Alex Patterson (Director of Music) writes:
Canon Geoffrey Hunton has, without a doubt, been one of the Music Department’s greatest supporters over the past 15 years. With his various roles during that time, he has seen it undergo radical change and development into the flourishing department it is today. Not only has he experienced the delights of three Directors of Music, numerous Organists, and scores of Choristers, but he has been integral in its success.
There have been many musical milestones which owe so much to Canon Geoffrey’s support and encouragement as Cathedral Dean, including the £25,000 grant awarded from the Friends of Cathedral Music in 2012 and the landmark performances of the Bach St John’s Passion in 2013 and the Monteverdi Vespers in 2017 which saw the Youth Choir sing alongside the Cathedral Choir with professional musicians.
His support in encouraging the development of our Youth Choir has been very crucial over the past three years and its bittersweet that the rewards of this are beginning to yield with young singers progressing into the Cathedral Choir having been trained up, and the appointment of a new Youth Choir Director to drive the work further forward.
On behalf of all the musicians at the Cathedral, I wish to thank Geoff for all he has done for us all in making the Cathedral such a welcoming and supportive environment to make music and for his good humour and unwavering support.
In the Cathedral’s commitment to supporting new music, Amy Summers, a recent graduate of the University of Nottingham and former Choral Scholar, has been appointed Composer-in-Residence.
Having sung with the choir for the last few years I'm very excited to become composer-in-residence at the Cathedral. It's incredibly lovely and rewarding to write for people that you know so well and are used to working with, and I'm so grateful to be supported by the Cathedral and music department in starting out as a young musician and composer.
Amy follows in the footsteps of Alex Patterson, who was Composer-in-Residence between 2009 - 2011, during which time some of his most well-known music was written, and now published by Banks Music Publications: Ave Maria, Two Pieces for Remembrance, and Lead, kindly Light.
I know from my own experience as Composer-in-Residence how fruitful and incredibly rewarding the role can be and I am looking forward to hearing the new music Amy will be writing specifically for use within the Catholic liturgy.
Amy's compositional talent came to light very quickly when the Cathedral commissioned a new setting of the Salve Regina which the Cathedral Choir first performed during the 11.15am Mass on Sunday 23 October 2016. This setting will appear on the Cathedral Choir's upcoming CD 'Mother of God, here I stand' (to be released this Autumn) alongside two settings of the Ave Maria by Alex Patterson and Howard Skempton, both written for the Cathedral Choir.
Carmel Oliver (soprano), writes:
Many of the congregation will have heard the Cathedral Choir perform various pieces by the Italian Renaissance composer over the past 12 months, but none could have imagined how excited we felt to sing Monteverdi in his home country. One of my earliest memories of joining the choir was overhearing a soprano say ‘I just love Monteverdi, he’s like, basically, my life’, a sentiment that rang true for most of us, so going to Italy on a #findmonteverdi mission seemed like the choir’s dream come true.
Bounding about the Skylink bus on a dreary day in August, we made a note-able crew in our shocking pink tour shirts. Our first stop was fair Verona, where we soaked up sun, Shakespearean sites and frankly unhealthy amounts of gelato. The choir, made up of choristers old and new was joined by Anna Laura, our invaluable Italian guest star, who had sung with the Cathedral choir while on exchange some years ago.
The first musical offering was a mass at the San Zeno Basilica, the church which inspired Shakespeare to write the scene of Romeo and Juliet’s wedding. Almost certainly the hottest mass we’d sung in (it was a sticky 40 degree day), we sang the Missa Bell’ Amfrit’ altera by Lassus, a motet by Hassler, and Lauda Jerusalem by Monteverdi. The congregation and clergy were an absolute delight to sing for, with enthusiastic applause all round and chilled red wine afterwards!
The very same day we packed off to Mantua in a minibus (almost as romantic as Romeo fleeing there)
or what became a magical musical event. The Basilica of St Barbara put on a concert in the evening (photo above), which gave us the opportunity to sing our entire tour repertoire. Representing a fitting musical journey from Ireland, England and ending in Italy, this included music by our own Alex Patterson, Tallis, Rutter, Croce and, of course, Monteverdi. People drifted in off the streets and sat fanning themselves in the audience for what proved to be an atmospheric and joyful concert. Two encores, thank you speeches and a standing ovation later, none of us could wipe the smiles off our faces despite the sweat!
Next stop was a day in Venice, which offered the biggest #findmonteverdi gem, his grave. After visiting the Basilica Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari to pay homage, we tripped over to St Mark’s Basilica (photo above) where he held the post of maestro di cappella. It was a wonderful and strange thing to try to imagine Monteverdi himself walking around in the church, hearing many of his compositions, which have survived for hundreds of years, for the first time. An almost overwhelming experience just being in the glittering building itself, it was a privilege to celebrate mass with the congregation made of locals, tourists and nuns.
Our final musical experience was a delightful mass sung in St Anthony’s Basilica in Padua. Supported by the jolliest priest I’ve ever met, we sang in the morning service and were so well received that people from the congregation compared us to angels. A few selfies with the priest after mass rounded things off nicely (below).
