Choir Retrospect July 1998 to June 1999

The daily chapel services remain at the centre of the Choir’s work, and, indeed, inform everything else it does. It is right to be reminded of this, as this report traditionally describes the extra-curricular activities. The highlight of these was a performance on 16 March of Rakhmaninov’s Vespers in the presence of Mikhail Gorbachev, who was attending a conference in the College. This was also the day of the launch of what has been hailed as a highly successful recording of the work for EMI. It was a great occasion.

During the year the Choir took part in the funeral and in the memorial service for both Professor Tanner and Dr Rylands. Tony and Dadie, in their different ways, were notable supporters of the Choir, and it was both a sadness and a privilege to sing on these four occasions.

The new academic year began with no fewer than nine new choral scholars, and a new organ scholar. This was perhaps rather daunting for all concerned, but a broadcast of evensong on 21 October proved to be a great spur towards refashioning the Choir rapidly.

In early December the Choir was in the Barbican with the English Chamber Orchestra in a concert of Requiem settings by Rutter and Fauré broadcast on Classic FM. ‘Coronation’ was the theme of the Founder’s Day Concert a few days later. Handel, Parry, Walton and Elgar were enjoyed by former choral scholars and choristers. Once again the University Chamber Orchestra provided excellent accompaniment, two choral scholars joining them as 7th and 8th trumpets in I was glad! Further concerts were given in London before Christmas: a seasonal recital in St John’s Smith Square, and a performance with the Philharmonia in the Royal Albert Hall.

There were also carol services: one for television, with a new Rutter commission, and, for radio, the 80th A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve, with a new commission from Giles Swayne. The latter broke new ground by using a solo flute, rather than the organ, to accompany the Choir. (This was the 70th anniversary of the first broadcast.)

Three former choristers and the sister of a present chorister, all past or present National Youth Orchestra players, accompanied a Mozart Mass on Christmas Day. SVC Screen Entertainment recorded Matins for broadcast on Easter Day on Independent Television, and Bach’s St John Passion was given on Holy Saturday in a performance greatly inspired by the Evangelist of James Gilchrist (KC 1985). The orchestra was once again led by Roy Goodman, chorister (1959-64).

Rakhmaninov’s Vespers, together with Tallis’s Lamentations, were given at St John’s Smith Square in April. The press notices of this concert, as well as the reviews for the recording, provided a just reward for everyone’s hard work in scaling this enormous piece – some seventy minutes of unaccompanied singing in Church Slavonic. There was much preparation during the Lent Term for the Rachmaninov, greatly enlivened by the visits of our language coach, Xenia de Berner, who expressed her appreciation of the boys by arriving at St John’s Smith Square laden with chocolate and cola!

The summer saw another broadcast of Evensong, a Bach recording with the Academy of Ancient Music for EMI, and a King’s College Chapel Foundation concert with the Philharmonia, in which Charles Daniels and Christopher Purves (KC 1978 & 1980), John Wallace (KC 1967) and Sir David Willcocks generously gave their services as soloists and conductor.

Instead of the major tours of the past two summers, there have been individual visits to Paris – Musée d’Orsay; Frankfurt (with His Majesty’s Sagbutts & Cornetts) – Imperial Cathedral; Dublin – St Patrick’s and the Pro-Cathedral, as part of the International Organ Festival. A concert in Stratford completed the programme for the year.

The return of Nicholas Robinson to the College School as Headmaster has brought another friend and supporter into our midst, and we look forward to the arrival next year of Simon Brown (KC 1978) as Director of Music in succession to Charmian Farmer, who retires in the summer after 34 years of magnificent service to generations of choristers.

Stephen Cleobury

KCCA Events in 2015

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