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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.

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

Latest News

Composer Felix Mendelssohn commemorated with English Heritage plaque

6 February 2013

Dmitry Sitkovetsky unveils Mendelssohn commemoration
Dmitry Sitkovetsky unveils Mendelssohn commemoration

The regular London visits of Felix Mendelssohn - composer of the oratorios Elijah, St Paul and Die erste Walpurgisnacht, as well as a significant body of organ music - have been commemorated with the installation of a 'Blue Plaque', at the behest of conservation and historic buildings organisation English Heritage.

The plaque was officially unveiled on 4 February by violinist/conductor Dmitry Sitkovetsky and is attached to 4 Hobart Place, a Grade II listed building near Buckingham Palace in the City of Westminster.

The house is the former home of the Hanoverian embassy secretary, Karl Klingemann. Mendelssohn was at the height of his fame during a series of  visits to Britain, stayed four months in total over five separate periods.

During his stays in Hobart Place he conducted the Philharmonic Society on numerous occasions and gave many organ recitals. It was from this building he left to dine with Isambard Kingdom Brunel, which he did not enjoy, and Charles Dickens, which he very much did. It was back to this address that he rushed back to give his account of his audience with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1842.

At his death in 1847 Mendelssohn was widely regarded as Europe’s greatest composer, with one biographer suggesting he was the first composer to be internationally mourned. An obituary in
The Times asserted that he 'loved England as heartily as his own home'; memorial concerts were held across the country and a Mendelssohn scholarship was endowed in London the following year.

Sir Nicholas Kenyon, managing director of the Barbican Centre, former BBC Proms director and member of the blue plaque panel, said a key factor in Mendelssohn being widely accepted in the UK was largely down to its enduring choral tradition. 'It was a major factor in the 19th Century, which enabled him to have his works done well here, and as we know they then became accepted into the warp and weft of the English choral tradition in a very major way;
Elijah absolutely stood at the centre of that.'

Mendelssohn loved London and his links to the city were strong. Writing about the city he said that there was 'no question that that smoky nest is my preferred city and will remain so. I feel quite emotional when I think of it.'

A plaque was first mooted over a century ago; the case was only recently revived at the suggestion of an English Heritage historian who works on the Blue Plaques scheme. Asked why it had taken over a century for Mendelssohn to be honoured, Sir Nicholas explained that, 'The people at that time who owned the building didn't want a blue plaque on it and the file simply mouldered away until Howard Spencer had a new discussion about it and revived the idea.'

In the year 2016, English Heritage will celebrate 150 years of commemorative plaques, in spite of swingeing cuts in its funding. 'Because there is a huge backlog of nominations for the scheme, there won't be any new nominations for the next couple of years, but plaques will continue to go up,' Sir Nicholas added.

Graeme Kay

Winning hands

30 January 2013

Toby Young, Kerry Andrew and Stef Conner have won the Incorporated Society of Musicians’ (ISM) inaugural competition for young composers with original works for voices inspired by the music of Benjamin Britten to celebrate the composer’s centenary this year. 

Toby Young’s Missa Brevis won the children’s voices category, with Kerry Andrew’s All Things Are Quite and Stef Conner’s O Earendel (Hymn to the Star) – both for SATB – being highly commended. Suzi Digby will conduct the premieres of the three pieces at the ISM Conference at Queens’ College, Cambridge on 4 April 2013. 

Toby Young studied composition with Robin Holloway at Cambridge while a choral scholar in the King's College Chapel Choir. Kerry Andrew – a former Choir & Organ New Music composer – specialises in experimental vocal music, choral music and music-theatre, and won a British Composer Award in 2010. Stef Conner has a Ph.D in composition from the University of York, and her awards include the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize. 


30 January 2013

HM The Queen has awarded a prestigious Regius Professorship to the music department of Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL).
The announcement was made by the Government, and recognises the exceptionally high quality of research and teaching in the RHUL music department. A Regius Professorship is a rare privilege and only two have been created in the past century.
The Queen will bestow the awards to mark her Diamond Jubilee. Professor Julian Johnson, Head of the RHUL music department, said: ‘It is a great honour to have the title of Regius Professor bestowed upon the department and wonderful to hear that the quality of our teaching and research has been recognised in this way.
‘We know that our students rate our teaching very highly and indeed our research placed us as the top Music Department in the UK in the last Research Assessment Exercise. It means a great deal to receive such a mark of public esteem.’ 

