It has been a busy year for Cambridge’s college choirs. On top of their significant role in the cultural and musical life of the University with various services undertaken daily across the city during term time, many choirs have performed in concerts, recorded CDs, and toured internationally and across the UK.
We heard from some of the choirs who kindly shared highlights from their adventures with us.
If you’re a student of the University of Cambridge and you’re interested in joining a choir or finding out more about the Choral Awards Scheme, you can check out more about the Choral Awards scheme, or contact Louisa Denby (firstname.lastname@example.org) to discuss vacancies.
The Choir of Christ’s College enjoyed a three week summer tour to eastern Canada, singing concerts in Québec and Ontario, with days off in Picton, Toronto and Niagara Falls. Repertoire included classics such as Howells’ Requiem, Parry’s Songs of Farewell, and Finzi’s Lo, the full, final sacrifice plus more recent works from Judith Weir, William Walton and Annabel Rooney.
Additionally, the Choir of Christ’s College has been involved in two exciting recording projects this year. The first brought together the current singers with nearly 100 former choir members to record music by Parry at St Michael’s, Cornhill in central London. The second came direct from Christ’s College’s own Chapel, when the choir recorded some traditional Christmas carols—in June!—as well as a new Christmas song with words by performance poet Tomfoolery. From old favourites to the composers of tomorrow, Christ’s Choir is also looking forward to the release of their second recording of music by former Christ’s student Annabel McLauchlan Rooney on specialist choral label Regent Records. In recent years the choir has recorded more than a dozen commercial recordings, one of which was nominated for a Gramophone Magazine award.
‘I can safely say that […] being a part of the choir has been a highlight of my time in Cambridge. Our twice-weekly formal dinners and light-hearted yet musically exciting rehearsals are part of what makes the choir such a mutually supportive, relaxed, yet focused and driven environment for singers to thrive in, both socially and in technical ability.’ – a member of the choir
Next year, the choir looks forward to an Australasian tour in July 2024, and concerts in London during the academic year.
The Choir of Clare College have had a busy year of recordings, concerts, and undertook a tour to the USA in April.
The choir’s US tour involved 6 concerts in Middlebury Vermont, Duke University Chapel in Durham North Carolina, and other concerts in Davidson (NC), Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville (TN) and coincided with release of Rolling River, the choir’s new album of American choral music. Students reported:
‘With a 100% standing ovation rate, it’s safe to say that the tour was a resounding success.’
Upon returning to the UK, the choir hit the ground running with a concert celebrating 50 years of co-education at Clare College, with 120 past and present Clare musicians on stage, directed by former Clare Directors of Music John Rutter and Tim Brown and by current Director of Music Graham Ross. Repertoire included Tallis’s Spem in alium, Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music, the premiere of John Rutter’s Bard’s Eye View – commissioned for the occasion – and performances of works by Beethoven, Undine Smith Moore, Cecilia McDowall, Héloïse Werner, and Josephine Stephenson.
A new CD is already in the works with an upcoming album of previously unrecorded works by Palestrina planned to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the composer’s birth in 2025. You can see a sneak preview here!
What do rogue tourists, decimated hedges, and taxidermy all have in common? They all featured (to a greater or lesser extent) in the Chapel Choir of Downing College‘s recent tour to Paris. After an eventful journey the choir arrived for five days singing a mix of services and concerts in a variety of stunning churches around the city.
Highlights included the gentlemen’s seemingly unlimited capacity to consume breakfast pastries, the Organ Scholar’s attempts to go viral on Twitter after being photographed brandishing an organ shoe at the top of the Eiffel Tower, and the wonderfully appreciative audience at the exquisitely beautiful Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois.
The Choir of Emmanuel College toured to Hungary in March. They’re pictured in the fourth largest Synagogue in the world, in Szeged.
