Archbishop Nichols praises Christian orchestra

 Archbishop Vincent Nichols, himself a French Horn player in his youth, warmly commended the interdenominational New English Orchestra and Singers following an engaging Recreatio a kaleidoscope of music to refresh and inspire - in the renovated Birmingham Town Hall on Saturday 17 January.

The two-hour concert was conducted by Nigel Swinford who founded the NEO during the mid-1970's with the express purpose of drawing together Christian musicians and singers to glorify God with their music.

Mr Swinford, who works as the full-time Artistic Director of the NEO is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, and formerly Head of Composition at what is now Salford University Music Department.

The NEO, includes members from both Catholic and Protestant traditions, and is often described as an ecumenical missionary orchestra. The musicians are all professional and play with leading orchestras throughout the UK and Europe.

"I enjoyed the concert very much indeed. The enthusiasm of the performers was tangible and the breadth of their repertoire quite outstanding," said Archbishop Nichols.

"The NEO and Singers bring joy and fun to many and I wish them well in their programme for the coming year," added the Archbishop of Birmingham, after the concert that took place 32 years to the month following its inaugural concert in Birmingham Town Hall on 2 January 1976.

Since the summer of 1976 the NEO and Singers has been a regular visitor to Salzburg during the Music Festival. Dom Benedikt Rõck OSB, Prior of St Peter's Abbey in Salzburg, where the NEO has given many concerts, flew from Austria especially for the occasion.

The Abbey Church of St Peter was founded by St Rupert in 696 for the mission to the South Alps and is one of the oldest monasteries in the German-speaking world. Fr Benedikt said that today there are 21 monks at the Abbey, where St Rupert is buried.

Dr Judith Champ, lecturer in Church History at St Mary's College, Oscott, the diocesan seminary, and Bishop David Urquhart, the Anglican Bishop of Birmingham, were among other ecumenical guests of the NEO present at the concert.

It was extremely wet and windy outside the famous old Town Hall - where "The Dream of Gerontius", an oratorio composed by Sir Edward Elgar (from the poem by Cardinal Newman) was first performed on 3 October 1900.

Inside the hall the inclement weather was soon forgotten by the audience who clapped enthusiastically during a varied programme of modern and old music including "Laetatus sum" by Monteverdi, and the magnificent chorus "The Heavens are telling the glory of God" from "The Creation", by Joseph Haydn.

The NEO has had strong connections with Birmingham throughout the last three decades and captured the hearts of congregations and audiences in St Chad's Cathedral, St Philip's Anglican Cathedral, Symphony Hall and the National Exhibition Centre.

Since 1976 the NEO has given successful concerts in Europe including Austria, Spain, Switzerland, and St Petersburg in Russia.

The NEO made its first visit to Rome during the Autumn of 2007. In September 2008 it performed a series of memorable Recreatios in the world-famous Roman Pantheon, and the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, the titular church of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Conner.

At the invitation of Francis Campbell, the British Ambassador to the Holy See, the NEO gave a special concert during an evening reception at the British Embassy. This was extremely well received by senior members of the Vatican Curia who were present for the occasion.

The NEO and Singers will be making a third visit to Rome later this year, 27 September to 2 October. The programme, which will include a series of Recreatios in the Pantheon, is in the process of being finalised.

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