Wow! What a concert!

By Erle Levey

oriana_8607A WONDERFUL combination of local singers with a state orchestra created a world-class performance of Handel’s Messiah at Caloundra Events Centre on Friday night.

The Queensland Symphony Orchestra was joined by a 75-strong Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir for what is regarded as a musical fixture of the Christmas season, the power of The Messiah still drawing massive audiences 250 years after the composer’s death.

Oriana was chosen for the one-off Sunshine Coast performance as part of a tour throughout regional Queensland by the QSO in December.

In other regional performances the QSO has required the services of The Australian Voices to boost the local participating choirs.

However, Oriana was deemed to be of sufficient size and standard to support QSO in its own right, with the addition of six singers from The Australian Voices.

Featured soloists included Melbourne-born soprano Natalie Christie Peluso, mezzo soprano Bronwyn Douglass, a graduate of the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University, British-based baritone David Wakeham, and Queensland’s own Nick Kirkup singing tenor.

Oriana Arts Inc president Melissa Innes felt extremely privileged to be singing on stage with the QSO.

She said conductor for the event, Gordon Hamilton, a world renowned composer in his own right and the artistic director of The Australian Voices, was in seventh heaven.oriana_8627a

“He was completely involved … engulfed in the music. He was totally engaged with the singers and the musicians. It was amazing to watch.”

Melissa said the four soloists were all different but all telling the same story.

“And what a story. Handel’s Messiah is regarded as the finest celebrations of Christ.

“The choir was absolutely impressed by the local support that was expressed in the standing ovation … tears flowed in the choir as well as the audience.

“We were very excited to have been selected to participate. It brought a performance standard generally only seen in major capital cities to the Sunshine Coast, making it accessible and affordable for local residents to enjoy.

“It was a very proud moment when the conductor acknowledged the sheer volume of effort and preparation put in by Oriana Choir music director Sandra Milliken and Fay Baker.”

Mooloolaba resident Jocelyn Walker was one of those in the audience with tears in her eyes.

“It was a world-class performance,” she said. “What a pleasure to hear those magnificent voices that belong to Sunshine Coast singers in the Oriana Choir. I am so proud of their achievement.”

Choir member Emrys Jones said the performance was absolutely wonderful to be involved in.

“We were given a long standing ovation by an immensely appreciative audience. An
unforgettable experience.”

Oriana Choir music director Sandra Milliken said it was a musically inspired interpretation that married the text and the music in an incredible woven fabric.

“The connection between orchestra and choir was unlike any Messiah experience that many have experienced over the years,” she said.


Thanks Sunshine Coast Council!

screen-shot-2016-12-15-at-11-12-41-amA council grant will see a 75-strong Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir providing the chorus to this major musical piece at Caloundra Events Centre on Friday night, December 16, at 7.30pm. (SOLD OUT)
Handel declared “I think I did see all of heaven before me” when he composed Messiah. full stop here
Regarded as a musical fixture of the Christmas season, the power of this work still draws audiences 250 years after the composer’s death.
Oriana has been chosen for the one-off Sunshine Coast performance as part of a tour throughout regional Queensland by the QSO in December.
In other regional performances the QSO has required the services of The Australian Voices to boost the local participating choirs.
However, Oriana has been deemed to be of sufficient size and standard to support QSO in its own right at the Sunshine Coast event, with the addition of just six singers from The Australian Voices.
“We are very excited to have been selected to participate in this popular and well known work which is traditionally performed during the Festive Season,’’ Oriana Arts Inc president Melissa Innes said.
“It will bring a performance standard generally only seen in major capital cities to the coast, making it accessible and affordable for local residents to enjoy.
“Additionally, the rehearsal process over the last 10 weeks has fostered and built a cultural skill set for members of the choir, facilitating developmental musical growth and improvement overall.
“Progress to date has been amazing, but the one thing we look forward to most, is this performance being enjoyed by the wider community.’’
Conductor for the event is Gordon Hamilton, a world renowned composer in his own right.
Gordon is currently the artistic director of The Australian Voices, one of Australia’s foremost vocal ensembles.
Featured soloists include Melbourne-born soprano Natalie Christie Peluso, mezzo soprano Bronwyn Douglass, a graduate of the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University, British-based baritone David Wakeham, and Queensland’s own Nick Kirkup singing tenor.

