This was another cultural feather in the cap for the North East, with Sage Gateshead the only UK venue for one of the concerts performed simultaneously across Europe under the auspices of ECHO, the European Concert Hall Organisation. Body of Song is a project in which 12 young European composers were selected to write a piece of vocal music to reflect upon the themes of peace and conflict to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.
This baton was taken up by five locally based singing groups – the Chorus of Royal Northern Sinfonia, South Shields-based Custom Voices, Human Music, the award-winning Voices of Hope and our major regional youth choir, Quay Voices. Each had two works to perform with instrumental support from a small number of Royal Northern Sinfonia players. There were texts from the guest books located at the memorials to be found across Flanders fields, fragmented words from letters written long ago and recently found, and words from others including Gandhi, all set to music in the most dazzling ways. The skill and versatility of all the singers and their directors were put to the sternest test with song, vocal effects, whispering, chattering and cross conversations. But they were fully up to the mark conveying the often jagged messages written into works of real depth and emotion.
The performances of Quay Voices were particularly memorable for singers so young. Their work, El Soroll Silent (the Silent Noise), by Catalan composer Marc Timon who was in the audience, was great vocal theatre and almost cinematic in its harmonic spread. They provided the concert’s closing performance, of Hungarian Máté Bella’s Béke (Peace), with its testing but splendid harmonies much appreciated by the audience.
Local legend Sir Thomas Allen forsook his normal singing role to act as the afternoon’s urbane compère, giving appropriate background information on the choirs and the pieces being performed. It was not a conventional concert, as one might have expected, but it was a display of vocal artworks which will remain long in the memory.