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The Australian Chamber Choir presents 'By The Waters of Babylon'

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by Sue Hinchey (subscribe)
A freelance writer living and loving in the northern beaches of Sydney...travelling, writing, outdoor activities, gardens, and Pilates are a few of my favourite things. Visit me or
Choir music at its best, unaccompanied, masterful singing

The Australian Chamber Choir has celebrated its 10th birthday with an acclaimed series of concerts in Europe and Australia, and I recently had the pleasure of attending their performance in the crypt at St. Mary's Cathedral in Sydney. The choir has recorded five CDs and presented over 200 concert performances. 'By The Waters of Babylon' is the heart-wrenching story of grief of the Israelites, following the destruction of their Jerusalem. Taken from Psalm 137 in the Bible, it is a cry of despair and mourning, of rage at loss and dislocation.

Douglas Lawrence, founder and director of the Australian Chamber Choir, explores these themes during the 90-minute program. The spine-tingles start as soon as the group's pure voices fill the air. The blended sound from 19 singers is exquisite. Trained at the highest level, they deliver notes as clear as crystal, seemingly effortless yet powerful and purposeful.

Australian Chamber Choir By The Waters of Babylon St Marys Cathedral Sydney NSW
An intimate affair in St Mary's Cathedral Crypt

The central theme, 'Uncertain Journeys' by Tom Henry, explores the international dilemma of refugees. Those seeking asylum, who undertake dangerous journeys, arrive in a strange land and undergo being assessed for suitability, want their cries for help and freedom heard. Henry's evocative work is carried by the choir's choral expertise. Using their voices as tools to play with phrasing, eliciting the sounds akin to an ocean, opposing tones caress the words to carry their heart's yearning. Unaccompanied by any orchestra, the voices are like a tapestry, weaving threads and colours through musical styles.

Australian Chamber Choir By The Waters of Babylon St Marys Cathedral Sydney NSW
The Crypt's perfect acoustics

The program includes music from old masters, such as William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons and Jacob Handle, as well as newer composers such as Frank Martin, Herbert Howells, and Australian Luke Hutton. After an extensive 3-week European tour and performing 20 concerts across Italy, Austria and Germany, the choir's performance is magical, confident, dancing as one entity.

The Israelites return to rebuild the temple, discovering strength and optimism they didn't know they had. Courage and hope, part of many asylum seeker's journey, is celebrated in the programs final motet by Johann Sebastian Bach. The choir, dressed in black, visually juxtaposes the building's statues and figurines depicting new life; instead their voices flow like a river carrying new beginnings, and the audience is carried along on the tide of celebration.

The setting couldn't have been more perfect. Sydney's most famous church is an iconic landmark. Sitting in the serene surrounds of the crypt, I'm surrounded by ancient arches of sandstone. The noises of the city are blocked out, and I'm shrouded by stained glass windows, the beautiful mosaic floor, and a small crowd. The contained space restricts numbers, and I'm thankful for that; such special moments need to be celebrated in a special place.

Performances will also be held in Canberra, Albury, Bowral and Wagga Wagga.

The singers today were:
Sopranos: Pippa Andrew, Elspeth Bawden, Grace Cordell, Amelia Jones, Elizabeth Lieschke, Jennifer Wilson-Richter.
Altos: Elizabeth Anderson, Hannah Spracklan-Holl, Ria Polo, Isobel Todd.
Tenors: Alastair Cooper-Golec or Michael Dimovski, Joshua Lucena, Ben Owen, Linton Roe.
Basses: Lucien Fischer of Mitchell Relf, Luke Hutton, Alasdair Stretch, Lucas Wilson-Richter.
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*Sue Hinchey was invited as a guest
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Why? Chamber choir music
When: 27 August, 2017
Where: St. Mary's Cathedral Crypt, Sydney
Cost: $55/$50/$45/$40/$20
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