A lively time for us this last June and July before we hit a full August leading into our busiest autumn since the choir started nearly 20 years ago.
We had another wonderful trip to Suffolk for the Aldeburgh Festival at the start of June. We’ve been to this part of the world quite a bit in recent times and I must say I personally find it a treat every time to be able to drive to the seaside in a little over an hour from where I now live, just outside Cambridge. Fish and chips on the beach after the rehearsal too. Just grand. A quite magical setting then greeted us and the audience as the church was bathed in glorious summer evening sunshine for the start of the concert. Over the next hour or so the sun moved further west and gradually we descended into darkness. Read a review of the concert in The Observer. The next week we raced over to Halle in Germany together with the Academy of Ancient Music, for a performance of Handel’s Messiah in the church where Handel himself was baptised and later on in life played the organ. It was an incredibly hot show in more ways than one as we and the audience melted in 30 degree heat. What a joy it was to hear the AAM again with Leader Bojan Čičić and also our own team of soloists – Katie Trethewey, Martha McLorinan, Nick Madden and Jimmy Holliday – showing off their extraordinary vocal talents and doing us proud. I look forward to touring the Messiah with the AAM at the end of 2021 in Europe, more of which you’ll hear soon.
A small group of us then headed over to Dublin to sing our programme of Mediaeval Chant in the stunning Christchurch Cathedral. The next day we raced over to Portsmouth to repeat the programme in the Cathedral there, where we found ourselves able to move around a lot. It’s not often we go to a venue where the quality and clarity of the sound that reaches the audience doesn’t change no matter where we are standing. This is a venue I’d love to perform Path of Miracles in… just a suggestion! Next we had another small team project, this time a recording of Gesualdo’s Tenebrae Responsories for Maundy Thursday. We recorded the set for Holy Saturday in 2012 for Deutsche Grammophon so certainly time to continue the series. It was a joy to have two of our former sopranos come back to sing with us, Grace Davidson and Julia Doyle, and they and the other singers, Jeremy Budd, David de Winter, Gabriel Crouch and Jimmy Holliday sounded truly awesome. They made what can seem like slightly unusual harmony for a renaissance composer sound like the most natural music they’d ever sung. Grace and Julia have recorded the Leçons de Ténèbre by Couperin which will form the other part of this disc. These two singers, like many other former members of Tenebrae, have now moved on to performing as soloists throughout the world but it was no surprise that their ensemble skills were every bit as razor sharp as when they sang with us all those years ago. I think this disc is a real treat so do look out for a performance of this repertoire at the CD launch event early next year.
Next we focused our attentions on two performances of our Russian Treasures programme in Thaxted Parish Church and, what is for me our spiritual home, the church of St. Bartholomew-the-Great. This is where we gave our very first concert in 2001 and also made our first recording which included a video of a piece called The Dream of Herod. The atmosphere in the church was, as always, intense and spine-tingling. A packed church sat utterly silent as we allowed the rich sonorities of Rachmaninov and others to wash over us, all supported with glorious basso profundo from Richard Savage, Jimmy Holliday, Owain Park and the inimitable Russian Orthodox Chant from Adrian Peacock. Thank you to The Times also for their review! Also in attendance was Steve Kennedy, our favourite baritone who joins us at concerts whenever possible and is recovering well. I was very excited about these concerts for one other important reason. We were joined by four students from Princeton University in the US who sing there in the choir directed by my former King’s Singer colleague, Gabriel Crouch. I’ve heard this choir and had the pleasure of working with them when we toured the US last year and so it was no surprise that the four students selected to come and join us made excellent and significant contributions to their respective voice sections. A big thank you to all the Tenebrae singers who were full of support and admiration for the students who made every possible effort to make the most of their time with us. Bravo to Maddy, Mariana, Sergei and Julius! I seriously hope this will be the first of many such collaborations with Princeton University and that it may lead to other educational institutions joining us too. Do please contact us if you think this might be of interest to you and your students.
A quick trip out to Zamora in Spain for a performance in the amazing Cathedral there of Spanish Glories. Singing Victoria’s Requiem in beautiful Spanish churches is always special and this occasion was no exception. Rehearsing in the afternoon when it was nearly 40 degrees outside was something I’ll also not forget in a hurry….
Next to look forward to is our second BBC Prom in the Royal Albert Hall. This is a shorter late night event and one where we’ll be joined by the astonishing string ensemble 12ensemble alongside Soumik Datta and Martin James Bartlett. The programme is a mixture of some of the most popular repertoire from more recent times, alongside Lobo’s matchless motet Versa est in luctum – it certainly will be an evening to remember. After this a summer tour to Switzerland when we’ll be dusting off our copies of Poulenc’s Figure Humaine. This piece is such an exciting work that makes huge vocal demands on singers. There is very little in the entire repertoire that requires such contrast in vocal colour, dynamics and range. Listen out for Natalie Clifton-Griffith’s top E at the end. You’ll hear it from pretty much anywhere in Switzerland I reckon… September sees us getting busy again with 10 concerts in total. Path of Miracles in Italy and Germany for the first time, quick jaunts to Cowbridge, Solent Festival and St George’s Chapel in Windsor (a home gig for some of our regulars!) all followed by a wonderful trip to Spain to provide music for Martin Randall Travel. One of these will see us perform for the very first time Thomas Tallis’s majestic motet Spem in Alium. For this we will be joined by alumni from the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge. Graham Ross, their Director of Music, is someone I’ve long admired (although he’s actually very young!) as one our brightest talents on the British choral scene so it’s going to be wonderful to hear his singers alongside Tenebrae for some large scale works. The final concert of the trip will be a performance of Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles in Santiago de Compostela.
Life as Artistic Director of Tenebrae doesn’t get any better than this.