Highlights of the Choir of Fitzwilliam College‘s year have included the release of their album The Stalk Had No Knots, featuring the première recording of the titular composition by Bernard Hughes on a text by St. Bridget of Sweden; Fitz’s annual fully-staged opera, this year Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love, for which the choir formed the chorus and provided some principals; and a tour to Ripon Cathedral, Hexham Abbey and Lindisfarne Holy Island.
The Choir of Gonville & Caius College enjoyed a week in Sweden singing concerts and a service in the magnificent cathedrals of Uppsala and Stockholm.
During the 2023 Easter vacation, the choir sang a live BBC Radio 3 Choral Evensong in Cirencester Parish Church. This is the third BBC broadcast for Radio 3 since the arrival of the new Precentor (Director of Music) in 2020, and the previous 2021/22 broadcasts came from Buckfast Abbey, Devon.
The choir’s latest recording was released in May to critical acclaim. It is a unique and rare collection of music by exiled Catholics, Peter Philips and Richard Dering, with the period instrument group In Echo, and was recorded in Gloucestershire for the specialist label Linn Records. Review highlights include:
‘…marvellously well-judged direction…everything seems fresh and vital…evidence of sheer musical fun’
‘…the stellar choir of Gonville & Caius College (Cambridge) does a great job … ensemble In Echo proves skilful and generous, both in sound and ornamentation.’
‘… never has it leapt so vividly off the page and been so thrillingly audible as in these new recordings … The War in Heaven word-painting of Factum est silentium, with St Michael and his angels squaring off against the Devil and his followers, has never sounded so cinematic.’
A new release is already in the pipeline, as the choir recorded a CD of contemporary music in London for release next year. In July 2024, the choir is to team up with The Academy of Ancient Music to record Michael Haydn’s much neglected Requiem for release on Linn Records in 2025.
The Charter Choir of Homerton College has had a busy summer. In June they sang Evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral, and recorded a CD of psalm settings shortly after, including music by Purcell, MacMillan, Carol Jones and Howells. In July they embarked on a choir tour to Iceland, which included performances at Vík í Mýrdal Church, Skálholt Cathedral (as part of their Summer Music Festival), the Cathedral of Christ the King in Reykjavík and Hallgrímskirkja.
The Choir of Jesus College remained active after a busy Easter Term, as the group undertook a recording of Aaron Copland’s lesser-known Four Motets, recorded in the chapel and slated for release later this year.
The next day, the choir boarded a plane to Sweden, where they were delighted to perform music by Bach, Sheppard, Elgar, Copland, Daley and Shaw, amongst others, in Uppsala and Stockholm’s magnificent cathedrals. This included the opportunity to sing Mass at Uppsala Cathedral – the tallest in Scandinavia – on Sunday morning. The service featured Vierne’s famous Messe Solennelle for choir and double organ in which the Organ Scholars greatly enjoyed making use of the Cathedral’s two very fine organs.
Whilst on tour, the choir also enjoyed the opportunity to eat some delicious food, take time out and see the sights, including botanical gardens, palaces, museums, and galleries. Perhaps most special was a group visit to the stunning Lake Ekoln for a swim in the Swedish sunshine.
Soprano and Jesus alumna, Ella Curry, said,
‘We had the privilege of singing both a concert and a Swedish-language Eucharist service in Uppsala Domkyrka. This stunning building, as long as it is tall, has the most incredible acoustics with a six-second delay, making it a challenging but incredibly exciting place in which to sing. As well as the audience’s applause following our concert, the resounding praise that our Swedish in the Eucharist was “not actually that bad” caused great satisfaction – and relief!’
‘I was so thrilled to finally get to go on tour with this amazing choir, and I can safely say it exceeded all expectations.’
This past academic year has been a busy one for Magdalene College Choir. In addition to the usual round of choral services in their beautiful medieval chapel, the choir toured to Italy, performing Buxtehude along the Adriatic Coast with the professional baroque group Orfeo Futuro. They gave a well-received programme of music from evensong and Latin motets in the historic Diocesan Museum of Molfetta. Additionally, the choir were invited to give workshop/Q&A sessions in the Liceo Musicale ‘Luigi Russo’ in Monopoli, and the Liceo Classico ‘Flacco’ in Bari, where the students spoke about their degree courses and being in a college choir, gave an open rehearsal, and performed Tallis’ ‘Canon’ with the Italian students. You can read more about the tour here.
