Read more about life in the Choir of Royal Holloway, as told by its members:

August 2019

Of the many ‘gigs’ that the choir has been asked to perform at over the years, our engagement in York at the end of the summer must rank as one of the most unusual and special. The pop singer Ellie Goulding is an avid listener of the choir’s ‘Winter Songs’ disk, featuring the music of Ola Gjeilo, and she requested that the choir sing at her wedding to Caspar Jopling at York Minister. Having received this news months in advance, but knowing full well the importance of maintaining discretion, the choir had been quietly excited about playing our part in the celebrity wedding of the year for many months.


We arrived at York the day before the nuptials, rehearsing some of the music for the next day for the first time, such is the way so often in the professional choral world(!). After a good night’s sleep, we arrived at the Minster suited and gowned to perform with the 12 Ensemble and Ola himself on the piano. The choir provided 20 or so minutes of music as the guests arrived, however it was rather tricky to maintain concentration with the likes of James Blunt, Katy Perry and the Duchess of York taking their seats as we sang.

 

It is of course the bride’s prerogative to be fashionably late for the service, however with the service starting 25 minutes after the intended 3pm start time, the definition of the term ‘fashionably’ was stretched somewhat. No matter, the bride’s entrance was a wonderful combination of audio and visual spectacle, the bridal procession processing under an arch of beautiful wild flowers whilst the choir sang ‘The Ground’, a very poignant setting of text from the mass with enough well - timed key changes to no doubt engage the tear ducts of many in the congregation (the Duchess of York was gracious enough to say how our singing moved her as she passed the choir stalls after the service). During the service, more music by Gjeilo and William Walton was used, along with rousing hymns that added to the sense of occasion. After the service, and before we all rushed to our various trains home, we got a chance to see the guests depart on various coaches to the reception from the song school window, which given the celebrity status of many on board was a surreal sight indeed. Although all too brief for much socialising time, this was an event that we will cherish the memory of for years to come, and was a lovely way to sign off the year.

 

June 2019

After a very busy year of services, concerts and recordings, the choir made their way to Paris under the searing late June sun for a truly extraordinary recording project. Rupert, our music director had spent the months prior painstakingly transcribing a virtually unknown concert mass by French composer Pierre Villette, producing a technically demanding organ reduction of the full orchestral score to accompany the choir. This Messe da Pacem was the focal point for the recording, which also featured Villete’s Hymn a la Vierge, a choral arrangement of Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante defunte and two works by Yves Castagnet, who holds the organist position at the choir organ of Notre Dame de Paris.


Before the hard work began however, the choir enjoyed a day of sightseeing around Paris, basking in the heat of a Europe - wide heatwave, but as diligent choristers we knew that hydration was key and avoided any need for medical attention whilst exploring Paris’ many cultural and architectural marvels. In the evening, we headed to the American Cathedral in Paris for a rehearsal with their organist, Andrew Dewar, who would nobly accompany the choir throughout the recording in the coming days. We would return to the cathedral the next day to sing Eucharist, but in the meantime a number of choral scholars took it upon themselves to try out some of the 20,000 or so electric scooters that one can hire to ride the streets of the city. These proved to be a constant source of (rather expensive) fun during our time in Paris, however they were hardly the safest way to explore the city…


The following day, after a successful service, we travelled to the recording venue, Notre Dame d’Auteuil, a grand and imposing Catholic Church in the Parisian village of Auteuil. The church was in a gorgeous (and typically Parisian) setting, with a cobbled square opposite and behind the church a local boulangerie, where we would congregate for morning pastries and lunchtime baguettes.


Being a British choir (with our former American Erasmus scholar, Clara, joining us for this recording), we’re used to churches being rather cooler than the outside temperature, however given the extreme heat outside, and the hot air rising from the metro line below, the temperature in the church was frequently close to 30 degrees Celsius, and rather humid with it. Despite the less than ideal conditions, we entered into the recording full of enthusiasm, especially as the organ on which Andrew would be accompanying us was a recently restored CavaillĂ©-Coll, a name that is likely to make any organist sit up and listen with bated breath. We were also very fortunate to have the opportunity to record with Royal Holloway alumnus, Sarah Fox, who sang the soprano solos in the Villette mass.


The next few days were very intense, everyone in the choir giving their all and consuming more water than we thought possible. As a treat for the conclusion of this remarkable project, the organist at the church, Frederic Blanc, invited us to his apartment for a post-recording soirĂ©e before dinner on our last night in the city. What makes Frederic’s apartment particularly remarkable is that is the former apartment of Maurice DuruflĂ©, which was left to Frederic after DuruflĂ© and his wife passed away.


Being a top floor apartment, the walk up the stairs was a punishing one, however the view of Paris from the roof terrace was certainly worth the climb. We sipped wine whilst overlooking the skyline, each landmark perfectly placed on the landscape, before Frederic gave an impromptu performance on the 3 manual pipe organ that DuruflĂ© had squeezed into his tiny apartment, improvising on ‘God Save the Queen’ and ‘La Marseillaise’. In return, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to perform some DuruflĂ©, and through the magic of accessing scores on our phones produced a memorable rendition of Ubi caritas for all involved.

