Vaughan Williams’ sublime Sea Symphony

This weekend I had the great pleasure of taking part in a performance of Vaughan Williams’ sublime Sea Symphony. This was with the Westbourne Orchestra (in which I play double bass), Brockenhurst Choir and Total Voice Chamber Choir, soloists Samantha Crawford and Alex Cook, conducted by Lee Marchant (only the 5th conductor in the orchestra’s 88 year history!), led by Marjory King.

I did not know this work before rehearsals started a few months ago, but it has become one of my favourites.  A work of astonishing breadth and depth, and Vaughan Williams’ first symphony, written between 1903 and 1909 when he was in his thirties. It is said that the composer himself fell back in his seat when he attended the first rehearsals, astounded that he could have created something so powerful.

If you’ve never heard this work before, I think you are in for a real treat.  Here is a link to a video of a magnificent BBC Proms performance from 2013:

“Sakari Oramo conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Proms Youth Choir and soloists Sally Matthews & Roderick Williams for Vaughan Williams ‘A Sea Symphony'”.

The wonderful music and Walt Whitman’s words. Watching the joy on the conductor’s face (and his wonderful rapport particularly with the soloists and choirs) and choir members’ faces. My favourite bits are the following:

42: 48 and countless stars above. Especially at 43:09 Behold the manifold grass and waters… with inscrutable purpose, some hidden prophetic intention

40:27 O vast rondure, swimming in space.

52:12 O we can wait no longer, we too take ship, O soul

56:59 Bathe me o God in thee, mounting to thee, to 57:57 O Thou transcendent

1:05:07 O my brave soul, o farther sail.

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