16 – 21 August
The several times postponed Summertown singers’ trip to Porto was finally in the offing, and after a few open air rehearsals in Iffley we considered ourselves sufficiently ready for the challenge of performing in a new continental venue in a post-Covid (or so we hoped!) era.
Our ‘centre of operations’ in Porto was the Anglican Church of St James, whose history is closely tied to that of the British merchants in the port trade of that city. The community there extended us a most generous and supportive welcome, including copious refreshments throughout the week and a most interesting tour of the church and churchyard, conducted by Richard Delaforce, a descendent of one of the original founders of the merchant community in Porto.
The centrepiece of the churchyard is a memorial to the consul John Whitehead, who died in 1802 and who had been instrumental in securing the churchyard for the British Anglican community. Before this time Protestant burials in Porto had to be carried out at low tide on the shore of the river Douro. There is also a memorial in the churchyard to Joseph Forrester, Baron de Forrester, a port wine shipper, who sadly drowned in the river Douro and whose body was never recovered. Forrester was known for his in-depth survey of the river Douro. He had devoted the first 12 years of his stay in Porto to this research and in 1848 published a map of the river, with a view to improving its navigation. This was later endorsed by the Portuguese government. Forrester was also very keen to reform the port wine trade and to remodel the restrictions which regulated it, particularly those practices of the Douro Wine Company and the heavy taxes it imposed. Forrester is still today remembered as the ‘Protector of the Douro’.
As always on these trips, we spent time every morning rehearsing our pieces, leaving afternoons free for exploring Porto, with its fine churches, magnificent cathedral, its quaint streets and the picturesque river Douro. Port wine tasting is also high on any agenda in Porto, and Manda had kindly organised such a trip to Churchill’s winery, with Jamie Churchill leading a group of us around the voluminous cellars, followed up by a magnificent ‘educational’ tasting!
After a week of rehearsing we were all in good voice to deliver our concert on the Saturday evening. Central to our performance were excerpts from Cardoso’s ‘Missa Philippina’, with its references to the ‘Planet King’ Philip IV, known for his patronage of the arts. We also sang the wonderfully energetic ‘O Quam Gloriosum’ by Victoria, Tallis’ mystically intense and vibrant ‘O Nata Lux’ and Byrd’s ‘Ave Verum Corpus’. In the second, secular, half of our programme we delivered some well-known folksongs, some especially arranged by Duncan. These included ‘Shenandoah’ and ‘A Sly Old Fox Am I’. We, of course, performed ‘The Long Day Closes’ by Sullivan, which acts as the choir’s anthem, and we also prepared ‘Linden Lea’ as an encore. This was apparently originally written in a local Dorset dialect, though we did not attempt to replicate this!
Many thanks are due: firstly to Duncan and Diane for their preparation, organisation and rehearsal scheduling, also to Manda for organising the port-tasting session, to everyone for their company and friendship and my own special thanks to Sandie for being spontaneous, fun and supportive during our time together. Particular thanks are also due to the community of St James’ Anglican Church, for their generous and welcoming hospitality, with special mention of Vicky, the church warden, for her local knowledge, help and advice at every stage and also for her touchingly warm letter of thanks to Duncan once we had returned home.
“We want to say a huge thank you to you and the Summertown Singers for performing at St James. We raised over 800 euros which is more than we have ever raised from a single event. We very much hope you will return. I have received some lovely comments. A few of my favourites:
The concert was wonderful – it should have been longer! (from Rosemary who is 95!)
l enjoyed the performance very much. The Summertown Singers were very talented and professional.
It was so wonderful yesterday and the choir sang so beautifully – it was just precious!“
Thanks to Emma Campbell and Sue Palmer for the photos.