Claudio Monteverdi: Vespers of the Blessed Virgin 1610
Conductor: Christopher Fletcher
Soprano:   Cecilia Osmond &  Esther Brazil
Male alto:  Simon Ponsford
Tenors:      Ben Thapa & Robert Anthony Gardiner
Bass:          James Birchall & Richard Bannan

Date: Saturday 26 November 2017, Concert 7:30pm
Location: Plymouth Guildhall
Tickets: £17 in advance,£19 on the door, £5 under 16s/students

Tickets available in advance from:
Tickets online: www.wegottickets.com
Plymouth: Framing Centre, 83 Hyde Park Rd,(01752 255020)
Tavistock: Mainly Stationery, 38 Brook St, 01822 618500
Choir ticket manager: 01822 853791

Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643)

Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643) was an Italian composer, musician and singer, who stood at the crossroads of one of the most crucial periods in musical history.

Life and Music
Born the son of a Cremonese barber-surgeon, Monteverdi began composing at a very early age and had his first book of three-part motets published in Venice when he was 15.
In 1587, he published the first of nine books of madrigals. This remarkable run was capped by his appointment at the Court of Mantua in 1592, initially as a viol player.
Monteverdi married one of the court singers, Claudia de Cataneis, by whom he had two sons and a daughter.

By the time he was appointed maestro di cappella at Mantua in 1601, Monteverdi was widely recognised as a distinguished composer, a reputation further enhanced by the publication of his Fourth and Fifth Book of Madrigals in 1603 and 1605.

Monteverdi’s period in Venice proved a fitting climax to his career. In 1619 he published his Seventh Book of Madrigals, which further developed the harmonic audacity of his previous volumes, while in 1624 his hybrid entertainment, Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, created a sensation at its premiere.

Sadly, not all of Monteverdi’s finest music survived. Only one trio of his 1630 opera Proserpina Rapita is extant, and the Gloria is all that remains of a 1631 Mass of Thanksgiving written specifically for St Mark’s.

He might well have laid his operatic pen down for ever had it not been for the opening of the first public opera houses in Venice in 1637 for which he wrote three final masterpieces: Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (1640), Le Nozze d’Enea con Lavinia (1641, lost) and L’Incoronazione di Poppea (1642).

Monteverdi died the following year and was laid to rest in the church of the Frari in Venice.

Did you know?
Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo told the mythical tale of Orpheus – a musician who, when his wife Euridice died, went down to Hades, the land of the dead, to try to get her back. It was a tale to which composers would return time and time again.

Classic FM

“A towering masterpiece…at once intimate and grand, prayerful and dramatic, exalted and sensual. Monteverdi’s rarely performed 1610 Vespers of the Blessed Virgin offers up a dizzying array of textures and sonorities in brilliant instrumental writing, opulent choruses, and moving solo arias and duets.”Jane Glover, conductor

Claudio Monteverdi: Vespers

Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers have certainly stood the test of time. For music to survive four hundred years and to remain popular is not only quite remarkable but also testament to its innate quality.

By 1610, Monteverdi was a married forty-something working very successfully at the court of Vincenzo I in Mantua. He was a singer, a viol player (or gambist to give it its slightly more attractive epithet) and, for the previous eight years, had been a court composer, too. Three years earlier Monteverdi had composed what is acknowledged to be one of the first ever operas, L’Orfeo. Basically, he was riding about as high as a young composer and musician could in those days. But by the sound of his famously far-reaching Vespers, it might not have been quite enough for him…

There is roughly an hour and a half of evening hymns in the Vespers of the Blessed Virgin 1610 (to give them their full name) and, as such, they are probably the biggest thing in sacred music the other side of Bach. It’s very possible that the whole ambitious work was written as a sort of audition piece for another court, because Monteverdi was keen to move on. If that was the case, then it might have worked; he transferred to a prestigious new job at St Mark’s in Venice less than three years later.

Classic FM

Cecilia Osmond

The Canadian-born soprano Cecilia Osmond is heard frequently as a soloist and as a member of elite vocal ensembles, such as The Cardinall’s Musick and The Tallis Scholars.  She was educated at St Paul’s Girls’ School and Trinity College,

Cambridge.  During her postgraduate study at the Royal Academy of Music she was awarded the Silver Medal of the Worshipful Company of Musicians.

Notable solo performances include the title role in Handel’s Theodora with Nicholas McGegan at the Spitalfields Festival, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with the Gabrieli Consort and Paul McCreesh, Bach’s Matthew Passion with the Sixteen and Harry Christophers, Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem with the London Mozart Players, Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 in the City of London Festival with St Paul’s Cathedral Choir and Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri with The English Concert and Harry Bicket at the Wigmore Hall.  In 2016 Cecilia made her operatic debut with New Chamber Opera, as Cintia in Cimarosa’s The Parisian Painter.

Cecilia can be heard on over sixty recordings, including solo appearances on award-winning discs with Polyphony and The King’s Consort.  Her recent recordings include the critically acclaimed Bach Matthew Passion and Bach Mass in B Minor, performed with solo voices by the Dunedin Consort and Players under John Butt. Cecilia has recently been elected an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music.


