At the Abbey Gate… the Chamber Choir and Stanford

Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir has a long association with the music of Stanford and has included a number of his works on our CD recordings. Our CD Rise Heart, includes a recording of The Blue Bird. To mark the centenary of his death the Chamber Choir will be singing his Evening Canticles in C and two of his anthems (Song of Wisdom and O for a closer walk with God) at Evensong in the cathedral on 16th March. The choir will also be singing his Evening Canticles in A in Westminster Abbey on 15th July.

Charles Villiers Stanford was born in Dublin on 30th September 1852, this son of a Protestant lawyer, and talented cellist. He studied in Dublin and London before being appointed organ scholar at Queens College, Cambridge in 1870. His interest in conducting led him to the appointment as conductor of the Cambridge University Musical Society in 1873. He moved to Trinity College, being appointed organist in 1874; a post which he retained until 1892.

Stanford’s musical studies involved spending the second half of each year (1874-1876) in Germany. In Leipzig with Carl Reinecke then, latterly, in Berlin with Friedrich Keil.
By 1877 his reputation had been established with settings of George Eliot’s The Spanish Gypsy, a number of piano pieces and his first symphony.

In 1883 he was appointed professor of composition at the newly founded Royal College of Music. Four years later succeeded George Macfarren as professor of music at Cambridge.
His ambitions in conducting led him to appointments at the RCM, the London Bach Choir (1886-1902) and the Leeds Philharmonic (1897-1909).

In 1901 Stanford returned to opera writing. Much ado about nothing, although well received, did nothing to revive his declining popularity. 
He was knighted in the Coronation Honours of King Edward VII in 1902.

A rivalry between Stanford and Elgar ensued. In 1904 Edward Elgar was appointed professor of music at Birmingham University, Stanford wrote him a letter which the recipient found “odious”.

From the turn of the century until the outbreak of World War I he continued to compose. Works included a violin concerto (1901), a clarinet concerto (1902), settings of Henry Newbolt’s Songs of the Sea and Songs of the Fleet (1904 and 1910), his sixth and seventh (and last) symphonies (1906 and 1911), and his second piano concerto (1911).

The First World War had a severe effect on Stanford, many of his former pupils were casualties (Arthur Bliss, George Butterworth and Ivor Gurney). He was frightened by the air raids so moved to Windsor to avoid them.
After the war Stanford handed over the baton of the RCM Orchestra to Adrian Boult, continuing to teach at the college and give occasional public lectures.

His last public appearance was on 5th March 1921 conducting the Royal Choral Society in his new cantata, At the Abbey Gate. Reviews were polite but unenthusiastic.

In September 1922, two weeks before his 70th birthday he completed his final work, the Sixth Irish Rhapsody, thereafter his health began to decline. He died on 29th March 1924 at his home in London 12 days after suffering a stroke.

His ashes were interred in the North Choir Aisle of Westminster Abbey on 2nd April 1924 near the graves of Henry Purcell, John Blow and William Sterndale Bennett. The music for the service was provided by the orchestra of the RCM, conducted by Adrian Boult.

Although his greatest desire was to write operas, he is chiefly remembered for his substantial output of choral music for the Anglican Church.
Anyone who thinks of Stanford just as a choral composer should take the time to investigate his orchestral output. His seven symphonies, six Irish Rhapsodies, the Cello Concerto, and Concert piece for organ and orchestra are well worth a listen.

Brahms German Requiem – Tickets please!

Have you got your tickets for the Brahms German Requiem yet?

We are two days away from the performance of the Brahms German Requiem in Worcester Cathedral. Tickets are still available in advance from Eventbrite or by using the QR code.

Tickets can be purchased at the door on the evening of the performance.

On Tuesday of this week of BBC Radio Hereford & Worcester’s Kate Justice interviewed one of our singers, Anne Renshaw. It is available for 28 days on BBC Sounds starting at 38 minutes into the program.

Gone… but not gone!

A large contingent of the Cathedral Chamber Choir joined the congregation for the Sunday Eucharist at the cathedral on Sunday 5th February to witness the valediction of our conductor, Stephen Shellard, on his retirement as Senior Lay Clerk. There was much applause and, following the service, further thanks in the Chapter House where Sam Hudson, the Director of Music, made reference to the number times Stephen has sung psalms, processed, performed the daily offices, and even how many times he had button and unbuttoned his cassock over the last 32 years! Although he leaves the Cathedral Choir, Stephen is still continuing to conduct the Cathedral Chamber Choir and with two big concerts on the horizon (Brahms Requiem and Venables Requiem) there will be plenty to occupy him (and the choir!).

Waxing Lyrical?
How many Glorias?

Happy 150th birthday to Ralph Vaughan Williams!

Rise Heart CD

Born on 12th October 1872, at Down Ampney in Gloucestershire, Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir wishes him a happy 150th birthday! At the Royal College of Music he was taught composition by two of the greats of the Victorian era Hubert Parry and Charles Villiers Stanford. The Chamber Choir brought these three great composers together (along with our own Edward Elgar) on our CD “Rise Heart“, released to coincide with the centenary of the first performance of Vaughan Williams “Five Mystical Songs”. The CD includes Parry’s “Hear my words, ye people” and Stanford’s hauntingly beautiful “The Bluebird”. If you are looking for something to celebrate the birthday of one of our local composers we recommend this CD!

