Vicky Meets… Edward Milward-Oliver and Emma-Jane Wyatt, Bernstein in Chichester

Edward Milward-Oliver and Emma-Jane Wyatt
Edward Milward-Oliver and Emma-Jane Wyatt

In 1965, Leonard Bernstein heard his Chichester Psalms performed in the Cathedral and recalled the event thus: ‘In Chichester I heard angels sing.’

Appropriate, therefore, that this Saturday voices including those of the City Angels will ring out from the Assembly Rooms.

“Songfest is a thank-you from the community to volunteers,” explained Edward, who together with Emma-Jane founded the Bernstein in Chichester Festival to celebrate the links between the city and the world famous composer on the centenary of his birth.

Explaining that West Side Story’s composer was not only a multi award-winning musical genius but also a teacher and social activist, Edward added: “We have invited volunteers of City Angels, Stonepillow, Chichester District Foodbank, the Four Streets Project and St Wilfrid's Hospice for an evening of singing Bernstein’s music, led by choral leader Emily Barden. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

And while the great man’s centenary is being celebrated on six continents, in Chichester the year-long festival is a response by the community to Bernstein’s local links.

“He attended the performance of The Chichester Psalms with his family,” said Edward, recalling how Walter Hussey, then Dean of Chichester, had written to Bernstein asking him to compose a new choral work. Agreeing, the Bernstein family then visited the city to hear the work performed. Mr and Mrs Bernstein were billeted at The Deanery and their children stayed with the Elwes family at West Stoke.

“It dawned on me that Bernstein had actually been here and that it had obviously made a real impact on him,” said Emma-Jane, a classical music agent. “The Chichester Psalms is a hugely important piece of work and a unique gem – it is the only piece of his music that lists the name of a city in its title.”

With a shared passion for Bernstein and complementary skills (Edward’s background is in entertainment and media), the Chichester-based pair have assembled a thrilling programme of concerts, ballet, workshops, talks, film, exhibitions and more, with participants including the Cathedral, the Festival Theatre, the University, Pallant House Gallery, Prebendal School, Chichester Chamber Concerts, Chichester International Film Festival, Chichester Jazz Club, and the West Sussex Record Office, along with leading figures in the arts and noted Bernstein authorities.

“Most people know West Side Story but there’s so much more,” Emma-Jane enthused, highlighting the performance of The Chichester Psalms as part of a programme in the Cathedral by the Bournemouth Symphony orchestra, under the baton of Bernstein protegée, Marin Alsop.

“Leonard Bernstein’s son Alexander is coming and we will reunite him with Richard Elwes, now one of our trustees and with whose family Alexander stayed as a boy. The power of music to bring people is incredible,” said Edward.

Nodding, Emma-Jane added: “The festival is even reconnecting choristers and lay clerks who sang in the original performance!”

Offering something for everyone, for further information visit www.bernsteinchichester.uk Bernstein in Chichester is supported by George Ide LLP, The University of Chichester, Chichester City Council, Harbour Hotels, Naxos Records and private donors.