Lighthouse is rightly proud of its long association with Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and as our Associate Artists prepare to perform Elgar’s masterpiece The Dream of Gerontius in memory of its late Trustee and Music Advisor Sandrey Date later this year, #MondayMemories looks back on the choir’s connections to composer/explorer David Fanshawe’s landmark choral work African Sanctus. 

The piece was brought to the attention of the committee of what was then still Bournemouth Municipal Choir by Sandrey and Carolyn Date who had seen David Fanshawe at the Royal Albert Hall when he presented African Sanctus with David Willcocks conducting. The music was like nothing they had ever heard before – totally unexpected, original, unique - and the place was packed out, the atmosphere terrific. 

In March 1980, the renamed Bournemouth Symphony Chorus welcomed conductor Owain Arwel Hughes to its new home at Poole Arts Centre to conduct its first performance of this amazing choral work. He was joined by David Fanshawe who gave a highly entertaining talk in the first half of the concert – in full explorer rig – and assisted with the sound for the second half. 

The concert was such a success with both choir and audience that the Chorus was able to pay off a large deficit from performing Britten’s War Requiem in 1979. 

Margaret Burdett, first soprano, was asked to sing the solo: “I was expecting my third child, and I have vivid memories of spending eleven weeks in hospital before the arrival of the baby in January, with a score of African Sanctus on my bedside. The Hippo Man on the cover always provoked conversation with my consultant! 

This concert was a new experience – it was the first time I had to use a microphone, and it was a shock to come on stage for the rehearsal to find the stage almost empty apart from lots of cables and a lone mic – for me!  

It was a very different experience for us all. We had never seen a conductor wearing headphones before and singing with a backing group and to a row of technicians was quite different from singing with an orchestra. At the end of the concert, David Fanshawe presented flowers to me, and he showered the audience with daffodils. 

The BSC went on to perform the piece, again under Owain, at the Poole Proms and David Fanshaw sent a message from his latest adventure in the South Pacific. He was back in Dorset in 1993 to see the choir perform his work at Bournemouth International Music Festival and again in February 1994 for a new, definitive recording in which he engaged the BSC to work with conductor Neville Creed in a meticulously planned weekend-long recording session in the Concert Hall with the master drummer Kwasi Asare Kantamanto, American soloist Wilhelmenia Fernandez and choristers from St Georges’, Windsor Castle. 

:: Bournemouth Symphony Chorus sing The Dream of Gerontius at Lighthouse on Sunday 13 June. Tickets available now at www.lighthousepoole.co.uk  

photos courtesy Bournemouth Symphony Chorus

Published 18 January 2021