michelow1 michelow2

As a young student I heard Sybil Michelow for the first and only time in 1984 in London in a recital organized by the B’nai B’rith Music Festival. She was 59 at the moment but still managed to impress with her artistry and music choices. Her accompanist was Malcolm Williamson (1931 – 2003) until his death Master of the Queen’s Music. In that concert Michelow sang a prayer –in Hebrew- from Williamson’s one act opera “The Red Sea” and also his “Now is the singing day” from The Biblical Bride.

michelow3 (for notes on the concert scroll down)

Hereby some notes on her life and career. The following is an annotated extract from volume III of the 1986 edition of South African Music Encyclopedia (J.P. Malan, ISBN 0 19 570363 4)
“Sybil Michelow passed her first Trinity College pianoforte examination at the age of four.  Since then she has won prizes at Eisteddfodau and broadcast for the SABC.  During 1944-45 she studied music at the University of the Witwatersrand, obtained a diploma and commenced private pratice as a pianoforte teacher.  She also became interested in singing and composed incidental music for a children's Christmas play Pop Goes the Queen, which was produced in Johannesburg (1944).  Later she studied privately in London under Franz Reizenstein (pianoforte, 1950-53) and Mary Jared (singing, 1954-61), acted as choral instructor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art for two years and composed incidental music for performances of two plays by Bertold Brecht.”
She has devoted herself to singing since 1958 and after her debut in Bach's St John's Passion she performed as a radio and concert soloist in England, Holland, Belgium and Israel.  A highlight of her career was her first appearance at a Henry Wood Promenade concert in the Royal Albert Hall in 1961.  During the next ten years she sang at the Proms on nine occasions and in 1972 for a televised programme during the 50th anniversary of the BBC.  In 1963 she visited South Africa to sing in the PACT production of Amahl and the Night Visitors (Menotti).  Subsequent visits took place in 1969 and 1971, on which occasions she was engaged for concert tours by PACT and CAPAB. Sybil Michelow was a singing instructor at Royal Academy of Dramatic Art from 1956 to 1958.  Large scale works written for her by Wilfred Josephs and Malcolm Williamson.Sybil Michelow is a younger sister of contralto Grace Phillips.  She married Dr Derek Goldfoot in 1950. Derek died in 1985.
Michelow recorded Arthur Bliss's Pastoral, with Wyn Morris conducting, and Esperanto songs by Frank Merrick. She was the soloist on the premiere recording of Sicut Umbra by Luigi Dallapiccola, and in 1969 formed the ensemble Musica Intima with the violist Christopher Wellington and pianist Ronald Lumsden, later Benjamin Kaplan, in order to present less familiar works. At the Edinburgh Festival she sang Verdi's Requiem and Schubert's Mass in E flat under Carlo Maria Giulini; a recording of the latter work was released in the BBC Legends series

Click here for a personal tribute to the singer by Malcolm Miller.

But back to my student days. Here’s an  extract of the concert I attended. She sings:

1. A love song (in Hebrew), composed by Marc LAVRY on words by Ben Gavriel. Your heart and love came to me like the perfume of fragrant spices and flew to the stars, there, where our souls merged as in the moment of our birth.
2. A star fell down (Kochav nafal), song cycle composed by Paul Ben Haim on poems by Matti Katz. This cycle was commissioned by the family of the gifted young poet Matti Katz who perished on active service at an early age. STARTS AT 02.37
a. I can’t put those thoughts into shape.
b. The sun is setting
c. A star fell down
3. Exchanges of love composed by DAVID HADDA (1923 – 2010) on poems by Judith Sternberg. STARTS AT 08.22
a. Upon the tree of my love
b. Seek death no longer

Click here to read more about David Hadda's life

4. HASHIKVENU ADONAI composed by Malcolm Williamson from his one act opera ‘The Red Sea’, sung in Hebrew, starts at 13.04
5. Now is the singing day composed by Malcolm Williamson from his Bridal Dialogue. Starts at 14.28

Other clips with Sybil Michelow :


Written and compiled by Rudi van den Bulck