One of our choristers, Harry, recently had an unexpected catch-up with our Royal Patron, HRH The Countess of Wessex. Harry's father is the Second-in-Command of 5 RIFLES and Harry was attending the battalion's Homecoming Parade and Celebration at Ward Barracks, Bulford, in the presence of Her Highness. The sharp-eyed Countess instantly recognised Harry's Wells Cathedral School blazer and came over to talk to him - a lovely surprise for them both!
Tomorrow afternoon, the Boy and Girl Choristers with the Vicars Choral will be performing Duruflé's sublime Requiem in a devotional Remembrance Sunday performance, interspersed with readings of war poetry. Duruflé wrote, “This Requiem is entirely composed on the Gregorian themes of the Mass for the Dead… It is not an ethereal work which sings detached from worldly anxiety. It reflects, in the unchangeable form of the Christian prayer, the anguish of man facing the mystery of his last ending.”
Do join us if you can at 3pm in the nave of Wells Cathedral. Admission is free with a retiring collection.
The choir's Joubert CD is featured as the 'Star Review' in this month's Choir & Organ magazine and has been awarded a 'Highly Recommended' rating. Another fantastic recognition of the level of music-making of Wells Cathedral Choir. You can read the full review below.
What an inspiring week! The new music wells 77-17 festival has come to an end and we are reflecting on how much has been packed into the last few days: 7 services, 3 lunchtime concerts, an organ recital, a masterclass with Howard Skempton, 'Composer Conversations' with Lord (Michael) Berkeley CBE, and no fewer than 9 world premieres (including a bell-ringing method!)! It's hard to select a particular highlight but yesterday's service of Choral Evensong, sung by both the boy and girl choristers with the Vicars Choral, was something special. Not only did it include the premiere of Howard Skempton's Preces and Responses (which we have no doubt will spread into regular use nationwide), but we were also treated to Michael Berkeley's exquisite anthem, 'Listen, Listen, O my Child', and John Joubert's extraordinary and stirring Evening Canticles in C. The choristers were keen to gather autographs from the gathered composers at the reception afterwards, where the Cathedral Commissioners joined us too. It served as a wonderful celebration at the end of a wonderful week's music-making.
On Saturday 14 October, the Cathedral again hosted its fabulous, free ‘behind the scenes’ day, where children were able to experience the life of a Cathedral chorister.
Forty-one girls and boys, aged between seven and ten, came from schools across Somerset and beyond for the annual Be a Chorister for a Day event where they met the Cathedral choristers and participated in singing workshops. The day culminated in singing Choral Evensong in the Quire of the Cathedral with the award-winning and world-renowned choir. The children performed the anthem Love Divine by Howard Goodall, helped the choir lead the two hymns in the service, and learned to process in and out.
There were also events for the children’s parents, including a tour of Wells Cathedral School and Tea in the historic Vicars’ Hall. It was a great success and everyone involved thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
If you are interested in the 2018 event, please contact the Cathedral Music Office via email@example.com. If you can’t wait that long you may like to join Wells Cathedral Song Squad, which meets on Tuesday nights. Contact Tricia Rees-Jones via firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
We're now just over a month into the new choir year and so it seems high time that we got to know some of the newer faces in the Music Foundation. This week we learn a little more about our three new Choral Scholars.
Finn Lacey (alto) was born at home in Twickenham. Despite living spitting distance from the world-renowned Twickenham rugby stadium, Finn enjoyed kicking a football as a pastime and hence began a youth career, albeit a brief one, with Brentford FC Academy at the age of 7. Shortly after, Finn auditioned to be a chorister at Hampton Court Palace with secular classics such as ‘I Want You Back’ by the Jackson 5 and ‘What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?’ by Jimmy Ruffin. Despite this questionable programme, Finn was successful and he became a probationer at the Palace, but this was again short lived.
In 2008, Finn auditioned to be apart of Wells Cathedral Choir. After his successful audition came the beginning of a demanding and often challenging yet equally rewarding treble career at Wells Cathedral. Finn was given the opportunity to sing on CD recordings, in live broadcasts, and on tours to The Hague, Hong Kong and China. Shortly after the trip to the Far East came the inevitable voice change that left Finn a treble no more.
