Mendelssohn’s Elijah – 2020

It could be said that performing ELIJAH in this, a leap year, after only two (or for some people, just one) day’s rehearsal, is an undertaking that was a true leap of faith – suitable for such an auspicious calendar date… and leap we all did, springing with Robert into his exceptionally fiery chariot, I think we were all in Heaven by the end of the evening.

We were joined by four glorious young soloists, who all sang with great dramatic intensity. Dominic Sedgwick, Baritone, was our Elijah – how could anyone who looked so youthful be so commanding? But he was, and sang with magnificent, and confident authority. Our three other soloists, Catriona Hewitson, Soprano, Ema Nicolovska, Mezzo, and Liam Bonthrone, Tenor, in the freshness of their performances really brought the whole story alive. For us chorus members it felt more like singing in an opera than in an oratorio, which is, of course, the way that Robert Dean sees it.

We were also joined by a Youth, and a Chorus of Angels: our youth, Alexander Olleson, from Christ Church Cathedral School, sang his part, which comes at a thrilling and dramatic point of the whole work, with piercing beauty and solemnity; Frideswide Voices supplied us with our heavenly choir of angels, suitably situated above us all on the balcony. The input of all these very young singers was both magical and moving and we were delighted to sing with them.

We must not forget the orchestra, Elijah is richly orchestrated and hugely demanding for everyone concerned, and yet after just one evening and an afternoon on the day our Orpheus Orchestra, led by John Haworth, (and assembled by our indefatigable fixer, bassoonist Simon Payne), played with passion and commitment.

All the different elements in our performance were, of course, masterfully and inspirationally melded together by Robert, whose electrifying conducting brought about an evening of white-hot creative endeavour, experienced by us all.

This concert was in aid of two charitable causes: as in the past two years, we were singing to support The Christ Church Cathedral School Outreach Project working in local primary chools; and for first time this year, Beating Time who bring singing and music making into prisons. At glance they may seem very different endeavours, but underlying both is the cause Oxford Orpheus most want to support which is that of bringing people together to sing. Heather Phillips, of Beating Time, spoke most movingly before the concert of the deep emotional and psychological benefits that singing together brings. While the schools project hopefully sows seeds in children’s hearts for the future, the work of Beating Time tries to redress some of the needs of those who may have been less fortunate from the start.

This account is by way of a thank you to and for everyone concerned in Elijah – not least Rosie Martin and all our volunteers who make the day so relaxed and welcoming for all concerned, performers and audience alike.

Leo Pitt
4th March 2020


 “ I’d like to say a big thank you to Leo and everyone involved with yesterday’s magnificent concert. We had a great time…hard work…and I definitely had no top A’s left in me by the end but such a fantastic experience. And what soloists…the best yet”…. (Chorus member)

“Every time the chorus got ready to sing you could feel a kind of electric anticipation in the audience.  Exhilarating.”  …(Audience member)

“We very much enjoyed last night’s concert.  Every aspect was superb – even right down to the programme, which was of the highest quality as well as being free.  What great soloists!  And please pass on our congratulations to a terrific choir”  …(Audience member)

“On behalf of everyone at Christ Church Cathedral School, I would like to congratulate you on the magnificent Oxford Orpheus Concert on Saturday.  It was a real privilege to be there – thank you so much for a great evening!”…(Audience member)

“I just want to thank you so much for Saturday. You did an amazing job: venue, choir, orchestra, soloists, Robert, full house – faultless. I more than most know how much work that is. I hope you are able to take it easy for a bit now? We loved the performance. All the Soloists were great – but the guy singing Elijah was phenomenal. The aria about the Lord being Kindness had both Elizabeth and I in tears reaching for each others hand. And Robert really (and literally) put his foot on the floor and drove you all flat out in places – very exciting to watch”….Heather Phillips, Beating Time

“How grateful I am for you giving me that experience.  It was one of the absolute highlights of my entire life.  I felt so nervous and worried that I would let you down and yet so completely thrilled at how wonderful it all sounded in the end – it was really very emotional.  So much of that is down to your totally brilliant tutoring.  You enabled me to deliver the high notes that I never thought I would make – endless marks in my score saying “necks” made all the difference!!”…(New chorus member, writing to Robert Dean)

“What an utterly uplifting and awesome day.”…(New chorus member)

“Thank you so much for all the work you did to make Saturday’s event such a huge pleasure.   Including the Frideswide Voices was brilliant – really moving, as was the treble.

“You and Robert have made the Orpheus events into an annual happy occasion for so many of us, warmest thanks.”…(Chorus member)

“What a great concert last night ..Hats off to the choir(s) and orchestra for doing something that big on so little rehearsal, to Robert for his inspirational direction and all the soloists who were very fine… Congratulations on the whole event…Well done indeed!”…(Audience member)

“Congratulations on all your hard work organising last Saturday’s concert.  It is always fun to join the very friendly group of singers, and a special joy to spend all day singing Elijah.  Robert Dean is such a marvellously sympathetic conductor to work with, and the soloists were all superb.  I loved it all, and do hope you were not too exhausted by the end, and that the charity did well from the proceeds.Thank you again, and roll on next year!”…(Chorus member)

“The hairs stood up on the back of my neck…I felt immersed in the vastness of the sound. Very biblical!”…(Audience member)