Portadown Male Voice Choir (PMVC) completed a stirring ‘hat-trick’ at Cork International Festival at the weekend, winning the male section for the third year in succession, against four ensembles from various parts of Ireland and one from Wales.
Competition was keen. Portadown took the first prize with 87.5 points – just 0.25 of a point ahead of a young Galway choir called ‘Testostertones’. As one wit from PMVC joked, “We’re not exactly in the first flush of youth, but maybe we sang with just a little more virility!”
The choir sang two traditional male choral items - ‘Dick Fisherman’ (Maurice Boomer) and ‘Feasting I Watch’ (Edward Elgar).
That triumph, though, was not the major highlight of the choir’s weekend. It was eclipsed on Saturday night when they were given the honour of closing the festival’s prestigious Gala Concert – a reward from the organisers to mark the PMVC 90th anniversary and their support for the Cork Festival since the mid-1970s.
Conductor Gordon Speers was presented with a framed certificate-citation by festival chairman Gerard Breen. “The packed audience of about 2,000 gave us a reception that ranks as the best ever of my 50-years-plus association with the choir, as a member and as musical director,” said Gordon. “It was extremely moving as they clapped and cheered us with an extended standing ovation”. The items were ‘This Is My Song’, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’.
The citation – which was read out – recalled that Portadown MVC had made music since 1926, and through its valued support of Cork International Festival (including the height of the Troubles), had helped foster community relationships all over Ireland, and had been a tremendous supporter of Cork, “which we see as Gordon Speers’ annual pilgrimage down here”.
The event highlighted a busy and successful fortnight for the choir, beginning with the annual concert at the Craigavon Civic Centre where mezzo soprano Laura Wright was the special guest.
The following week, they won the male voice choir section at Portadown Festival, followed by a ‘double’ the next day at Bangor International Festival by taking the male voice title and the sacred songs section, where Portadown Ladies Choir were runners-up.
The ladies, though, trumped the men when they took the overall choral award at Portadown, gaining the highest mark in the section and winning the Noel Anderson Cup. However, Gordon Speers was equally delighted for the ladies – he conducts both choirs!
“It was a golden fortnight for Portadown choirs,” he said. “A section of the ladies’ choir made the trip to Cork, where they sang at a church service and – like the men – performed at a community concert in the city’s Clarion Hotel. It was quite a run of success.”