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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.


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Latest News

Exeter Cathedral says au revoir to historic pipe organ

21 January 2013

Restoration: Organ of Exeter Cathedral
Restoration: Organ of Exeter CathedralGraeme Kay

Harrison & Harrison of Durham have begun work to restore the 17th-century organ of Exeter Cathedral.

During the period of the Commonwealth (1646-1660), church music was suppressed and many church organs, including the previous instrument in Exeter Cathedral, were vandalized or destroyed. Devon organ builder John Loosemore, whose brothers were appointed to organist posts at King’s College and Trinity College, Cambridge – was put in charge of the organ after the Restoration. He was tasked first of all with repairing the old one – the earliest mention of an organ in Exeter is in the Fabric Roll of 1286 when a payment was made for casing the organ; in 1513 £165. 5s. 7½d was spent on a new organ to be placed on the screen. Loosemore went on to complete the building of a new organ in 1665; it underwent several changes during the next two centuries, but the magnificent case has survived to this day, having been enlarged at the time of a radical rebuild by Henry Willis in 1891.

Harrisons rebuilt the organ and modernised the action in 1931. The organ was renovated in 1965, with some tonal changes, including the addition of a Trompette in the Minstrels' Gallery. The organ was cleaned in 1985 and in 2001, essential work was undertaken on the organ, which consisted of console renovation and localised repairs, together with renewal of the coupler and piston systems, and the addition of four stops; in 2003, a new section of the organ was installed in the Minstrels' Gallery.

The Cathedral's director of music, Andrew Millington, said the restoration was overdue, as all organs needed a complete clean and overhaul every 25 years: 'This intricate and time-consuming operation involves the dismantling of the instrument, including well over 4000 pipes which have to be individually cleaned and repaired where necessary.

'The Exeter organ has evolved over the centuries, and the original case now houses about four times the number of pipes than it did in the 17th century. The interior of the organ is extremely cramped, and some sections are virtually inaccessible for maintenance. The inside layout of the organ is to be completely re-designed with new soundboards and a better projection of sound into the building. Certain intricate moving parts such as delicate leatherwork will be replaced, and wind leaks rectified. The aim is to restore this historic and renowned instrument to perfect working order for future generations.'

While the pipe organ is out of action, there will be replacement digital instruments for the quire and nave; the historic organ case will remain in the Cathedral throughout the restoration project.

Work on the organ has been funded thanks to generous donors of the Cathedral's Third Millennium Campaign, money raised from last year's Majesty Flower Festival and the Grand Nave dinner and from the Friends. A large grant has been awarded by Viridor Credits Environmental Company and supporters continue to come forward to 'sponsor a pipe'through the 'Leave a note' appeal to raise money for the project. Fundraising to complete the £1m project through to completion will carry on throughout this year and next year.

The pipework will return to the Cathedral for voicing in 2014. Canon Carl Turner, who is managing the restoration project, said: 'The iconic nature of the Exeter Cathedral organ means that we are entrusted with an historical instrument of international significance. But it is far from being a museum piece, it is a working instrument, used day in and day out in the way it was intended to by its creator, John Loosemore, in 1665, and we need to ensure it stays that way.'

The organ has been documented and demonstrated in its current condition in a recent combined DVD and CD publication  –  The Grand Organ of Exeter Cathedral – by Priory Records.

Graeme Kay

 

UK's love-affair with choral music

15 January 2013

Most performed in 2011-12: Handel's Messiah
Most performed in 2011-12: Handel's Messiah

Choral works and choral composers have once again performed strongly in annual statistics for the UK published by classical concert finder Bachtrack.com.

Handel's Messiah came top of the list of ten most-performed concert works in 2011-12; his Zadok the Priest came in at No.5, Parry's I was glad at 7, Brahms's A German Requiem at 8 and Mozart's Requiem at 10.

Overall, Beethoven was once again the most widely performed composer, with Mozart in second place, followed by Bach and then Brahms; Debussy rose to 9th in his 150th anniversary year, an increase of almost 50% from 2011.

The list is dominated not only by male composers, but by dead ones: among the living, the highest-placed were the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (54), followed by Eric Whitacre (78) and John Adams (89); there were no female composers in the top 100.

Bachtrack.com, launched in December 2007 by Alison and David Karlin, is the largest classical concert finder online and listed a total of 17,048 concert and opera events for 2012. Bachtrack told C&O: 'The usual caveats for statisticians apply: clearly, our database only includes a proportion of the concerts performed across the globe. It’s a large sample, although not a random one - it’s skewed towards the events put on by the largest organisations and those who have chosen, for whatever the reason, to work with us. It’s hard to say how those biases might play out: they make these stats fairly useless for serious research, but they don’t stop them being fun to read (we think).'

Graeme Kay

Jonathan Harvey, composer, 3 May 1939 - 4 December 2012

5 December 2012

Jonathan Harvey, who has died aged 73
Jonathan Harvey, who has died aged 73© Maurice Foxall

Jonathan Harvey, one of the foremost British composers of his generation, has died aged 73.

He had been suffering from motor neurone disease.

His music was intertwined with his Buddhist religion, but spirituality of all kinds had a great influence on his work. He decided to become a composer at the age of 11, during an organ voluntary while he was a member of the choir at St Michael’s College, Tenbury.

Harvey studied music at St John’s College, Cambridge, obtaining his doctorate in 1972, and was a longstanding academic at the University of Sussex, where he held various posts from 1977 to 1993 and was an honorary professor. He taught at Stanford University from 1995 to 2000.

