St Cecilia Orchestra

Ripon’s renowned St Cecilia Orchestra is much more than just an orchestra.
At its most spectacular it is an exceptionally fine and very large symphony orchestra, often working with top class international soloists and capable of giving high-quality performances


Concert Reviews

Superb Gala Concert by St Cecilia Orchestra

21 October 2017

Ripon's own symphony orchestra does not shy from climbing mountains and Xen Kelsy MBE, conductor and musical director, tackled two of the greats of music compositions for the gala concert, Wagner's Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde and Beethoven's symphony No. 9 the Choral Symphony.
                In front of a full house at Ripon Cathedral, the orchestra was in top form putting on a superb performance.  All the strengths of this fine orchestra were evident in the opening peice - Wagner's Prelude and Liebestod (Love and Death) from Tristan and Isolde.  I doubt there was metaphorically a dry eye in the audience.
                The second half was devoted to one of the finest compositions ever written - Beethoven's symphony No. 9 - and for this 'choral symphony' the audience were treated to the impressive Cleveland Philharmonic Choir and chorus master John Forsyth MBE.
                The soloists were superb - soprano Ilona Domnich (pictured), who was born in Russia and has a fabulous soprano, English Mezzo soprano Kezia Blenik, Welsh tenor Elgan Thomas, and English Samuel Pantcheff, baritone.  When the chorus and soloists enter the fray in the final movement, well...
                Judging by the prolonged applause at the end, the audience felt exactly the same.


Ripon's concert of the year was an outstanding success. A virtual sell out,  the almost capacity audience enjoyed an evening of brilliant music making. under the baton of Xenophon Kelsey, St Cecilia founder and conductor.

The brief first half of the evening was the somewhat brief Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, but what a delight that proved to be. A sensitive and virtuoso performance of this most evocative of pieces. A somewhat lengthier interval than usual was much appreciated by performers and audience alike. Plenty of time to chat and socialise which served to add to the mounting tension in anticipation of the second half, Beethoven's sublime Choral Symphony. Although well known, perhaps not so frequently performed due to the large forces needed; full orchestra, choir and four soloists. 

St Cecilia was in fine form, performing one of Beethoven's greatest works to a standard worthy of any professional orchestra. Well complemented in the final movement by the Cleveland Philharmonic Choir and four outstanding young soloists, the rendition of Schiller's Ode to Joy was indeed a privilege to hear. If it seemed familiar, it is of the course the anthem of the European Union, to which music making in Ripon and beyond is indebted. In his immortal final symphony, Beethoven expressed the wish that Alle Menschen werden Brueder, All men will be brothers. From the wildly enthusiastic applause, one can hope the audience thought the same way.

Conductor:  Xenophon Kelsey

Spectacle, dance, lyricism and colour filled Ripon Cathedral in Saturday’s thrilling concert by the St Cecilia Orchestra. The orchestra began life accompanying the cathedral choir in the annual St Cecilia’s Day concerts in the 1990’s and the players enjoyed it so much they came back for more. Today the StCO has grown to be one of the UK’s finest community orchestras under the baton of the inspirational Yorkshireman, Xenophon Kelsey.

In an excellent programme, Stokowski’s 1927 orchestral take on Bach’s Toccata and Fugue began the evening. It’s a fantasy, by turns dramatic, lugubrious and dazzling; it’s how organists used to play it years ago before they got too well-behaved. It was an excellent curtain-raiser for Resphigi’s Church Windows. This is film music before films regularly had music, flamboyant, energetic, stylish and romantic, Liszt and Mussorgsky with Italian panache. In the opening and middle movements Xen Kelsey coaxed a wonderfully lush pianissimo from the string section and a hushed piano from the basses. Exotic arabesques from the winds and rich smooth chords from the horns punctuated by glittering harps revealed the masterful orchestration. The sheer power of the 90-strong ensemble was released in the finale with a battery of brass and percussion in increasing cascades of sound, building to the thunderous entry of the cathedral organ with its majestic Spanish Trumpet; a gargantuan end to the first half.

After the interval came a persuasive account of Max Bruch’s rarely heard Double Concerto for Clarinet & Viola: this was a real treat. Beautiful and agile playing from clarinettist Linda Merrick and lyrical expressiveness from violist Katie Stables made this a superb choice for the evening.  Katie was making a welcome return to her birthplace and is one of many musicians supported by the St Cecilia Orchestra over the years. Both soloists and orchestra seemed utterly at ease with the generous warm-hearted nature of this lovely work which deserves to be performed more often.

After the luxurious Bruch came a joyous conclusion in Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. Here was a real orchestral work out; the sheer energy and rhythmic complexity were brilliantly handled before subsiding into a ravishing ending.

Adrian Hawkins


Cellist Toby in magnificent form


St Cecilia Orchestra
Holy Trinity Church

By George Pyman

The St Cecilia Orchestra’s Spring concert was held at the Holy Trinity Church in Ripon. This is an excellent venue where thought has been given to combining acts of worship and the ability to provide a venue for the people of Ripon and district to enjoy musical performances.

Excellent facilities, comfortable seating, café meeting area in the crypt and a lift for those who have poor mobility.

The concert was an eclectic mix of composers from Haydn, Sibelius through to Prokofiev and Schostakovich. As always the St Cecilia Orchestra is made up of a mix of amateur and professional musicians which is their core strength because there is always such a strong pool to draw from; not forgetting their Director of music and conductor, Xen Kelsey without whom there would be no St Cecilia Orchestra.

First off we had Prokofiev’s Symphony No 1, The Classical Symphony — this is one of his most popular and favorite works, said to be loosely based on Haydn’s style.

The first movement lived up to its title of Allegro full blast. The orchestra took a moment to gather itself but was quickly up to their normal top class skills. The second movement was full of pizzicato, the third movement is the one we most often hear on Classic FM, delightful. The woodwind were top notch in the Finale.

Next was Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No 1, and tonight’s soloist was Toby White. Toby is a Riponian, his mother Liz White is a regular player in the St Cecilia Orchestra.

What a performance of this viciously difficult and complicated composition. It runs for 28 minutes and every moment is full of fierce and sudden strokes with the timpani erupting like explosions.

Toby started to play the cello aged five and he’s obviously moved since then. I loved it and so did the audience. Must not forget the St Cecilia Orchestra which had equally complex music to tackle!

After the interval we enjoyed Sibelius’s Romance for Strings — a complete contrast to Shostakovich’s assault on our senses.

Written in 1915 it was the second of four short pieces and pleasant to the ear. The finale for the evening was Haydn’s Symphony No 99 in E flat.

I thought I knew most of Haydn’s London Symphonies, but this slipped by me. Haydn’s music is always tuneful and No 99 was no except ion; the first movement the theme is repeated with many variations, the Adagio is a delight with its musicality, the Menuetto is as its name describes and is mostly in waltz time. Finale Vivace is boisterous and energetic.

A wonderful evening of music making. Toby White is a name to watch out for, a magnificent performance.