Thank You Erle!

screen-shot-2016-10-07-at-8-34-13-pmLet’s take a moment to introduce you all to the man behind the scenes of many of our tour videos, blogs, fb page posts, Instagram posts, newspaper articles and more. We’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the legendary status of Erle Levey and thank him on behalf of Oriana for his outstanding, ‘phenomenal’, above-and-beyond the call of duty gigantic effort in documenting Oriana’s 2016 International tour. From the bottom of our hearts Erle… Thank you! And we all hope you get a great rest on your return… Although we doubt you will sit still for two minutes before embarking on the next adventure! It’s good to know you sleep 😀. Special thanks to Sue too… who has been an awesome support and star every day! You are both amazing and we have loved sharing our tour with you! xxx

City of Spires


The last leg of a concert tour can be very emotional.

So much has been fitted into the first two and a half weeks of the choir’s Central Europe tour – eight performances in three countries so far.

So when it comes to the final concert there is a feeling of apprehension.

Thoughts turn to home.

Are we there yet?

How can we better those performances at those grand cathedrals?

That was the feeling as we came to Prague, the historic city at the heart of the Czech Republic.

The first rain of the tour, a cold wind from the North Sea.

Yet of all the cities and towns the choir has visited on its tour through Hungary, Slovakia and Austria this would be the one where the overcast weather added to the atmosphere.

The cobblestone streets, the reflected lights, the arches of bridges, the spectacle of more than 100 spires.

As it turned out all of the fears were soon forgotten.

The Prague Hlahol Concert Hall, the scene for the final performance, is in the heart of this city of culture.

Designed and constructed by the Hlahol Choir for acapella singing and limited musical accompaniment, it is opposite the river.

The building is considered to be one of the finest Art Nouveau monuments of its kind. The front façade, overlooking the embankment, is embellished by two large mosaics and a magnificent carved door; the renovated rear façade bears a large inscription in gold – HLAHOL. It is an old Czech word meaning stage or song, the human voice.

The beautiful Art Nouveau building features a glass ceiling and busts of conductors of the Hlahol Choir, and highlighted by a painting by Alphonse Mucha called “Česká píseň” (Czech Song).

The hall was filled with rows of bentwood chairs. Mirrors showing the distress of years hung on the walls.

Into this setting the Oriana Choir filed onto stage.

And right from the opening number, Laetatus Sum, they had the near-capacity audience in their hand.

Soloists included Gabrielle Deschamps, Ian Rix and Sarah Lawes with piano accompaniment by Fay Baker.

Gabrielle said that being the final concert the choir was able to relax more … enjoy the moment, enjoy the people around us.

“There was a greater awareness of what was going on around us,” she said, “of Sandra directing, of the expressions of the crowd.

“We had to concentrate then noticed the impact it was having on the audience. There were people crying. We just had to hold it together.”

Gabrielle chose two songs from a set of 10 Biblical Songs by Czech composer Dvorak. 

She sang numbers 1 and 4, settings of verses from the Psalms. Song 1 is called Clouds and Darkness, a very dramatic song describing a vision of the Lord. No. 4 is Psalm 23, The Lord is My Shepherd.

“They are songs of faith written at a very dark time in his life,” Gabrielle explained.

“It was especially important to to focus in the second song as I became aware that some people in the room had their eyes closed and seemed to be praying. 

“I did my best to return to my experience of singing in church and became more aware of the words and to connect with that.”

Ian gave a beautiful rendition of None but the Lonely Heart, a musical setting of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s poem “Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt.”

Sarah was magnificent with Song to the Moon from Russulka, also by Dvorak.

This provided the perfect lead-in to the full choir performing Nepovim by Dvorak and sung in Czech.

The choice of the program by choir music director Sandra Milliken worked beautifully, with a stirring version of Waltzing Matilda as the balance to the touching Irish ballad The Blessing.

The venue allowed the full choir to form a semi circle around the audience and virtually wrap them in their arms with the song.

The applause was genuine, heartfelt. The audience certainly enjoyed the experience.

All of the performances on this Central Europe tour have been magnificent but this was the icing on the cake.

A Song to Remember


Soloist Sarah Lawes had a sudden thought before singing before a near-capacity audience at Prague’s historic Hlahol Concert Hall.It was part of Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir’s final performance in its Central Europe tour of Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and the Czech Republic.