The lack of choir commitments allowed time for both free weekends and sport which Finn found refreshing but, finding that the large void left by choristership being replaced with only unwelcome exams and teenage angst, it was only a matter of time before Finn re-entered the choral world. Finn knew he wanted to be an alto; artists such as Art Garfunkel, Plan B, The Bee Gees and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys had all used their falsetto, thus making the alto voice that bit more appealing over the perhaps more traditional tenor or bass parts for Finn.
In 2016 Finn became the alto choral scholar at Portsmouth Cathedral and promptly fell back in love with singing. After a so-so set of A-level retakes, Finn began looking for a new choral endeavour after Portsmouth. For old times’ sake above anything else, Finn auditioned for Matthew Owens once more (now as a 6ft tall, hairy countertenor!) and was pleasantly surprised at his success for the second time!
Finn is an avid Liverpool fan and film fanatic but above all he is a fervent (verging on psychotic) listener to music. Finn’s favourite album is the Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’, with perhaps the only LP to rival this being Brian Wilson’s follow up album and swansong ‘SMilE’. If only it were finished... Finn is enjoying being in Wells for another year and is rediscovering the place he calls his home.
Oliver Chubb (tenor) has recently completed his undergraduate degree in Music at the University of Bristol, specialising in composition and performance. He began his musical life as a chorister at Portsmouth Cathedral, which founded a lifelong love of choral music. Though he didn’t realise it at the time, being a chorister would play a huge part in his musical education and his appreciation of cathedral music.
In addition to singing, Oliver is also a keen trumpeter; he began playing at the age of six with the sole intention of “making people’s ears explode”; residents of Vicars’ Close will be pleased to know he has long since abandoned this desire! His time at Portsmouth Cathedral also had a part in his education in trumpet by giving him the opportunity to play The Last Post while still a chorister and, after his voice took its natural downward course, he continued to play as a trumpeter for larger services, including on the 2014 BBC Radio 4 Christmas Morning Broadcast.
During his time at the University of Bristol, Oliver has performed in many ensembles; he was the principal trumpet of the University Chamber Orchestra for two years and as a singer has sung both as choir member and as a soloist, most notably while on tour with the University in Prague last year (Schubert's Mass in F) and Barcelona this year (Mozart's Requiem). In his final year at Bristol, he was awarded both the JH Britton Award and the Performance Prize by the Music Department. As well as his studies at University, Oliver was a choral scholar at Bristol Cathedral, with whom he performed live on BBC Radio 3 and on BBC One TV in the 2016 Christmas Morning Service, as well as taking part in the recording of the choir’s new CD.
Oliver’s favourite musical experience was singing in the BBC Proms Youth Choir in Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle at the BBC Proms, closely followed by Verdi’s Requiem Marin Alsop the following year.
Another reason for Oliver pursuing a career in music is that it serves as an excellent travel agent - recent excursions have been to places such as Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Bordeaux, Barcelona, Cornwall and Brittany.
Since leaving the university, he has given two public recitals in his native Hampshire accompanied by his former choirmaster, and one in Bristol accompanied by former Wells Cathedral Assistant Organist, David Bednall.
Oliver is active as a performer in the Bristol music scene and has played and sung for many local orchestras and choirs. Other pursuits have included conducting a small choir specialising in 20th-century repertoire, and founding a Bristol-based function band (now available for booking!). Like his alto counterpart Finn, Oliver’s days consist of waking up in the afternoon and eagerly waiting for the beginning of evensong, a plight common amongst the choral scholar species. Readers who take pity will be relieved to know that he is readily available for hire as a trumpeter for lessons, weddings and funerals (the bar tab won’t pay itself...).
Harry Guthrie (bass) has been singing for ten years; he joined Bedford School’s Chapel Choir at the age of nine, and he’s been hooked ever since. Aged 10, he joined the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, singing in many of the main concert venues and cathedrals across the UK, including the Royal Albert Hall, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, Birmingham Symphony Hall, and many others. He’s also been on some pretty good holidays (aka music tours!) singing in Notre Dame, Paris, St Mark’s, Venice, and Chartres Cathedral.
A few years ago, Harry’s school choir was the only robed choir to take part in the annual Festival of Remembrance in the Albert Hall – made unforgettable by standing just a few feet away from the star of the show, Pixie Lott! However, what was forgettable was falling down the Albert Hall's stairs in cassock and surplice - thankfully no harm done!
