Teenager steps in for tenor at major festival opening

Hours before the opening of the annual Three Choirs Festival on Saturday, the tenor James Oxley, soloist in Edward Elgar’s The Kingdom, lost his voice.

In the heart of the English countryside, at Gloucester, artistic director Adrian Partington was faced with an urgent dilemma. No time to call anyone in from London. The soloist had to be local.

Casting a knowing eye over his own cathedral choir, he called on one of his youngest singers to step up.

Magnus Walker, who is 18, carried off the solos with aplomb.

Adrian said afterwards: ‘I have five absolutely splendid tenors in Gloucester Cathedral choir, but after consideration I decided to ask Magnus to sing the role … primarily because his ambition is to be an operatic soloist, with a voice that as it develops will be big and dramatic; he is a natural performer who has no shyness and no fear… I rang him at 12.45 and he came straight over for a run-through with the piano; he is a very quick learner and by 2pm he was ready for the rehearsal on stage in Gloucester Cathedral with the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Three Choirs Festival Chorus – and fellow soloists Claire Rutter (soprano), Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano) and Ashley Riches (bass).’

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  • Well done, Magnus Walker and all good wishes for the future. Adrian Partington is a top choir trainer and would have handled the situation calmly and supportively. He had a similar experience some years ago with the Bristol Choral Society when the mezzo soloist in Elgar’s Music Makers fell ill at the afternoon rehearsal. A student singer was summoned from London, learned the part in her partner’s car on the way to Bristol, rehearsed with AP during the interval and sang the piece with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra twenty minutes later. I was told this by a member of the Choir committee.

  • Walker, now you listen to me, and you listen hard! You can’t fall down. You keep your feet on the ground and your head on those shoulders of yours and go out, Walker, you’re going out a youngster, but you’ve GOT to come back a star!

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