Vicar blasts ‘cringeworthy’ beatbox machines

30 January 2013

Dr Giles Fraser
Dr Giles FraserBBC

Dr Giles Fraser, former canon of St Paul’s Cathedral, and now vicar of St Mary's, Newington, has condemned karaoke-style recorded music devices in churches as ‘cringeworthy beatbox machines with no gravitas.’

Interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, along with Westminster Abbey sub-organist Robert Quinney, Dr Fraser said, ‘In the liturgy, a musician sitting at an organ needs to react sensitively to what's going on; a machine can’t do that and you can hear how inappropriate a machine's intervention is when it gets it wrong.’

Asked by presenter Jim Naughtie how else churches might replace superannuated organists with no obvious successors to hand, Dr Fraser responded that as Christianity predated the invenation of the organ there were and still are other ways of making music in church – plainsong and taizé chanting, for example – without resorting to machines. ‘If you wouldn’t have it at your funeral, you shouldn’t have it in church on a Sunday morning.’

Robert Quinney added, ‘Anything that sounds so transparently fake needs to be treated with suspicion. It’s not necessarily a natural step for a pianist to become the sort of organist who could play in a local church, but local congregations have changed, and there is still a stock of young organists coming through.’

‘Live’ organists are familiar enough with the perils of lack of co-ordination with congregations – getting ‘out’. ‘A human being playing the organ can hear what other people are doing, so accompanying a congregation enables you to be sensitive to the speed etc,’ said Quinney.

Dr Fraser concluded that, having witnessed one organist eating sandwiches during his sermon and another slyly improvising a processional on the theme tune of Blackadder for a visit by a former Bishop of Bath and Wells, he would miss their ‘fantastic’ sense of humour if replaced by machines, and stressed the importance of organists’ contribution to the liturgy.

Graeme Kay  

Six of the best

28 January 2013

Suzy Digby: First of six guest presenters for Radio 3’s The Choir
Suzy Digby: First of six guest presenters for Radio 3’s The Choir

Stars from the choral community Suzi Digby, Paul Mealor, Ken Burton, Harry Christophers, Mary King and Eric Whitacre are to join BBC Radio 3’s The Choir from Sunday 3 February for six special programmes exploring subjects close to their hearts. The guest presenters will replace Aled Jones, who has presented the Sunday evening programme since 2006, and has recently moved into mainstream TV with regular appearances on the Daybreak breakfast show on ITV1. 

Conductor Suzi Digby (3 Feb) draws on her unrivalled experience of working with youth ensembles for an exploration of choral music, focusing on young choral talent. On 10 Feb, composer Paul Mealor, who shot to international fame with works including Wherever you Are (the Military Wives Choir) and Ubi Caritas et Amor (premièred at the 2012 Royal Wedding) will discuss writing for special events.

Ken Burton, founder/conductor of Tessera, The London Adventist Chorale and the Croydon Seventh-day Adventist Gospel Choir, will explore the ways in which choral music genres have integrated with gospel styles and looks at spiritual choral music by choirs not from a traditional gospel background (17 Feb).

Harry Christophers, conductor of The Sixteen will discusses sacred choral music, with specific reference to Victoria, Poulenc and James MacMillan (24 Feb). On 3 March, regular Radio 3 presenter Sara Mohr-Pietsch will lead a special live programme of Baroque music, as part of BBC Radio 3’s month-long Baroque Spring season, and vocal coach and animateur Mary King continues the celebrity series with an exploration of the links between folk and choral music, introducing works by Janáček and Bartok, alongside arrangements of British folk tunes. And on 17 March, the US composer-conductor Eric Whitacre will talk about what inspires him as a composer and a performer, and introduce a concert by the Eric Whitacre Singers to be recorded at LSO St Luke's, London, on 12 March.

The six special presenters replace Aled Jones as he leaves BBC Radio 3 after seven years as presenter of The Choir. Jones said, 'I feel honoured to have been able to enjoy seven years at the helm of The Choir, a very special show which truly celebrates choral music of every kind. I’d like to thank my colleagues at BBC Radio 3 and all those who helped make this show the success it is today.' Radio 3 says that details of future programmes will be announced shortly.

Graeme Kay

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