Singers shrug off sickness to win

A Wellington girls' choir has battled through sickness and fatigue to take a top prize at a prestigious music festival in Europe.

Wellington East Girls' College choir Cantala was yesterday declared first-equal in the treble (female) choir category at the Summa Cum Laude International Youth Music Festival in Vienna, Austria.

The festival is held annually and this year features 36 ensembles from 19 countries.

Cantala was the only New Zealand group to attend the festival.

The choir members were told they had won just before they were to sing their last piece in another concert, which made for an emotional final number.

Choir director Brent Stewart said the girls had battled 36-degree-Celsius heat, jet lag and a flu-like illness, but they were "really rapt" and "absolutely over the moon" with their win.

"They are obviously so elated. There were a lot of tears, hugs and screaming."

Sickness took out singers in most performances through Singapore and Europe, but they were all present and "on form" for their final winning performance, he said.

Afterwards, celebrations came in the form of gelato icecream, according to Cantala's website. An online message thanked parents and teachers for getting the high school group through homesickness, actual sickness and "many more small and big unforeseen situations".

The group's website said some of the girls were on their last legs, "but they courageously took to the performance with every last ounce they had, it was the most magical performance Cantala has ever done".

Parent Jeannette Troon said it had been a long road to get the group to the festival and to have them win their section was incredible.

"We are so proud. It's been crazy with the parents emailing each other. It's been a wonderful way to bring the school together and we have all made new friends. Nobody has been able to concentrate on their jobs. We are just beyond proud."

Ms Troon had not yet been able to speak to her 16-year-old daughter Freya Milner yesterday afternoon apart from receiving a small Facebook message which simply read: "We won!".

Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Christopher Finlayson yesterday congratulated the choir, labelling the win an "outstanding achievement for the 31 young women involved and choir director Brent Stewart".

"They have done their school and New Zealand proud".

Having attended a fundraiser for the group, the success was testament to their determination to get to Vienna, he said.

Cantala will perform Bitte Betti during the festival's gala night before travelling home on Friday.

Celebrations are planned once the girls have recovered from their trip, which has seen them singing in Singapore, London and Paris en route to Vienna.

The Dominion Post