More than 90 vocalists gather for popular Barnes Music Festival event

Almost 100 professional players, residents and young musicians united at Barnes Music Festival’s annual ‘Come and Sing’ concert last week.

As part of a busy two-week programme from March 10-25, the community-oriented classical music festival in Barnes brought together professionals and novices, young and old, to sing Karl Jenkins’s The Armed Man – a Mass for Peace on Sunday March 18.

Around 90 professional and amateur singers – including one man who hadn’t sung for 40 years – arrived at St Mary’s church at 11.30am to spend the entire day and evening at the command of celebrated conductor Howard Ionascu.

The open-to-all event attracted both Karl Jenkins enthusiasts and those wanting to discover something new, such as 58-year-old building manager Fraser Wigley, who said: “It’s been great fun. It’s not a piece I know at all, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to do it.”

Though enjoyable to sing, The Armed Man is a difficult piece, and without a good conductor the day could have become a gruelling, rather than enjoyable, process.

But as they faced their conductor for the evening performance, the singers’ faces perfectly reflected Mr Ionascu’s own enthusiasm and passion for the work.

“This piece is great for big choirs. It clearly has an impact on people,” the conductor said.

Referring to the ‘Come and Sing’ process, he added: “This is a really special thing for the festival, letting would-be audience members actually participate in the festival.

“You’ve got some people in here who sing weekly in different choirs, and then earlier one chap came up to me and said ‘I haven’t sung for 40 years.”

Mr Ionascu, who is also director of the Junior Royal Academy of Music, managed to bring the mammoth piece together with the singers whilst also working on their vocal technique during a single day.

Not only did the singers get to work with such a prestigious conductor, but they were also given the opportunity to sing alongside prodigal musicians.

A 22-year-old cellist studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama was of particularly high calibre: his name, Leo Popplewell, was on everybody’s lips at the end of the performance after his cello solo left both choir and audience wanting more.

The whole event perfectly encapsulated the ethos behind Barnes Music Festival under the new artistic director, James Day.

Mr Day is himself a young prodigy, not only in his role as the festival’s Artistic Director, but also as Director of the famous Tiffin Boys Choir who perform the children parts at the Royal Opera House – among other musical pursuits – and all at the tender age of 25.

Mr Day said that the three key strands of the festival are to provide an assortment of professional musicians, community events, and youth music.

“But that doesn’t just mean occasions like this where you have a come and sing comprised of 100 local people,” he said.

“It’s about actually providing a cross-section of some amateur, some professional, some young professionals, and providing a platform for anyone to be able to perform, and for the residents of Barnes to come a long and experience the variety of music.”

The festival has enjoyed a huge variety of music, including the showing of one music-related film, and seems to be growing every year whilst retaining the community feeling.

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