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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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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

Archbishop honours senior cathedral figures

1 November 2012



The Archbishop with Dr Jackson
The Archbishop with Dr Jackson

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has awarded Lambeth degrees to Dr Martin Neary, former director of music at Winchester Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, and Dr Francis Jackson, organist emeritus of York Minster. Dr Neary's award was 'in recognition of his outstanding contribution at national and international level as an organist and conductor, and of his sensitive and dynamic interpretation of sacred and secular music in the choral tradition.' Dr Jackson's citation recognised 'at national and international level his work as an organist and composer, and his contribution to the development and appreciation of sacred and secular music.'

The Lambeth honorary degree is a full academic degree awarded entirely at the discretion of the Archbishop. The degrees are also given as a thanksgiving from the Church for distinguished service; they can be awarded in Divinity, Law, Arts, Medicine or Music.

The degrees have an interesting history. The Peter's Pence Act of 1533 gave the Archbishop of Canterbury the power to grant degrees (previously carried out by the Pope). It allowed the Archbishop to override the requirements of the only two universities at the time, Oxford and Cambridge, and dispense candidates from residency and, in some cases, examination, at a time when it was difficult to travel to the universities, often because of outbreaks of the plague. This power did, and still does, require confirmation by the Crown and so the degrees are known as 'degrees of the realm'. All recipients have to be able to swear an oath to the monarch since the act of 1533 speaks of the monarch conferring degrees to his subjects. The Archbishop's power to continue to grant these degrees is expressly set out in the Education Reform Act 1988.

At the recent degree ceremony, music was provided by the choir of All Saints, Fulham (pictured with the Archbishop and Martin Neary); Dr Neary is organist emeritus at the church.

Graeme Kay

Choir of King’s College launches own record label

1 November 2012

Changing landscape: King's College Choir launches own record label
Changing landscape: King's College Choir launches own record labelBenjamin Ealovega

In a further sign of the changing landscape of classical music recording, the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has joined the swelling ranks of orchestras, chamber groups and individual artists in launching its own record label. ‘This is absolutely the right moment for the choir to take control of their recording programme,’ said the Choir’s agent, Stephen Lumsden. ‘Choosing the repertoire that is important to both their heritage as well as the here and now, will bring both artistic freedom and control over all aspects of their extensive media life.’

Over several decades under successive directors Boris Ord, David Willcocks, Philip Ledger  and (since 1982) Stephen Cleobury, the Choir has amassed a catalogue of over 100 recordings, mainly with Decca and EMI, selling millions of copies worldwide; its albums of the Psalms of David – initially recorded only as a stop-gap due to a scheduling error – have never been out of the catalogue since the 1960s. In view of the Choir’s continuing popularity, it’s not clear why EMI in particular would want to see King’s fly the nest, and official statements gloss over the choir’s future with the troubled major label. A spokeswoman for the Choir told C&O, ‘The Choir may record with EMI again in future, but for now this is the way they expect to make the majority of their recordings.’ Stephen Cleobury added, ‘This development will allow the Choir to spread its wings. We will be able to record more adventurous repertoire as well as bringing a fresh look at some of the most important pieces from the choral literature.’

The Choir’s international standing has been fostered by the annual Service of Nine Lessons and Carols, which every year but one since 1928 has been broadcast by the BBC. And the new label’s first release, Nine Lessons & Carols [KGS0001], capitalises on this; based on the Services of 2010 and 2011, the 2-CD recording replicates the familiar format of scripture readings and carols; the running order is supplemented by tracks featuring commissioned carols from the last few years, by an impressive roster of contemporary composers including Mark-Anthony Turnage, Tansy Davies, Dominic Muldowney, Judith Weir, Gabriel Jackson, Brett Dean and Einojuhani Rautavaara. In a shrewd marketing coup, the CD unveils the 2012 commission – a new carol by John Rutter. Overall the package is a clear winner, but the real test for the fledgling label will be the next release, an ‘in-depth exploration’ of Mozart’s Requiem, due out next Spring.

Graeme Kay


John Armitage Memorial charity launches ‘Call for Music’

16 October 2012

The JAM (John Armitage Memorial) charity has launched a ‘Call for Music’ in a bid to attract composers in a two-step project designed to inspire new work, and to take the writers to a new level of attainment through hands-on mentoring.

In the first stage, JAM is inviting composers of any age or stage, born, living or studying in the UK to submit pieces of up to ten minutes’ duration, for choir, brass quintet and organ, or any combination of these forces. Every work submitted will be assessed by the JAM panel: Judith Bingham, Nicholas Cleobury, Eric Crees, Michael Emery, Timothy Jackson, Robert Jones and Sarah MacDonald. As with previous JAM projects, successful entrants will receive professional performances in London and around the UK.

In part two of the process, six composers will receive invitations to take part in a Britten centenary project, Writing for Voices, within the 2013 Britten in Oxford festival. Each composer will be matched with a librettist or ‘word-smith’, and as a creative unit they will be paired with a choir, which could be a youth, college or parish choir. In a three-way collaboration, one piece will be created by each unit and performed by its choir in a public concert in Oxford in May. Overseeing each project will be a hands-on tutor group of musicians and writers including Nicholas Cleobury, Judith Bingham, Giles Swayne, Ruth Padel and David Harsent.

Works for performance with JAM will be chosen in December; the first tutor weekend for the six composers selected for Writing for Voices will be held in January. For full details, and to register, visit www.jamconcert.org

Closing date for compositions: 23 November.


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