30 December 1999 saw the 80th birthday of Sir David Willcocks, Honorary Fellow, organ scholar (1939 & 1945), and Director of Music from 1957 until 1973, when he became Director of the Royal College of Music in London. The College, the Chapel and the present Director of Music owe an enormous amount to him, and it was therefore a very special pleasure for us all to take part in two birthday concerts, one at the Royal College of Music, the other in Chapel, in which the present choir was able to experience Sir David’s extraordinary musicianship, energy and enthusiasm at first hand.
Last year reference was made to the success of the Choir’s recording of Rakhmaninov’s Vespers. This continued with the receipt of a Classical Brit Award in the spring. The award ceremony created publicity about the Choir of a slightly different kind from that to which we are used! A double CD devoted to the works of Bach followed, in which the Choir is accompanied for the first time by the Academy of Ancient Music. In these difficult days for the recording industry, it is gratifying that the College has been invited to renew its exclusive contract with EMI.
It is always good to hear of the successes of former choristers. This year we were delighted that Guy Johnston (’cello) won the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition, and that Ashley Grote, who comes to the College as organ scholar in 2001, reached the keyboard finals in the same competition – the first organist ever to have done so.
Concerts during the year took the Choir to London: the Royal Albert Hall – a late-night Prom, and a Christmas concert with the Philharmonia; the Royal Festival Hall – Haydn’s Creation with the ECO, and St John’s, Smith Square. Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall and Worcester Cathedral also proved to be enjoyable venues. There were the usual Christmas broadcasts for television and radio, Richard Rodney Bennett writing a new carol for the latter, and of choral evensong.
January in Bermuda saw the Choir forge a happy partnership with the viol consort, Fretwork, in two festival performances, and two concerts were given in the august surroundings of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris during Holy Week. All this perhaps but a prelude to the summer tour which took the Choir to the Far East and America. This was by far the most ambitious tour the Choir has undertaken. Tim Kiddell writes elsewhere about it.
As well as providing music at the regular services of Evensong and Sung Eucharist, the Choir often has a prominent role to play in weddings and memorial services. This year saw the marriage of the Provost’s daughter, Anna, and memorial services for Noel Annan, Angus MacPherson, David Lyon, and Francis Haskell. These occasions, while of primary importance to family and friends, also underline the importance of the Chapel and Choir in the communal life of the College.
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