Esther Brazil

Called “truly exceptional” by The Observer for her performance of Bach at the Royal Albert Hall, Esther Brazil is in great demand as a concert soloist. After graduating from Oxford, where she was a choral scholar at The Queen’s College and read Philosophy and Theology, she studied at the Royal Academy of Music, receiving generous support in the form of a full scholarship for both years from the Lucille Graham Trust and Kohn Foundation, and graduated with an MA with Distinction.

Esther made her Carnegie Hall and BBC Proms debut as Ninfa in Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo in a US-wide tour with the English Baroque Soloists and John Eliot Gardiner, and was an artist in residence at the Incontri in Terra di Siena festival with the Accademia Monteverdiana in Sarteano, Tuscany. In 2014 she performed and recorded Bach’s spectacular solo cantata Mein Herze Schwimmt im Blut (BWV 199) with John Eliot Gardiner, and she is a soloist on the Monteverdi Choir’s recording of Bach’s B Minor Mass. A finalist in the London Bach Society’s Bach Singers Prize, she has also appeared as a soloist with the Dunedin Consort (she is also on their new recording of the Monteverdi Vespers), Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Operatic roles have included Dido (Dido and Aeneas), Alcina (Alcina), Rosina (Barber of Seville), Sorceress (Dido and Aeneas), and Euridice, Proserpina, and Ninfa (L’Orfeo). Esther studies with Susan Roberts. Esther is married to the violinist Bojan Cicic and they have a small daughter.

Simon Ponsford

Simon Ponsford is an established soloist and recitalist throughout this country and sings with several international ensembles, notably the Monteverdi Choir and The Tallis Scholars. He has sung oratorio solos with choral societies and chamber choirs across the UK and abroad in venues including St John’s Smith Square, King’s Place, Westminster Abbey and Hong Kong City Hall. Simon is a Lay Vicar in the choir of Westminster Abbey.

Coming from a musical family in Gloucestershire, Simon started singing at a young age in Gloucester Cathedral Choir. He went on to study at King’s College, Cambridge, reading for a degree in English Literature whilst being a Choral Scholar in King’s’ world famous chapel choir. From Cambridge, Simon moved to Windsor Castle and spent five years singing in the choir of St George’s Chapel, before moving to the Abbey in 2013.

Performance highlights have included taking part in the recent ground-breaking tour of Bach’s Matthäus-Passion performed from memory with the Monteverdi Choir, giving a performance of cantatas by Buxtehude and Tunder with the Instruments of Time and Truth in the Keble College Early Music Festival, and making his international solo debut singing Handel’s Israel in Egpyt with the Hong Kong Sinfonietta. Simon has also had a CD of Elizabethan and Jacobean songs, recorded with his father David playing the organ and virginals, released to critical acclaim on Nimbus Records.

Simon studies with Veronica Veysey-Campbell.

Further performance information and links to Simon’s cd recordings can be found on his website (www.sjhponsford.com), and updates on Twitter can be followed using the handle @sjhponsford.


Ben Thapa

Ben Thapa first burst to prominence as one quarter of the classical crossover group G4, runners-up on the first series of the X Factor in 2004 and still touring and performing in the UK and beyond.

In his own right, Ben has enjoyed a varied and busy career on the concert and opera platform, with repertory ranging from Monteverdi under John Eliot Gardiner (Vespers, 2010 Proms), to Wagner as Melot in Tristan und Isolde under Anthony Negus at Longborough.

In 2012 Ben premiered the role of the President in Stockhausen’s Mittwoch aus Licht for Birmingham Opera Company directed by Graham Vick; a performance repeated in the 2013 BBC Proms. In 2016, Ben sang the role of Siegfried in The Quest for the Ring: scenes from Siegfried and Götterdämmerung in association with Opera North at the Royal Festival Hall. Most recently, Ben performed the role of Aufidio in Lucio Silla for the Buxton Festival, with Laurence Cummings and The English Concert.

Ben’s repertory is varied and spans most of the major concert material. Current and future plans include a return to the Buxton Festival in 2018, concert repertory ranging from Bach’s Matthew Passion to Elgar’s The Kingdom, and a tour of acoustic Christmas repertory around UK cathedrals with G4.


Robert Anthony Gardiner

British tenor Robert Anthony Gardiner was a member of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme from 2008-10 and made his Royal Opera debut as Egoldo Mathilde di Shabran, followed by Filch The Beggar’s Opera, Counte di Lerma Don Carlo, Major Domo Der Rosenkavalier and Gastone La Traviata. In 2011 he returned to the Royal Opera to sing the role of a Lover Il Tabarro.

Other recent engagements include Polidoro La Finta Semplice for Bampton Classical Opera, Lensky Onegin for Grange Park Opera, Siebel Faust for Opera North, Max Fantasio for Opera Rara, Belmonte in Die Entfürung aus dem Serail for Iford Festival, Strážnik in Hubička by Smetana, Joe in Winners by Richard Wargo and Britten’s StNicholas for Wexford Festival Opera, and a newly commissioned opera by John Barber We are Shadows for the Spitalfields Festival.

