Trinity College Cambridge is an extraordinary institution, the alumni of which constitute a potted history of European civilisation. Science features high on the list with names like Isaac Newton, Niels Bohr, Lord Rayleigh and Charles Babbage, and since 1900 no fewer than 32 members of the college have received Nobel Prizes. But it’s hard to overlook other graduates like Francis Bacon, Bertrand Russell, Rajiv Gandhi, Wittgenstein, John Dryden, Lord Byron, Alfred Tennyson, A.A. Milne and Vladimir Nabokov, to name just a few. It is fair to say that places at Trinity are keenly sought by the brightest students in the world.
From this heady mist of history and achievement emerges an extraordinary choir led by one of the great choral directors of our time, Stephen Layton, who chooses choristers on the basis of their passion and intelligence as much as for the qualities of their voice. The result is striking, marked by an overwhelming sense of musical intelligence that can almost be touched, with all of the requisite sensitivity and finesse to complete the picture.
This sensational group tours Australia for Musica Viva in July and August. In the spirit of capturing everything imaginable in the realm of choral music, Stephen has chosen for the tour a program spanning four centuries, from the immaculate marvels of Tallis and Byrd through to the modern Europeans, Rautavaara and Ešenvalds, we are granted an elite journey through the director’s musical universe. One path leads to “Wings of the Wind” composed by the college’s own organ scholar, Owain Park, who is rapidly emerging as a significant force in modern choral music.
The highest path on our expedition leads to the newest music on the program – the world premiere of a new work by Australian composer Joe Twist, “Hymn of Ancient Lands”, commissioned by Mary Pollard and family expressly for this concert tour.
Carl Vine AO
Touring Australia 17 July – 4 August. Book your tickets here: musicaviva.com.au/trinity
The Choir of Trinity College’s tour has been special for a number of reasons, not least the youthful enthusiasm brought by the young choristers themselves. Waiting to board their flight at Perth airport yesterday afternoon they sang Percy Grainger’s Australian Up-Country Song one last time.
We would like to extend our special thanks to all the families and individuals who hosted the Choristers in their travels around Australia. Without you, this tour would not have been what it was.
The recording of the Choir’s Sydney concert is available for online streaming from ABC Classic FM for a little while longer so get in quick if you want to relive the joy of the Choir’s performances.
The Choir of Trinity College finished their tour with a concert in Perth last night. It was an emotionally charged night as that was the last time this particular group of singers performed together: some will move on to other things with the start of the new northern hemisphere uni semester on their return to Cambridge.
The Choristers have enjoyed this tour immensely, as have Australian audiences. For any curious listeners out there, the Choir’s main encore throughout the tour has been Jonathan Rathbone’s arrangement of Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho. On some occasions, though, they’ve performed Australian Up-Country Song by Percy Grainger. Stephen Layton is a member of the Grainger Society so this is a lovely link between the Choir and Australia.
For those not yet tired of hearing the Choir praised in the Australian press, this piece appeared recently in the North Shore Times:
“Extraordinary ensemble cohesion was the hallmark of the Choir of Trinity College Cambridge during its concert at Angel Place. Singing without scores, the 30 choristers never missed a trick while negotiating 15 items by as many composers.
The first half of their August 30 concert was devoted to an illuminating juxtaposition of short pieces by English baroque composers and Baltic modern composers, with a common theme of times of trouble: a change of emphasis brought longer items after interval commencing with a substantial offering by Musica Viva’s featured composer for 2010, Paul Stanhope.
In the Deserts of Exile, the middle movement of a triptych called Exile Lamentations dating from 2007, is a rewardingly varied piece featuring unusual sounds and rhythmic chanting as well as more conventional choral devices: the Trinity choristers responded to its challenges with enthusiasm and great skill.
They went on to impress for their marvellous clarity in Herbert Howells’s Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing of 1964 and for the sense of wonder they evoked in Morten Lauridsen’s Nocturnes of 2005, particularly in the segment entitled Sure on this Shining Night.
The choristers put the cap on a memorable concert with an enthusiastic and light-hearted encore reading of Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.”
In the lead up to the Choir’s Perth concert, Rosalind Appleby has written this lovely article in the West Australian:
Tickets to the Choir of Trinity College Cambridge at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre have sold out and director Stephen Layton is quietly pleased. It is a bright sunny day in Brisbane and the British conductor plans to spend the day cycling around the river. It’s a long way from the cathedrals and willow trees of Cambridge, where the choir is based. The group of 30 choristers tour only once a year and Australia was Layton’s top pick.“I have been here previously conducting the Melbourne Symphony, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Queensland Orchestra. I love the country and the climate and I believe in the music I’m doing so I wanted to bring it to Australia.”
The English choral tradition has been part of Layton’s life since he was a boarding schoolboy, when he juggled daily singing as a chorister around football practice. “It was a big commitment but you got a great education. I moved from that tradition into a profession m music and I’m very grateful for the training it gave me.”
