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Nov 09

Out of this world: University singers perform with the Philharmonia at the Marlowe

Music truly was out of this world on Wednesday 8 November, when ten singers from the University performed alongside the Philharmonia Orchestra and Philharmonia Voices, in a sell-out performance of Holst’s The Planets Suite under the baton of John Wilson at the Marlowe.

Ten members of various University choirs, including several University Music Scholars, headed down the hill during the afternoon to rehearse with Aidan Oliver, founding director of Philharmonia Voices, before returning in the evening to lend their voices to the ethereal final movement which brings Holst’s famed orchestral work to a celestial conclusion.

Rehearsing at the Marlowe Studio with director of Philharmonia Voices, Aidan Oliver

Clockwise from top: Charlotte Webb, Alice Baker, Alice Scott, Alice Hargreaves, Fleur Sumption, Alice Shires, Ruth Webster, Lulu Hammond, Carmen Mackey, Helen Sotillo

First-year Law conversion student, Helen Sotillo, was among the singers who took part: this is her story (spoiler alert: contains references to fish and chips and Strictly Come Dancing…)


Soprano amongst the stars: Helen Sotillo

The highlight of Wednesday’s programme was Holst’s Planets Suite, the last movement of which, Neptune, features a choir of ethereal upper voices singing offstage. Considering the power and might of the earlier movements, particularly Mars and Jupiter, this very quiet, mystical ending to the performance is designed to leave the audience spellbound. Considering the complexity of the music and the logistical difficulties of singing out of direct sight of the conductor, (not to mention the world-class level of the performers on stage), we were all feeling the pressure to deliver.

Our numbers were helpfully swelled by female singers from Philharmonia Voices and a short but successful run-through with the chorus master left us feeling very excited for the evening’s concert.

As Sue very pertinently pointed out, the ‘glamourous life of a musician’ inevitably entails a certain amount of hanging around and the experience did not fail to deliver on that front. Of course, the perk of ‘hanging around’ a professional rehearsal is that you get a free preview of the Philharmonia in all their glory. Admittedly some of the time was spent in a fervent discussion about where John Wilson’s accent was actually from (guesses included Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds and simply ‘up North’) but the privilege of seeing such a renowned orchestra up close was lost on no one!

After a sizable break which involved, among other things, pizza, fish and chips, and Strictly, we returned to the Marlowe. A spot more waiting around, (unfortunately backstage this time), and then it was time for us to take our places in the wings, although corridor might be a better description (the glamour!). The chorus master took his cue from the live tv monitor and then it was our moment to shine! The next few minutes passed very quickly and before we knew it we were slowly processing even further away from the stage allowing the music to slowly fade away. By the time the rapturous (I assume) applause began we were already ensconced back downstairs in the dressing rooms.

Despite our somewhat detached role, I think it’s safe to say we all thoroughly enjoyed our debut with the Philharmonia. Certainly, it was clear from the briefest of discussions with those lucky few who managed to grab one of the sold-out tickets that the performance was a triumph and it is satisfying to think we played some part in that. The experience of performing with such renowned musicians was out-of-this-world.

Helen Sotillo


Director of Music, Sue Wanless, said:‘It was such a privilege to be part of this concert and to see from ‘back-stage’ the extraordinary expertise and detail that these distinguished musicians bring to create the performance on the night.’ Congratulations to the ladies on their involvement in a terrific concert, and our thanks to the Philharmonia musicians for providing such an unearthly experience for our students…

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