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Holy Week Festival Q&A: Graham Ross, The Choir of Clare College, Cambridge

Posted on 6 March 2019

What inspired the programme you’re bringing to the Holy Week Festival? Tell us a bit about the music and what we should listen out for.

I’ve assembled a Lenten Sequence for our performance on Holy Saturday, which includes settings of the Tenebrae Responsories for Holy Saturday, Passiontide motets appropriate for the Easter Triduum, and a selection of Eucharistic works that lead to Gerald Finzi’s masterpiece, Lo, the full, final Sacrifice.  I’m particularly pleased to be performing John Sanders’ The Reproaches, a wonderful and powerful setting of the Good Friday liturgy, and James MacMillan’s Miserere, a stunning recent addition to the repertoire.

 We’re celebrating the music of Sir James MacMillan this year. How does his music stand out to you? 

James’ music has long been an important part of my work.  My first ever commercial recording was a Naxos disc devoted to his music in 2009 with my Dmitri Ensemble, celebrating his then 50th birthday with performances of the Seven Last Words from the Cross and other choral works.  The recording went on to win various awards, including Limelight Recording of the Year and a Gramophone Award nomination.  His music speaks to me in a very compelling way, at times both visceral and hard-hitting, at others serene and touching.

 Tenebrae and Britten Sinfonia will be performing MacMillan’s Seven Last Words From the Cross on Good Friday, 19th April 2019

We hope that the Holy Week Festival will encourage all sorts of people to come and try something new. How did you first get into choral music?

I’ve been immersed in choral music all my life, having started out as a treble chorister, later an undergraduate singer at University, and now as a composer and conductor of choirs, ensembles and orchestras.  I now share my passion for this music with my audiences throughout the world.

If you met someone with no knowledge of classical music at all, which piece from your programme would you recommend they listen to first, and why?

It is hard to imagine a more exquisite setting of the Ave verum text than William Byrd’s, and this would be my recommendation to discover something about our programme.  The first three chords  remain as one of the most striking harmonic progressions, especially for the time that it was written.  In our concert at SJSS we pair Byrd’s setting with Roderick Williams’s Re-imagined version, which takes apart Byrd’s original and creates a fascinating multi-layered sonic experience.  I think audiences will love it.

 Tell us about a highlight of your musical career so far.

There are too many to choose from!  I’ve been very fortunate to have some wonderful experiences so far, and look forward to many more!  Some particular highlights have included my debut with the LPO, open-air performances of The Marriage of Figaro in Provence, singing Tippett Spirituals at the Baptismal site in the River Jordan, eleven performances of Beethoven 9 around Australia, some particularly memorable concerts at Washington’s Library of Congress and Notre Dame Cathedral, recording Messiaen in an magically quiet Ely Cathedral at 1am…

Graham Ross Director of Music and Fellow of Clare College Cambridge

Quickfire round:

Bach or Handel?   Bach, but I never (ever) tire of Messiah

Allegri or MacMillan Miserere?   MacMillan

Howells or Parry?    Howells

Alto or Countertenor?    A perfect blend of both!

Baritone or Bass?    Likewise…

Major or minor?    Need we be so restrictive?!  OK, minor.

The Choir of Clare College will be performing their programme A Lenten Sequence as part of the Holy Week Festival on Holy Saturday, 20 April 7:30pm at St John’s Smith Square. 

Holy Week Festival