Finchley Children’s Music Group set to twinkle at the Proms

Finchley Children's Music Group. Picture: Simon Weir

Finchley Children's Music Group. Picture: Simon Weir - Credit: Archant

‘Hibiki’ receives its UK premiere at the Proms next week and has a lead role for the Muswell Hill-based Finchley Children’s Music Group

How ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ turns out in Japanese I’m not entirely sure – and neither was Grace Rossiter when we discussed it the other week, before serious rehearsals had begun.

But it’s a key ingredient of a big new piece for choirs and orchestra called ‘Hibiki’ (Beautiful Sound in English), that receives its UK premiere at the Proms next week and has a lead role for the Muswell Hill-based Finchley Children’s Music Group, which Rossiter conducts.

Written by British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage as a sort of memorial for the Tsunami that hit NWJapan in 2011, ‘Hibiki’ was originally commissioned for performance at Suntory Hall in Tokyo where it had its first airing last year: hence the Japanese texts.

Rossiter describes it as “a challenge, though a rather lovely one, because the music lives up to the name. It’s beautiful.

“We join forces for it with another youth ensemble, the New London Children’s Choir, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. And there’s a sweet, childlike innocence about what we’re given to sing, as you’d expect when some of the words are taken from nursery rhymes.

“But I should say that the Japanese ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’ doesn’t run to the same tune that we know in Britain - so the audience at the Albert Hall might not recognise what they’re hearing unless they read the programme note.”

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With a running time of 50 minutes, ‘Hibiki’ promises to be a notable feature of the 2017 Proms; but being involved with so major a project is something the FCMG takes in its stride.

This will be the choir’s second Proms appearance in the current season; it was merged the other Sunday into a sprawling 450-strong chorus for a family concert based on the BBC’s Ten Pieces project, designed to get young people interested in classical music.

“For that we were singing Elgar, Vivaldi, and a fabulous new piece by Kerry Andrew that we all really enjoyed,” says Rossiter. “But we’ve actually made quite a lot of Proms appearances over the years, in everything from ‘Damnation of Faust’ to Beethoven’s 9th. And of course the War Requiem, which is an important piece for us in that Benjamin Britten was our founding president.

“He never specifically wrote anything for us, which is a shame, but we’ve been involved with his music from our very first project: a ‘Noye’s Fludde’ at All Saints, East Finchley that launched FCMG as a choir nearly sixty years ago.

“In fact, our 60th anniversary falls next year, and we’re marking the occasion with the commission of a new piece for high voices and harp to run alongside Britten’s ‘Ceremony of Carols’.”

Britten may not have endowed the choir with something from his pen, but through those six decades there’s been no shortage of significant composers who have - including two Masters of the Queen’s Music, Peter Maxwell Davies and Malcolm Williamson.

Six decades have also seen several generations of singers pass through the FCMG ranks, not the least of them being Grace Rossiter herself. She started singing with the choir in 1985 before going off to study music and then coming back as the choir’s director: a job she combines with running Finchley Choral Society and a recently acquired deputy directorship of the prestigious BBC Symphony Chorus.

“FMCG has played a key role in my life,” she says. “But there are countless other people who could tell you the same. We recruit children from across the whole of North London; and there are always quite a lot because we’re actually four choirs divided into different age-ranges – starting as toddlers and ending up as teenagers. At the moment we’re about 180 in total. But for the Prom next week it’s just the older ones. The teenagers.”

It’s questionable how much fun a 16 year old gets from singing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’: it doesn’t sound particularly cool. But no doubt doing it in Japanese will help. Your friends can only be impressed. And otherwise, you needn’t tell them what the words are.

Hibiki at the Proms: Monday August 14, 7.30pm, Albert Hall SW7 and Radio 3.