Choir Retrospect July 2004 to June 2005

The highlight of this year’s extra-liturgical activity was the tour to the USA in December. This took the Choir to six American cities. We began in Houston, Texas and moved on to St Louis, Missouri, where the huge Catholic basilica is reminiscent of Westminster Cathedral in London. Thence to colder climes, the Twin Cities in Minnesota, where the equally large Catholic basilica in St Paul provided the setting for a concert which was sponsored and broadcast nationwide by Minnesota Public Radio. MPR have, for over twenty years, brought to American listeners our A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols through over two hundred broadcasting stations across the USA. For many in the party, the high point of the tour was probably the days spent in New York, where the Church of St Ignatius Loyola provided a fine acoustic, and a venue for a photograph for The Times newspaper. The Opera House at Norfolk, Virginia, was the next port of call and the tour concluded in Washington D.C., where the sixth capacity audience of the tour greeted us in the vast space of the National Cathedral. The Choir’s hard work was rewarded by the appreciative comments of the reviewer in The New York Times who wrote that ‘the consistency and excellence of King’s Choir over the years is testimony to the benefits of standards and tradition … One evening with the King’s College Choir and you become part of its tradition’. We returned in very good spirits for the annual concert in the Albert Hall, with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus and, of course, A Festival of Nine Lessons Carols, for which Judith Bingham and David Willcocks had each written a new carol.

In November Cambridge had had an opportunity to hear the boys perform Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols in the West Road Concert Hall, which they were to sing so successfully on the American tour, on the occasion of the visit of H.R.H. The Duchess of Kent to the School in connection with her charitable work in music education. The traditional carol services for Cambridge schools and for BBC television also took place prior to the tour.

The Michaelmas Term had begun with a memorial service for Professor Keith Hopkins, Vice-Provost, who had in recent years with his wife, Jennifer, welcomed the choristers to his rooms in College to give them their Christmas presents, a traditional role of the Vice-Provost which he greatly enjoyed. Attendance at Evensong on 16 October by members of the Herbert Howells Society was a reminder of the important contribution of that composer to the liturgical repertoire of the twentieth century. Some former choristers will remember Peter Helps, now manager of the East of England Sinfonia, who had invited the Choir to give a concert with the orchestra in the finely restored Derby Assembly Rooms later in the term.

The Lent Term began with a concert at Gresham’s School, Holt, Norfolk. This included Britten’s A Hymn to the Virgin which was written when the composer was a pupil at the school. It was moving to note that Britten was only a few years older than the Year 8 choristers when he wrote this little gem, and very gratifying to reflect that many of our present choristers are engaged in musical composition.

It was hugely stimulating for the Choir to be rehearsed and directed at the end of January by Sir David Willcocks. I am thrilled that the present generation of choral scholars and choristers have had the opportunity to sing for this great musician and Kingsman. They had recently enjoyed singing Starry night o’er Bethlehem, which he had written for A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in 2004. Shortly afterwards the Choir travelled to Eton College to sing evensong jointly with the other choirs of the ‘Amicabilis Concordia’ – Eton, Winchester and New College, Oxford.

The Holy Week and Easter Services at King’s have always been much valued and I was delighted that this year my long-cherished plans for an Easter festival came to fruition. The Choir was featured in a broadcast of Bach St John Passion with The Academy of Ancient Music, and in two live relays of Choral Evensong. Gillian Perkins, mother of former choristers John and Oliver, was a tower of strength in her capacity as administrator of the festival. The annual Founder’s Day concert, taking place for the first time at the end of the Lent Term, and due to be renamed, was a prelude to the festival, and on return from the Easter holiday the Choir recorded a CD of music by Purcell, again with AAM, and at the same time completed the recording of the carols which had been commissioned each year since 1982. This is due for release in the autumn of 2005. During the year EMI records released Heavenly Voices, a disc featuring the boys and the altos of the Choir. The reviewer in The Gramophone greeted this release with the following remarks:

"In the unlikely event of passing to Eternity to the accompaniment of those ‘angel voices ever singing’ which the hymn assures us ‘rest not day nor night’, it will certainly be easier to reconcile oneself to the prospect knowing that they have been trained in Cambridge. The present generation of trebles seems quite worthy of the honour of being the first from their famous choir to have a recital disc such as this to themselves. The purity is unsullied, they bring telling force to a forte, and their ranks provide a good selection of soloists."

Later in the year an album of music by John Rutter was released by EMI, and this time the reviewer in International Record Review wrote that: "The boys, whether singing together or in their solo opportunities, are beautifully balanced within the overall picture … The boys’ assurance is simply astonishing."

The Easter Term began with a celebration of the centenary of the birth of Philip Radcliffe. Between Evensong and dinner on 30 April there was a recital of Philip’s music, featuring the string quartet, and some of the songs, given by the Fitzwilliam quartet with James Gilchrist (1985-88CS) and Tom Winpenny, the current organ scholar. The Choir School Headmasters’ Association gathered in May and reminded us of our part in the invaluable tradition of cathedral and collegiate music in this country. At the Honorary Degree Congregation in the Senate House in June, we were joined by the Choir of Jesus College, now directed by our former Organ Scholar, Dan Hyde.

The year’s concert-giving ended with recitals in Stratford-upon-Avon and at the Rheinvokal Festival in Germany, and with an appearance by the boys alone at the Proms in August. During the year Sam Landman and Edward Phillips were fine ambassadors for the Choir, taking part respectively in Karl Jenkins Requiem (CD recording and concert performance) and Leonard Bernstein Mass (concert performance and broadcast with the LSO). The news of Andrew Kennedy’s (1995-98CS) success in winning the Lieder prize in Cardiff Singer of the World Competition was greeted with justifiable pride.

Stephen Cleobury

KCCA Events in 2015

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