Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra will be accompanying Exeter Philharmonic Choir in March

Acclaimed choir and orchestra promise a night of high drama at Exeter Cathedral

Sharon Goble
Authored by Sharon Goble
Posted Saturday, February 3, 2024 - 6:51am

Concert-goers are in for a night of high drama at Exeter Cathedral on Saturday 16th March when Exeter Philharmonic Choir joins forces with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and four world-class soloists to perform Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem. 

Verdi’s choral ‘blockbuster’, also known as the Requiem Mass, is an opera in all but name and is one of the most dramatic large-scale choral works in the classical repertoire; any performance is a grand occasion.

First performed in 1874, the Requiem is a musical setting of the Catholic Funeral Mass. It was composed as a memorial to one of Verdi’s heroes - Italian poet, playwright and novelist Alessandro Manzoni, who died in 1873. Verdi conducted the premiere in Milan, to rapturous applause, on the first anniversary of Manzoni’s death. 

Howard Ionascu, Musical Director of the Exeter Philharmonic Choir, says,

“The Verdi Requiem has it all – moments of exquisite beauty, as the soloists weave their vocal lines, contrasting with the power and drama of the chorus and orchestra. With well over 200 performers in the Cathedral, including the four world-class soloists, the magnificent Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the 120 voices of the Exeter Philharmonic Choir, the audience can expect a truly memorable performance of this choral masterpiece.

“The moment in the final movement as the soprano floats over the unaccompanied choir, pleading for peace, is one of my absolute favourites of any choral music…it’s as if time stands still.”

It’s fitting that the Requiem is being performed in the Cathedral because its premiere 150 years ago took place in a church. However, it was composed as a public tribute to Manzoni rather than an overtly ecclesiastical work.   

‘Libera Me’, the seventh and final movement, was originally written as part of an intended collaboration with several Italian composers in honour of Rossini. That project came to nothing, and the stirring piece remained unperformed until Verdi included it in the Manzoni tribute. 

Exeter Philharmonic Choir is delighted to be performing alongside the renowned Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and four experienced and talented soloists - Judith Howarth (soprano), Marta Fontanals-Simmons (mezzo-soprano), Oliver Johnston (tenor) and Tristan Hambleton (bass) - whose singing will draw out the intense beauty of The Requiem. 

BSO Chief Executive Dougie Scarfe says, “We can’t wait to return to Exeter Cathedral to perform Verdi’s Requiem with Exeter Philharmonic Choir this March. Experiencing this magnificent work in the setting of Exeter’s iconic Cathedral will surely be a night to remember.”

Solo soprano Judith Howarth says: “It is always an honour to sing this particular work, and I have performed it many times around the world. I relish the vocal challenges of the piece, and it never fails to move and inspire me. I am so looking forward to performing it in Exeter Cathedral.”

Mezzo-soprano Marta Fontanals-Simmons says: “I’m so pleased to be singing with Howard and Exeter Philharmonic Choir again. I look forward to bringing this sumptuous alto part and incredible score to the Cathedral this Spring.”

The Lord Mayor of Exeter will attend this special concert, and there will be a leaving collection in support of his chosen local charity, FORCE. 

The concert follows EPC’s two sell-out Christmas carol concerts at the cathedral in December and a packed Music of the Baroque performance in November.

Tickets are on sale now:



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