Heavenly Music: Premiere at St Paul's Cathedral
25 January 2016, Matthew Power
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 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.
Print – from £6.00
Digital – just £2.49
Print – from £12.40
Digital – from £8.99
Bundle – from £29.80
ABCD announces new president
2 February 2016
The Association of British Choral Directors has named John Rutter as its new president.
He succeeds Sir David Willcocks, who had been president since the organisation's foundation in 1986 until his death in September 2016.
Rutter is a founder member of ABCD and remains actively involved in its activities. He recently led a Come and Sing afternoon in the Royal Northern College of Music as part of ABCD's annual convention in August.
ABCD chair Leslie East said that Rutter was the 'unanimous choice' of the ABCD Council. 'It is not simply that John is one of the UK’s foremost choral composers, but also that he has involved himself with great enthusiasm in the work of ABCD ever since he helped form and set up the Association, that made him the logical choice to follow one of his mentors and heroes.'
Describing himself as 'honoured' to take up the new position, Rutter said: 'ABCD is a practical organisation, offering valuable hands-on training to choir directors, but it is visionary too, never losing sight of the mountain peaks of choral music which point us all upwards. As abcd moves forward to face new opportunities and challenges in a changing world, I look forward to being part of it.'
ABCD promotes opportunities for the professional development of everyone leading singing, and runs an extensive programme of courses, workshops and seminars throughout the UK.
Association of British Choral Directors
New King's Singer announced
28 January 2016
David Hurley (left) and Patrick Dunachie (centre) with the rest of the King's Singers
Patrick Dunachie is to replace David Hurley as countertenor with the King's Singers in September 2016.
He will perform in excess of 120 concerts each year around the world alongside education work and recording.
Hurley, who joined the group in February 1990, said of Dunachie: 'From a strong shortlist of candidates he stood out as an ideal future King’s Singer.'
Dunachie was a chorister at Hereford Cathedral before he took up a choral scholarship to King's College, Cambridge. He graduated from King's in summer 2015, and currently sings as a Lay Clerk in Christ Church Cathedral Choir alongside teaching and freelance work.
He has sung as a soloist at the Three Choirs Festival and the BBC Proms, as well as with groups including Ex Cathedra and the King’s Consort. As a former musical director of the King’s Men and a member of the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, he has also prepared many performance editions of music from different countries and periods, and has web and graphic-design, score transcription and engraving skills.
'I have been listening to the group’s recordings and concerts since I was very young, and I have always admired David’s singing, so it’s surreal now to be joining them,' Dunachie said. 'When I was about 14, I told my English teacher that my dream job would be singing first countertenor in The King’s Singers, and so I feel really lucky that the dream has come true!'
Manager Claire Long said: 'As the group was founded at King’s College (Cambridge) in 1968, it’s particularly pleasing to welcome Patrick, a former King’s choral scholar, as we head towards the 50th celebrations in 2018.'
The King's Singers
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