Sarah had chosen Song to the Moon from Russulka, by Czech composer Dvorak.

“Just before going on, I thought I have never sung this to a Czech audience.”

Sarah prepared the song about three years ago and performed it for her diploma of singing at the Australian Music Examination Board.

“It was part of the syllabus but my mother had suggested it to me.

“I thought, why not. It’s a nice song and has that dramatic ending.

“That finale puts it in people’s mind.”

The operatic piece is about a water spirit, Sarah tells me.

“Every day the prince comes to the lake.

She falls in love with him and wants to be turned into human form by a sorceress.

“It happens early in opera.

“The moon sees into peoples lives.

“Oh moon, stand still for a moment. Tell me where is my lover.

“Oh moon, stay still for a moment, don’t let him disppear.

“I love the story.”

At the Prague concert Sarah was initially concerned a bit about getting it right.

Yet the audience response was totally unexpected. A standing ovation.

“I was really elated, swept up in the emotion,” she said.

“I was told later that the Czech language in that aria is quite difficult.

“The fact they appreciated it was very rewarding.”

The Hlahol Concert Hall was constructed and designed by the choir, with acoustics for acapella and for piano.

Dvorak was a conductor for the choir which was formed in the 1800s.

“Just to think we have sung his songs here,” Sarah said. “It is very, very nice.”

Manna From Heaven

Patrick and Darcy met by chance, not through music but the tragedy of cancer. Bloomhill is the Buderim-based cancer care charity which made Patrick’s wife’s cancer suffering easier. 

It is Bloomhill’s network and reach into the community that brought Darcy and Patrick together.

“While accessing Bloomhill’s services for second wife, Zoe, I’d often heard of this Darcy person,” Patrick said as he related the highlights and low points in his 72 years.

Today, his 72 birthday, he is celebrating with his second family of the Oriana Choir as it tours from Salzburg to Ceske Krumlov in the Czech Republic. That new country born in 1989 as the communism of eastern Europe collapsed, otherwise known as the velvet revolution.

Now, as they journey through these several great cities and towns of Europe with Oriana, Patrick and Darcy bring something special to all around them. 

A major car accident which caused Patricks quick wit and high function in the workplace falter had family repercussions. He says that Darcy’s organisations skills and love have enabled him to enjoy life to the full.

Friends encouraged him to join Oriana Choir. And there was no hesitation when the chance to tour major cities in the 2016 Oriana Tour became available.

Comedy dinners are Patrick’s forte, he told me as we chatted during a dinner in Salzburg.

This was despite the comedy rising around us wasn’t so funny! Fawlty Towers revisited I thought.

“May we have some ice cream please?” was greeted with a unique reaction.

The apple struedel, just placed in front of me, was whisked away to another table.

As was my dining mate’s longed for dessert. 

Punishment? For daring to ask for some ice cream to accompany das streudel?

Grumpy Austrian waiter, luckily he was the exception rather than the rule in this beautiful city that was more like something out of a movie.

Patrick then went on the relate his fun times while developing and operating his Manna House in Bungendore, just out of Canberra.

Murder mystery play/dinners were on the menu. Such fun.

Touring with Oriana Choir as a bass Patrick’s voice now echoes in harmony with 44 others. 

Yesterday it was in Salzburg Dom, that thrice consecrated cathedral forming the centre piece in the old town of Salzburg.

Dating back to the seventh century, and being rebuilt after two fires the cathedral of 2016 is a much treasured and worshipped place.

Many Spanish and Mexican visitors were surprised to experience the voices of Oriana. And so far from home. 

One comment from a local was he could never go to Australia as it was “so far to fly.”
Yes, but the effort is worthwhile flying to the other side of the world!

Between them Patrick and Darcy have six children, several grandchildren and a life full of laughter.
Patrick is the third eldest of a straight eight boys. He laughs … this link to his surname Buick. 


Why I Live Where I Live

Jo Evans says she could live anywhere in the world.

From London to Brunei, South East Asia, Auckland to Basel, she is a world dweller.

So what holds her interest on the Sunshine Coast?

“There were a lot of reasons to move here – especially the weather!” she tells me over breakfast while on the choir’s tour of Central Europe.

“If it wasn’t for the Oriana Choir I’d probably go back to New Zealand to live,” she says as the choir prepares for its final concert on the tour, at Prague in the Czech Republic on Wednesday evening.

