|Queen Elizabeth’s actual birthday, 21 April, was the date chosen for the magnificent Diamond Jubilee Concert held in Geneva’s Victoria Hall as the BRA’s national event.
Tickets were booked well in advance and on the day a crowd of 1500 people waited impatiently outside for the doors to open.
The venue was appropriate; the hall had been built and donated to Geneva by the then British Consul, Daniel Barton, in 1897 to celebrate that earlier British Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – which explains the name (and also probably why the Geneva authorities allowed the BRA to use it free of charge!).
Sir Arthur Bliss’s Fanfare for a Distinguished Occasion, played by trumpeters from the organ balcony bathed in spotlights, was a suitably impressive opening to the proceedings. The British Ambassador to Switzerland, Sarah Gillett, then gave a brief address and read a congratulatory message from the Queen addressed to the Organizing Committee.
The concert programme had been put together by Committee Chairman, Michael Type, with the help of Jean-Pierre Chevailler, Director of Music of Geneva’s Corps de Musique d’Elite Brass Band, and May Hofman, who directed the specially formed Diamond Jubilee Choir of 120 people supplemented by the 30 strong Children’s Choir from the Geneva English School under the direction of Sue Power. Christopher Martin Thomas played the Hall’s magnificent organ as well as the piano. Further colour was added to the event by the Pipes and Drums of Geneva led by Pipe Major Olivier Couet who marched in wearing full Highland dress.
Michael Type wrote and spoke the narration in which he cleverly tied together the many events which had marked the Queen’s reign with the different musical offerings: for example, the anthem Zadok the Priest, which was sung at the Coronation in 1953 and the song Bridge over Troubled Water, with soloist Stephen Ash, which recalled the royal relief at the emergence from the year christened by the Queen herself as her annus horribilis.
A murmur of surprised excitement went round the hall at the appearance of a young man who bore an astounding resemblance to Prince Harry. He was asked by Michael why he was not at his grandmother’s birthday party, to which he replied he was on his way home from a ski trip – but alas, the truth emerged that he was a mere double.
The Children’s Choir sang a heartfelt Happy Birthday Your Majesty and the audience joined in with several of the songs, in true British tradition, including Land of Hope and Glory, Rule Britannia, with solos by Nelson (Kirsty Griffiths) and Britannia herself (Rachel Ash) and Jerusalem, finishing with a spine-tingling arrangement of the National Anthem by Benjamin Britten and May Hofman.Sally Alderson