He was invited by Pierre Boulez to work at IRCAM (the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique) in the 1980s and he wrote several pieces while working under its auspices, including Wagner Dream, his third opera, which was premiered by Netherlands Opera in 2007 and given its UK premiere in a semi-staged performance in January 2012. It will be given its fully staged UK premiere by Welsh National Opera in June 2013.

In October 2012 he was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the Incorporated Society of Musicians and his Messages for choir and orchestra was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society’s award for large-scale composition in May 2012.

A full obituary will follow in Classical Music's 15 December issue.

Jonathan Harvey 3 May 1939 - 4 December 2012

Sir Philip Ledger (1937-2012)

20 November 2012

Sir Philip Ledger (r) with Sir David Willcocks (c) and Stephen Cleobury (l)
Sir Philip Ledger (r) with Sir David Willcocks (c) and Stephen Cleobury (l)Maggie Heywood

Sir Philip Ledger, who has died at the age of 74, had the unenviable task of ‘following that’ when in 1974 he became director of music at King’s College, Cambridge, in succession to David Willcocks, who had held the post since 1957; when he inevitably began to vary the diet of Willcocks arrangements in the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols with a wider palette of works, including some of his own, he became the first director to whom choristers complained, ‘Sir, when are we going to do the real ones?’  King’s was a task to which Philip Ledger was well-suited – after taking a first class degree in music there, he became the youngest cathedral organist in the country at the time of his appointment at Chelmsford in 1961;  the East Anglian horizons of the Essex-born musician were widened when in 1965 he was asked to help found a music centre at the recently-established University of East Anglia in Norwich. With Aldeburgh as the epicentre of international music-making in the region, Ledger’s work brought him into the circle of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears: he served as joint artistic director of the Aldeburgh Festival and made numerous appearances as conductor and keyboard player – he played Britten’s only solo organ work, the Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Victoria at the composer’s funeral in Aldeburgh Church in 1976. As a recording artist, Philip Ledger partnered ex-King’s tenor Robert Tear in Schubert’s Die Winterreise (ASV) and conducted Janet Baker in Fauré’s Requiem (EMI); his recording of Elgar’s Coronation Ode with Felicity Lott and his own Cambridge University Musical Society chorus, also for EMI, exploited to the full not only the brilliantly resonant acoustics of King’s College Chapel, but the full dynamic range of the digital recording medium.

Ledger set a very high bar for all of the music-making around King’s; he modernised the sound of the Choir and left Cambridge in 1982 to succeed Sir David Lumsden as principal of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, where he set about building a new £16m home for the institution. He was knighted in 1999; a lifelong writer, composer and editor, Sir Philip composed prolifically following his retirement in 2001, publishing his Requiem: A Thanksgiving for Life (2007), and The Risen Christ (2011). A setting of the Christmas story with five original carols, The Holy Child, was due to be premiered on December 16.

Les Sirènes scoop UK’s choral crown

2 November 2012

Winning choir Les Sirenes on stage
Winning choir Les Sirenes on stageTas Kyprianou

The UK’s Choir of the Year 2012 is Les Sirènes, a group of 22 vocal and instrumental students and graduates from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Directed by 24-year-old Andrew Nunn, a graduate of the college himself and currently studying there for a masters in conducting, the ensemble got through on a wild card to the grand final of the competition, held in the Royal Festival Hall, London.

Choir of the Year is run by event management company Kallaway and is the UK’s biggest competition of its kind, open to amateur groups of between eight and 100 singers, representing all ages and musical styles. This year 138 choirs with a total membership of over 5,000 singers auditioned at regional events for the category finals held in Manchester in early October. The final was judged by vocal coach Mary King, choral conductor Greg Beardsell and West End singer Ruthie Henshall, and will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 11 November and on BBC Four television on 23 November.

Les Sirènes beat a Lindley Junior School choir from Yorkshire; Methodist College Senior Girls’ Choir from Northern Ireland; jazz a cappella group the Oxford Gargoyles; Surrey Hills adult chamber choir; and Ysgol Glanaethwy Senior Choir from a youth music centre in Wales to take the title. No distinctions were announced between the other competitors but the jury did reveal that the standard was so high that only five marks separated Les Sirènes from the choir in sixth place, with all the groups demonstrating to an extraprdinary degree the balance that they were looking for between vocal quality, musicianship and stage presence.

Andrew Nunn told C&O that it was his choir’s third attempt at the biennial competition, in which he and one of his singers had been finalists with Tees Valley Youth Choir. ‘When I formed Les Sirènes five years ago I thought it would be good to have something to aim for, but we didn’t even get into the first audition round. In 2010 we were a Choir of the Day in Edinburgh, but didn’t progress further. I can hardly believe that this year we have actually won!

‘This is a very difficult competition to do well in. A key factor is making sure you choose the right repertoire for each round but have something in reserve to make an impact if you do get through to the final.’ Les Sirènes sang Poulenc and Elgar in the adult category final but were in lighter mood for the grand final with arrangements of the folk song ‘Oh soldier, soldier’ and Billy Joel’s ‘And so it goes’.

Nunn was particularly pleased by Mary King’s comments in her adjudication about the increasing rarity of choral singing in conservatoires, where vocal students are often discouraged from joining choirs.  She praised Les Sirènes for combining vocal skill with warmth and achieving a good blend and ‘the best controlled pianissimo legato I have ever heard’.

Clare Stevens


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