In 1998 the New Cambridge Singers invited Richard Rodney Bennett to write a major work for choir and organ to celebrate the Millennium. At a time when new music has difficulty finding widespread popular appeal the commissioning of new works for amateur and semi-professional musicians is a vitally important part in the bridge-building process between composers and audiences, but it can place a very heavy financial burden on the often limited resources of the commissioning body. Nevertheless we felt that a composer such as Bennett, who time and again has proved himself adept at tailoring his music to the specific needs of both the occasion and the performers without compromising his own style, would be ideally suited to the sort of work we had in mind, and we determined to press ahead with the difficult process of raising sufficient funds.
It was most a fortunate moment of inspiration to try our luck with the Internet and to post an invitation to other choirs around the world to share in the commission. To our delight and astonishment we were immediately bombarded with enquiries from all corners of the globe. An extended sifting period followed, but in the end we were able to finalise contracts with 15 other choirs from as far afield as Australia, Canada, Iceland, the UK and the USA. This unique use of the Internet for global musical co-operation may perhaps point the way towards a new style of commissioning in the future which can only be of benefit to all parties – composer, publisher and commissioner. Perhaps most important of all more organisations get the opportunity to be involved in the commissioning process, and thereby experience the thrill of being responsible for the creation of new music.
When we received the composer’s manuscript we knew immediately that we had struck gold in this innovative venture. The composer has chosen to create an extended unbroken cantata from Wordsworth’s Ode “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” (omitting stanzas 7 and 8), and has shown magnificently his skill at producing imaginatively original music that is both practical and immediately engaging.
NEW CAMBRIDGE SINGERS
The New Cambridge Singers was founded in 1986 by Tim Brown, Director of Music at Clare College, Cambridge. He set out to create a highly competent chamber choir, based in Cambridge but not linked to the University or its Colleges. Membership was to be open to all, including members of the University, by audition, repeated at regular intervals. Since then the choir has generally given around six concerts a year, offering two performances of each programme, one in Cambridge itself and the second in a nearby town or village. Occasional forays beyond the region have taken the choir to London, Windsor, and Versailles.
Christopher Brown, coincidentally the brother of the choir’s founder, accepted the musical directorship of the choir in 1997. Under his leadership the choir has focussed particularly on Baroque and contemporary British music, although a capella music from all periods and styles is regularly performed. The choir has commissioned a number of works from British composers including Richard Rodney Bennett, Thomas Adés, John Webb, Alicia Grant and Christopher Brown. In recent years the choir has worked with the specialist early music group the Sweelinck Ensemble in performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and B minor Mass and works by Purcell and Schütz.
Christopher Brown is a composer whose extensive background in the world of choral music, both as singer and conductor, has naturally inclined him towards vocal music and opera, and his sympathetic writing for voices has earned him an international reputation. Nevertheless he has also written a substantial amount of chamber and orchestral music, including works for many of the UK’s leading orchestras and ensembles. He is particularly interested in, working with, and writing music for young people and amateurs: several of his children’s operas have been successfully produced in the UK and abroad, and his vocal music is performed by choirs all over the world.
As a child, he was a chorister at Westminster Abbey, later an alto choral scholar at King’s College Cambridge, and for several years after leaving university was a professional singer with many of the top London choirs and ensembles. He studies composition with Lennox Berkeley at the Royal Academy of Music and Boris Blacher in Berlin, and since 1969 has been a much sought-after composition teacher at the Royal Academy of Music.
In 1976 Chris founded the Huntingdonshire Philharmonic, a choir and orchestra that he conducted until 1991. During that time he built a reputation as a conductor of wide-ranging musical sympathies, not only of the standard choral and orchestral repertoire, but also of less well-known and contemporary works, giving first performances of music by Shostakovich, Richard Rodney Bennett and others. He has a particular interest in, and love of, music of J.S. Bach, and since 1986 has been the musical director of the Dorset Bach Cantata Club. In 1997 he was appointed musical director of The New Cambridge Singers.
Peter Barley is Organist and Master of the Choristers at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, a post he has held since January 2002. Prior to this he spent eleven years working in London, based there as Director of Music at Saint Marylebone. Whilst in London, he worked as accompanist with a number of leading choirs including the Corydon Singers, Canticum and the London Concert Choir. Peter is a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists and was made an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music, London in 2001.
Peter was educated as a chorister at New College, Oxford and then won a music scholarship to Winchester College. He read music at Cambridge, where he was organ scholar at King’s College and was closely associated with the renowned choir, accompanying the choir in a large number of concerts, broadcasts and tours (to Australasia and Italy), in addition to the daily services. Whilst in Cambridge, he studied the organ with Nicolas Kynaston and Peter Hurford and subsequently with the late Nicholas Danby at the Royal Academy of Music, where he also studied on the Sacred Music Course under Patrick Russill and gained a M.Mus from London University. Peter was later on the staff of both the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music.
SIR RICHARD RODNEY BENNETT
Richard Rodney Bennett is one of the most versatile of British composers/performers, equally at home writing for the concert hall or for film, and as a jazz pianist. He studied composition in London at the Royal Academy of Music and in Paris, where he became the first pupil of Pierre Boulez. He received the Arnold Bax Society Prize in 1964 and the Ralph Vaughn Williams Award for Composer of the Year in 1965. He was composer-in-residence at the Peabody Institute, Baltimore in 1970-1971. As a jazz pianist, singer and composer, Bennett has toured extensively, made several recordings with jazz artists, and regularly appears as a soloist at jazz clubs in New York and elsewhere. In 1977 Bennett was awarded the CBE and in 1998 he received a knighthood for services to music; in 1979 he moved from London to New York City, where he still resides.