Harry is also co-founder (and arranger) of the ‘Bedford Sharps’, an a cappella group of Bedford School students who perform concerts in their local area. When he’s finished his choral scholarship at Wells, Harry is off to read Music at Trinity College, Cambridge. Outside of music, he’s a passionate Manchester United supporter and likes to play golf with friends.
The choristers are preparing to take part in Wells Cathedral's tenth annual festival of new music: new music wells 77-17, to be held from Sunday 15 – Thursday 19 October 2017.
Building on the success of previous years, all music during the Cathedral’s services and at four special concerts will be selected from repertoire written over the last 40 years - no mean feat for any cathedral choir! Click on the poster above to enlarge it for more information on all the world premieres that will be taking place.
This year’s distinguished Composer-in-Residence is Howard Skempton, who celebrates his 70th birthday shortly after the festival. He will have two works premiered by Wells Cathedral Choir on Thursday 19 October at the 5.15pm service of Choral Evensong. The festival will also include world premiere performances of works by Professor Philip Wilby, Francis Jackson (in celebration of his 100th birthday on 2 October), and Rebecca Farthing, who is a student at Wells Cathedral School.
In other events, Lord (Michael) Berkeley CBE – presenter of BBC Radio 3’s Private Passions will be in conversation with fellow composers Howard Skempton and Philip Wilby on Wednesday 19 October: Composer Conversations with Michael Berkeley begins at 2.30pm in the Education Room. Skempton will give a public composition masterclass in Cedars Hall on the afternoon of Thursday 19 October, working with students from Wells Cathedral School. Admission to all of these events is free.
There will be four lunchtime concerts during the week, all starting at 1.05pm in the North Transept of the Cathedral:
Monday 16 October – A Contemporary Song Recital with Edward Goater and Christopher Sheldrake
Tuesday 17 October – Students from Wells Cathedral School will perform music by the school’s student composers
Wednesday 18 October – Students from Wells Cathedral School will perform compositions by this year’s featured composer, Howard Skempton
Thursday 19 October – Organist and Master of the Choristers, Matthew Owens, will give an organ recital featuring music by Judith Bingham (President of the festival), Philip Glass, Howard Skempton, Lionel Rogg, and Philip Wilby
Admission to all four concerts is free, with retiring collections to support Wells Cathedral Music.
A new innovation within this year’s new music wells festival is new music bells which will see the Cathedral’s bell ringers performing a piece by Howard Skempton on the final day of events: Five Rings Triples was commissioned for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad Project and receives its South West premiere of the Five Rings Doubles version on Thursday 19 October at 4.30pm.
Founded in 2008 by Matthew Owens, Organist and Master of the Choristers, this innovative festival is a retrospective of sacred choral and organ music of the previous forty years during all services, together with world premiere performances by Wells Cathedral Choir and organists of music by internationally renowned composers, local composers, and composition students from Wells Cathedral School. There are also concerts and a public masterclass with the featured composer of the year. The festival’s President is British composer, Judith Bingham, following on from the late Jonathan Harvey.
The sun shone for this afternoon's visit of the boys and men to St Peter's Church, Evercreech. As part of the choir's outreach programme, each term either the boys and men or girls and men travel to a different church in the diocese to sing Choral Evensong. Today's service was a great success with the church filled to capacity as local parishioners came to hear the choir sing this traditional choral service. Needless to say, the generous provision of tea and cake was much appreciated by all afterwards!
We need to offer two votes of congratulations today. The first goes to our new boy Head Chorister, Taylor who was installed last week after his predecessor's voice took its natural course rather earlier in the year than anticipated! We've heard Taylor's voice as soloist on many occasions and look forward to hearing it much more as we wish him all the very best in his tenure. Of course, we are very sad to see the former Head Chorister, Bailey leave but wish him all the best for the future and look forward to giving him a proper send-off in due course. Secondly, we're delighted to congratulate Matthew Owens on his installation today as a Prebendary of Wells Cathedral. A first for an Organist at Wells Cathedral, as far as we know! Matthew and Taylor are pictured here with Deputy Head Chorister, Xavier.