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Latest News

Flashmob choir makes its point outside closed St Paul's Cathedral

27 October 2011

The Occupy London camp at St Paul's Cathedral
The Occupy London camp at St Paul's Cathedral

Revd James Ogley leads the service
Revd James Ogley leads the service

A flashmob choir of around 30 sang choral evensong in St Paul's Churchyard yesterday, in response to the Cathedral itself being closed to the public. St Paul's has been closed since 21 October due to 'practical and safety issues' relating to the Occupy London protest camp which sprang up at its west end on 15 October.

The choir, fixed through Twitter, accompanied a service led by Reverend James Ogley, vicar of St Francis' Church, Luton. Ogley said he led the service 'because I was asked, and because when I arrived I was the first collar on the scene'.

The choir was conducted by Matthew Collins, currently studying for his A-levels at the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School in west London. 'There were some slip-ups but I think we did quite well given that there was no rehearsal,' Collins told CM. 'I had no gauge as to how good the singers were going to be so I had to wave and hope for the best!'

Collins continued: 'The Cathedral shouldn't be closing its doors and the bottom line is that we were here catering for the liturgical needs of the people who were camped outside. If the Cathedral hadn't closed its doors we wouldn't be here. They have a duty of care to provide for the religious needs of the people of London and they're just not doing that at the moment.'

Speaking after the event, organiser Kathryn Rose claimed success in her aim 'to continue the work of the Cathedral – which is public worship – while the Cathedral is closed'.

Alto Holly Thompson said she took part because 'I saw it on Twitter and thought "that sounds brilliant". It was certainly disconcerting having loads of people with cameras in our faces but I was glad because I was worried that we would be drowned out by everything else – but we weren't.'

Thompson understood why the decision to close had been taken, she said, 'but I can also see why they should reopen it. It's a difficult one.'

Chris, a protestor at the site who said he could talk on behalf of the movement, said the choir should 'rock on and do what they want – everyone's entitled to a voice'. He said it was 'definitely not' the case that Cathedral authorities were forced to close by the camp's presence and that 'we adhered to all fire regulations'.

Dr Giles Fraser, canon chancellor of the Cathedral who initially welcomed protestors to the site, today resigned in protest at plans to forcibly remove demonstrators, saying he could not support the possibility of 'violence in the name of the church'.

Fraser's resignation was confirmed by Cathedral authorities. The dean of St Paul’s, the Right Reverend Graeme Knowles, said today: 'Giles has brought a unique contribution to the life and ministry of St Paul’s and we will be very sorry to see him go.'

St Paul's today released a statement saying Knowles was optimistic the Cathedral would open tomorrow afternoon after its first closure since the Second World War. 'We hope to reopen in time for the 12.30pm Eucharist on Friday, to which everyone is welcome.'

Reverend Peter Ould, a non-stipendary priest from Canterbury, had planned to sing at the service but couldn't 'because journalists keep badgering me!'.

'When I first came to see the camp just as it started it was a bit higgledy-piggledy and I almost broke my leg falling over a guyrope,' he said. 'But if you look at it now it's really well ordered. Getting rid of it now is going to be a lot harder.'


27 October 2011

Peter Maxwell Davies
Peter Maxwell Davies© John Batten

The Choirbook – seven years in the making – will launch at a special service in Southwark Cathedral on 22 November. The venture was born out of an inspirational idea by former BBC Proms director Robert Ponsonby and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the current Master of the Queen’s Music. Comprising 44 anthems, including 11 new commissions, the Choirbook is dedicated to the Queen. Eighty cathedral and choral foundation choirs will sing the anthems during the Jubilee Year in the context of services, many of them scheduled for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and on local radio.

The Choirbook is to be published by Canterbury Press. The project’s chief executive Carol Butler said, ‘I’ve been living with this project since Ian Ritchie, who now chairs the advisory and editorial group, asked me to begin working on it part-time when he became director of the City of London Festival. And we’ve enjoyed fantastic support from everyone involved: “Max” leads our communications with the Royal household – there are many details still to be finalised for next year, including the date for the offi cial presentation of the Choirbook. The editorial group decided early on that the selection of music should aim at the highest possible quality, while remaining approachable by good parish choirs; drawing on the combined experience of Stephen Cleobury, Christopher Robinson, Lucy Winkett, Tim Hone, Andrew Kurowski and Ian, the advisory group has done a wonderful job in selecting the anthems – we’ve also enjoyed good collaboration with the publishers.’

