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.

Interested?

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.

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 www.worcestercathedralchamberchoir.co.uk

Sing for the morning’s joy Cecilia…

Our O Sing Aloud! programme covers a broad musical spectrum – and not all of it is about St Cecilia who, unsurprisingly, has inspired many composers to put pen to (paper) score.

Here’s a few examples to whet the appetite for November 23.

Purcell’s Ode to St Cecilia was commissioned in 1692 by the “Gentlemen Lovers of Musick” and, set a poem by the Rev Nicholas Brady, features 13 movements praising the saint, music, and instruments. It’s a bit of a benchmark piece as it heralds the start of the English secular choral tradition. At the time of composition, St Cecilia Day celebrations were civic entertainments staged for the entire population. For musicians it was a commercial venture and the Odes were performed in public concert halls. Our concert features three excerpts from work.

The stars clearly combined when Benjamin Britten came along.s He was born on St Cecilia’s Day (November 22) and so his Hymn to St Cecilia must have been somewhat inevitable. Although it wasn’t an easy process: Britten initially had problems in finding a suitable text which led to a request to poet WH Auden who produced the words in 1940. Much of the music was composed while Britten was in America but when he returned to England in 1942 US customs officials confiscated the first part, believing it was some kind of coded message. Britten had to rewrite the entire first section from memory.

Haydn was only young when he wrote Missa Cellensis in honorem Beatissimae Virginis Mariae – otherwise known as the St Cecilia Mass.  And he also had to write it from memory after the original manuscript was lost in a fire in1768. Seldom performed, it’s a heady mix of intricate fugues and elegant melodic lines.

Herbert Howells wrote his Hymn to St Cecilia using words from poet Ursula Vaughan Williams (aka Mrs Ralph Vaughan Williams) and, harking back to 17th century tradition, was commissioned by the Livery Club of the Worshipful Company of Musicians. Set for four-part choir and organ, it premiered on November 22,1961, in St Paul’s Cathedral.

If anyone was going to get a -er- Handel on all of this it was George Friedrich with his 1739 cantata Ode for St Cecilia’s Day.  He, again went to a poet for the text, this time England’s first Poet Lauret John Dryden, with its theme of music being a central force in Earth’s creation.

Tickets for O Sing Aloud! in St Martin’s Church, Worcester, on Saturday, November 23, are available here.

Serenade makes for a sublime musical heaven

In composing a homage to Sir Henry Wood, Vaughan Williams brought in words from greatest Bard of all time – and the result was sublime musical heaven. 

So what could be a fitting celebration to St Cecilia than Serenade to Music, which is the other highlight of our concert?

Written in 1938 to mark Sir Henry’s 50-year Proms conducting milestone, it features the words from Act V of The Merchant of Venice, in which Jessica and Lorenzo are listening to music.

Opening with ‘How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank’, Shakespeare pens a gloriously poetic discussion about music that stands alone before you add Vaughan Williams’s exquisite score.

The composer set it specifically for 16 leading singers of the time – their initials appear alongside his or her lines – but eventually arranged versions for chorus, soloists and orchestra and for solo violin and orchestra. 

In the original, some parts see the soloists singing as a “choir,” often in as many as 12 parts; in others, they have a solo, some more than others.

Once premiered, it immediately became a Proms staple. Sir Henry himself, wrote thanking Vaughan Williams after that first performance, saying he thought it had “lent real distinction” to it and the work was performed in the following Proms four years straight.

And Sergei Rachmaninov, who was playing his own Piano Concerto no. 2 in C minor in that same inaugural concert, was said to have been moved to tears when he heard ‘Serenade’.

The season has since given it almost nearly 30 airings while Vaughan Williams conducted the original version in the 1951 inaugural concerts of the Royal Festival Hall.

“A fitting ending to 14 minutes of sublime poetry coupled with some of the composer’s most transcendent music: a divine pairing that ascends to heavenly heights and returns to earth with the harmonious strains of the angelic harp hovering in the air,” writes one author.

And what could be a better tribute to the patron saint of music herself? Come and hear it performed in St Martin’s Church, Worcester on Saturday, November 23.  Tickets here.

Singing aloud for St Cecilia

Featured

We’re raising our voices to celebrate the patron saint of musicians at our next event.

O Sing Aloud! will encompass a wide range of composers and genres for the St Cecilia concert, due to take place in St Martin’s Church, London Road, Worcester, on November 23.

The programme spans the globe: France, Britain and America, the centuries: Purcell, Mozart, Vaughan Williams and Gershwin; and is interspersed with items from local musicians.

Worcester’s Ian Venables has created the piece from which the concert takes its title and ‘Three meditations’ have come from city-born Steven Kings.

The performance ends on an upbeat feel with a series of classic American songs arranged by former Worcester Cathedral Director of Music Dr Donald Hunt.

Readings reflecting the evening’s theme will be performed by Gabrielle Bullock and Vaughan Williams’ classic The Lark Ascending will be sent soaring aloft by violinist Shulah Oliver

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 Faure and Parry.

Tickets are available from Eventbrite or via www.worcestercathedralchamberchoir.co.uk

‘A glorious performance’. Brahms German Requiem – review

Michael Whitefoot Photography

St Martin’s Church, London Road, Worcester, Saturday, April 6 2019

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir chose to programme Johannes Brahms’s magnificent Ein Deutsches Requiem (German Requiem); but with a difference. Instead of the usual orchestral accompaniment, we were treated to an arrangement for two pianos that used Brahms’s original 1869 version for piano duet as its basis. 

Having only known the orchestral score, I was inevitably a little apprehensive as to whether this version would work. Brahms, a master writer for the piano did not leave the score wanting: neither too, did the choir. They gave a glorious performance (in German) under the insightful and energetic direction of their conductor Stephen Shellard.

 Any doubts I may have had about this version were swept aside by the majestic opening movement ‘Blessed are they that mourn’. Even the sumptuous orchestral introduction was beautifully captured by the deep and sonorous legato lines of the two pianos, expertly played by Christopher Allsop and Robin Walker. From the perfectly paced opening, Stephen Shellard drew impassioned singing from the choir. Indeed, the choral singing throughout was compelling, incisive and well-balanced. 

Of the performance’s many high points, I was especially impressed by the mighty chorus, ‘Behold, all flesh is as grass’, where the virtuosic piano writing and vigorous fugal textures added greatly to the drama. Equally striking was the thrilling singing in ‘For we have here no abiding city’. The faster sections were taken at a breathtaking pace with the pianos’ percussive incisiveness adding greatly to the overall excitement and rhythmic drive. 

The soloists too added much to the success of this performance. Baritone Edward Seymour possessed a wonderfully lyrical tone and sang his solos with deft assurance, while soprano Sheila Davies was the highly expressive singer in ‘Now you have sorrow’; her bell-like clarity emerging most pleasingly against the backdrop of chorus and piano accompaniment.

Brahms envisaged his German Requiem essentially as consolation for those left behind. This concept reached its peak in the final movement, ‘Blessed are the dead’ and in spite of the valedictory nature of such a work, The German Requiem rises memorably in hushed affirmation. 

The audience’s enthusiastic and appreciative response brought this 20th Anniversary Concert to a close and left many wondering what the next twenty years would bring: watch this space!

Ian Venables

Michael Whitefoot Photography
Michael Whitefoot Photography
Michael Whitefoot Photography
Michael Whitefoot Photography
Michael Whitefoot Photography
Michael Whitefoot Photography