Choir Retrospect July 2002 to June 2003

The Choir had another exciting and successful year: the leaving choristers achieved a bumper crop of music scholarships, and among those graduating, Dan Hyde, Organ Scholar, was a finalist in the Performer of the Year competition run by the Royal College of Organists and won the audience prize. (A former Organ Scholar, Robert Quinney (KC 1995) was the outright winner.) Dan also gained first-class honours and the top mark in the University for his solo recital in Part II. Tim Mead won a scholarship at the Royal College of Music (as did Andy Staples (1998)), and Alex Milner achieved first-class honours in Modern Languages, the Olga Youhotsky and Catherine Matthews Prize for Russian and the Mrs Claude Beddington Prize for Modern Languages. Collectively the Choir achieved many plaudits for the latest CD of music by Domenico Scarlatti, including the following in Classic FM Magazine: "Cleobury and his King’s choristers strike a balance between polyphonic refinement and Italianate passion. Their blend of shrewd musicianship and youthful enthusiasm agree with Scarlatti’s writing, especially so in the composer’s heartfelt Stabat mater and Miserere settings."

One of the important ‘dynamics’ of the Choir is the flow of choristers to their secondary schools, and the return of some of them as choral and organ scholars. This year there were three former choristers with us, Eddie Elias (Eton), Edward Saklatvala (St Paul’s), and Ashley Grote (Uppingham) respectively. These links are important, and it was, therefore, a pleasure for the Choir to begin the Michaelmas Term with a concert at Uppingham. There was much understandable and justified pride there in the achievements of Ashley Grote, who, as junior organ scholar, gave a fine account of Elgar’s Second Sonata on that occasion. A highlight of the past year was undoubtedly the concert given in aid of the School Appeal in Chapel in October, in which five ex-choristers appeared as soloists: Ashley Grote played a Handel organ concerto, Guy and Magnus Johnston played Brahms Double Concerto and two who were also choral scholars, Charles Daniels and Christopher Purves, sang in Haydn Harmoniemesse.

This report often features a summer tour. This year’s was brief, but included three concerts in the Schleswig-Holstein Festival, where an historical survey of English music, which the festival requested, was enthusiastically received by packed audiences. Instead, this year’s concert-giving has concentrated, on an almost monthly basis, on one-off events at an impressive range of concert venues.

The London series at St John’s, Smith Square goes from strength to strength. The performances of Parry Songs of Farewell in October, Britten A Boy was Born in December and Dvorák Mass in D in March will linger long in the mind.

Duruflé Requiem was given liturgically in Chapel on Remembrance Sunday and performed again at the Founder’s Day concert. There was much praise for the Christmas radio and television broadcasts, the repertoire including music specially written by Philip Ledger and Robin Holloway.

In January the Choir combined with that of Christ Church, Oxford to sing Bach St Matthew Passion under the veteran German maestro, Kurt Masur, in the Royal Festival Hall, London. Eton College provided the ripieno choir for this, and we had further contact with our sister foundation the following month, in the form of a joint Evensong sung in Chapel by our own choir and that of Eton.

Later that month the Choir performed at the Dome in Brighton (once the stables of the Pavilion and now a major concert venue). April brought another St Matthew Passion, this time in Chapel with The Academy of Ancient Music, and also an all-Berkeley (Lennox and Michael) programme for a BBC Choral Evensong broadcast, which celebrated the centenary of the birth of Lennox Berkeley. Michael Berkeley wrote a new set of responses for the occasion.

May was especially notable, for, with AAM again, we went to Leipzig to perform works by Purcell, Handel and Bach in Bach’s own church, St Thomas, to a rapturous reception and four curtain calls. It was a great privilege to perform within yards of Bach’s final resting place, and the trip also gave us a chance to hear the famous Thomanerchor.

In early June we gave the opening concert of the Spitalfields Festival. BBC Radio 3 was there to record Rachmaninoff Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. This major undertaking elicited excellent reviews from three quality newspapers, The Guardian, for example, writing that "every syllable of the choir’s singing was gilded with a gentle halo of resonance … The King’s College singers relished the melancholy of the music … [and the] basses opened up an abyss of sound whenever they dropped to these sepulchral sonic regions, an image of incomprehensible vastness". The following month saw the Choir recording this work for release by EMI in March 2004.

Symphony Hall, Birmingham, another major venue, included the Choir in their main season, and for this June concert we offered a challenging programme of works by Kodály, Janácek, Ives, Bernstein and Britten in which the soloists were Sioned Williams (harp) and Andrew Kennedy (KC 1995).

In July the Choir and that of St John’s College joined forces in a joint Evensong which was broadcast by the BBC as a special tribute to Christopher Robinson, who retired as Organist and Director of Music at St John’s at the end of the academic year.

After the end of services in the Long Vacation term, the Choir fitted in a further performance in Chapel of the Rachmaninov and a concert in Stratford-on-Avon as part of the festival there, immediately before flying out to north Germany.

August saw a collaboration between my two choirs, the King’s choristers joining the BBC Singers to sing An dem Baum Daphne in a BBC Prom featuring an all-Strauss programme.

The Choral Scholars undertook their own tour of the USA in September, linking up with the Development Office in New York in support of the Chapel Foundation.

Stephen Cleobury

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