Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis has been reimagined as a beautiful choir piece

10 December 2020, 15:22 | Updated: 10 December 2020, 15:32

Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis has been reimagined as a beautiful choir piece
Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis has been reimagined as a beautiful choir piece. Picture: Getty

In ‘The World How Wide’, Royal Northern Sinfonia showcase Vaughan Williams’ beautiful music through film, and a newly-commissioned choral arrangement by Timothy Burke.

The Chorus of Royal Northern Sinfonia, Classic FM’s Orchestra in North-East England and at Sage Gateshead, has embarked on a special project reimagining Vaughan WilliamsFantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis as a beautiful new choral piece and film.

With The World How Wide: a choral reimagining of Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, the Chorus turned coronavirus lockdown restrictions into a creative opportunity, and are bringing vividly to life a new choral arrangement of Vaughan Williams’ beloved work by Timothy Burke, the Chorus’ director.

Burke’s arrangement uses the text of the original hymn, ‘Why fum’th in fight’ that VW based the Fantasia on, and sets this with Vaughan Williams’ well known melodies.

Throughout lockdown, Chorus members have been recording individual vocal parts in their homes and to recreate the towering string structures of Vaughan Williams’ orchestral piece, and each singer has had to record multiple parts.

Read more: What makes Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending so special? Violinist Jennifer Pike explains its magic. >

The World How Wide - Tim's Introduction

Bass Graeme told Classic FM: “I usually sing Bass 1, but for this project I’ve also recorded parts for Bass 4, 5, and 7. Other sections of the choir are doing the same, and with so many parts across all different voices of the choir, I think the soundscape promises to be something rather special.”

Further challenges of turning their homes into recording studios have included singers competing with the noise of building works, or only having a plain wall in the downstairs toilet. The Chorus met regularly online, in place of rehearsals, to hone the details of their performances.

Royal Northern Sinfonia has wrangled the skills of production company Floating Earth to edit the individual videos together cleverly and recreate the soundscape of the original.

Chorus member Joanna said: “The really clever thing about this project is the layering of the voice parts. And it’s wonderful that we are doing something that actually makes the best of being socially distanced and doing choir from home.”

Read more: 40 socially-distanced singers performing ‘Spem in alium’ at the Tate Modern is profoundly uplifting >

The Truth from Above – Vaughan Williams

The Chorus of Royal Northern Sinfonia were joined by Quay Voices, Sage Gateshead’s mixed-voice youth choir, the World How Wide Community Chorus, comprised of local and care home choirs, as well as a string quartet from Royal Northern Sinfonia to complete the performance.

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Violinist Tristan Gurney said: “It feels as if we’re going to finish up with a really unique film presenting this beautiful piece of music in a completely innovative way. I can’t wait to see and hear it when it’s all put together and it’s been wonderful to be able to collaborate with Chorus of Royal Northern Sinfonia, particularly at such a challenging time for all of us.”

There’s also a beautiful accompanying film featuring stunning footage of the Northumbrian landscape that really evokes Vaughan Williams’ music. The mammoth project has involved 135 singers creating 650 vocal recordings, totalling over 20 hours, with footage captured over 300 miles.

The World How Wide will premiere at 7.30pm GMT on Friday 11 December on Sage Gateshead’s YouTube Channel and Facebook Page, and will remain online to watch on demand. At 7pm there will also be a pre-recorded pre-concert talk. Click here to find out more.