He is now director of the City of London Sinfonia and director of music at Trinity College. The choir he has brought to Australia is a mixed-voice choir of Trinity College undergraduates, who provide the music for Trinity College services.
The 19-21 year olds have enjoyed being tourists in Australia and today they are relaxing at the Queensland zoo. Tonight, however, they will robe up and transform into disciplined choristers, performing from memory the ancient and modern choral music Layton has drilled into them. The program for their Perth performance next week includes the traditional choral music of British composers William Byrd, Henry Purcell and Thomas Tallis alongside contemporary music by Arvo Part, Pawel Lukaszewski and others.
“I wanted to juxtapose the Renaissance English music with new music by the Baltic composers to show that modern music is not so new,” Layton explains. “Much of it draws from the past and has grown out of the ancient music. Baltic music is very beautiful. It has been written out of struggle, because until very recently these states were under communist rule. They were so isolated and now they are celebrating being free.”
The program will also include music by Australian composer Paul Stanhope. Stanhope has much experience writing choral music and Layton says the choir enjoys singing Deserts of Exile, which uses Israeli texts from the Hebrew bible and a Palestinian poem to explore the political situation in Jerusalem.
“It’s very important to me, coming to Australia, to be performing Australian music,” says Layton. “This will be just the beginning of an exploration of music from this part of the world for us.”
The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge rests in Perth today in preparation for the final concert of their tour tomorrow night at the Perth Concert Hall. The weekend saw a second successful concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre. Below is what Clive O’Connell had to say in the Age after the Choir’s first Melbourne performance:
“Visitors for Musica Viva representing the Oxbridge and wider British cathedral choral traditions, the Choir of Trinity College Cambridge enjoys a valuable distinction from other forces with similar backgrounds: its voices are mixed, 11 female sopranos providing a resonant top line, an alto section with only two male members and a set of deft tenors schooled in ensemble membership rather than self-imposition.
The Trinity body’s make-up meant that audiences could experience a wider variety of repertoire than the standard Tudor regime that occupies nearly all available ground when British choirs with boy sopranos visit. For the night’s first half, the program oscillated between some expected Renaissance elements – Parsons, Byrd, Tallis – and a solid representation of contemporary Baltic and Polish composers such as Ugis Praulins, Urmas Sisask and Pawel Lukaszewski.
The singers took to the contemporary works with an infectious enthusiasm and authority… Conductor Stephen Layton’s Cambridge singers show an admirable discipline – the whole program is sung from memory – and at the centre of their offerings they sang two works of vivid and taxing power.
Purcell’s Hear My Prayer began en clair, eventually transforming into a fierce re-interpretation by Sven-David Sandstrom of grinding harmonic agony. Paul Stanhope’s Deserts of Exile proved memorable for its lucid setting of a Palestinian poet’s mourning for his ruined fatherland, ending with a splendidly achieved fusion of sustained notes and soft sibilances.”
The Choir has received more praise in the press, this time in response to their performance at the launch of Musica Viva’s 2011 International Concert Season. Matthew Westwood in the Australian writes:
“The cacophony of Canberra politics temporarily gave way on Wednesday night to sounds far more harmonious. The Choir of Trinity College from Cambridge, England, is nearing the end of a national tour for Musica Viva, and had stopped at Government House for a concert in the presence of the Governor-General.
The youthfulness and vitality of this student choir, directed by Stephen Layton, is a delight. Their concert tour is of mostly sacred music, but on Wednesday they sang a mixture of spiritual and secular, beginning with Pastime with Good Company by their college’s founder, Henry VIII.
Quentin Bryce praised the choir’s joie de vivre: ‘You are part of a great tradition, a distinguished, superb choir.’”
On Tuesday night the Choir of Trinity College reveled in the glorious acoustic of the Melbourne Recital Centre. Some members of the audience were a little concerned when one chorister found the heat of the stage lights a bit strong and had to sit out for the last work of the first half however Stephen Layton reassured the audience that these things occasionally happen and the girl did indeed recover her strength to return to the stage for the second half.
Yesterday the Choir traveled to Canberra and performed at the launch of Musica Viva’s 2011 International Concert Season at Government House. The lucky choristers even had a private tour of Government House before the event started.
The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge and Stephen Layton gave another superb performance, which had the audience of over 100 guests captivated. The Governor-General closed the official proceedings with a warm and engaging speech praising the Choir for their total engagement with the music and saying how important the work of Musica Viva is across the country, with both our public concerts and broad education program bringing the joy of music to as many people as possible.
The Choir is now preparing for tonight’s sold out concert in Canberra’s Llewellyn Hall, and enjoying the lovely weather. ABC radio Canberra will also cross live to Stephen Layton and the Choir in rehearsal at approximately 4pm today. You can listen here.