St Cecilia’s Day: 22 November. We celebrate it by singing Britten’s Hymn to St Cecilia at evensong (Benjamin Britten himself was born on 22 November). New College Chapel has a permanent reminder of St Cecilia, the patron saint of music. If you walk towards the altar, halfway along on the south side, and on the lower set of lights, you will see a woman playing a lute – not of course the organ with which the saint is ordinarily associated. The colours of the window (by William Price) are a combination of reds, blues and greens with the lute showing a rich brown. Here St Cecilia takes her stand with many other of the great figures of the Church’s history, the patriachs and prophets, the St Catharines and Lucys.
But the chapel iconography does not stop here. On the great east-wall reredos, St Cecilia stands there in stone, on the third gallery of statues, over to the left. She holds a portative organ, as almost invariably shown in early Renaissance pictorial representations. ‘Sound the organ’ – Resonent organa – is the first line of the splendid motet to St Cecilia by Francois Couperin, newly reconstructed and now available on a remarkable New College CD of music by this the greatest of early 18th-century French composers. The CD case and booklet carry a number of images of New College, including both the representations of St Cecilia described above, Price’s window neatly contemporaneous with the music. These images bring Couperin’s works into relationship with the place that has now championed some of his best but also some of his least-known music. For the discerning, this CD will be a revelation, and a great gift. The Novum label continues its tradition of featuring the artworks of New College, as well as presenting the music of its world-class choir. Go to the Shop to order your copy now!
The boys explore the amphitheatre at the ancient city of Kourion
One of the things we can occasionally claim for members of New College Choir is a chance to spend Michaelmas halfterm not sweeping up the leaves at home, but making music in the sunshine, enjoying the ocean and culture of a Mediterranean island, and forgetting the Autumnal wind and rain. And so it was with us at the end of October when we set sail for Cyprus: Monday through to Friday hardly a cloud, temperatures settled comfortably in the mid 20s, the sea warm, the people friendly, and the food excellent. To this I must add the fine qualities of the Cyprus Symphony Orchestra with whom we had a project to perform Haydn's Creation (in Limassol and Nicosia). I had (for a Brit) unheard-of-hours of rehearsal with the orchestra. They were pleased to have this time, since it was for them a new work. Apart from the music-making, we greatly appreciated our visit to Kourion and the extraordinary treasures of the Nicosia Archealogical Museum. The Island of Cyprus possesses a richness and depth of history that makes Britain look like a parvenue. Part of this history has now torn the Island in two. Turkey's entry into the EU might be a resolution, but Turkey's enthusiasm for such a move must be dampened by European sovereign debt: it wouldn't make that much sense to buy into a project which meant bailing out several other countries, including of course Greece. We sang The Creation in English, making the point that the first edition (1800) of the work was bilingual, and that Haydn's intention was to have it sung in the local language, having conceived the work in England and written it in Austria. We didn't contemplate a Greek version - and English is well understood, from the time of the British colonization, and now the Americanization of the world. We were able still to admire the old British pillar boxes (marked GR), now in yellow, and drive on the left side of the road. It was curious to feel so much at home, and yet be a stone's throw from the Middle East.
This latest release from Novum is a CD of motets by François Couperin (1668-1733), the greatest figure in the French musical scene of the early 18th century. Everybody knows his fabulous harpsichord pieces, few his equally fabulous motets. Why? Many of them were effectively lost for over 200 years, and some have survived only in incomplete form. As a result, the motets are a sorely neglected part of his output. This New College release puts that right. Something like half the CD is of music never before recorded. The incomplete sources – violin parts lost soon after composition – have been reconstituted here by Edward Higginbottom, musicologist as well as Director of New College Choir.
The CD features solo voices from New College Choir, including two exceptional trebles and a real haute-contre, together with an instrumental ensemble of distinguished baroque players. The whole ensemble is directed from the keyboard by Edward Higginbottom.
This recording is now available in our online shop.
Views across Perugia
We have just returned from Umbria, where the Choir gave two very different concerts in the context of the Festival of Musica Sagra Umbra. In San Gemini, an eleventh-century jewel of a church, we performed Purcell, Locke and Couperin with a second half celebrating transatlantic connections: Lauridsen, Ives, Stravinsky, Bernstein (the rarely heard Missa Brevis). Bernstein, whose music was a special focus of the Festival, featured also in the second concert, his Chichester Psalms, coupled with the Three Meditations for Orchestra and Cello. This concert, in the magnificent basilica of San Pietro in Perugia, fell on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. The performance was dedicated to the memory of those killed in the attack on the Twin Towers. In the second half of the concert, the Choir sang the Fauré Requiem as a commemorative act. We were joined by the excellent Camerata Strumentale 'Citta di Prato'. Both concerts were rapturously received by the Italians. All along, we were stunned by the beauty of the Umbrian landscape, under a cloudless sky, with temperatures soaring to 30+. What we saw in Italian paintings and what we saw in the real landscape seemed not to differ in any respect: the intense slanting light of early evening, filtered by Roman pines and cyprus trees, against broken rock faces and ruddy sandy soils. The choristers' eyes were also fixed on gelati: their Italian vocab audibly improved in the area of icecream flavours.
