Fiery Choral Competition in Derry

Competitors at the 2018 City of Derry International Choral Festival

Fiery Choral Competition in Derry

Marc Gregg reviews the Saturday night at the recent City of Derry International Choral Festival and experiences the intense, creative nature of competition.

The City of Derry International Choral Festival took place on 24–28 October and represented choral singing across a variety of levels. Professional choirs and ensembles such as VOCES8 and the Marian Consort performed, while the University of Ulster hosted talks and masterclasses on health and well-being as well as conducting. Most importantly however, there were choral singing competitions that attracted both local and international talent.

The penultimate day of the festival featured the International Competition, an event that had choirs from as far away as Colombia make their way to the city to compete for the Oak Tree of Derry trophy. Many of the ensembles performed works native to their homeland.

Entrancing, meandering, charming
Chorus Lucundus from Finland offered an entrancing programme, including ‘Erääna Yönä’ by Finnish composer Erkki Salmenhaara, but despite tight entries they sometimes suffered from a lack of interaction between the vocal sections.

Another Scandinavian ensemble, the Namdal Vocal Ensemble from Norway, sang a traditional Norwegian folk song called ‘Herre Jesus Gi Meg Nåde’ arranged by Bjarne Sløgedal, featuring a strong bass sound that brought out the darker tones of the heavily dissonant pieces.

Latvian chamber choir Blagovest brought with them Schnittke’s Concerto for Choir, part II, and with it a large intimidating sound and stage presence.

Laetare, an Irish choir, sang ‘The Destroyer’ by local Derry composer Seán Doherty, and despite sometimes having meandering tenor and bass lines, had a focussed female sound that made sense of the swirling mass of different layered textures.

Theatrical spin
Crowd favourites, the
UIS University Choir from Colombia, put a theatrical spin on their performance, moving across the stage and acting out various scenes in the folk tune ‘Quítate De Mi Escalera’ arranged by Juan Manuel Hernández-Morales. Although tasteful and well-received by the audience, it sometimes distracted from the charming ensemble’s technical ability and the dance-like nature of many of their pieces.

UIS University Choir

The Noorus Mixed Choir from Estonia had the opposite approach, where despite a colourful and bright tenor sound, they lacked the energy and drive of the previous performers. Their version of ‘Beati Quorum Via’ by Charles Villiers Stanford showed that despite individual talent amongst the choir, they had yet to find direction, perhaps due to swapping their conductor midway through their programme.

Delicaton from Germany had a playful blend, and, with one of the songs they performed, ‘My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord’ arranged by Moses Hogan, great dynamic control and variety. However, among the other ensembles, their choice of pieces failed to leave much of an impact.

High-wire notes
The winners of the international competition,
Côr CF1 from Wales, much like Blagovest, had a compelling sound and strong male support, but also had the impressive stage presence of their competitors. Soprano and tenor sections here had an excellent bloom on their frequently high-wire notes, without losing crucial audience interaction in their final song, ‘The Circle of Life’ by Elton John and Tim Rice.

Côr CF1 singing at the Eisteddfod in Wales in 2017. 

The City of Derry International Choir Festival had to find a delicate balance between ensuring a platform for local ensembles to showcase their talent while also attracting the attention of the more professional international choirs. Through separating the competitions into different categories, it allowed everyone to not only the experience the joy of group singing, but also the fiery nature of competing. 

Published on 7 November 2018

Marc Gregg is a tenor from Lisburn. He studied music at Goldsmiths, University of London, and in 2018 took part part in the Journal of Music/Arts Council of Northern Ireland Music Writer Mentoring Scheme. He currently hosts a new programme called Soap Opera on BBC Ulster. Visit

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