It is a fine September evening in Göteborg. The Choir is relaxing after rehearsing for a concert tomorrow. As I settle down in my hotel room to write this report, I am watching the boats sailing in and out of the harbour, and it occurs to me that, in coming to Sweden, we are following the path of the first KCC tour abroad, seventy years ago, when Boris Ord also brought the Choir to this country. The late David Calcutt, a choral scholar at the time, was fond of telling the story of Boris’s brush with customs on that occasion: something to do with a new watch!
To us, having to check in three hours before the flight, and having to comply with strict new security measures, which have certainly put an end to any ideas that choral scholars have of taking a little liquid refreshment on board, the idea of travelling as our predecessors did in 1936 by ship and train seems rather appealing. No doubt these modes of travel have their own disadvantages, for, upon his return, Boris Ord apparently vowed that the Choir would never tour again!
The College has long disregarded his wish. In this era of ‘easy’ travel, choirs seem to vie with each other to undertake ever more exotic tours. King’s has more than a fair share of these, Singapore and South Korea, Turkey, Finland and other Baltic states, and Brazil being among the planned destinations during the next couple of years. During the year covered in this report, there have been performances of Rachmaninov in Turin, Britten in Brussels, Handel (Messiah) in Lucerne, Renaissance polyphony in Perugia, Florence and Genoa, Purcell in London and Stuttgart, Christmas music in London and, on tour with the Britten Sinfonia, more seasonal music in Amsterdam (the Concertgebouw is now my favourite concert hall after this, our second recent visit), den Bosch and Antwerp (birthplace of Rubens).
The cultural and educational opportunities afforded by these trips, even if they are not maximised - Disneyland, or here in Göteborg, the Liseberg ‘Amusement’ Park (roller-coasters being, I am told, very tempting) - serve to widen the experience of members of the Choir in important ways. Lest the wrong impression be given, I should add that the boys have also visited the Science Museum here in Göteborg, and many of the choral scholars took the opportunity to visit the Picasso Exhibition at the Konstmuseum.
Back in the UK, the choristers on their own have recorded Paul McCartney’s music at the Abbey Road Studios, in the presence of the composer. They have sung Mahler’s Third Symphony with the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in London’s Barbican, and premièred Francis Grier’s Passion with the BBC Singers and Endymion in Chapel in a live broadcast. This performance was part of the second Easter at King’s festival. This also included Bach’s St Matthew Passion, which was given with the Academy of Ancient Music, who also accompanied the choral scholars and the sopranos of Caius College in a Mozart programme later in the festival. As members will recall, the Founder’s Day concert has now been re-named the ‘Foundation Concert’ and takes place on the Saturday following the end of the Lent Term, rather than in December. It has therefore become a ‘curtain-raiser’ for the Easter at King’s festival, and a particularly large contingent of former choral scholars and choristers sang the Brahms Requiem with the University Chamber Orchestra this year, a performance in which the current Chaplain, Richard Lloyd-Morgan, was the baritone soloist. The Choir subsequently recorded the Brahms using the composer’s own version of the accompaniment for piano (four hands) for EMI Records. During the year, EMI released three recordings: a Purcell compilation, featuring the Choir with the Academy of Ancient Music, a sequence of Gregorian chant in which the choral scholars sang music for Mass and Vespers as it might have been heard at the time of Henry VI, which had been edited by one of their number, Jesse Billett, and On Christmas Day, a recital of some twenty carols which I have commissioned on behalf of the College’s A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. Signum Records released a recording of music by Lassus, again featuring the choral scholars.
As I sit in my rooms in College on a particularly beautiful October day, putting the finishing touches to this report, I am about to hear some former choristers and others in the annual choral scholarship auditions. Last year as many as three former choristers, James Mawson, Patrick Stobbs and Edmund Rex, won choral scholarships to King’s. I am delighted that so many want to come back. The two sons of Rory Philips, Charlie and Edward, have now left the Choir, but present probationers include William Graham-Campbell, son of Robert (83-86CS) and George Gibbon, son of Michael (86-87BV).
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