 and elevated the chamber choir as one of the groups within the overall organisation: “There are five constituent choirs. The chamber choir was renamed. There used to be a very ad hoc choir. I was told it was basically called the ‘bunch of friends’. I brought the choir back into the organisation.

“They do a huge amount of different repertoire. At one time they could be doing lighter music like this or they could be singing in King’s College Chapel or they could be doing radio or they could be touring around the Highlands of Scotland. I try to offer them as broad a range of musical styles and experiences as possible. A lot of the singers are very aspirational. A lot of them will go on to become professional singers so I try to offer them a very rich and varied diet of experiences. It is fascinating, and what makes it so enjoyable really is the young people themselves, which is obviously what it is all about, of course. But they are great with their enthusiasm and their dedication and their enjoyment of it all. They are desperate to learn and to perform. We know from our data that over the last three years, the name of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain is becoming much more pre-eminent in the public mind, and we would like to think that within a couple of years we will become the go-to organisation for young people wanting to refine their talents and their skills.”

It comprises a remarkable 750 singers across the various parts, and it really is properly a Great Britain organisation: “We have got people from Scotland and a few from Wales and also a couple from Northern Ireland. We did a huge concert at the Royal Albert Hall in April with all the choirs performing, and there were three or four pieces where all the singers sang. It was brilliant.”

For Petworth, the programme includes pieces by Ben and also by National Youth Jazz Orchestra director Mark Armstrong.

Tickets on www.petworthfestival.org.uk.

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