commemorate the centenary of WW1. As you can imagine,
for any composer, this was a daunting yet extremely exciting proposal which I was keen to delve into, and set me off on a path of research and discovery. As with most commissions there were certain stipulations
and requirements, but the sound world and overall musical direction
I had been nurturing for some time.
My musical background and training goes back to my early days as a chorister at Portsmouth Cathedral and then later at Canterbury Cathedral as an adult. This led me to train as an opera singer, subsequently
working in the choruses of ENO, Scottish Opera and Aldeburgh and Bregenz Festivals. Composing is something I have always done and maintained throughout my singing career and is therefore heavily influenced by my choral upbringing. But, it was during my time at ENO and Scottish Opera that I began to get ideas about using the ‘operatic’ chorus sound within traditional choral music. If you wander in to pretty much any London church for the 11 o’clock service on a Sunday morning, you are guaranteed be treated to the incredibly talented voices of the London based singers that make up a large portion of the British operatic choral scene in all of our major opera houses. Being involved with the London church singing circuit myself, it set me thinking about the sounds I could achieve -in a 'choral' sense - with voices that possessed the kind of depth, colour and control that operatic voices have.
In 2012 I called upon 16 colleagues, hand picked to fit the 8 sections of a choral ensemble to see if my theory could actually work. Could we sing with line and control? Could we blend and not over power the music? Could we sustain a real piano sound and use the dreaded word ‘vibrato’ freely and without criticism? Freelance singers and musicians, quite rightly so, don’t give up their time for free, yet every single one of these singers couldn’t wait to get stuck in and start to explore the music and their sound. We set to work on some of the big traditional choral works by Bruckner, Stanford, Harris, Parry and Purcell. My approach at the beginning was to just let these guys ‘sing’, without constraint or criticism. I needed to give them a chance to just let the sound settle and give them the opportunity (as with all operatic singers) to go full pelt and get it out of their system. Once they had stopped competing with each other (and they won’t hate me for saying that) and started listening to each other, I realised that my fantasy might actually be coming true. For Operatic singers, their sense of legato and musical line is more often than not driven by the text and dramatic content of the music which can result in the most intense pianissimo singing to gloriously rich, full bodied sound when they are at full capacity. I found that this gave a completely new dimension to the sound and impact of these great choral works that I had known so well as a child - click here to hear the group performing 'Beati quorum via' by C.V. Stanford - taken from their debut album 'Vision' (Stone Records). To me, these pieces had always been packed full of drama and for the first time I was able to experience and explore the full range depth and intensity . As I am sure you have worked out by now, these 16 singers became the founding members of Cantoribus.
This was of course, the beginning of a very steep learning curve. Very quickly it became clear that ‘larger voices doesn’t mean fewer voices!!’ Blend is always the the key and with fewer voices you run a much greater risk of individual voices standing out. By adding in a voice or two to each section I found that the blend worked much better and I could also get a much more intense and exciting piano sound out of them. so, it was this sound and way of working that became my inspiration for Requiem. I wanted to put the chorus at the foreground and showcase their incredible palet of colour and versatility, giving them the a capella Hostias , Warriors Psalm and the anthem “Give us the wings of faith” in the Prelude. The four days we spent recording, were just amazing.
There was so much excitement and dedication from everyone involved and even towards the end of each day when we were all getting tired
and struggling, the determination to dig deep and do the best job they could was so humbling and inspiring.
I would like to thank everyone for their hard work, passion and extraordinarily high musical standards that stayed true to the end. I am so proud of how far we have come and what we have achieved together. TH
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