Rhinegold Voices of Hope celebrate their victory, with conductor Simon Fidler holding the trophy

Clare Stevens

Voices of Hope win National Choir of the Year Competition 2016

10:12, 5th December 2016

Mixed-voice chamber choir Voices of Hope, based in Newcastle-Gateshead in the north-east of England and conducted by Simon Fidler, has won the UK’s National Choir of the Year Competition 2016. The choir was founded in 2011 for a memorial concert to raise money for the British Heart Foundation (BHF); it takes its name from the BHF’s Gifts of Hope donations and still performs a concert for the charity every year. Voices of Hope are artists in residence at the University of Newcastle and perform frequently at The Sage Gateshead arts centre, where several of the members work. They were crowned Adult Choir of the Year 2016 in Symphony Hall, Birmingham in October.

Six choirs competed in the Grand Final of the UK’s largest competition for amateur choirs, held on 3 December in the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff: Children’s Choir of the Year Musical Originals Training Choir from Jersey, directed by Imogen Nicholls; the Rainbow Connection Singers from Doncaster, directed by Paul Mellors, winners of the Open Category; Youth Choir of the Year Côr y Cwm from the Rhondda Valley in South Wales; and two ‘wild card’ winners, Johns’ Boys, an all-male choir from Wrexham, North Wales, and the White Rosettes, an all-female barbershop chorus from Leeds.

Harry Christophers, founding conductor of The Sixteen, chaired the jury, which also included operatic soprano Danielle de Niese, singer/songwriter ESKA and Tim Rhys-Evans, founding conductor of the award-winning Welsh choir Only Men Aloud.

This was one of the toughest-fought finals in the competition’s history, with all the performances drawing generous praise from the judges. Previous finalists The White Rosettes who have won the UK ladies’ barbershop competition 15 times, proved that they can step outside the conventions of the barbershop genre with a stylish performances of the theme from Skyfall and Thomas Morley’s sixteenth-century madrigal ‘April is in my Mistress’ Face’. Both Musical Originals and Rainbow Connection included references to the current troubled state of the world in their programmes, the former with a deeply moving performance of Kurt Bestor’s ‘Prayer for the Children’ and the latter with a medley of popular songs arranged by their director into theatrical mini-cantata, delivered with searing intensity.

Voices of Hope took the title, however, after a virtuosic a cappella programme that demonstrated an extraordinary range of colour and style, praised by Tim Rhys-Evans for its ‘fantastic sense of ensemble’ and by Danielle de Niese for  their sense of identity: ‘This choir knows who they are – I heard one voice – the precision of your delivery gave you a very, very specific sound.’

Summing up, Harry Christophers commented on the range and quality of repertoire performed, which had included several pieces new to him, and praised all the participating choirs for their technical skill. ‘It’s been an amazing evening of quite wonderful singing.’

The Choir of the Year Grand Final was recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 6 December at 7.30pm and BBC Four television on 11 December at 8pm.

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