Then Jo added “I’m one of 13 siblings and enjoy the company of many nieces and nephews who have remained on the South Island.” 

Jo’s association with Oriana began when she and husband Steve decided to depart Brunei, after having lived both in the UK and previously near Basel, Switzerland. 

They chose to live on the coast, just over four years ago.

In her spare time she enjoys hosting her small home business, a Bed and Breakfast. 

Air B n B provides the platform for so many households to share their space with travellers of the world.

Together with her daughter, they provide travellers from around the world with the facility to connect with the real Australian culture – albeit with a strong Kiwi tinge. 

As for the Central Europe tour by the choir, Jo says getting to know her fellow singers has been amazing.

“It’s been a great opportunity to get to know them and their stories.

“And the reaction of the audiences has been amazing.

“It’s not just the choir singing but to see the joy on their faces is an absolute joy.”

The Big Switch

Ian “Rixy” Rix joined Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir in 2008

He’d been previously busy in acting roles in musicals.

However, he couldn’t do both. Life is just too busy.

Having his wife, Ruth, already an active member of the Oriana Choir he chose singing. And he hasn’t looked back since making the switch.

This Central Europe tour is his second excursion abroad with the choir.

It follows their whirlwind 2012 journey through western Europe and Britain. But that’s another story.

Recently Ian took on another very compassionate role.

He started singing while visiting an ailing family member who suffers the dreaded Alzheimers.

To everyone’s joy and amazement the beautiful older lady joined in his song.

Coming from an isolated, seemingly empty place of her mind she suddenly became a singer. 

Her daughter had never heard Mum sing, and here she was, in tune, on note and reliving such music as Oklahoma, My Fair Lady, and Sinatra classics.

How did Ian’s strong bass voice coax that latent talent out?

Recent Youtube publicity indicates that song will draw out hidden talents.

So, Oriana Choir has indirectly contributed to the happy memories of a family matriarch.

As this Central Europe tour has progressed Ian and Ruth have sung in cathedrals, churches and the magnificent Melk Abbey. 

Favourites have been Matthias Church in Buda, overlooking the Danube River towards Pest.

Together these two towns form the Budapest of today.

Another highlight was the Oriana’s performance in the Trebon town hall in Slovakia.

This venue was a miniature opera house, together with tiered balconies and just a half hour drive from Cesky Budejovice, the main city in the region of South Bohemia.

Several informal, spontaneous and impromptu gatherings of song have also added atmosphere and joy to all around them during this tour.

Ruth’s history of stage includes musicals, dramas and reviews.

Venues are many and varied, including the Whitehorse Inn in Keri Keri at the Bay of Islands in New Zealand.

“Adaptable” best describes Ruth’s range of talents, from behind the scenes management of the 100-strong choir as secretary, to being a consistent voice among many.

The Infectious Doctor

Krishna Rao is a dangerous man. A retired doctor who is wanted for spreading infection.

While Krishna may have now retired as a surgeon he has found how to live life. Fully.

His outgoing nature is infectious. He sweeps all he meets along with him.

As the latest member of the Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir, having joined just four months ago, he has fitted in perfectly as a bass singer.

“If you had told me a year ago that this is what I would be doing, I would not have believed you,” Krishna tells me as we travel between Budapest and Bratislava on the choir’s tour of Central Europe.

This comes from someone who has done so much in his life already.

An event that stands out in an already active life was that at the magical age of 50 his wonderful wife Sona took him on a dive adventure to the coral atoll of Lakshadweep, north of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean.

It was scuba diving and he even scared the instructor with his enthusiasm.

Instead of falling in backwards off the boat he tried a forward racing dive … with full equipment on.

The force of the dive with the weight of equipment he had on could have been fatal.

It wasn’t and he lived to write another chapter in a rich life.

Born in Ootacamund, which was the summer capital of Madras residency during the British Raj, Krishna worked at various places throughout India, Malaysia  and the UK.

Mysore was where he worked most, a city of 1.2 million famous for its temple, silk and sandlewood, teak and rosewood furniture as well as coffee.

Going to school with the Irish Christian Brothers at St Edmunds in Shillong, Krishna had always wanted to be a doctor, but whether that was due to his mother or his own wishes remains in doubt.

“Mum always wanted to be a doctor and couldn’t,” he said.

“I thought it was my idea. Yet wiser now, I believe it was my mother who influenced me.”

