Members of the Choir returned for the Michaelmas Term full of happy recollections of the summer’s concerts in Helsinki, the Baltics, and at the Ambronay Festival, near Geneva.
October saw a visit to the Swansea Festival and before long the Advent and Christmas services were upon us, together with our annual performance with the Philharmonia Orchestra at The Royal Albert Hall. The Advent Procession was attended by my two predecessors as Director of Music, Sir Philip Ledger (KC 1956) and Sir David Willcocks (KC 1939), both of whom had composed new music for the occasion. On Remembrance Sunday Sir Philip conducted the Choir and an instrumental ensemble in his fine setting of the Requiem. Brett Dean, the Australian composer, provided a beautifully calculated miniature for the Christmas Eve carol service. A moving item in this was the performance of a Latvian carol, which Emma, my wife, had found in the Museum of Occupation at Riga, and had transcribed upon our return from the tour for me to make an arrangement. A Latvian friend at Corpus Christi College, Mara Kalnins, who had herself been born in a prison camp, helped us with the Latvian text and liaised with the museum in Riga. That a carol written in secret and given to a fellow prisoner covertly should have been heard by millions fifty years or so later created a sense of poignancy which was not lost on the smallest chorister. We were told that the whole of Latvia tuned in!
The first of two major tours this year featured the Choir’s debut in South America; pre-Christmas concerts were given in São Paulo and São Carlos. São Paulo is a vast, modern city but there still exist historic churches which remind us that, at the time of the Portuguese and Spanish colonisation of South America, the tradition of western liturgical music was carried there. The whole Choir was entertained at a swimming party and buffet lunch by the Chairman of the British Council in Brazil.
February saw a visit to Marlborough College. As part of the new series Concerts at King’s, the choral scholars joined the Dante Quartet (quartet-in-residence), in the première of a new work by Roxanna Panufnik. For another concert in the series, Judith Weir, Honorary Fellow, composed new pieces to set alongside the Choir’s performance of a Mass by Christopher Tye. The Choir also played a prominent part in the fourth Easter at King’s festival, highlights of which were the two performances of Bach’s St Matthew Passion with the Academy of Ancient Music.
The second major tour of the year found the Choir in the USA in April. In each of nine concert venues (Ann Arbor (Hill Auditorium); the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, Baltimore; Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago; St Peter in Chains Cathedral, Cincinnati; Cathedral Santuario de Guadalupe, Dallas; St Thomas’ Church, New York; the Cathedral Basilica of St Louis; Cathedral of St Paul, Minnesota; and Christ & Holy Trinity Church, Westport), we were greeted with a capacity audience and a standing ovation. A highlight was the three nights spent in New York, which afforded much opportunity for sight-seeing. It was a great pleasure to meet Sir Andrew Davis (organ scholar 1963-1966) at our Chicago concert. The inclusion of Howells Take him, earth, for cherishing in the programme prompted Andrew to remember his morning visits to the College School to teach this piece to the choristers in preparation for a recording.
The King’s Singers celebrated their 40th anniversary in May by coming to the Chapel to give a concert with the Choir for which former chorister, choral scholar, and King’s Singer, Bob Chilcott (KC 1973), wrote works for the two ensembles to perform together. This was another event in the Concerts at King’s series, which seeks to present King’s music in the widest sense. A number of former and founder members were present to celebrate the achievements and propose the health of the King’s Singers.
Our visit to the Norfolk and Norwich Festival was notable for the spectacular delay encountered by the Choir coach, which became locked in a huge tailback following an accident on the A11. The scheduled rehearsal eventually began at 6.15pm! The Choir showed real professionalism in producing a fine concert in the evening.
A further concert in Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall in May brought us together again with the Academy of Ancient Music. The academic year ended with a recording for EMI of Tallis’s 40-part motet Spem in alium. This is laid out for eight 5-part choirs, and much technical ingenuity was involved in preparing an audio track of material for the first four choirs and then overlaying a recording of the music allotted to the remaining four choirs. Everyone enjoyed wearing headphones and singing at the same time!
A new project this year has been the participation by King’s in a government-funded outreach project which seeks to rejuvenate singing in primary schools. The choristers made important contributions to this by visiting and singing at schools in South Cambridgeshire during the year and by taking part in the end of year concerts in the Chapel.
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