The roster of composers featured in the Choirbook is a roll-call of the finest talents working today, from Richard Allain to John Woolrich. The eleven commissioned pieces will be premiered live on BBC Radio 3’s Choral Evensong; producer Stephen Shipley told C&O, ‘Radio 3 Editor Edward Blakeman and I have been involved in dovetailing our planning with the Choirbook Trust for some time – it’s been quite an operation but it’s fitting together well.’

Although a few dates remain to be finalised, Shipley explained that Radio 3 schedules will include premieres by Judith Bingham (Manchester, 8 Feb 2012), Diana Burrell (Westminster Cathedral), Alexander Goehr (King’s, Cambridge, 29 Feb), Francis Grier (Christ Church, Oxford, 7 Mar), David Bedford (Bristol, 21 Mar), Julian Philips (Truro, 9 May), Michael Finnissy (Wells, 23 May), David Sawer (York, 13 Jun), Nigel Osborne (St Mary’s, Edinburgh, 15 Aug), Roxanna Panufnik (Liverpool Metropolitan), and Maxwell Davies (Westminster Abbey, 5 Dec). ‘Where possible, the premieres link composers, writers and places,’ said Butler. ‘Some composers have chosen classic texts but the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has provided the words for Max’s anthem, “Advent Calendar”; and Liverpool poet Roger McGough has written “Joy at the Sound” for Roxanna Panufnik.’

Peter Toyne, chairman of the Choirbook Trust, said the publication had been made possible by generous support from the Foyle Foundation. ‘Following concerns that some choirs would struggle to find the funds required to purchase multiple copies, we initiated a Diamond Subscriber scheme which has resulted in £55,000 being raised so that 80 designated choirs will have a full set to use next year and for the future.’

The Trust hopes that publication of the Choirbook in the context of the Jubilee will raise interest among choral foundations in the Commonwealth.

Auditions open for new Welsh choir Only Kids Aloud

25 October 2011

Auditions have begun in Wales this week for a new children’s choir, run by Tim Rhys-Evans, musical director of the men's choir Only Men Aloud, which won the BBC's Last Choir Standing in 2008. The group, which will be called Only Kids Aloud, will perform with the Russian Mariinsky Opera at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, next April. Auditions for nine- to 13-year-olds will be held throughout the principality.

Choir director Tim Rhys-Evans said: 'This is a chance for children from all across the country to experience and be involved in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.' The new project follows the recent success of Only Boys Aloud, a choir of teenage boys from the south Wales valleys. The new choir will appear with the orchestra, chorus and soloists of the Mariinsky Opera, formerly known as the Kirov, and join forces for a performance of Mahler's Symphony No 8 - Symphony of a Thousand – under Valery Gergiev at the Wales Millennium Centre on 1 April next year. The successful singers will be coached by members of Only Men Aloud in the months leading up to the performance

'This is a unique opportunity for children right across Wales, from all backgrounds, to be involved in an extraordinary project with one of the most prominent international conductors and orchestras in the world,' said Mr Rhys-Evans, who added that he would like to 'inspire a new generation of singers'.

For more details contact the Wales Millennium Centre on 029 2063 6450 or email

Marta Fontanals-Simmons wins Maureen Lehane Vocal Award

24 October 2011

Top mezzo-sop: Marta Fontanals-Simmons
Top mezzo-sop: Marta Fontanals-Simmons

Somerset-born mezzo-soprano Marta Fontanals-Simmons was awarded the £2,000 first prize at the Maureen Lehane Vocal Awards on 21 October, held at the Wigmore Hall. She is 25 and studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. 

Icelandic bass-baritone Andri Björn Róbertsson, 22 and studying at the Royal Academy of Music, won second prize of £1,000 and the £250 audience prize, and Northern Irish baritone Ben McAteer, 24 and also studying at the Guildhall, won third prize of £500.

The accompanists prize of £750 was won by Timothy End, who took the same prize at the Kathleen Ferrier awards in April.

The awards were held this year for the first time after the death of founder Maureen Lehane, who was also founder of the Jackdaws music trust in Somerset.

The competition was followed by a gala concert marking the culmination of the Maureen Lehane Memorial Appeal, in which the trustees of Jackdaws have been asking for contributions to continue the trust's work until the proceeds of Lehane's estate are fully transferred to the trust.

To support the memorial appeal contact its president, Rosa Mannion, on 01373 812383.

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