Impresaria Assembles Top Talent to Present 'Ambitious' Bach Christmas Oratorio At St Saviour's Cathedral, Goulburn

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'You never forget your first Cantata!' In a first for the Southern Highlands and Goulburn, Director of Music Barbara Griffin has assembled a team of top musicians, choir and soloists to perform Bach's epic Christmas Oratorio at St Saviour's Cathedral, Goulburn on December 15th, 2018.

Barbara Griffin was only 17 when she sang Soprano - in German, her first language - in the choir for a performance of Bach's Christmas Oratorio (Cantatas I, II and III) in German, while she was studying Piano and Organ at Dr Hoch's Konservatorium, in Frankfurt, Germany.

"You never forget your first Bach Cantata", she says.

'I still have 'muscle memory' of the Cantatas in German, even though we're doing this production mostly in English, to make it understandable for local audiences!', she adds.

"Bach's music is so deep, and so satisfying for both the musician and the listener, that the experience of listening to one of his works live, or being part of it as a chorister or musician, stays with you for life."

Griffin has held the position of Director of Music at St Saviour's Cathedral, Goulburn for the last 18 months.

Encouraged by the Dean The Very Rev'd Phillip Saunders to present concerts in the Cathedral, Griffin decided on the Christmas Oratorio by Bach 'Because it's a work I know and love so deeply, and I wanted to be able to share the experience with audiences. This is a work that is rarely performed, as it is rather difficult! In fact, it has a 4/5 degree of difficulty, and out of the hundreds of Bach works, there's only one that is more difficult! So yeah, it's up there!'

'In fact,' she adds, 'when I mentioned to people that I thought I might put on the Christmas Oratorio, I had three main reactions. One being 'what's an Orataria?' (sic)'. Griffin chuckles. ('By the way,' she adds, 'an Oratorio is like the religious version of musical theatre: there's a choir, orchestra and soloists, a storyline, and a narrator, except that in a Cantata the storyline is scriptural - in this case, it's the Christmas story - the story of Mary, the Angel Gabriel, and the birth of this precious and special child!')

'The other two main reactions were like 'Oh really, that's rather ambitious! One needs a high level of skill to present that work...' and the third 'Wow! I love that work! Let's do it!' '

'Obviously the last one fuelled my resolve to do it and the second one gave me a reality-check that I really would need the best musicians, soloists and choristers I could possibly get to help me put this together and perform it to the standard that Bach would approve of! You really can't do this on your own, you need to assemble a team of the best available!'

'Part of the challenge of staging a work of this magnificence is attracting the right musicians, but once you do, it's kind of like a snowball. There just needs to be one person with passion and enthusiasm to initially form and push the snowball, and hope (and pray) it gathers mass along the way.'

'I realised fairly early on that I would need professional strings to play this work. The strings really have to 'go like the clappers' and be super-precise and in tune, and so I was very lucky that I had an excellent friend in Anne Morris, a local violin/viola player, to help me put together an incredible all-star string quartet of professionals as the backbone of the orchestra.'

'First violinist and concertmaster Robyn Sarajinsky is a well renowned violinist and member of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. 2nd Violinist is Marian Arnold, the well-known and loved ABC Broadcaster who is also a gun violinist! Cello is Danny Morris, who plays in the Sydney Philharmonia Orchestra and many other magnificent ensembles. Anne Morris is on Viola, and she's a super musician, super-experienced, and a great friend.'

'I'd got to know various other brilliant musicians in the Southern Highlands on various accompanying gigs, many of them in the top Southern Highlands schools such as Oxley and Chevalier Colleges. Among these were super flautist Edwina Carter, brilliant classical pianist Kristy Clarke, baroque trumpet specialist Dominic Lindsay, Alto soloist Trudee Green (Head of Music at Chevalier College), Tenor soloist and super-musician Rob Hughes (Head of Music and Arts at Oxley), and brothers Sam and Ben Malone, two extraordinary gifted second-generation young musicians, both with a brilliant affinity for Bach.'

'Dominic Lindsay helped me find Greg Stenning who in turn found me Zach Raffan - both from Canberra - to round out an A-grade trumpet trio who will nail those top A's with precision and flair!'

'I hit up wonderful Bassoonist Melissa Reyder and Oboeist Michelle Biasutti after hearing them play Handel's Messiah in Bowral recently. Annette Hedges aka 'Muffy' is on Flute II. She's a Goulburn local and a wonderful player too. I was stoked to get them on board too, as well as Mark Biasutti on Clarinet, who 'due to operational requirements,' as I am fond of saying, is actually doubling the Oboe II on Clarinet!'

'Asking organist Heather Moen-Boyd if she would consider playing for the Oratorio was a bit of a long shot, as she is fabulous and eminent but didn't really know me from a bar of soap, but I was thrilled when she said yes! I think Bach might have been smiling down on me that day!'

'The discovery of Baritone soloist Richard Orchard was a real gift. Richard is a fantastic musician, and I just love his voice. He has great pitch and just such a lovely tone, I could listen to him all day!'

'I was also very honoured that Yvonne D'Arcy agreed to be our Soprano soloist," Griffin continues. "Yvonne didn't really know me either but (probably!) said yes on faith! And I am so pleased she did! She has the loveliest and pitch-perfect tone, ideal for Bach; and musicianship just oozes from her every pore.'

'Young 14 year old soprano Amelia-Jane Lester is one of my piano students, and also in my Bundanoon Kid's Choir, where I discovered her great musicianship and potential, and beautiful voice. I asked her to sing the part of the Angel in the Oratorio as a soloist, and shortly afterwards, she won first prize in Richard Lane's Wingecarribee Vocal Muster, validating the fact that it's not just me that knows she's brilliant and 'one to watch!' Milly's also singing the choral parts, no mean feat in itself for a 14 year old!'

'As for the choir, it's an 'invitational choir'. I basically invited every chorister I knew who would be capable of this work; plus asked the wonderful Christine Tilley, the MD of Berrima Singers, if some of their choristers would be interested in joining us. To my great delight there were, and I am so lucky to have ended up with a skilled, wonderful and parts-balanced choir of the size I have, which is perfect for the size of the Orchestra."

"In the end, rehearsing the choir in three separate 'campuses' (Burradoo, Bundanoon and Goulburn) was extra work that was well worth the time spent to get the result. Basically I reckon I've got the best choristers in a 250k radius! Choristers are joining us from as far afield as Mittagong, the South Coast, Gunning, Braidwood, Sydney, Albury, and Canberra! "

"In Saint Saviour's Cathedral, we have a brilliant, resonant and beautiful building, a historical treasure - complete with beautiful organ. The Oratorio is going to not only look picture perfect but sound so good in there!"

"One of the best days of my life was turning up to the Cathedral for one of the first choral rehearsals and seeing a dozen or more cars there. Rehearsing the choir three times a week has been the highlight of my week for months now. I can't wait to share this with our audience!"

"I'm hoping that we'll get a few punters in there," Griffin concludes, "as I'm bankrolling it if it doesn't break even!"

"Ticket sales and donations will pay the orchestra, and then be split between the Cathedral, the Organ Fund to maintain our wonderful heritage instrument, and the Choir fund to purchase more music!"

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