From Wigmore Hall to Wendover

Suna Erdem  |  Published: Oct 29th 2017

It’s like a classic dream come true plot from an MGM film – a talented young woman is plucked from obscurity to replace an ailing star and becomes an overnight sensation.

In the case of soprano Milly Forrest, this is not just a fantasy plot. When she signed up to perform as a soloist for Wendover Choral Society’s Christmas concert, Forrest was a music student who helped support her studies by working in the cloakroom of London’s acclaimed Wigmore Hall. As a part-time usher, she also checked tickets, sometimes turned pages for musicians, and gave dawdling concertgoers a five-minute warning.

Then, one late afternoon in August, Forrest received a phone call from John Gilhooly, Wigmore Hall’s artistic director, who had heard “good vibes” about her singing and asked her if she would stand in for Welsh Soprano Ruby Hill, who had taken ill ahead of the season’s final song recital.

With only 36 hours’ notice, a nervous but composed Forrest pulled off what music critics have called a “breathtaking” performance of Henry Purcell’s If Music be the Food of Love. Gilhooly said her singing had been “beautiful.” Forrest’s name was all over the national press and she has been offered the chance of a grant to help her continue her graduate studies at the Royal College of Music.

It nearly didn’t happen, however, as the day Gilhooly decided to call her up, Forrest had left her mobile phone at home, finally hearing his series of increasingly urgent messages late in the afternoon. He had decided that if she didn’t reply by 5 pm, he would try someone else. Forrest called at 4.50.

Milly Forrest performs with Wendover Choral Society, singing Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, on December 9th at St Mary’s Church. Tickets can be bought in advance at Just on Wendover High Street.

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