UK's love-affair with choral music
15 January 2013
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
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).'
Jonathan Harvey, composer, 3 May 1939 - 4 December 2012
5 December 2012
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)Maggie Heywood
Les Sirènes scoop UK’s choral crown
2 November 2012
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’.
Archbishop honours senior cathedral figures
1 November 2012
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.