Krishna’s involvement with Australia started with Richie Benaud’s touring cricket team of India in 1959. His heroes were Norman O’Neill and Neil Harvey.

Krishna’s uncles were good cricketers – one played first class in India.

As for Krishna, he was a good cricketer at school – opening bat and as he describes “a butter-fingered fielder.”

His next contact with Australia was through his father, who was a good tennis player and coached as well.

“He made me read Lawn Tennis, The Australian Way. Players such as Rosewall, Hoad and Mal Anderson had chapters in the book.

“Then while doing the English O levels, I read The Far Country by Neville Shute. It is about a Czech doctor and his experience as a displaced person in Australia.”

Not surprising perhaps, Krishna has written a novel, The Coucal Collaterals. It’s about mistaken identity which leads to an innocent doctor being arrested as a terrorist.

It’s set in the UK, US, India and Iraq.

So how did Krishna get into singing?

“One thing I wanted to do was write my memoirs,” he said, “but I got writer’s block. 

“I mentioned to my dad’s carer that I would like to sing, in a band or something like that.

“She mentioned Oriana Choir. That’s where it started.

“To my total surprise, I was accepted. 

“That was four months ago. I am the baby of the choir.”

Krishna’s love of singing came from the school choir, starting as a soprano.

“A major success was The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves.

“I would like to sing more opera. It has to appeal to me, to my perculiar taste in music.

“Mozart, Carmen, La Traviata, Marriage of Figaro.

“I also like other music … The Beatles, some old country such as Jim Reeves.

“Oriana has given me an opportunity. Even though it’s intensive, it has supplemented what I was trying to do by learning to play the sax.

“It’s helping me to do all the sorts of stuff I wanted to as a medical student at the age of 16.”

Krishna met Sona when he was a house surgeon and she was a third year medical student. 

That was in Delhi. Her father had fractured a collarbone from riding a motor scooter.

“She came in with him. And I continued to pursue her relentlessly.

“A year to the day later he fractured his leg. I believe he thought things were not going fast enough.”

Krishna came to Australia because after completing surgical training in Delhi he went to Malaysia as a lecturer in surgery and was training Malaysians for the Royal Australasian Palliative Surgeons College.

They allowed him to sit for an exam and he was accepted without setting foot in Australia but that enabled  him to go to the UK for further training.

Back in India, he worked nearly 20 years with some sabbaticals in the UK.

In 2006, nearing the end of his career, he set out to see if he could work in Australia.

It was the one thing missing from his cv.

After a short locum at Redcliffe in 2006, he enjoyed it so much that when a position opened up at Rockhampton he joined as a staff specialist surgeon.

Now living at Twin Waters, he regards the area as paradise.

“My wife has got to do her training as a pediatrician.

“We have two boys. One is a mechanical engineer in Sydney and the other a computer software engineer with Deloite in New York.”

The highlights so far for Krishna on the choir’s tour of Europe include the very first performance at Matthias Church in Budapest.

“That was stunning,” he said, “just like Budapest itself.

“And the fact we were able to satisfy our audiences in terms of their enjoyment.”

For a man who has achieved much, Krishna’s tips are simple: “Take life one day at a time and take the rough with the smooth.

“Enjoy what you have and not hanker for what you don’t have.”

Waltzing with Beethoven


How often in life is it the obscure or unexpected that ends up being so rewarding. That was the case when the Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir visited Hlohovec in southern Slovakia.

An early morning coach departure from Budapest in Hungary saw the choir arriving at the historic town mid afternoon after a stop at the picturesque village of Szentendre, on the banks of the Danube.

The drive into southern Slovakia was at first austere, as remnants of the communist domination of the country by the then Soviet Union still showed through.

The broad-acre farming of grain crops continues as farmers pool their resources to remain cost-effective in today’s world economy.

At the same time this co-operative approach is a reminder of the communist system.

There are many decaying agricultural buildings but also unfinished or faceless unit blocks.

This region must be harsh in winter. Matched by the way the spirit of the people has been downtrodden by continual occupation.

Yet there is hope under the new-found freedom of an independent Slovakia.

There are attempts to brighten life, update the buildings and apply brighter colours.

For so many years the people were made to speak Russian instead of their native language. Just like they had been made by the Austro-Hungarian Empire before that.

