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Choral Fantasy – Josie Yau – “Balla has unquestionably led NCC to a new musical level unprecedented in the 162 years of its history”

Hong Kong-born pianist Josie Yau studied piano performance with Shi-guang Cui and vocal performance with Jeffie Leung in Hong Kong Baptist University. After completing her Bachelor of Arts with Honours, she served in the government-run Hong Kong Music Office, where she provided theory, aural, ensembleship and choral training for over 300 trainees each year. Outside her busy teaching schedule, Josie has been an active accompanist, choral conductor and chamber musician performing regularly in Hong Kong, Austria, Germany, Italy, and China.

Choral Fantasy – by Josie Yau

On the fine afternoon of Sunday 19 June, the Christ Church Cathedral, Nelson was filled with an audience who shared a passion for choral music. Two years after celebrating its 160th anniversary, the Nelson Civic Choir (NCC) presented another concert, namely “Choral PASSION” for Nelson music lovers, featuring a diverse programme from J.S. Bach to Ennio Morricone.

The concert began with Musical Director Jason Balla’s exquisite interpretation of a selection of Chorales and Arias from the St. Matthew’s PassionCantata BWV 147, and Magnificat by J.S. Bach, accompanied by a chamber orchestra consisting of some of the finest instrumentalists in Nelson. When he was not on the conductor’s podium, Balla effortlessly led the orchestra on the digital Harpsichord through the two Arias, Quia Respexit and Quia Fecit Mihi Magna, which featured British soprano Rosemary Galton, who recently relocated to Nelson, and the Dean of Nelson Cathedral, Graham O’Brien as soloists.

The Baroque theme continued with a magnificent performance of Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor, a Neo-Baroque piece by 20th Century musicologist Remo Giazotto. Unlike the piece, which is the centre of an ongoing debate as of whether the manuscript fragment of Albinoni, on which Giazotto allegedly claimed that the piece was based, ever existed, the performance of Dunedin organist David Burchell undoubtedly showed a perfect combination of extraordinary musicality and solid technique.

The first half of the concert ended with a great selection of arias and choruses by Handel, including the all-time favourite Hallelujah from Messiah. The second half began with two Classical-period motets by Haydn and Mozart, in which NCC showed excellent awareness of style.

The theme of passion then continued with the passion for humanity and peace. After the beautiful performance of John Stainer’s God So Loved The World, O’Brien led a prayer for the Ukrainian War, followed by a Ukrainian song Oy yu luzi chervona kalyna dedicated to the victims of the war. At this emotional climax, Franck’s Panis Angelicus fed the audience with peacefulness. The passion then turned to movie music, including the sensational duet between Galton and O’Brien of The Prayer by David Foster, and the joyous Nella Fantasia by Ennio Morricone as a grand finale.

NCC is a non-audition choir with some members realising their passion for music at a later age without previous musical training and learning the music only by ear. Although preparation of the repertoire of this concert would be extremely difficult for those members, they have achieved an astonishing success with great dedication.

Balla has unquestionably led NCC to a new musical level unprecedented in the 162 years of its history;  but he will need the help of more Nelsonian music lovers to overcome the challenge of the unbalanced number of male and female voices. It would be intriguing to see how NCC continues to grow in the next season.

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