Thursday, October 29, 2015

Schola Cantorum Review of 2014-15

This review of the Schola's year 2014-15 appeared in the recently published Vaughan School Magazine.

The Schola Cantorum

The Schola continues to develop and expand the work that does and this year has been full of new opportunities and challenges. I have already described the singing at the Centenary Mass and the involvement of Sir James MacMillan, from who the Schola had commissioned the Offertory Motet. It was a further joy that Sir James very kindly agreed to become a patron of the Schola, alongside David Hill, director of the Bach Choir and James O'Donnell, Master of Music at Westminster Abbey. Our involvement with Sir James, the Bach Choir and Westminster Abbey were all to develop during the course of the academic year.

There have been many prominent and prestigious occasions this year but the core of the Schola’s work continues to be the singing each week at the Lower School Mass. First thing on a Wednesday morning is not perhaps the most inspiring point of the week, the New Hall has no acoustic whatsoever and there is an electric organ for accompaniment. Nonetheless, the choir has sung each and every week, offering different music of all kinds across the year, covering huge range of repertoire. Particularly pleasing this year has been the reliable attendance of the older boys, something that has not always been the case in the past.

Rather off-setting the New Hall as a location for singing, the Schola has been fortunate once again to sing each half-term at Westminster Cathedral, surely one of the very finest places for choral singing. We have sung some big repertoire there this year including Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli in January and Britten’s Missa Brevis with just the trebles in May. In March the choir sang a Lenten programme of Byrd. A wonderful occasion came in the May half-term when the Schola were asked to lead the singing for the installation of Cardinal Nichols as Chancellor of St Mary’s University, which they did with great confidence and style. I was away that day and so the choir was conducted by Sam Jackson. Mr Jackson is wonderfully loyal to the Schola and the Music Department generally. He is a very gifted musician and teacher and we are very lucky to have him in the Department.

The Schola’s new patrons have been directly involved with the Schola in several ways during the year. In February some of the trebles sang in a performance of Carmina Burana with the Bach Choir at the Royal Festival Hall, conducted by David Hill. Later in the year, one of the boys, Harry Fetherstonhaugh, sang the treble solo in the Bach Choir’s performance of Elijah. A particular delight came when we were asked to replace the trebles of King’s College, Cambridge in a performance of Sir James MacMillan’s St Luke Passion, which was broadcast live on BC Radio 3 from King’s College on Good Friday. This performance, given with the Britten Sinfonia and conducted by the composer (repeated at the Barbican on Easter Sunday) was amongst the most accomplished of the year and perhaps marked a new level of professionalism from the boys.

The MacMillan performance was given alongside boys from Trinity School, Croydon. This was the second time we had performed with them in a matter of weeks as at the beginning of March the boys had been alongside Tiffin Boys Choir and Trinity Boys Choir to give a joint performance at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
The Royal Opera House has invited the three choirs to sing as we are the three schools who have provided the boys chorus singing at the Opera House for many years. If you have been to an opera at Covent Garden in the past fifteen years and there have been boys singing in it, the chances are that you were listening to boys from one of these three choirs. Each choir performed on its own before they came together and conducted by Renato Balsadonna, Chorus Master of the Royal Opera, sang the closing scene of Englebert Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretal.

There have been other trips to the Royal Opera as well of course. Conor Quinn and Alessio D’Andrea sang solo roles in Die Zauberflöte in March and then 29 boys performed in Szymanowski’s opera Krol Roger.  This is the first time that the Royal Opera has staged this extraordinary work in a new production by Kasper Holten, conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano. The boys singing is very exposed and difficult and the rehearsals were fraught at times but the boys stuck with it and gave very respectable performances, including one that was streamed live on the internet. The opera is sung in Polish which made for its own particular challenges, although we are lucky to have several Polish speakers in the choir who were able to help with the pronunciation!            We were on more familiar territory in November when the boys sang in La Bohemé at English National Opera.

There have been some notable concert performance also during the course of the year. In November the Schola gave a concert in Sacred Heart in Wimbeldon, raising money for School Chaplain Father Dominic’s charity, Grief to Grace. In January the choir sang a performance of Mozart’s Requiem at St John’s, Smith Square, to raise money for the Cardinal Hume Centre. This was a wonderful occasion, organised by Vaughan parent Luke Warren in memory of Paul Goggins, an MP who had been very involved in the Cardinal Hume Centre prior to his sudden and untimely death. The concert raised more than £25,000 for the charity. We returned to St John’s, Smith Square for our own concert in April, when the Schola performed for the first time with an early music group – Spiritato!- in a programme of French and English Baroque music. This was a lovely occasion, made more memorable by the presence on the platform with us of one of the great singers of our time, counter tenor Iestyn Davies, who had very graciously agreed to perform. He was outstanding of course, but there was some very lovely solo work from the boys as well in what was an enjoyable evening.

Our links with Westminster Abbey have been developed considerably during the course of the year and the gift of the Snetzler Chamber Organ has been described above. The Schola had never sung at the Abbey however until this year and so we were delighted to be offered the chance to lead the All Souls Day Eucharist service. This was a wonderful occasion, the Schola singing the setting of the Requiem by Fauré. We were very pleased to then be asked to return to sing Evensong in April and, following that, once again in June. These three visits have been amongst the real highlights of what has been a year full of memorable occasions.

There was one further remarkable occasion this year as in March the Schola were invited to sing Evensong at King’s College, Cambridge. Alongside Kings Voices, under the direction of Ben Parry, the Schola became, I believe, the first state school choir to sing a service at the Chapel in its 500 year history. With music by Duruflé, Noble and Byrd, the Schola performed beautifully and were able to experience first hand singing in this most famous of acoustics.

As I write, the Schola are preparing to travel to the USA for a ten day, seven state tour. There will be news of this no doubt on the Music Department Blog and the Schola’s website, On the website you can also learn about next year’s plans for the choir. These include operas at Covent Garden and the Collesium, performances of Danny Elfman’s music at the Royal Albert Hall, a John Passion project with performances in London and Douai Abbey and the recording of a new CD, possibly two! The year will begin with us competing in the finals of the London International Acapella Singing Competition, a hugely prestigious festival in which we are delighted to have been invited to participate.

Finally, some thanks. I have already thanked Mr Jackson and of course would add to his name that of our wonderful accompanist, Mr Evans, who contributes so much in so many ways to the work of the Schola. I would also like to thank the parents of the choir – having a boy in the Schola is a big commitment. And of course I would like to thank the boys, especially the trebles who have worked incredibly hard this year     . I look forward very much to seeing where our adventures take us next year!

Scott Price
Director of Music


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