Buy the CD

Are you a budding Pavarotti?

We are looking to fill two tenor vacancies. Are you a tenor with good sight-reading skills and a willingness to make a firm commitment to our fine Choir? if you are we would love to hear from you.

Our contribution to Cathedral life includes the regular singing of Evensong and Sunday Eucharist. We also perform two concerts per year and occasionally sing in churches around the Diocese. A regular and prestigious event for us is the opening Evensong of the Worcester Three Choirs Festival. Beyond Worcester we make the occasional tour. Our recordings have been well received, across the world and have featured on Radio 3 and Classic FM.


Would-be members come along to try-out rehearsals and then audition with our Musical Director. For more information contact the Choir Secretary, Kevern Oliver

A little roundup!

This is just a little roundup of odds and ends of what has been happening recently (since Christmas)!

The Church Times reported on 30th December 2020 that The Cathedral Choirs’ Emergency Fund had reached its £1million target and this was matched with funding from the Church Commissioners. This was good news but not, you might think, of direct relevance to the Chamber Choir. The article featured a photograph of the Chamber Choir singing at the Christmas Service on December 18th.

Related to that service on December 18th, the choir was featured by BBC Hereford & Worcester’s Kate Justice on her morning show singing Ian King’s new carol, commissioned for the choir, Away in a manger. Hear it here.

We sing again!

We are delighted to have been invited to resume singing services in the Cathedral. This has involved extremely careful planning and strict adherence to covid-19 guidelines.

We have all missed the music and fellowship of singing in the choir during several months of enforced silence. This made our reunion for Evensong on October 4th a joyous occasion. Of necessity we had to maintain social distancing, wear masks and avoid socialising, but worshipping and making music together in our lovely cathedral was wonderful.

Our next service is on November 1st when we will sing for the 10.30am Eucharist. Music for this will be the communion setting in F major by Harold Darke, Elgar’s “Ave verum corpus” and a newly commissioned carol by Ian King.

The Cathedral is planning a series of Christmas Carol services and we are greatly looking forward to our participation in this on Friday December 18th – we will be performing twice to allow as many people to join us in the congregation as possible (within strict and safe guidelines).

We will also be singing for the 10.30am Eucharist on Sunday December 20th.

Full details of these and all our planned events can be found here.



Until this week the Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir had been enjoying rehearsals and looking forward to a very busy schedule of services, concerts and a recording. However, we have now reluctantly reached the conclusion that we need to suspend our activities. This was a logical and inevitable response to the Government’s strategy on how best to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the Cathedral’s decision to suspend public worship until further notice. 

This has resulted in our having to cancel planned services for at least three months; this is reflected in the updated events section. We intend to reschedule the July concert in Himbleton and the recording, once we can restart rehearsals. Please keep in touch with future plans by referring to this website.

All our members regret this situation. Our music and fellowship play a very important part in our lives and we hope that things will return to normal as soon as possible. Meanwhile, we hope all members and friends will stay safe and well.

St Cecilia sister act …

One of our soloists’ role in our forthcoming concert makes it not only celebration of the patron saint of music – it’ll be a family affair too.

Our soloist Sarah Kings.

Soprano Sarah Kings will be taking the lead in one of our music for St Cecilia’s Day pieces from across the centuries – Meditations, composed by her brother.

It’s not the first time she’s performed sibling Steven’s music but she always finds every opportunity a proud moment, even if it does bring an additional pressure to those that come with being one of the choir’s regular soloists. 

“I want to give my best,” she says, “but I’m also aware the audience won’t necessarily know the piece, which can take the pressure off a bit!”

It’s obviously a help having your composer on hand for any performance tips and, says Sarah, a choir member for 18 years, Steven is always happy to help.

“Although it tends to be more about what he means and is trying to achieve than the mechanics of singing, which he leaves (in this case) to our conductor Stephen Shellard.” she adds.

Steven and Sarah are Worcester born and bred. He attended Kings School and, now living in Bristol, his roles include accompanist and assistant chorus master to the Bristol Choral Society and the BBC National Chorus of Wales. He also conducts several choirs and is a seasoned pianist, soloist and chamber musician.

He has earned several awards and nominations for composing and his works have been performed at Worcester’s Three Choirs Festival, around Bristol and beyond.

Sarah went to the girls’ grammar school before gaining a music degree and pursuing careers in stock broking and IT. She is currently a carer for her father. 

A conducting engagement means Steven can’t attend Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir’s O Sing Aloud! concert in St Martin’s Church, London Road, but Sarah knows he’ll be there in spirit. “He does do the proud brother bit,” she grins. “The sibling pride is usually mutual!”

O Sing Aloud! is on November 23 and also includes works by fellow Worcester composer Ian Venables, an arrangement of American classics by former Worcester Cathedral Director of Music, Dr Donald Hunt. 

Performing Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending is violinist Shula Oliver and readings will be delivered by Gabrielle Bullock.  Christopher Allsop, King’s School’s Assistant Director of Music provides organ and piano accompaniment for the evening that, under the baton of Stephen Shellard, also includes Fauré, Mozart and Parry.

Tickets are available from Eventbrite or via