Sounds of the Fifties

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Come and  join us as we explore the Sounds of the Fifties. You might be surprised!

The last in the CBS series of concerts tracing choral music through the twentieth century takes us into the 1950s – the new ‘Elizabethan Age’ as it was called at the time in the UK. The era of Elvis (who we haven’t quite managed to fit in) and of West Side Story, one of the most enduring works of the twentieth century.

Leonard Bernstein (currently the focus of the Hollywood movie Maestro) composed his take on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet at the end of the 1950s, transporting the scene to New York and changing the rival families into leather-jacketed gangs. Less well known is that the lyrics were by Stephen Sondheim! These two giants of twentieth-century music produced a new slant on the musical which has remained a firm favourite and CBS will perform a choral suite including songs such as ‘There’s a place for us’, ‘I like to be in America’ and ‘I feel pretty’.

As usual, CBS combines this music with ‘classical’ music of the era. The early 50s saw the Coronation of Elizabeth II. From A Garland for the Queen, a set of partsongs commissioned from various British composers to mark that event, CBS will sing Vaughan Williams’ spellbinding Silence and Music which creates an immense stillness with its spare textures; and John Ireland’s warm evocation of English landscape The Hills. Crossing back to the USA, Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs will involve the choir in various animal impersonations in ‘I bought me a cat’ and will include other, more tranquil pieces too. Michael Tippett’s lively arrangement of Lillibulero takes us to Ireland as part of this whistle-stop tour.

And we’re going to cheat! Focusing a concert on the 1950s offers the chance to cast light on some composers born in that decade who are still with us. Foremost, Master of the King’s Music, Dame Judith Weir. Her set of choral pieces The Song Sung True is all about music and was composed for a choir in London with a very similar makeup to CBS. It is a varied and tuneful set of short movements culminating in a very upbeat setting of Edward Lear’s The Old Man of the Isles. This comes complete with fiddle and bagpipe impressions which reflect Dame Judith’s Scots ancestry. Also represented is Martin Bussey, with his set of three songs, Roses, composed for CBS in 2009. These set poems about roses by ‘old’ Elizabethans – Edmund Waller, William Shakespeare and the celebrated ‘Anon’!

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