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Unusual musical works get a hearing thanks to surprise bequests

A rarely sung masterpiece by Ralph Vaughan Williams is to be performed at Cadogan Hall on 1st April. The bold move by Thames Philharmonic Choir to put on a lesser-known work is thanks to a bequest by distinguished Civil Servant, human and gay rights champion, and former Choir member, the late Ian Buist, and a generous grant from the Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust.

The haunting oratorio Sancta Civitas was much admired by fellow British composer Edward Elgar and a favourite of Vaughan Williams himself. It will share the concert with the upbeat, tuneful and operatic Messa di Gloria by Puccini, which was also neglected - for more than 70 years after its initial performance.

Vaughan Williams as a soldier in WWI *

Sancta Civitas (‘The Holy City’) has been little performed partly due to the intricate, exciting, and technically challenging interplay of three choirs: main and semi-chorus, and a distant children’s choir. It was written in response to the horrors of the First World War, which Vaughan Williams had experienced first-hand as a medical orderly and later as an artillery officer. The music has astonishing dramatic effect: hauntingly evocative, sometimes disturbing, with moments of exquisite lyricism and echoes of hope and immortality. Music writer Chris Garlick described the coming together of choirs and full orchestra as a ‘wall of burnished sound’.

The work had a special significance for Ian Buist who, as a university student, sang it with the Oxford Bach Choir under the direction of the composer himself. Ian’s bequest to the Thames Philharmonic Choir, of which he was a member for some 40 years, was on the understanding that at least half of the money would fund a performance. The Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust grant is as part of its mission to support the performance of rarely performed works.

Messa di Gloria, which makes up the second part of the Cadogan Hall concert, provides a complete contrast in mood. It was composed by the student Giacomo Puccini for his graduation from the Music Conservatoire in Lucca, and enthusiastically received at its first performance in 1880, but not performed again until 1952! Puccini had quickly lost interest in ecclesiastical composition, moving on to develop the operas for which he is better known, such as La Boheme, Tosca, and Madam Butterfly, and just never got round to publishing the full score of Messa di Gloria. Now, the Mass is popular with choirs, as much fun to sing as to listen to. In its catchy melodies and exuberance it offers a foretaste of the lyrical operas to come. In the words of Thames Philharmonic Choir director, John Bate: “an exciting insight into the brilliant potential of the young Puccini, a confident tour-de-force, brimming with colour, vitality and good tunes”.



The man who helped make this concert possible


“He had a fearless determination to champion the rights of the victims of injustice, minorities and the marginalized,” wrote Richard Kirker in Ian’s obituary published in The Times. To Thames Philharmonic Choir, Ian was a rich, resonant, pitch-perfect voice from the back line of the basses, who was wont to contribute to rehearsals with an always courteous and useful query, perhaps relating to a misprint in the musical score: “shouldn’t that be a D natural?”

Ian didn’t trumpet his distinguished life outside the Choir: the double first in Classics at Oxford, the remarkable achievements for humanitarian causes. As a government advisor in East Africa, he was instrumental in improving education and health for the native people, removing the racist privileges of white settlers over land ownership and inheritance, and in abolishing grading on racial grounds in the Kenyan Police force. From 1978, Ian’s membership of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement was listed in his Who’s Who entry. His openness about his sexuality perhaps cost him promotion to the highest offices in the Civil Service. One of his proudest achievements was in 1979, as under-secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, when he persuaded ‘almost single-handedly’, the ‘trade union’ for senior managers in the Civil Service (the First Division Association), to support full equality for lesbian and gay people. It became one of the first professional organisations to do so.

Ian was an accomplished choral singer and organist: he sang in the Oxford Bach Choir, the Colonial Office Choir (which performed at the Queen’s Coronation) and was a member of Thames Philharmonic Choir for some 40 years.



Sancta Civitas Ralph Vaughan Williams

Messa di Gloria Giacomo Puccini

Saturday 1 April 2017, 7.30pm

Cadogan Hall, 5 Sloane Terrace, London SW1X 9DQ

Thames Philharmonic Choir, Wimbledon Youth Choir

trebles from Shrewsbury House School

Thames Festival Orchestra; leader Adrian Levine

Soloists: Matthew Hargreaves (Bass-Baritone), Adam Tunnicliffe (Tenor)

Conductor: John Bate

To book: phone 020 7730 4500 or online at (booking fees may apply), or at the door


or if you would like a press ticket to the concert with a view to writing an article or review, email Gilly Cameron Cooper,, or phone Jackie Morgan 020 8942 7368 or 07557 960 942

*photo of Ralph Vaughan Williams courtesy of Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust

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