I am delighted that Robert Quinney has been named my successor as Organist of New College, starting in September. I think everybody will understand my interest in the appointment, in which, according to the custom of this place, I played no role. The brief is a broad one, and one that not many are able to fill, not through some lamentable inadequacy on their part, but because in modern times rather more specialisation goes on than used to be the case. To be successful here you certainly need to be an established keyboard player, and an excellent choir director. You also need to be effective working with children. And then within the Music Faculty you have to cut the mustard as a Lecturer and Tutor, keeping well ahead of the very bright and motivated students Oxford attracts. Entrepreneurial skills are also required, not to mention the administrative. Last but not least, it is difficult to imagine doing this job not also being a practising Christian. Robert Quinney cleared all these fences with room to spare. And I am so pleased to be relinquishing my post knowing that Robert will be taking over. On the subject of relinquishing, the word 'retirement' implies that I shall be passing my time now growing tomatoes. Not true, though I like tomatoes. I'll continue to be active as a freelance conductor and consultant and writer. EH
Every month between now and August we will be offering something a little different: a free download of a new track by New College Choir. Beginning this February, our offering is Maurice Greene's celebrated anthem, 'Lord, Let me know mine end'.
Alongside, in a separate download, EH has recorded an Introduction to the performance, partly a commentary on the piece, but also a reflection on aspects of his work with New College Choir over the years.
We are delighted to have found a replacement for Ben Bloor when he leaves us for Westminster Cathedral. Nicolas Haigh has been appointed Organ Scholar at New College from September 2014. Currently at York Minster Nick was previously organ scholar of Clare College, Cambridge (2009-2012).
As we gather speed at the beginning of this New Year, my last with New College Choir, I have a few things up my sleeve. To mark the tenth release on our own label Novum, and to celebrate this initiative (another first for New College) we shall be offering you a monthly FREE download. Each newly-recorded piece a treasure, and a favourite of the choir in my time. Alongside the music (in an optional extra download) I will introduce each of these pieces: not only an historical and musical introduction, but also a thinking aloud about aspects of what being Director of Music has signified for me over the last 38 years. I shall be inviting you to join in an extended celebration of the role of choirs such as ours in the musical life of this nation, both in times past and times present. I hope you will be able to join us!
The choir is looking to appoint an organ scholar for the next academic year, 2014/2015, to succeed Benjamin Bloor, who moves to take up a post at Westminster Cathedral.
The successful applicant will work with the Assistant Organist, Steven Grahl, playing for choral services in chapel (weekdays except Wednesdays, and Saturdays and Sundays), and for the choir's busy concert, recording and touring programme.
This post is open either to current undergraduates or to post-graduates looking for an opportunity to develop and enrich their skills in one of the choral foundations. Salary will reflect age and experience.
Full details will be posted in January. All interested applicants should contact Professor Edward Higginbottom.
Following on from last week's Advent webcast, we've put a live recording of last Sunday's Service of Readings and Music for the Season of Christmas online, for all those who couldn't make it, or who need a fix of New College Choir over the vacation and can't make it to the Low Countries to hear us sing there!
This service included the first public performance of Patrick Hawes' Angelus Domini, which he wrote for us whilst we were recording some of his work earlier this year.
See below for the order of service, which we're making available again in order to enhance your enjoyment of, and participation in the service.
Last Sunday we sang A Service of Readings and Music for the Season of Advent to a packed chapel: one of the highlights was a premiere of Swete Roose, a setting to music by Toby Young of a 15th century poem in adoration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. His setting combined exquisite solo writing with sensitive choral accompaniment, breaking forth into joyous polyphony.
Toby sent us a few words about his inspiration for the piece:
I have always been fascinated by macaronic carols such as 'In Dulci Jubilo' for the way that the bi-lingual text expresses one image through two different cultures. Much of my music deals with combining different stylistic influences, and I wanted to explore this idea in 'The Swete Roose'. The lovely 15th-century text provided me with the perfect foundation to try and develop a language that could be clearly contemporary, yet also recall the luminous modal world of medieval music. It was a delight to write this piece for the New College choir, whose distinct and beautiful sound resonates with a tremendous history and tradition, whilst still sounding fresh and unique.