After drinks we dined together just down the street from Frederic’s apartment, and celebrated the end of the year in style. This was a truly unique and special experience for all of us involved, the likes of which we may never be fortunate enough to experience again, and we can’t wait to share this amazing music when the album is released.

 

May 2019

At such a turbulent time in European politics, it was perhaps pertinent for the choir to become involved in headlining performances of Beethoven’s ‘Choral’ Ninth Symphony, a work which was adopted as the European anthem in 1972 by the Council of Europe. These concerts were to be the gripping finale to a vibrant concert series by the Britten Sinfonia, under the baton of conductor Thomas Adès. This series, spanning 3 years, explored all nine Beethoven symphonies, whilst also interweaving into the programme audacious works by Irish composer, Gerard Barry. 

The choir was joined by the Britten Sinfonia Voices, directed by Eamonn Dougan, to provide the enormous chorus required for the last movement of this symphony. Eamonn is Associate Conductor of The Sixteen and Director of the Britten Sinfonia Voices, amongst several other high profile conducting and choral roles, and thus it was exciting to be directed by him in rehearsals both in the Royal Holloway Chapel, and later in Blackheath Halls, London. Upon starting the music, the complexity and difficulty of the symphony was abundantly clear, and having the assistance of Eamonn and the Britten Sinfonia Voices was extremely helpful, enabling the choir to quickly adapt to the work. Whilst the timing of the concerts and rehearsals were not entirely compatible with the university timetable (it largely all occurred in an exam week!), everyone was still energised and ready to go for each rehearsal, meaning we arrived in Norwich for our first concert in high spirits. 

It was impossible not to be blown away by the first three movements of the symphony, during which the chorus all sat on raised stage seating - Adès was ferocious and rousing, and the orchestra were thrilling. The opening of the fourth movement was no different and bass soloist Matthew Rose opened the singing in a grandiose manner, setting the stage for the other renowned soloists - Ed Lyon, Christianne Stotjin and Jennifer France. Both the volume and intensity of chorus blew the audience away and it was an experience that none, audience or performaner, will forget.

High on adrenaline, the choir was full of energy the following day for the concert in The Barbican, London, despite returning from Norwich in the early hours of the morning. Stepping onto stage for the rehearsal was an exhilarating moment for all - most of the choir had only ever been audience at the Barbican, not performers! Adès was on even better form, leading the orchestra in a furore of noise that blew the critics away. The chorus sang with ‘gusto and lashings of tasty diction’ according to one critic, whilst the performance in general was ‘utterly transporting, deeply moving, and brought the audience to their feet’. This was not just true for the audience - the whole performance was an immense yet intimate affair and a fantastic experience for all involved. Following this exuberant performance, the choir were invited for a drink with Adès and the Britten Sinfonia, which brought a close to a weekend of brilliant music and excitement.

 

February 2019

This year’s broadcast of Choral Evensong on BBC Radio 3 focussed heavily on works by contemporary American Composers, with some composers already familiar to the choir and others being new discoveries. The American slant on a distinctly English institution was the perfect platform to showcase Gerald Near’s ‘St Mark’s Service’ canticles, which are heavily inspired by Herbert Howells and  include a direct quote from the gloria of Howells’ own Collegium Regale setting.

Broadcast day was an  exciting one for all, and for many members of the choir this was their first broadcast on national radio. Our producer for the day, Stephen Shipley guided us through the pre-service rehearsal, even giving precise instruction for our tempo in the Apostles’ Creed! The pressure of a live broadcast often yields the most vivid and exciting results from performers, and the choir truly gave their all for the whole service. We celebrated a job well done afterwards with a group trip for drink and food, admiring the setting sun on an uncharacteristically warm February evening. 

 

December 2018

With Christmas just around the corner, the choir was well prepared for the busy month of festive concerts and services ahead. We enjoyed preparing for our semi-staged performance of Handel’s Messiah in Bristol by performing extracts from it in Midweek Music, our lunchtime concert at the beginning of the month. With excellent solo performances from many of our choral scholars, the following performance at St George’s, Bristol, was very well received. The audience were totally immersed with our variety of staging and lighting, and the unique atmosphere created by the Bristol Ensemble made for a truly special evening.

The next week, the choir travelled into central London to perform at the stunning Apsley House. Including repertoire from Whitacre’s gorgeous The Seal Lullaby to Frederic Austin and Ian Humphris’ comical take on the Twelve Days of Christmas, the audience were thrown right into December with a good dose of Christmas Spirit! Just a few days later, we travelled up to Oxfordshire to sing at Raymond Blanc’s gourmet restaurant, Le Manoir. We enjoyed singing carols in the beautiful venue including the well- and less-known, interspersed by magical readings of Christmas stories. Afterwards we were incredibly grateful to enjoy being served food by the fantastic chefs at Le Manoir, along with some champagne to accompany the festivities!

