2021 was a beautiful year, in spite of all the uncertainties around Covid. I sang in several broadcasts during the lockdown, including the beautiful “Via Crucis” by Franz Liszt together with concert pianist Willem Brons, conductor Brian Fieldhouse (Dutch National Opera and Royal Ballet) and the Justinus Ensemble. When Europe opened up, I sang with an ensemble from the Dutch military (Grenadiers en Jagers) at the Lourdes chapel in Tienray, the Netherlands, performed in France with the combined military orchestras of the Royal Irish Regiment (UK) and Defence Forces Ireland (Ireland), and I made my Austrian debut singing in a mass led by the Bishop of Salzburg.

Perhaps the most moving moments of 2021 were singing at the centenary of the Ulster Tower in France, and for the German Remembrance Day ceremony at a German military cemetery in the Netherlands.

The Ulster Tower is Northern Ireland’s national war memorial. It is in the Somme in Northern France, on land where thousands of young men were killed during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The tower was officially opened in 1921, so 2021 was its centenary. Because Ireland was not partitioned during the First World War, the organisers of the centenary asked permission for the military orchestras of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to play together, just as the soldiers had fought together. This was the first time the orchestras collaborated. It was an utter honour to sing with them in the presence of the First Minister of Northern Ireland and various other ambassadors, military attachés, and politicians, both during the ceremony and during a concert in the Basilica in Albert.

For several years, I have sung at the German Remembrance Day ceremony in Ysselsteyn, the Netherlands, initially on the invitation of British Veteran John Sleep, whose mission was to bring about reconciliation and tolerance. John died in early 2021: a very sad time as it was not possible to travel to attend his funeral in person, so instead we recorded some songs in the Netherlands for him. I was really moved to be asked to sing again in Ysselsteyn in John’s absence. It was a particularly moving and confronting ceremony because the Chief Rabbi of the Netherlands was in attendance for the first time. He spoke about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, which is still an immense challenge for society today: and whilst he felt like a traitor to his people to be standing and praying among the graves of the perpetrators, he was also grateful to have been invited to speak.

Chief Rabbi Jacobs in the German War Cemetery. Photo: Ronald Hartsuiker

There are quite some hesitant plans for 2022 which I dare not share here because of the uncertainty around Covid. They include performances in New York, Arizona, Budapest, Moscow and London. Let’s hope that they can go ahead!

Wishing you a happy and healthy 2022!