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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

Choristers of The Chapel Royal take part in Practice-A-Thon

5 July 2012

Choristers are taking part in a two-week Practice-A-Thon
Choristers are taking part in a two-week Practice-A-Thon

Choristers of The Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace, are taking part in a sponsored practice to raise funds for the Choral Foundation. The Practice-A-Thon involves them in practising their voice or instruments for 15 minutes every day over a two-week period.

The challenge began on 30 June and culminates in a concert on 14 July, with current and former choristers performing in the Palace’s Chapel Royal from 10am to 5.30pm in a variety of vocal and instrumental solos and ensembles. The event is free and open to the public.

The Choral Foundation has been aiming to raise £1.5 million, half of which has been already met by donations from parishioners and the public. The money raised will go toward training the choirboys and funding the Gentleman singers. There are also hopes to restore the chapel’s organ: built by Christopher Schrider in 1711-12, it has seen modernisations take place over the years, including substantial improvements made in 1993.

Schrider was the son-in-law of royal organ builder ‘Father’ Smith, who was commissioned in 1690 to build the Chapel Royal’s organ, but his work was destroyed by a fire before its installation.

Chapel Royal Chaplain Canon Denis Mulliner said: ‘The public are most welcome to attend the services on any Sunday, as well as Holy Days. Worshippers do not pay the Palace entrance fee. The Chapel Royal is a hidden treasure, a living, vibrant church with an outstanding choir at the centre of an historic royal palace.  We would like to share this with as many visitors as possible.’

Report rejects cull of BBC performing groups 

22 June 2012

The Myerscough Report leaves  BBC performing groups intact
The Myerscough Report leaves BBC performing groups intact© BBC

‘The operation of the BBC Singers and the BBC orchestras appears cost-effective and efficient,’ is the conclusion of a report commissioned by the BBC to examine the structure, running and financing of the Corporation’s five performing groups (PGs) – the Singers and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Philharmonic, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra ; the report was commissioned from economist and cultural affairs consultant John Myerscough, in the light of the BBC’s licence fee freeze which has seen cuts of up to 20% across the national broadcaster’s budgets.

The report highlighted the fact that, to meet the requirements of BBC broadcast, the PGs deliver twice the repertoire of independent organisations, with distinctive programmes which make way for rarities and work by living composers. ‘The budgets of the [PGs] are significantly lower than those of comparable independents … they make good use of commercial earnings available to them.’

In response to calls for one or more of the PGs to be disbanded to save money, the report highlighted the impact that such a move would have on audiences in Scotland, Wales, the North of England and London, where the BBC SO forms the backbone of Proms performances and promotes regular seasons at the Barbican. But the counter-arguments remained firmly economic and editorial: ‘The report examined both closures of the PGs and equal cost reductions as a means of decreasing investment,’ Myerscough declared in the report’s Conclusion. ‘Either way a severe diminution would result, in the quality, range and volume of live and specially recorded music available to the BBC. This would be inconsistent with the Corporation’s editorial needs and delivery to audiences. Savings would only be achieved were the lost output not to be replaced, and like-for-like replacement programming, sourced elsewhere, would more than eat up savings generated by in-house closures.‘

With 20% savings (approximately £5.38m of the £26.9m annual running costs) considered to be ‘unachievable’, the report charges BBC managers with the task of achieving greater efficiencies. As the bulk of the costs consist of the wage bill for the PGs’ 404 full-time salaried musicians, it is thought that such efficiencies will come from a pay freeze, reductions in the size of the groups’ permanent complement of players, the employment of more freelances and the merger of more administrative functions.

The Myerscough Report (PDF) can be downloaded from here:

The Myerscough Report

Gloucester Cathedral appoints new assistant director

8 June 2012

Anthony Gowing has been appointed as the assistant director of music at Gloucester Cathedral. Gowing will take over the position from Ashley Grote, who will become director of music at Norwich Cathedral in August.

Gowing currently acts as assistant director of music for Sheffield Cathedral and is also the director of music at St Peter's Cathedral Schola Cantorum. He began his music education at St Peter Mancroft, Norwich, where he was taught by Kenneth Ryder. He went on to become a prize-winning student at the Royal Academy of Music. 

