Celebrating Wolsey with a premiere performance

Join Ipswich Choral Society for a double anniversary celebration marking 550 years since the birth of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and 200 years since Ipswich Choral Society was formed.

The Ipswich Choral Society’s forthcoming ‘Première in the Park’ concert, which has been made possible with funding from the Thomas Wolsey 550 project and the support of Ashtons Legal and McCarthy Stone, will be a double anniversary celebration marking 550 years since the birth of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and 200 years since Ipswich Choral Society was formed.

Ipswich Choral Society was delighted to receive a community grant from the Thomas Wolsey 550 project, launched in March 2023 to celebrate the 550th anniversary of the birth of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Thomas Wolsey rose from humble beginnings in Ipswich to become the most powerful statesman in England, alongside King Henry VIII.

2024 is an important year for Ipswich Choral Society, reaching 200 years since the formation of the society. To celebrate both anniversaries, Ipswich Choral Society is hosting a free community event in Christchurch Park on 29thJune. With the community grant, Ipswich Choral Society has commissioned three new choral works which will all be premiered at the event.

Two of the newly commissioned pieces use text from Shakespeare’s play ‘Henry VIII’. ‘Farewell to His Greatness’ by Liz Alexander, former ICS member, features the monologue by Cardinal Wolsey which addresses his sudden downfall as adviser to the King. Mark Blatchly, ICS accompanist, has written ‘This Cardinal’ which features a description of Wolsey made after hearing news of his death.  

The third commission is written by former ICS Music Director Stephen Rumsey for ICS and their 200th anniversary. ‘Dreamers’ celebrates the tradition of Choral Societies with the skills, hard work and commitment balanced against the wonderful pay-offs of friendship and achievement.

Ipswich Choral Society with Music Director Robin Walker will be performing in Christchurch Park, at the site of the War memorial and Cenotaph.  Come along from midday and remember to bring a picnic!

In case of bad weather, the concert will be in St. Margaret’s Church instead.

Celebrating Wolsey

Ipswich Choral Society Community Event

Part of the Thomas Wolsey 550 project

Saturday 29 June 2024, 12.30pm

War Memorial and Cenotaph, Christchurch Park, Ipswich IP4 2BE*

Arrive from 12pm and bring a picnic!

*In case of bad weather, the concert will be held in St. Margaret ’s Church, Ipswich IP4 2BE.

Ipswich Choral Society Anniversary Concert at Snape Maltings
Ipswich Choral Society, Snape Maltings. Photo credit: Matt Clarke

Meet the Composers

Liz Alexander

Liz Alexander gained BA (hons) in music at the University of Southampton and a PGCE in Secondary music at Cambridge, where she was also a Choral Scholar. She has 25 years’ experience teaching music from EYFS to A level in Suffolk schools. Liz currently works for NESTT as an Initial Teacher Training subject lead in Secondary music, a pastoral conductor for the Society of Recorder Players, teaches recorder, leads youth vocal workshops, and performs with various instrumental and vocal ensembles, including her chamber group Zephyr Baroque. She has composed and published a number of pieces for recorder and choir, including her first symphony for recorder orchestra which premiered in 2023. Liz has appeared as a featured composer in Recorder Magazine and Composer in Residence at the October Recorder Festival in Culford, where she is now a regular tutor.

As an ex-member of the Ipswich Choral Society, Liz was delighted to be approached to be involved in the Wolsey 550 project. She has set the text known as ‘Farewell to His Greatness’, a monologue by Cardinal Wolsey from Shakespeare’s Henry VIII Act 3 Scene 2, which addresses his sudden downfall as adviser to the King. The text is in blank verse form and features a typical Shakespearean iambic pentameter. In it, Wolsey experiences a range of emotions from bitterness and despair to anger and vengefulness, which is reflected through the changes in harmony and tonality, vocal textures and dynamics. The piano accompaniment is independent from the choir, rather than doubling vocal parts, and seeks to further enhance the emotional outpouring of Wolsey’s lamentations through its motifs and melodic material.

Mark Blatchly

Best known for his setting of ‘For the Fallen’ (1980), Mark Blatchly was a chorister at Guildford Cathedral under Barry Rose.  He held a variety of organ posts at St Paul’s, Christ Church Oxford, St Marylebone, Gloucester Cathedral and St Edmundsbury (1990-92) – working for Barry Rose, Simon Preston, Catherine Ennis and John Sanders – before joining the music department at Charterhouse, where at various times he was in charge of choral music, the orchestra, the magazine, and a boarding house for 75 boys & girls.

He has been writing choral music since he was at St Paul’s.  His commissions include ten sets of evening canticles, a couple of works for the Three Choirs Festival, one for the Finzi Singers and a great many for the Cappella Singers of Stroud. He now lives in Felixstowe; he became accompanist to Ipswich Choral Society in 2022.

‘This Cardinal’ is a product of Mark Blatchly’s love of Shakespeare, though the words (from a speech by Griffith in Act IV scene ii of Henry VIII) were probably written by Shakespeare’s collaborator John Fletcher.  The text is set as simply as possible so that it will be clearly understood in outdoor performance.

Stephen Rumsey

Stephen Rumsey, a vice president and former music director of Ipswich Choral Society, entered the music industry as an orchestral manager at the London Symphony Orchestra in the late 60s and followed this inspiring period with studies at Leeds University under Alexander Goehr, Philip Wilby and James Brown (NB former ICS president, not the godfather of soul!). Later teachers and mentors included Franco Ferrara, Peter Maxwell Davies, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, John Carewe and Hans Keller.

Appointments to the conducting staff at Morley College in London, Youth Opera Basildon and Basildon and Ipswich Choral Societies amongst others followed together with guest appearances with ensembles such as Trianon Music Group and Chelmsford Opera Group. Stephen Rumsey’s other freelance activities under the SyrinxMusic umbrella have including arranging and writing music for theatre productions, performance art installations and, from time to time, grandiose occasions such as the royal opening of Liverpool Street Station in 1992.

Recently Stephen Rumsey’s musical activities have focused principally on the development of the vocal ensemble, BIRDSONG, the PHOENIX YOUTH ORCHESTRA in Essex and getting even more of his musical fantasies down on paper and performed.

‘Dreamers’ is a piece for 5 part chorus and piano was commissioned by the Ipswich Choral Society to celebrate its 200 years of music-making. While still music director of ICS, Stephen had begun to make sketches for a musical memorial to dear Suffolk friends who had put much into the choir but who had passed on too early. These sketches became the starting point and DREAMERS celebrates the spirit of that astonishing creature that is the British choral society; the skills, the hard work, the commitment and the wonderful pay-offs of friendship, adventure and achievement.

Arthur O’Shaughnessy’s poem ‘The Music Makers’ opens with ‘ We are the Music-Makers. We are the Dreamers of Dreams’. Omar Khayyam’s concern for the passage of time and the best way of passing it – with drinking, singing, poetry, good food and good company – rang true enough for Stephen to raid the translation of Edward Fitzgerald (a Woodbridge boy) and freely bend it to the music. The music reflects the wonderful verity that choral singing has an effect on us all, performers and listeners, that exceeds the sum of its parts. 

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