Is was the Sound of Music all over again as Pendleton’s Neil G Bennett attends Austrian music festival

18 September 2018 

Neil G Bennett, Head of the Centre of Excellence for Performing and Production Arts at Pendleton Sixth Form College, has put his summer to good use, leading masterclasses and choral performances at The Berwang International Music Festival, Austria.

The hills were alive with the sound of music this summer, not in Salzburg, but Tirol, Austria. Neil said ‘So Long, Farewell’ to Salford and headed to The Berwang International Music Festival with world-renowned choral conductor and Emeritus Director of Music at Clare College, The University of Cambridge, Tim Brown.

Tim is an extremely successful musical director and founder of choirs including The Cambridge University Chamber Choir and the London-based professional chamber choir, English Voices. His career has been so profound he is even considered one of the best choral conductors in the world.

Neil was invited to join Tim at the Austrian music festival as one of his assistant directors following a residential Neil and members of the Pendleton Choirs took part in earlier in the summer, at The University of Cambridge. In July, Neil accompanied students to Clare College where they received masterclasses with Tim himself, and where they had the opportunity to perform in the infamous university chapel.  

It was following this extraordinary visit that Tim recruited Neil to work with him at the music festival which took place in the village of Berwang, located in the Tirol region of the Austrian Alps. The event was a two-week international summer course for singers and instrumentalists aged 15-88 years-of-age.

Tim and Neil’s days were occupied with rehearsals and masterclasses for the students attending the festival. This resulted in 10 concerts and performances over the 14-day period.

Neil was asked to conduct orchestral and choral performances, play the piano in chamber music groups and accompany singers and instrumentalists at the event. He sang lead tenor in many of the solos and one of his ‘Favourite Things’ included accompanying over thirty music performances in various towns and cities across Austria.

Tim Brown said: “Neil’s role was both as a section leader in the choir and as an assistant conductor. As my assistant, Neil proved to be invaluably proactive in seeing what had to be done before being asked to do it.

“Neil proved to be of enormous value as a rehearsal pianist, both in solo and as an accompanist. He is, of course, a superlative musician, but his skill as a teacher in his work with both singers and instrumentalists alike drew much praise from the course participants.

“His energy was prodigious, and he communicated this to the students, whilst being focused in his teaching and the methods he employed, which were both inventive and challenging.

“I am extremely grateful to Pendleton Sixth Form College for enabling Neil to be part of the tutoring team of the Berwang 2018 Music Course. Not only did the course benefit from his participation but I believe that Neil’s experience in Berwang, working with an older demographic than in his work at Pendleton, will have usefully complemented his work with his Manchester students.

“We were delighted with his contribution to the course, and would gladly welcome him back another year.”

Neil added: “I think the experience and the training I have received from Tim whilst in Austria has really sharpened my musical skills in all areas. It’s wonderful that I will now be able to pass these new found skills onto the students at Pendleton throughout the new academic year.”

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