Choir & Organ, cover from current issue

January/February 2016 issue on sale now

Choir & Organ is the leading independent magazine for all professionals and amateurs in the choral and organ worlds – whether you are an organist, choral director or singer, organ builder, keen listener, or work in publishing or the record industry, Choir & Organ is a must-read wherever you live and work.

Every two months our expert contributors bring you beautifully illustrated features on newly built and restored organs, insights into the lives and views of leading organists, choral directors and composers, profiles of pioneering and well-established choirs, and topical coverage of new research, festivals and exhibitions. In keeping with our commitment to music at the cutting edge, we commission a new work from a young composer in every issue, making the score freely available for download and performance.

Our international news and previews, with breaking stories, key awards and forthcoming premieres, combine with reviews of the latest CDs, DVDs and sheet music, and listings of recitals, festivals and courses, to keep you up to date with events and developments around the world.

The Neoclassical Organ and the Great Aristide Cavaillé-Coll Organ of Saint-Sulpice, Paris

Latest News

Heavenly Music: Premiere at St Paul's Cathedral

25 January 2016, Matthew Power

Rob Crehan
Rob CrehanJAF Milligan Photography

The first premiere in the 2016 New Music partnership between C&O and St Paul’s Cathedral took place on Sunday 24 January at the Cathedral, writes Matthew Power. Sub-organist Peter Holder played ‘Celestial Echoes’, an atmospheric piece by Robert Crehan. Lasting under four minutes, the music will form the first of five movements in a suite of pieces under the title Hymn to the Martyr, an homage to Britain’s first Christian Martyr, St Alban. 

The simple thematic material for this and the planned subsequent movements is derived from the plainchant hymn Aeterna Christi Munera. The score bears the following inscription: ‘A humble prayer is offered up to the heavens. It is echoed by the divine in the form of a revelation; the sensation is powerful, overwhelming, and magnificent.’ It is easy for soft reflective music to get lost in St Paul’s, especially before a service when there are people moving around. But thoughtful registration, engaging textures – ‘quickly, a gentle breeze... wild and rushing, a strong gust of wind’ – and growing dynamics which lead to a sustained plenum, gained attention from the outset. From my seat in the quire, the clarity of Peter Holden’s articulation was evident. Under the dome and in the nave the 500-plus gathered for Choral Evensong made for a tremendous audience.

The piece came out of the first Choir & Organ Composing for Organ Workshop in September [see Nov/Dec pp.43-44], where Robert Crehan received encouragement and constructive advice from Thomas Trotter and Judith Weir. I caught up with him after the service to hear his reaction to the premiere. ‘It was incredible to hear the sound of it floating around in the acoustic of the cathedral.’ How does Crehan envisage the whole work? ‘A suite more than anything – in the way that Messiaen’s La Nativité forms a framework; each of the movements will express a mood reflecting on an event in the story of the Martyrdom of St Alban.’ Crehan clearly relishes the prospect of completing the work. ‘Watch this space – there’s more to come!’

BBC Symphony Chorus searches for new director

14 January 2016, Andrew Green

Stephen Jackson
Stephen JacksonCarol Hartfree/Bright Images Photography

Mystery continues to surround the underlying causes of the BBC’s decision not to renew the contract of Stephen Jackson as director of the BBC Symphony Chorus, a post held since 1989. Jackson conducted his last rehearsal on 30 November, the day on which Radio 3 controller Alan Davey and BBC Symphony Orchestra general manager Paul Hughes informed Chorus members by email of the decision to dispense with Jackson’s services.

A Radio 3 statement explains the decision: ‘We regularly appraise the freelance contractual arrangements we have across BBC Radio 3 and the performing groups and took the decision, in this instance, not to renew Stephen Jackson’s contract. We’d like to thank him for his service over the years and wish him well for the future.’

Jackson’s departure has attracted attention across the country, according to choral singer Harold Raitt, who runs a social enterprise for schools from the Scottish Borders. Raitt says he has received widespread support for his sending of a letter to BBC Director-General Lord Hall complaining at the decision to remove Jackson. Among the letter’s supporters is theatre/opera/ film director Tony Palmer, whose comment in a press release issued by Raitt pulls no punches: ‘When Lord Hall arrived back at the BBC, many of us hoped that he would revitalise the fantastic tradition of music-making that is the pride of the BBC. Instead we have this shambles, which is only the tip of the iceberg of discontent.’

In the course of a weekend, says Raitt, backing for the letter came from almost 150 choral singers situated around the UK and professional musicians/music industry figures. The manner of Jackson’s dismissal, says Raitt’s letter is ‘…an affront not just to the BBCSC, but to the entire amateur choral scene in the UK. None of us can think of a single other symphony chorus in the UK where the singers (either en masse, or via their representatives on committees) would not be thoroughly consulted on a leadership change of this magnitude.’

Stephen Jackson’s career as conductor, teacher and adjudicator takes him round the world. Among his multiple involvements with the UK choral music scene he has been credited with transforming the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music Chamber Choir. On the situation surrounding the non-renewal of his BBCSC contract, Jackson is keeping silent. Not so members of the BBCSC, albeit speaking anonymously. Speculation from singers suggests there may have been tensions in recent times between Jackson and BBC management. What is clear is that feelings are running high among Chorus ranks about the way the situation has been handled, including the timing of the announcement immediately before Jackson’s final rehearsal. One account of Paul Hughes’s address to the Chorus at a subsequent rehearsal (taken by interim director Tom Seligman) describes him being heard in ‘a hostile silence’. ‘There’s a universal sense of injustice in the choir about the way Stephen was treated,’ says one singer, ‘as well as a feeling that it’s unacceptable that we weren’t consulted about the decision. We’re completely in the dark as to the reasons for the BBC’s actions.’