He has given solo recitals and sung with choirs and choral societies all over the UK. Major performances include a concert performance of Ywain Gawain with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Stravinsky’s Mavra with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Britten’s Serenade for tenor, horn and strings with the Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini, and Britten’s Michelangelo Songs in Italy.

Robert Anthony Gardiner studied at the Royal Northern College of Music, Frankfurt Opera School and the National Opera Studio, after gaining a BSc Honours in astrophysics at Durham University and a Certificate of Education at Manchester University.  Born in Birmingham, he attended King Edward VI Boys School, and sang as a treble in St Philip’s Cathedral.  Robert is also a keen cyclist, mountaineer, and gardener.


James Birchall

James Birchall grew up in London with parents in the music profession. He began his formal musical education as a chorister at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle and later studied at St John’s College, Cambridge, the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. He was recommended to the agency Concert Directory International after his first perfomance of Messiah in Chelmsford Cathedral while still an undergraduate choral scholar at St John’s and he continues to have a busy career as an oratorio soloist.

Two particularly exciting performances were Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music at the BBC Proms and stepping in at very short notice to perform St Matthew Passion with the Bach Choir at the Royal Festival Hall. Since completing his postgraduate studies, he has started to perform in opera and has sung roles in Toulouse and at the Iford Arts Festival, near Bath. He also frequently sings with the Royal Opera Chorus. Future ambitions include further developing oratorio work both in the UK and overseas and expanding further into the Romantic repertoire to include more performances of works such as Elijah and The Dream of Gerontius as well as his central repertoire of Bach, Handel, Haydn and Mozart. James lives in Hertfordshire with his wife, soprano Christina Birchall-Sampson, and their two young daughters.


Richard Bannan

Baritone soloist, Consort singer, Lay-Clerk, Conductor, Teacher, Arranger, Supervisor of Lego-building, Cleaner of childish yet artistic detritus and sometime taxi service, Richard Bannan attempts to embody everything his ambitious young self had planned to avoid, when his inclinations leant more towards Glastonbury than Glyndebourne.

As comfortable changing nappies as he is changing key, Richard has developed a wide and varied career since graduating from Clare College, Cambridge in 2004. No stranger to the back rows of England’s leading choirs, he now sings daily in the Choir of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, where he lives with his young family, who rejoice in referring to it as “their” Castle whilst bossily telling tourists on which bit of grass they are allowed to stand.

Initially specialising in Baroque repertoire such as the title role in Monteverdi’s Orfeo (David Bates, 2010) and Schütz’s Musikalische Exequien (Sir John Eliot Gardiner, 2007) in the last 24 months he has begun to sing louder, longer and more macho fare such as Mahler, Verdi and Orff, putting the pent-up frustration of nearly six years of sleepless nights to good use.

Recent performances include his first voyage on the sumptuous spume of Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony, a welcome opportunity to brag about “Great Wales [sic]” whilst singing Creation, the world premiere of Ian Assersohn’s cantata Dies Irae, his debut at Lincoln Centre, New York, in the Gabrieli Consort’s Venetian Coronation and continued efforts to avoid aural contact with anything to do with Disney’s Frozen.

Christopher Fletcher IMG_1974 6x4 Christopher Fletcher IMG_1981 6x4 Christopher Fletcher 6x4 IMG_1975 Chjristopher Fletcher IMG_1977 6x4


In 1978, Christopher was awarded a scholarship to study music at Trinity College of Music, London, becoming a Graduate and Fellow of the College. He moved to South Devon in 1984, since when he has been actively involved with choirs, church music and teaching. After 8 years as organist and Director of Music of the Parish and Priory Church of St Mary Totnes, in 2001 he was appointed to a similar post at the Plymouth Roman Catholic Cathedral. Since 1996 he has been Director of Music and Conductor of Plymouth Philharmonic Choir. During his tenure the choir has become recognised as one of the best large amateur choirs in the country.

Performances with the choir which stand out include: Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, Mendelssohn’s  ‘Elijah’ with Sir Thomas Allen as soloist, David Fanshawe’s ‘African Sanctus’ in the presence of the composer, Karl Jenkin’s ‘The Armed Man’, with the Orchestra of the Royal Marines, which was judged by the Plymouth Herald to be the best classical concert of the year, and the choir’s recent performance of Dvorak’s ‘Stabat Mater’ which many members of the audience thought possibly the choir’s best ever!

In addition Christopher is conductor of the Chagford Singers, the Lupridge Singers and the Stanborough Chorus . He has also conducted the South Devon Choir. As well as being in demand as a choral workshop leader, Christopher helped to found the annual Rotary ‘Come and Sing’ charity concert at Buckfast Abbey in 1999, which he has conducted each year since and which regularly attracts 200 singers from all over Devon and beyond. In 2008 he was awarded a Paul Harris Fellowship by Rotary International. Christopher is also in demand as an after – dinner speaker.