In February, the choir gave the premiere of a new anthem by renowned baritone Roderick Williams, with the choir joined by the composer for the performance. Other highlights have included the annual Christmas Carol Concert in All Saints, Margaret St, London, singing for the college’s always-memorable Pepys Dinner, and finishing the year with an acapella set at the May Ball.
This summer the Choir of Peterhouse College enjoyed a tour to La Rochelle to prepare for a recording of music from the Peterhouse Part-Books – music manuscripts from the 17th century in the college library, collected for use in Peterhouse Chapel when it was built in the 1630s. Some of the manuscripts were lost for centuries behind wooden panelling in the college library, only to be rediscovered in the 1920s – and much of the music has never been recorded before.
The process also included fun things like working from facsimiles of the original manuscripts rather than modern editions – challenging to do at first but the choir really got into it and loved developing new skills and discovering that they were able to sing from the original notation!
Another exciting development for the choir is a new Chapel Organ, being installed over the summer break. This is a rebuild and expansion of the 1765 Snetzler, undertaken by Klais and Flentrop, two of the finest organ builders working today. Excitingly and uniquely, the instrument is going to have two consoles – one “18th Century” console for historical performance, and one more modern console for a wider range of repertoire. In January the choir will be inaugurating the instrument, and have commissioned a new work from Roderick Williams (whose music was performed at the Coronation) for the Choir and Organ. For more information about the new instrument, visit www.pet.cam.ac.uk/organ
‘The music is highly accessible, rhythmically and harmonically pleasing, and has some wonderful choral techniques. Gill’s understanding of the voice and how the parts interweave with each other creates wonderful lines, and her knack of using each of the different accompaniments as a cushion means nothing intrudes. The different solo voices performed are excellent, as is the overall ensemble.’– Andrew Palmer, The Yorkshire Times
The Choir of Sidney Sussex College undertook a 12 day tour to Spain in July, arriving first into Gijón/Xixón for a series of concerts and workshops with Festival Musica Antigua. The choir enjoyed swimming at the beach and seaside meals on the Asturian coast.
Next, the choir headed south to a beautiful medieval walled city, Ávila, for concerts in surrounding areas. A particular highlight was singing Tomás Luis de Victoria’s Super flumina Babylonis and Ave Maria in the Ávila Cathedral where the composer was a chorister.
The next stop was Madrid, where the choir cooled off from the heatwave in a nearby pool and enjoyed some culture in the Museo Nacional del Prado. Choir members managed to track down Hieronymus Bosch’s The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things – the cover artwork for their recently released Vinders CD. Concerts in Las Navas and the intricately decorated Iglesia San Antonio were very well received.
The last stop was Valencia and the choir enjoyed a collaboration with the Orfeó Universitari de València and plenty of relaxation time on the beach before heading home.
‘That brings me to the second discovery: The Choir of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, is hardly unknown but its current sound may well strike you as a revelation. Mixed Oxbridge choirs vary in quality but this one has a clarity and cohesion of which many a professional ensemble would be proud. Under David Skinner’s directorship theyshape lines with elegance and purpose, allowing Vinders’s complex textures to come across very legibly. That a choir two-dozen strong sounds so focused is remarkable. More impressive still for such young singers, they convey the architecture of these movements very persuasively.’– Fabrice Fitch (Gramophone Magazine)
St John’s Voices has enjoyed an enthusiastic response to it’s new disc, Chesnokov – All-Night Vigil, with the Cambridge University Chamber Choir. The album received an Editor’s Choice award in Gramophone magazine for July 2023.
‘Performances throughout are excellent, and the recorded sound resonant but clear enough that every word may be understood.’
– Ivan Moody (Gramophone Magazine)