Other highlights included a day trip to Lake Garda, a gripping performance of Puccini’s Tosca at the Arena di Verona, visits to museums, art galleries and gondola trips. As well as the obligatory overeating, we also got to know each much more. I learned that Dave, on his 7th tour with the choir, knows an awful lot about train electrics, and that Hannah, a second soprano, always takes an extension cord on holiday with her. Chris and Anna have a great talent for discovering the best food
to be had, Leah doesn’t respond well to mosquito bites and making Alex happy with good singing is the best reward. It was an absolute privilege to represent St Barnabas with such a talented group of hardworking singers, so a big thank you to everyone who worked hard to make it happen and indeed all those who came along to support us in our pre-tour concert beforehand.
June 2017 saw the return of 38 former members of the Cathedral Choir for a grand reunion weekend which took place over Friday 9, Saturday 10, and Sunday 11 June 2017. A gala concert of choral favourites took place on the Saturday evening and the sheer wealth of choral sound which followed the organ introduction in Parry’s I was glad will long live in the memory of those who attended the concert - the goose bumps all around made it very clear that the singers really were glad to be back at the Cathedral.
The 11.15am Mass for the Most Holy Trinity on the Sunday was nothing short of epic - right from the opening Introit plainsong sung by the choir in procession from the garden. The choir were joined by the Academy of St Barnabas, an ad hoc orchestra brought together specially for the occasion to accompany the choir for Haydn’s Nelson Mass which was sung liturgically. A huge thank you to Naomi Quant, Gail Davies, James Lister and René Bloice-Sanders who took the solos.
As former choir members began to treacle back from the Friday evening, there was plenty of time for catching up and reminiscing over the weekend, as well as seeing different generations of Choral Scholars mingle and become friends. It is a real testament to Neil Page, who set up the scheme back in 2003, that such a strong bond of friendship and fraternity was evident throughout the event.
This weekend would not have been possible without the support and enthusiasm of Canon Geoffrey Hunton, the administrative genius that is Melanie Jordan, Kate Fletcher, the wider Cathedral community, and of course our choir. Sincere thanks to all for coming together to make the event possible, and to Paul Wooler and Michael Henchy for the photographs.
Aldeburgh Music’s Friday Afternoons is an international singing project which started in 2013 to celebrate the centenary of composer Benjamin Britten. That year in Nottingham, the Cathedral Youth Choir led a group of other young local singers in a performance of Britten’s collection of 12 songs (entitled ‘Friday Afternoons’) with the Nottingham Youth Orchestra in the Nottingham Albert Hall, on the composer’s birthday, Friday 22 November.
Each year since, Aldeburgh Music has commissioned composers to write new songs to encourage young singers to engage with high quality yet accessible music. In 2016, composer Jonathan Dove wrote a new set of songs entitled ‘Seasons & Charms’ which formed the basis of this project. Thanks to funding from Aldeburgh Music, the Cathedral Music department was able to run a singing project with local schools to encourage good singing technique whilst learning songs from ‘Seasons & Charms’. After an initial CPD session for school teachers, each school received a singing workshop with Alex Patterson, assisted by one of our Choral Scholars, Grace Bale, before coming together on Friday 10 March 2017 at the Cathedral for the final sharing event.
Over 200 young children took part in the project with each school performing at least one song on their own, some presenting ‘creative responses’ to their chosen song, and all coming together for three songs which had the children singing in up to four parts.
We are extremely grateful to the staff and students of Edale Rise, Our Lady’s and St Edwards, St Margaret Clitherow, St Patrick’s, Becket, Christ the King and Trinity Schools for engaging so thoroughly with the project and making the project such a success. Appetite is strong for a similar venture in the future and the Cathedral hopes to facilitate this going forward. We are also thrilled that four young new young singers have joined our Cathedral Youth Choir as a direct result of this project.
We were saddened to hear about the passing of two remarkable women earlier this year, both staunch supporters of the Cathedral Choir.
Joan Sales (14 October 1918 - 16 March 2017) was a member of Our Lady’s Young Singers (pictured), who led the singing at the 10am Mass, before going on to join the Cathedral Choir and singing for many years under Peter Smedley and then Neil Page until her retirement from the choir four years ago. In her younger days, ‘Auntie’ Joan was a keen dancer and regularly travelled to London to dance the night away to Victor Silvester and his Ballroom Orchestra. All of us who sung in the choir with Joan have very fond memories of her colourful personality. Members of the Cathedral Choir were able to attend Joan’s funeral to sing one of her favourite pieces, the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria, arranged by Ali Penge.
Margaret Allen (12 March 1940 - 9 March 2017) was a regular concert attendee at the Cathedral and known for rounding up great numbers of fellow music lovers to support our choir. Margaret had been battling with Pancreatic Cancer but was able to join us last term for our Cabaret Evening. Her passionate support for all that we do here will be greatly missed.
We were delighted to welcome composer Howard Skempton to the Cathedral on Laetare Sunday, 26 March, for the first performance of his Ave Maria at the 11.15am Mass. The piece was commissioned specially for the Cathedral Choir who will record the piece in May for their new CD of Marian music released in October 2017.