In this week's New CD Show on Classic FM, presenter David Mellor has chosen our latest release on the Novum label - Mozart's Requiem - as his 'Connoisseur's Choice'. He notes that the album appears on our new own-label, as well as featuring all male soloists taken from the Choir, including treble soloist Jonty Ward, who appeared in this year's Proms.
You can listen to the album's appearance on Classic FM's listen again player from about 42 minutes in. The Requiem disc is available in our online shop.
Tune in to BBC Radio 3 on Sunday 28 August at 7pm for a performance of Mendelssohn's Elijah, with Paul McCreesh directing massed choirs and the Gabrieli Consort and Players. In the cameo part of the Angel is Jonty Ward, who has just completed his last year as head chorister in the New College choir. If you miss the live performance, you can read more about the Gabrieli Elijah recording in which Ward also takes part: http://www.gabrieli.com/support-us
Ward also sings the soprano solos in New College Choir's recently released recording of Mozart's Requiem as well as a number of upcoming discs on the Novum label.
Update 30/08/11: A couple of very positive reviews from the Guardian and The Arts Desk describe New College treble Jonty Ward's 'effortless' solos as 'perfectly voiced' winning 'the most admirers'. You can read the reviews in their entirety here:
http://bit.ly/ndPN0F (The Arts Desk)
Back in May we announced the first ever occasion that all the New College Choir discs were available to view in the same place - on our Facebook page. This was the first step in the process of making our entire discography available to view.
We sell a lot of our discs through our shop, but these only represent around half of what we've recorded; up until now there has been no public catalogue of all 110+ New College discs.
From today this comprehensive list is now live on our website. You can sort by composer, name or release date, or you can view all the album artwork in high resolution on the album covers page. You can still view high resolution scans of album backs (including LPs) but these remain exclusive to our Facebook page.
Just as important is the history of recording at New College and a page dedicated to our own label Novum; neither of these is entirely new, but both have been updated, given more prominence and separated from the shop.
We hope this long-overdue section will be of interest and a useful reference point - do let us know what you think in the comments!
In this month's Gramophone Podcast, Martin Cullingford talks to director Edward Higginbottom about our new label Novum! It includes a short extract from our new disc, Mozart's Requiem, and you can skip straight to the interview with Professor Higginbottom by going to 15:45 in the player window.
You can listen to it here: http://gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/download-the-latest-gramophone-podcast-1
A meeting of four choirs is one better than three (sorry Worcester, Gloucester, Hereford!). And this great event happened on 15 June to mark Ralph Allwood's final term as Precentor of Eton College. The combination of the choirs of King's Cambridge, New College Oxford, Eton College and Winchester College didn't arise out of the blue. These four institutions have since the 1440s been signed up to an amicabilis concordia, an agreement promising mutual support in times of hardship. Fashioned to help the relatively new institutions survive the upheavals of 15th-century England, the concordia has not been tested in recent times, and it is indeed doubtful that its provisions would withstand modern implementation, let alone the scrutiny of the charity commissioners. The agreement does however have a vestige in the occasional meeting of the four institutions to make music. Vestige may not be the right word for the resultant sound of some 70 trebles plus a similar number of men singing Parry's 'I was glad'. It was a knock-out moment, which had even Ralph Allwood, the conductor for the event, reeling. It was also a pleasure socially, once evensong was over, to meet up with singers from as far away as East Anglia. Those who attended the service will long remember it, and, it has to be said, for some fabulous pianissimos as well as overwhelming fortissimos. It was a wonderfully appropriate way of marking Ralph Allwood's retirement from Eton (but certainly not from the world of music-making). His contribution to church music through the Eton choral courses, and the exceptionally fine choral traditions of Eton College, has arguably been the most significant of any in the training of young singers.
The amicabilis concordia (friendly agreement) between Eton College, King’s College Cambridge, Winchester College and New College Oxford was signed on 1st July 1444. The relationship between Winchester and New College was the model for that between Eton and King’s, and several of those involved in founding Eton College had been at Winchester.
The four colleges pledged to assist and support each other in ‘actions, lawsuits and controversies’ as well as in a more general way, though the agreement specifies that any costs involved were to be ‘reasonable and necessary’. This was a formal document, with the four colleges’ seals affixed.
Previous joint Evensongs held at Eton College took place in 1968 and 2005; this coming Wednesday 15 June the choirs of the four institutions get together in honour of Ralph Allwood, departing precentor of Eton College.
Update 24/06/11: See some of our photos from the event on our blog post here