Battle of Britain memorial concert a fitting tribute to brave airmen

Bruce Martin on flute and Andrew Bernardi on the 1696 Stradivarius SUS-150923-101122001
Bruce Martin on flute and Andrew Bernardi on the 1696 Stradivarius SUS-150923-101122001

The Steyning Battle of Britain memorial concert on Sunday evening was so sublime, so beautiful and deeply moving that I think the memory of it will never leave me.

A fitting tribute to the brave airmen of the RAF who, 75 years ago during the summer and autumn of 1940, fought over the skies of Sussex, across England and the Continent, in the Battle of Britain.

Civilisation and righteousness hung in the balance as our courageous young airmen took to the skies to defend our principles and freedoms. Winston Churchill famously remarked that ‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few’.

Men from Poland, Canada, America and a diversity of nations fought courageously alongside the British pilots.

Their bravery and sacrifice secured the freedoms and relative peace which we have enjoyed in Western Europe. They have come to personify whole the nation’s war efforts during that crucial point in the war which included the bravery of the Royal and Merchant navies in bringing vital supplies to our shores.

The concert was performed to a sell-out audience of more than two hundred people.

After a warm welcome and opening prayer from Steyning’s Vicar, The Revd. Fr. Neil Roberts, the program began with J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite no.2 in B minor BWV 1067 as Bruce Martin on flute and Andrew Bernardi on the 1696 Stradivarius captured our hearts and minds.

Graham Salter is renowned for his oboe playing and the rendition of Bach’s Concerto for Violin and Oboe in D minor BWV 1060 was sublime.

I understand that the notes themselves appear simple on the score of these pieces but it is how they are placed that requires such skill and subtlety. Bach’s music has often been described as the voice of God and all present were transformed by the music and the performances.

Mozart never completed his Mass in C minor but it remains one of the most extraordinary pieces of choral work ever written.

David Bevan’s famous choir from the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer Sir Thomas More, Chelsea, treated us to a performance of Mozart’s original urtext edition. The soprano performances of David’s daughters, Sophie and Mary Bevan, were remarkable.

Sophie Bevan is at the forefront of a remarkable new generation of British singers. Sophie is no stranger to followers of the English National Opera and Glyndebourne festival with numerous leading roles. Her sister Mary looks set to join her and we were delighted to welcome them and the whole choir at Steyning.

My great friend Andrew Bernardi and I believe passionately in community, and in the power of music and art to transform lives.

It was a great blessing for me to gather so many of the people I accompany both as priest and auctioneer to my home parish and church in Steyning.

The evening was made possible by the bringing together of so many gifts and blessings. I am proud of the part that Toovey’s was able to play in sponsoring and supporting this event, and the Shipley Arts Festival.

As I left a large retiring collection was being counted in aid of the Royal Air Forces Association. RAFA is a leading membership organisation and charity providing welfare support for serving and ex-serving RAF personnel and their families.

I am deeply grateful to all the musicians, and those who came and supported, for their generosity of spirit. The evening began with prayer and ended in blessing!

n Rupert Toovey is a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington - - and a priest in the Church of England Diocese of Chichester.