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’.