Choir Retrospect July 1994 to June 1995

Having had the idea of KCCA in mind for some time I was thrilled to see it come into being on 9 July 1994, and greatly encouraged by the excellent turnout and the enthusiasm of all those present. Without the small group, now elected to the first committee, whom I had informally gathered together to help, KCCA would not have been born, and my thanks are due to them and to my indefatigable secretary, Mrs Chris Bagnall. Thanks are due also to those who so generously sent ‘start-up’ donations.

The editors of this our first newsletter have asked me to review the Choir’s year, and I hope to do this on an annual basis. Inevitably these reviews will focus on ‘extra-curricular’ activities, but I would begin by stressing that the raison d’être of the Choir is the singing of services in Chapel. Indeed, this is a statutory duty, laid upon us by the Founder, King Henry VI, whose intentions in this connection are the ultimate safeguard of the Choir’s future.

Just before the first KCCA meeting, the Choir gave the opening concert at the International Organ Festival in Haarlem. The other main events of the Long Vacation were a concert with the LPO in aid of Action Research, and a recording for EMI – Ikos – a sequence of music by Pärt, Gorecki and Tavener interweaved with Gregorian Chant. (Since the purchase a few years ago of the Graduale Romanum the tenors and basses now sing plainsong from neumatic notation.) Ikos was particularly well received following its release in November, and achieved a mention in a publication, of which I was previously unaware, called Q Magazine!

There followed a tour in Europe, somewhat arduous and hot, but taking in, inter alia, the Bruges Festival (many will have memories of Spermali!), some four days in Toulouse, where, in the Abbaye des Augustins, a disc of Christmas music was recorded, an open air concert in the main square of Altafulla, a delightful, historic town on the coast near Barcelona, now the home of David van Asch (55-59 C, 65-68 CS), and, finally, a recital in Majorca.

The Sunday of the non-residents’ weekend (25 September) saw us flying to Edinburgh to perform Lassus and Palestrina in the New Festival Theatre amidst a set for Carmen Jones.

A visit by the Herbert Howells Society (15 October), whose number included the composer’s actress-daughter, Ursula, offered a special opportunity to include the Collegium Regale setting at evensong on that day.

The Founder’s Day concert (3 December) saw Charles Brett (60-63 CS), John Nixon (70- 73 CS) and Lawrence Whitehead (84-87 CS) return as soloists, together with a goodly number of other former choral scholars.

Christmas concerts were given in London with the ECO (14 December) and the Philharmonia (19 December). Tallis’ Puer natus Mass was the main work in a live EBU broadcast (18 December), and a special carol service for television was recorded for transmission on Christmas Eve to complement the live radio broadcast which this year included a commissioned carol from Jonathan Harvey, The Angels.

A novel feature of the year was a January tour. It was no hardship to spend six days in a hotel with its own private beach in Bermuda, where three concerts were given in the Roman Catholic Cathedral. Further performances were given at St Thomas, 5th Avenue, New York City, and in the National Cathedral, Washington DC.

The normally quieter Lent Term included a recording of music to accompany BBC television’s study of the Chapel’s magnificent windows – Pains of Glass – which featured Sister Wendy Beckett in conversation with the Dean. The wonderful television pictures, together with the accompanying BBC book, will have stimulated interest afresh in this unrivalled treasure.

There was also much preparation for a television and video recording of Handel’s Israel in Egypt with the Brandenburg Consort led by Roy Goodman (59-64 C), and soloists who included Michael Chance (74-77 CS), Henry Herford (KC 1965) and Stephen Varcoe (67-70 CS). This production was notable for the costumes worn by the singers – rough linen tunics and make-up designed to make the choristers look ‘dirty and sweaty’ (did we need the make-up girls?). The orchestra and Director of Music were out of vision: rumours that the latter would be required to grow a beard and be dressed as Moses were unfounded.

In the Easter Term, a broadcast Choral Evensong featured My beloved spake, with strings, as part of the BBC’s Purcell tercentenary celebrations. The choristers sang Illuminare, Jerusalem by Leo Hussain (87-91 C) at a Eucharist early in June. More Purcell – Welcome to all the Pleasures – was sung at the May Week concert, and on a tour in Europe in June, which included concerts in Cologne and Paris, featuring some of his sacred music alongside three pieces from the Eton Choirbook, as well as works by Britten and Tippett. The Eton pieces were recorded by BBC Radio 3 at the beginning of July for the Fairest Isle series, and a CD recording for Decca of Israel in Egypt was undertaken.

Stephen Cleobury

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