Ship Happens

International baritone singer Roderick Williams has returned for the 2018 Australian Festival of Chamber Music, with this year's festival boasting a special link to his past.

Despite never having seen Ahoy! Sing for the Mary Rose before, UK baritone singer Roderick Williams knows its story all too well.

The cantata tells the story of King Henry VIII’s ill-fated war ship the Mary Rose, which sank off the coast of Portsmouth (UK) – and which Roderick happened to be sailing past when it was recovered from the seabed.

“I’m not a sailor, but one of my rare experiences on the water happened to be when recovery crews were raising the Mary Rose,” Roderick said.

“We sailed out of Southampton Harbour with the Isle of Wight behind, and right around the corner was this brilliant spectacle of this massive old majestic warship being raised out of the water with airbags or whatever they used.

“It’s such a tragic occurrence – but with a whole lot of human vanity and hubris involved. It’s this amazing warship with all of Henry VIII’s glory and might projected on it, which they watched sail out of the harbour and for what seemed like no reason – whether it was because everyone on board decided to all run to one side of the ship at the same time or something else – the whole thing keeled over and sank like a stone. There’s something there about human vanity against the power of nature that I love, and drawing it out of the water is a beautiful thing.”

Ahoy! Sing for the Mary Rose will be performed at the annual Australian Festival of Chamber Music (AFCM) Families Concert this weekend, narrated by Roderick.

“I’ll be narrating the very top of the Families Concert, because once they get going, the instrumentalists and singers really take over. I set the scene for the drawing up out of the sea of the Mary Rose, and the performers take it from there.”

This year’s Families Concert will feature local children’s choir the Amadeus Singers, who will also be joined for the first time by other choirs spanning generations. As well as narrating the Families Concert, Roderick can be found performing throughout AFCM.

“I think people from all walks of life enjoy music of some sort. They might like hip hop and hate jazz, or like grunge but hate middle-of-the-road. But normally if there’s any feeling of classical music – like chamber music – people often feel like it isn’t for them which is a real shame. It’s as much for them as country or any number of other genres, it belongs to everybody. Come along to the concerts and there’s a huge variety: Baroque, modern, Argentinian Tango, world music like Wu Tong’s sheng, so the term ‘chamber music’ is already so broad. There’s going to be something here that everyone likes.

“The thing is not to be intimidated by thinking it’s some high artform which everyday people don’t belong to – the Queens Gardens Concert yesterday demonstrated that, with everything from bits of John Williams’ film scores to Beatles songs arranged in the style of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake; I was singing spirituals, Tine Thing Helseth was performing beautiful medleys, and everybody I saw in the garden was having an absolute ball. There really is something for everybody in this.”

Catch the Australian Festival of Chamber Music, running now until Saturday 4 August, with tickets available here. For information on Roderick’s performances click here; or for information on the Families Concert, click here.

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