A power plant of wind turbines has emerged on the landscape. A symbol of the new energy sweeping through the country. A nuclear power plant is away in the distance.

The coach makes its way through town, past the Church of St Michael the Archangel and up a hill. There’s a glimpse of a hall between the trees and soon we have turned into the car park.

The main hall looks like an old butter factory you would find at Maleny or Pomona. Yet beside it is a smaller hall, the Empire Theatre, much like the church hall at Montville.

At the front is a neat garden. There’s even a monument to Beethoven. So what’s the link?

While lunch is prepared by extended family of choir member Evalee Sharples and their friends in the Hlohovec community there is time for a quick wander.

Behind the theatre is this classic garden with views down to the town. Above it is the original palace which dates back to the 13th century.

The Empire Theatre is part of the palace complex and Beethoven was asked to play at its opening in 1802.

Walk down an avenue of sycamore trees to the town and lake.

Past the old riding school and greenhouses of the castle. Past the sports ground created to identify and foster future champions. Past the small casino to Marilyn’s Coffee Shop – at least that what we called it.

Posters and framed prints of Marilyn Monroe adorned the walls of the bar/cafe, 1960s hits sung in Slovakian played as the owner prepared delightful coffees – layers of frothy milk, coffee and warm milk in glass cups.

It’s back story in this community, one that in a way represents the nation’s journey towards western freedoms.

The town of Hlohovec is in one of the oldest wine-growing centres in Slovakia. Winemaking can trace its roots to the early Middle Ages when vines were grown on the southern slopes if the Povazsky Inovec mountain range.

The town is in the valley at the foot of the range.

The first human footprints date back more than 20,000 years when mammoth hunters used to dwell here in the last glacial era.

The first farmers are thought to have settled in the lowlands of the Vah River.

An old Slavonic settlement is documented in 1113 along with the invasion of the Tatars.

After the Tatars withdrew in 1242 a period of peace returned under King Belo IV.

The reason the choir was in Hlohovec was because soprano Evalee Sharples had family members living there and a civic reception including mayor Miroslav Kollar, deputy mayor Miloslav Drgon and his wife Gabriela Drgonova had been arranged.

Film crews were there so the choir’s visit was going to be on Slovakian televsion the next night.

Evalee’s daughter Lisa is married to a Slovakian, Lubo Gregor who works for their safety engineering company in Maleny, BDA Fire.

“This is Lubo’s home town,” Evalee tells me. “He grew up here, just as his grandma did.”

The Empire Theatre is an intimate performance hall complete with dress circle balcony.

The concert gave soloists Sarah Lawes, Gabrielle Deschamps, Evalee Sharples and Ian Rix to come to the fore, also Melissa Innes and Cath Galloway to perform a duet, and pianist Fay Baker to provide accompaniment.

The choir was also joined on stage by Hlohovec dancers Jazzi Phillips, Lisa Gregor and Anna Ruggeri for Ave Maria.

A very heartfelt version of Waltzing Matilda, performed at a theatre Beethoven played at, was a highlight.

It was introduced to the audience by Lubo, speaking in Slovakian.

He said the audience were so excited by the choir’s performance.

“It’s the furthest anyone has come to perform.

“It was a wonderful concert. Really lovely.

“The passion. The way audience reacted.

“Usually they are a thankful audience here. But the applause today was heartfelt.”

The program included not just hymns but so many fantastic soloists.

They were singing their heart out and the audience appreciated that.

Choir president Melissa Innes paid very big congratulations on the performance.

“I’m not sure where you grabbed that energy from.

“A big thank you to everyone.

“I have not heard waltzing Matilda sung with quite so much passion.”

What really hit home for the choir was the welcome they were given by the people of Hlohovec.

Not just the family connection, that’s important, but it went further than that.

After the concert a restaurant owner and wine maker who was sponsoring the visit, threw his historic venue open.

It was a real sense of occasion with not just dinner and wine provided but a tour of the 200-year-old winery Vanyolai Csaladipince.

Some of the vines in the region go back to Roman times.

Last century, the winemaker told us, the old town had more wine caves than Rome.

Yet the communist times saw the area converted to modern farming.

Now the winemakers are re-establishing their links with the land and wines from this region have made it to world stage in recent years.

“Wherever there are artistic and cultural people together, wine must not be missing,” he told the choir.

Indeed, this visit to Hlohovec showed not just the power of song but real sense of community.