University Philharmonia and Choir

The University Choir and Philharmonia provide an enjoyable romp through epoch-defining music from the Russian operatic canon.

One of the more complicated challenges assigned to a music critic is that of reviewing amateur ensembles. The university’s premier orchestra, the Philharmonia, and the University Choir are comprised of over seventy musicians each, the majority of whom perform for the mere joy of its undertaking and not for financial reimbursement.

Many fit the hours of practice and rehearsal required around work schedules, whether it be lectures, laboratory sessions or a hard day at the office and is not necessarily the defining aspect of their lives.


As such it would be unfair to hold Saturday night’s performance to the standards one would expect from, say, the London Symphony Orchestra. Having said that, you wouldn’t know from the technically fiendish opening of Glinka’s Ruslan and Lyudmila Overture that you weren’t dealing with a collection of seasoned pros.


Under the baton of Jonathon Tilbrook for the first half and the choir’s director David Lawrence in the second, the ensembles rattled through a selection of some of the most influential music to come out of Russia.


The highlight of the first half was leader Katie Potterell’s sumptuously performed extended solo in Suk’s Pohádka, a delightful bohemian suite that positively oozed emotion. 


There is something about adding a chorus to music that seems to add elements of the celestial to it and the second half saw some awesome moments when the choir and orchestra combined effectively.


The tenor aria performed by Anthony Flaum in a section from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin was delivered with panache.


At times there were minor blemishes in tuning and minor sound imperfections, perhaps through tiredness after a day of intense rehearsals (and the annual MUSSOC Vc Blowsoc sports matches), though this is to be expected in music of such difficulty.

All in all, conductors, choir and orchestra provided a pleasurable evening, doing justice to the highly dramatic music programmed.