Another singer said: ‘The Chorus is made up of incredibly loyal and dedicated people who have given their time free of charge to maintain the standards of what under Stephen’s direction has been a fantastic choir. It’s insulting not to have been consulted about his departure. If he had to go, he should have been given six months’ notice so that the transition was properly handled. We’ve no idea who might be in the frame to take over from Stephen, but we want to know if we’ll have any say in the decision – by auditioning candidates, for example.’

Radio 3’s statement addresses the matter of consultation, both over Jackson’s departure and the question of his replacement. ‘Freelance musician contracts are rightly confidential arrangements between the individual and the BBC. We’re satisfied that this matter is being handled in a professional and responsible manner and are liaising with the Chorus whenever possible.’

Responding to comments from within the Chorus that the course of events was but the latest indication of the Corporation’s failure to recognise the worth of the BBCSC, Radio 3’s statement insists ‘The BBC Symphony Chorus is one of two highly valued amateur choruses who are part of the BBC Performing Groups and broadcast regularly on BBC Radio 3 and at the BBC Proms.’

Among musicians making public comment is baritone David Wilson-Johnson, who has appeared with the BBCSC across a long career, not least at the legendary ‘9/11’ Last Night of the Proms in 2001. ‘Stephen’s phenomenal work with the Chorus over 26 years deserves more courtesy than he’s been shown here,’ he said. ‘Every time I worked with the Chorus during his tenure I was amazed at just how well-prepared they were. Stephen’s an extraordinarily fine musician whose judgment I’ve always trusted absolutely.’

BBC Symphony Chorus

January/February Issue Out Now!

6 January 2016

In the January issue of Choir & Organ, we survey one thousand years of music at St Paul’s Cathedral; composer Sally Beamish introduces her new work for solo organ; and we travel to Mafra to visit an exceptional collection of historic organs under one roof. Plus, how the Tower of London is securing its choral heritage; the life and influence of Victorian composer William Sterndale Bennett in his bicentenary year; Andover Organ Company’s two new installations in Boston; we meet the Latvian Radio Choir’s chief conductor Sigvards Klava at a recording session in their 75th year; David Hill on adding dramatic colour to Verdi’s Requiem; Bine Bryndorf talks about recording Buxtehude on historic instruments; choral and organ competitions in 2016; our International Directory of Digital Organ Builders; and your chance to win The Grand Organ of St Paul’s Cathedral on DVD.


Buy now

·         Print – from £6.00 

·         Digital – just £2.49  


·         Print – from £12.40  

·         Digital – from £8.99

·         Bundle – from £29.80


NYCGB and NYJO announce Shakespeare 400 tour

12 February 2016

The National Youth Choirs of Great Britain and the National Youth Jazz Orchestra have announced a joint nationwide tour of a Shakespeare-inspired programme entitled The Play’s The Thing

TBC 23 April – broadcast appearance as part of Radio 2 Friday Night Is Music Night
17 July – Cheltenham Music Festival
24 July – Birmingham Town Hall
29 July – Petworth Festival
TBC Aug – Rye Jazz & Blues Festival
22 Oct – Stratford on Avon Music Festival

David Nice described the programme, which was originally developed for the 2015 City of London Festival, as 'one of the best and most original programmes I can remember in the City' and 'a clear front-runner among the tributes [to Shakespeare]'.

Featured repertoire includes Duke Ellington’s Such Sweet Thunder Suite and choral settings ranging from Vaughan Williams to Owain Park, David Hamilton and Janet Wheeler. 

The programme also includes collaborative items, including Pete Churchill’s Journey’s End (commissioned by the City of London Festival in 2015) and a new work by NYCGB and NYJO directors Ben Parry and Mark Armstrong.

New Paths festival

9 February 2016

The inaugural New Paths festival will take place 7-10 April in Beverley, Yorkshire.

The festival takes its title from Schumann’s description of Brahms’ music, and this year's event will explore the music of Robert and Clara Schumann and Brahms. Works performed will include songs and romances by Clara Schumann, Robert Schumann’s piano quartet and Dichterliebe, and songs, sonatas and the first piano trio by Brahms.

Highlights include a Shakespeare Celebration to mark the playwright’s 400th anniversary, a War Commemoration programme marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, late-night compline and barbershop with a cappella group The Queen’s Six, and new commissions from Grayston Ives and Stephen Carleston.

Performers will include Mary Bevan, Nick Pritchard, Anna Huntley and David Butt Phillip.

The festival also encompasses talks in coffee shops, free children’s events, masterclasses for performance students at the nearby University of Hull, and a community programme taking music to those who aren’t able to attend concerts themselves.  

Launched by former Beverley Minster chorister Roland Deller and artistically directed by his partner, pianist Libby Burgess, the four-day event is presented in memory of Alan Spedding, who died two years ago. Spedding was organist and director of music at Beverley Minster for 42 years, council member and diploma examiner for the Royal College of Organists, and a key figure in the RSCM, ABRSM and IAO.

New Paths

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