Students go Gothic for Prom concert at Albert Hall

Pip Crane, left, Lexy Reed and members of Brighton Festival Chorus in rehearsals in the JMS lecture hall

University of Sussex students joined more than one thousand other musicians at the Royal Albert Hall in London to perform, as part of the BBC Proms one of the largest symphonies ever composed.

Students Pip Crane and Lexy Reed are members of Brighton Festival Chorus, which has rehearsed at the University of Sussex for more than 40 years.

The two were among fellow students who joined with the rest of Brighton Festival Chorus in a rare performance of The Gothic (otherwise known as Symphony No. 1 in D Minor) by Havergal Brian for the BBC's fourth Promenade concert on Sunday 17th July.

The Gothic Symphony was composed between 1919 and 1927 and sets to music the Latin text Te Deum from the Book of Common Prayer. The work is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest symphony ever composed: its performance involves 800 singers, 200 orchestra members, four offstage brass bands, a trumpet group and four vocal soloists.

But the occasion wasn't about to overawe Pip (soprano) and alto Lexy, who have both performed at the Royal Albert Hall previously.

Pip, 25, who is studying for a Masters degree in Science and Technology Policy, says: "The Gothic is an incredibly challenging piece, with 37 choral parts being sung at once. To sing at the Albert Hall is to see a dream come true."

Lexy Reed, 19, from Lewes, who has just finished her first year studying Psychology, is one of the younger members of the choir and was glad of the support offered by other choir members. She says: "I think what we bring is a bit of diversity."

Gill Kay of Brighton Festival Chorus, says: "I have been in the classical music business for over 35 years and this concert was by far the biggest and loudest I've ever heard! To be part of something like this is really astonishing and something that is unlikely to be repeated in my lifetime. It was a very special event."

Now the student singers are looking forward to a busy winter with gigs at the Royal Festival Hall, Royal Albert Hall again and Brighton's Dome Concert Hall.

Havergal Brian was a prolific composer who enjoyed brief fame during a long life devoted to making music. He died in his 90s while living in Shoreham-by-Sea, having composed 32 symphonies and many other works of music. The 2011 Prom is only the fifth occasion on which his Gothic symphony has been performed.

The Brighton Festival Chorus was founded in 1967 by Laszlo Heltay, who at the time was Director of Music at the University of Sussex. A pupil of Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly, he became one of the world's foremost choral directors.

He was asked to form the BFC for a performance of Belshazzar's Feast, conducted by its composer, William Walton, for the second Brighton Festival in 1968. Under Heltay's guidance, the BFC developed into one of the country's most sought-after choruses, working with many distinguished conductors and musicians, including Andre Previn, Vladimir Ashenazy and Yehudi Menuhin.

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Last updated: Thursday, 21 July 2011