The whole service was recorded and we've put it online on our webcasts page for you to enjoy afresh. This is the order of service, in case you'd like to follow what's happening:
We are delighted to be the first to break the news of Benjamin Bloor's success at securing the organ scholarship at Westminster Cathedral. He will take up his new post in September 2014, after finishing his degree course at Oxford. Our loss will be London's gain. Those of us who have had the privilege of working with Benjy over the last few years are not in the least surprised by his success. We are delighted that he will have a wealth of new opportunities in the heart of the metropolis, and sufficiently close to Victoria Bus Station to pay us the occasional visit without too many complications.
John Tavener was a phenomenon and a half: his own life-story rich enough in interest and depth to stand by itself; his aesthetic and religious principles strong and eloquent enough to demand no further pleading. But he added to this an extraordinary canon of his own music, both telling his personal story and pronouncing his faith.
All of us have had our particular encounters with his work. Mine have not been without some bewilderment. Was it really possible to propose so little 'material' in a piece of music? Take 'The Lamb', for instance, which we all know. With its mirrored voices and retrograded melodic construction, the one idea is a mere couple of measures. This is an extreme example of conciseness, or maybe economy, but it tells us clearly of Tavener's intentions. After the 'busy-ness' of his early scores (like 'The Whale'), he thought to create a virtue out of musical inactivity. So we find space in his music, unencumbered, open, whose horizons are vast if not indeed limitless. Through ritualistic gesture, simplicity, and boldness, the transcendental and infinite come into view.
Tavener was not without his musical stubbornness and outlandish demands, otherwise he would not ask the basses in his 'Song for Athene' to spend the whole piece singing a bottom F, nor score 'Total Eclipse' for over 20 kettle drums. But these are the demands of a genius unable to work in any other fashion, and who pushed his vision to the limits of godly naivety. We could in one sense reckon him to be a minimalist, were it not for the fact that minimalists like Philip Glass sought to subvert tradition. Tavener worked within it. May he now rest in peace, within the tradition and faith of the Christian Church which he so eloquently served through his music.
Music of John Tavener recorded by New College Choir
Hymn to the mother of God
God be with us
Song for Athene
It always amazes me that we can come to the end of three days recording sessions and the roof has not fallen in, nor indeed the sky. It could so easily. (a) Whatever the time of year, someone can be ill: not so bad if an adult (replaceable), awkward if a treble (you can't ring round for another of those), and disastrous if it happens to be the leading treble soloist. Then you're completely stuck. Postponing sessions is more or less impossible given the myriad other things your singers (and their families) will have in the diary, not to mention the orchestra you have booked. (b) In live acoustics like chapels and churches you are certainly not alone: it can be an uninvited bird flapping around inside, pigeons cooing on the outside turrets, the next-door house having scaffolding erected, a farmer ploughing in an adjacent field, a nearby military airfield on exercise, unusually high winds battering windows, intense sunlight sending the chamber organ out of tune, the heating making a noise, the local council workers replacing the kerb with a stone-cutter. All this has happened to us, although you have been spared hearing it on the finished product. A fist-full of fivers is never enough to see off pigeons, though a bottle of Scotch is a currency recognised by council workmen. However, when it came to our Mozart sessions in June earlier this year, I'm delighted to say we were not menaced in this way. There was - to be sure - the odd plane, ambulance and dustbin lorry, but nothing worse. Nobody ill. And we had the most engaging music to record. The scores which Mozart wrote for Salzburg Cathedral, when he was finding conditions of work insufferable (the Archbishop having similar thoughts about his exasperating employee), reveal nothing of this (just as we reveal nothing of the ambulance siren that wrecked take 321). On the contrary, his music is uniformly sunlit, overflowing with invention and wit, inhabited by the best sort of Gemütlichkeit. It's interesting how musicians respond to these scores, which are both naif and yet highly sophisticated. It is music which pays huge dividends, and effortlessly keeps everybody fresh. We hope this all comes across in the final result - which will be yours to experience on the release in November of "W.A.Mozart: Music for Salzburg Cathedral" (Novum NCR 1388). The two main works are the Litaniae Lauretanae (K195) and the Vesperae de Dominca (K321), with the orchestral Epistle Sonata in C (K329) thrown in for good measure. Our producer thinks it might our best yet on the Novum label. Find out for yourself after 1st November! EH