Introducing Stephen Layton, conductor

Stephen Layton, conductor of the Choir of Trinity College Cambridge, may already be known to Australian audiences from appearances with ensembles including the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Queensland and Melbourne Symphony Orchestras. Elsewhere in the world, Stephen is founder and conductor of vocal ensemble Polyphony, is Chief Guest Conductor of the Danish National Vocal Ensemble and will succeed the late Richard Hickox as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the City of London Sinfonia from September 2010.

Layton’s approach to conducting choral music is shaped by his own experiences growing up in the tradition of British Cathedral Schools. “As somebody who has been washed in this choral tradition from an early age in Britain, it’s inevitable that my own way of making music will have been influenced by that. But I suspect also that through my own travels to other places outside this country where I’ve worked a lot, I’ve come up against different choral traditions… I hear different choral sounds in these countries, a different tradition, and I’m fascinated by it… I’m quite certain… that there are things that through the music-making I’ve seen outside the country, it’s changed the way I might do something with my sound.”

When it comes to repertoire, Layton gives much thought to the relationships between works.

“I like to show the resonances between the old and the new, and to show that whilst you may have thought that this piece was very ancient or this piece very modern, in fact there are often so many cross-currents going on between 1550 and 2009, why I’ve chosen Baltic type music is purely that I feel that this is music that is of the highest world order which at the moment is not necessarily being performed all around the world, although of course recordings are helping to make it known. But I’m also sure from my investigations that not much of this music has been heard in Australia. So I feel a responsibility as not just a British conductor but a conductor who’s interested in choral music from anywhere in the world, if I can get my hands on it – trying to be the carrier pigeon of taking the music that I discovered in Riga, Latvia, and physically bringing it with one of my choirs to Australia and singing it there. But the juxtaposition of British music from the Renaissance with Baltic music – I’ve thought about this very carefully in terms of the juxtaposition between one piece and the next and how this affects people when they hear this piece finish and this piece starts, and the moods and the different texts, and I’ve just tried to create something that is really invigorating to listen to and overwhelming in its cumulative power through one half of the program.”


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