Skip to Content


Tenebrae’s links to Truro

Posted on 1st September 2017

Tom Lilburn (third from right) performing with Tenebrae in St Bartholomew-the-Great

Following on from their concert in Exeter this September, Tenebrae will perform in Truro Cathedral. Two of Tenebrae’s countertenors, Tim Carleston and Tom Lilburn, are layclerks at St George’s, Windsor and have many fond memories of Truro. We caught up with them both to find out more.

Tell us about your connections to Truro and Truro Cathedral?

Tom L: I sang in Truro as a choral scholar during the academic year 2012-2013. This involved singing six services a week, and I also worked for half the year at Polwhele House, then the cathedral school. Singing with the cathedral choir taught me a huge amout of new repertoire and I became used to singing far more regularly than before; it prepared me very well for starting as a choral scholar at St John’s College, Cambridge, in October 2013.

Tim C: I lived in Cornwall from 1999-2009 and started teaching in various private schools around the area and for the county music service. Very soon after I arrived I began singing at Truro Cathedral with their world renowned choir, which has continued faultlessly to go from strength to strength and, last year, extending their tradition to girl choristers. My two eldest daughters both sing in the cathedral choir and the new ‘girls’ branch’ has already proved itself as being one of the best in the country with recordings and broadcasts.

How exciting that you’ve both had such different experiences – what are your fondest memories of singing in Truro Cathedral?

Tom L: The Nine Lessons and Carols services at Truro were very special. King’s College Cambridge is most famously associated with this service, but the first ever Nine Lessons and Carols service was in Truro Cathedral. The atmosphere was magical in a packed cathedral, and I still remember feeling the hairs on the back of my neck standing as we sang the final verse of Once in Royal David’s City. I sang many wonderful pieces for the first time with Truro Cathedral Choir, and two which stand out are Vaughan Williams’ Lord, Thou hast been our refuge and Bairstow’s Blessed city, heavenly Salem

Tim C: Every year, on Palm Sunday, the St Mary’s Singers and orchestra put on a liturgical performance of Bach’s St John Passion. I was lucky enough to be asked to sing the countertenor solos in the very first of these under the inspiring and brilliant leadership of the Cathedral Director of Music, Christopher Gray (then assistant). It is a deeply moving performance every year and I try and come back whenever I can for it. It always reminds me what a fabulous building Truro Cathedral is, and how wonderful the acoustics are for singing. This performance has continued to grow year upon year and always fills out the Cathedral.

Tim Carleston (second from left) performing with Tenebrae in the Paris Mezzo Festival

Tell us how you came to sing with Tenebrae?

Tim C: When I moved to Windsor in 2009 to start as a lay clerk in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, I contacted Nigel Short (Tenebrae’s director) to ask if I could sing with the choir. I had to sing a few services at St Bartholomew-the-Great where Nigel was then director of music to ‘prove myself’ and then was invited to sing with the group. It is a wonderful experience – the quality of music making is incredible and the concerts never cease to leave me with a huge sense of buzz and excitement. The programming is also always exciting, with elements of drama and choreography which add to the atmosphere. 

Tom L: I first sang with Tenebrae at rather short notice for a concert at Cadogan Hall. Due to an unwell alto I got an email out of the blue from Nigel asking if I could sing the concert. It was something of a baptism of fire, as the concert included Poulenc’s Figure Humaine, possibly the most difficult choral piece I’ve ever sung!

Are you looking forward to Tenebrae’s performance in Truro? Do you have a favourite piece in the programme? 

Tim C: I can honestly say that Joby Talbot’s tour de force Path of Miracles is one of the most moving pieces that I’ve ever had the fortune to sing or listen to. In Truro’s generous acoustic it will be remarkable and something not to be missed. I am also hugely looking forward to working with the cathedral choir as they join us for the fantastic Footsteps by Owain Park. It promises to be a phenomenal concert of which I am deeply proud to be a part of.

Let’s see if we can fill the cathedral!

Tom L: Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles is a remarkable piece, and is always a pleasure to sing. The variety of sounds he creates simply using unaccompanied voices amazes me each time we sing it, and performing the piece is always a highlight of any concert. I am particularly looking forward to singing it in the acoustic of Truro Cathedral.  Herbert Murrill’s Shakespeare Songs are another favourite of mine. Until singing these pieces, I only knew Murrill as the composer of Murrill in E, and I was amazed at the jazzy harmonies he uses in these pieces, particularly in Come away, death


Join Tom and Tim in Truro Cathedral on Saturday 16th September, 7:30pm. Tickets are available now!