Back at College, we took our places back in the stalls, and gave two splendid evenings of our renowned Lessons and Carols service. With a brilliant mix of sacred and secular readings, the choir performed some of our best repertoire, featuring work from Ben Parry, Ola Gjeilo and a moving rendition of Es ist ein Ros Entsprungen by Sandström — a particular highlight for many of the audience. The next evening we concluded our busy week (and term) with our Christmas “Extravangza”. We sang all of our favourite Christmas repertoire in one fantastic concert, only made complete by a cameo by Father Christmas, a.k.a. our very own Rupert Gough.

The next morning, the choir set off bright and early to make our way to Treviso, Italy, for a whistle-stop tour and concert. We arrived in a stunning modernised chapel, and really made use of the fantastic acoustic of the building. A particular highlight for many was the small ensemble performance of O Nata Lux, the hauntingly beautiful five-part work by Thomas Tallis. Following two curtain calls and an evening of delicious pizza and fine wine, we flew back to London early the next morning to prepare for a Mid-Advent carol service at St. Bartholomew-the-Great later in the evening. This service revolved around the traditional “O Antiphons”, with each being sung from a different part of the church, creating a really atmospheric environment.

We arose early the next morning, joined by some alumni, to fly off to our second foreign destination of the week, Schwäbisch Hall, a small town near Stuttgart. On the way to our hotel, looking out of the coach window, it was often easy to forget we were still in the 21st Century. The next morning we browsed around authentic Christmas Markets, enjoying the beautiful festive atmosphere, before heading into the enormous church, St Michael’s, we would be performing in later that night. When we processed out onto the altar to sing, we were struck by the vast number of audience members, which we were later informed was about 1800 people! We gave a brilliant concert, and following our encore of Jingle Bells, the stewards at the church gave us each a cuddly toy fox as a thank you. The next morning, we said farewell to each other, and headed our separate ways back home, to spend the rest of Christmas with our families.

December was a fantastic month for the choir, full of festivity and some of the most magical moments of the year. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2019!

 

 

November 2018

The first 2 months of the Autumn term have kept the Chapel Choir busy and active, both on campus and in London. Most recently, we traveled to St. Bartholomew-the-Great in London to sing Mozart's Requiem for All Souls' Day. It was a moving performance of a very well-loved and familiar piece to many in the choir, and it was also lovely to be able to travel off campus and experience performing in a different venue!

This past weekend kept all of us up to our ears in some truly wonderful music with two very different concerts. On Friday, we traveled to St. Martin-in-the-Fields to perform a programme featuring the works of Sir C.H.H. Parry, to mark the centenary of his death. While in London, we had the opportunity between rehearsal and concert to explore central London a little - being from the United States, I had never seen that part of the city before, so a few of my friends took me around and showed me some of their favorite parts, including Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace! We speed-walked back to the church just in time for the concert, which was truly a pleasure and a privilege to sing.



The following day had us equally busy in preparation for that evening's concert in celebration of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. We performed alongside the Brandenburg Baroque Soloists in a program featuring two works by J.S. Bach, a Handel organ concerto, and Vivaldi's Gloria. Following the concert, the 2nd and 3rd years were invited to a banquet dinner with some of the patrons of the choir, during which we performed various selections from throughout the term between courses. It's been great fun to be part of such an active, enthusiastic, and talented group of musicians, and I look forward to moving into the Advent and Christmas season with them!

Image: the choir at the end of their concert for the Brandenburg Choral Festival Concert, November 2018

Clara Swartzentruber, Soprano, Visiting Music Student

 

September & October 2018

The term began with 'choir camp' which involved singing in beautiful venues such as Portsmouth Cathedral, Winchester College chapel and Romsey Abbey. An intense rehearsal schedule combined with living (and cooking) for each other for four days gave us the perfect opportunity to get to know one another. Highlights of the residential included a workshop with former King’s Singer David Hurley, as well as exploring the beautiful town of Winchester. On Saturday evening, we also performed our ensemble pieces informally to the rest of the choir which gave us a chance to receive constructive criticism from our peers.

The first half of term has involved several successful Midweek Music concerts with an overarching theme of ‘Cityscapes’; featured cities have included Gloucester, with the English premiere of a work by David Bednall, and Paris, in which we sang pieces by the likes of Debussy, FaurĂ© and Poulenc. We have already performed two commissions this term: ‘The Cry’ by Adrian Snell and a commission from the Hellenic Institute (a research centre based in Royal Holloway’s Department of History) entitled ‘The Odyssey’ by Lydia Kakabadse. We sang ‘The Cry’ with a children’s choir and string orchestra at Windsor Parish Church and the latter was performed in the Royal Holloway Chapel to an appreciative audience which included the Ambassador of Greece. It has been really wonderful to be involved in such diverse musical activities, and I am thoroughly looking forward to lots more performances throughout the rest of term!

Image: the choir rehearse in the Church of Holy Trinity, Privett, next-door to our accommodation.

Maia Jarvis, 1st Year Soprano, Music & English Student