Gowing also has experience as a piano accompanist, composer and chamber musician. He commented: ‘I am delighted to take up this exciting position and to be working alongside some world-class musicians.’ 

Gowing was a semi-finalist at the St Albans International Organ Competition in 2007. The organ at Gloucester dates back to the original instrument by Thomas Harris (1666) and was rebuilt by Nicholson in 1999. Gowing said: ‘I am very much looking forward to playing on the wonderful organ which I have completely fallen in love with – it’s unlike any other cathedral organ.'


Winners announced for the NCEM Composers Award 2012

25 May 2012

Alex Woolf (left) and Benjamin Rowarth (right) Winners of the NCEM Composers Award 2012
Alex Woolf (left) and Benjamin Rowarth (right) Winners of the NCEM Composers Award 2012NCEM/Eddie Rolmanis

The winners of the NCEM Composers Award 2012 have been announced. The top prizes were awarded to 16-year-old Alex Woolf from Cambridge for Lux Aeterna (for the under-18 category) and to Benjamin Rowarth, aged 20, for Where is thy God? (in the 19-25 category).

The competition's brief was to compose a new piece of music inspired by the 'In Nomine' theme from John Taverner's Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas. Competitors were told to create the composition with The Tallis Scholars' unique sound in mind.

Woolf and Rowarth were chosen from seven finalists by a jury including The Tallis Scholars director Peter Phillips, BBC Radio 3's Chris Wines and NCEM director Delma Tomlin. All finalists were given the opportunity to workshop their pieces with composer-professor Christopher Fox and vocal ensemble The Ebor Singers, who later performed the shortlisted entries in the final round at the National Centre for Early Music. The Tallis Scholars will premiere both winning entries in concert in Durham Cathedral on Saturday 2 June.

Woolf is a composer with the National Youth Orchestra and his work will be featured at this year’s Snape Proms. Rowarth is a 2nd-year student at Durham University, where he became interim director of music at University College last year; he is also assistant director for Durham Polyphony.

Chris Wines said that the award ‘offers a crucial platform for young composers to create and express themselves through early music. This year's entries attracted a fantastically rich and broad range of imaginative entries.’ Peter Phillips added: ‘I find it thrilling to perform works by a 16-year-old and a 20-year-old and really hope this award will encourage them to develop their styles and write for many different kinds of ensembles.’


Requiem Mass held for organist John Birch 

25 May 2012

Requiem Mass held for the late John Birch
Requiem Mass held for the late John Birch

A Requiem Mass for John Birch, who died on 28 April, was held on 15 May at All Saints Church, Margaret Street, London, where Birch had been organist and choirmaster during the 1950s. In his sermon, the Very Revd Nicholas Frayling, Dean of Chichester, told of Birch’s deep faith and of his appointment as director of music at Chichester Cathedral during the time of Dean Walter Hussey; from this creative collaboration came the revival of the Southern Cathedrals Festival, and the commissioning of Leonard Bernstein to write the Chichester Psalms, of which Birch conducted the British premiere in 1965.

While at Chichester Birch continued to lead an active musical life outside the cathedral, as a professor at the Royal College of Music, a council member of the Royal College of Organists, organist and visiting lecturer at the University of Sussex, and as an international concert artist. After leaving Chichester, Birch was organist at the Temple Church in London and became curator organist at the Royal Albert Hall. Roderick Swanston gave a warm tribute, recalling Birch’s meticulous pedagogical approach – which resonated with the former pupils present in the church – and sharing memories of Birch’s wit, love of art, and fine hospitality.

Paul Brough directed the choir in movements from Duruflé’s Requiem and Stanford’s Beati quorum, and Stephen Disley played the closing voluntary, ‘Varhany solo’ from Janácek’s Glagolitic Mass. A special service was held at the same time in St Michael and All Angels Church in Observatory, Cape Town, where Birch wintered during the last ten years of his life. 

A full obituary will appear in the July/August issue of Choir & Organ.

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