Howard is pictured above with Cathedral Dean, Canon Geoffrey Hunton, Director of Music, Alex Patterson, and members of the Nottingham Cathedral Choir.
Review of the Monteverdi Vespers performance which took place on Saturday 25 February 2017 to a sold-out Cathedral.
Monteverdi's Vespers is sumptuous as sound and as spectacle. We're not too sure why he wrote it but for many listeners it conjures up the very essence of Venice in the year 1610.
On Saturday night its glorious opening could hardly have been more dazzlingly theatrical: after a brief, urgent solo prayer the Heavens themselves seemed to open, with brass fanfares and a tsunami of bright, buoyant choral sound. The effect was like sun bouncing off the Venetian lagoon, piercing the windows of St Mark's.
For conductor Alex Patterson this performance was both a musical and logistical triumph. Not only were three choirs involved (Nottingham Cathedral Choir and Youth Choir joining forces with St Mary's) but also the period instrument expertise of the Monteverdi String Band and the English Cornett and Sackbutt Ensemble. The work calls not only for complex musical effects but also for a theatrical use of space. Some of the most moving parts of this performance (as in Duo Seraphim and Audi Coelum) were when sound emerged from a distance, shrouded in mystery, suggesting infinite echoes through time and space.
The performers were alert to the work's constantly changing textures. Monteverdi uses the full band relatively sparingly - and always with thrilling effect. But just as compelling on Saturday were the many solos: attentive to period style and all an essential part of the narrative and purpose of each hymn, psalm or prayer. Almost operatic spatial effects, as well as vivid word-painting, added to the consistent sense of drama.
Amongst this Vespers most impressive features: the brightness, bite and rhythmic vitality of the choral and instrumental sound; the stylistic unity achieved by large forces; the contribution of much well-judged musical detail to the effect of the massive whole. All those involved should feel proud of what they achieved.
Charles Collins writes:
I joined the cathedral choir in my 1st year as a chemistry student after hearing about it from a friend who was a scholar at the Cathedral. I auditioned and, after having been offered a choral scholarship, was at once warmly welcomed by the choir. Singing at the cathedral provided me with incredible opportunities to further my singing career, including workshops with accomplished singing teachers and professional vocalists, whilst the inclusion of subsidised singing lessons provided me with indispensable one-to-one tuition. Another fantastic opportunity was an unforgettable and thoroughly enjoyable tour to Barcelona, singing in breathtaking locations including Girona Cathedral and the Sagrada Familia.
On a week to week basis, the rapid rotation of music and the singing of regular services vastly improved my sight reading as well as expanding my knowledge of, and increasing my appreciation for, a wide range of choral music. Above all though, I am eternally grateful for the friends I have made. I have had the opportunity to develop on a personal level as well as a musician, thanks to the people of the choir and the strong, shared sense of camaraderie, which is evidenced by the strong alumni involvement.
I would heartily encourage any prospective student who has had some previous experience of choral singing to audition for this choir, there is so much to get out of it.
Charles Collins joined the Cathedral Choir as a Choral Scholar in May 2013. He graduated in July 2016 from the University of Nottingham with a 2:1 MSc in Chemistry. He is pictured above with our other departing Choral Scholars who graduated from with BA (Hons) in Music - Emma Kennedy (2:1) and Emma Hawkins (1st Class).
Dr Lisa MacKenzie, our first Choral Scholar, joined some of the Cathedral Choir on their recent tour to Barcelona. Here Lisa describes what they got up to...
In July a group of singers from the Cathedral Choir (past and present, young and slightly more mature!) went on tour to Barcelona, representing St Barnabas at a range of splendid venues around this beautiful city.
We started our week by singing during Mass at Barcelona Cathedral, where we received a very warm welcome from the clergy and congregation alike, with some younger members even queuing to have
photographs taken with choir members afterwards.
Girona Cathedral provided us with an amazing acoustic, Sagrada Familia was an incredible building which I cannot even attempt to describe, and Montserrat Abbey was as ornate as it was spiritual - hopefully our performance in the Basilica, including music by Casals, originally written for their choir, added to the atmosphere for the hundreds of people who were visiting this special place of pilgrimage.
We sang some old favourites including pieces by Tallis, Lassus and Bruckner as well as one of Alex's own compositions and also tackled some new and challenging music. Górecki's Totus Tuus was very well received at every performance, along with the hauntingly beautiful Mother of God, here I stand by Tavener which seemed to touch people of all nationalities whether they understood the English words or not!
Between masses and concerts, we were also able to fit in lots of sightseeing. Performing at several of the key attractions got us off to a great start and we enjoyed tours of Barcelona Cathedral and Sagrada Familia as well as exploring the rest of the city and sampling some delicious Catalan cuisine. We visited Park Güell, learnt all about Cava at a local vineyard and even squeezed in a relaxing afternoon on the beach, all whilst eating lots of ice cream!
This very talented group of singers did a fabulous job representing the Cathedral and it was a real privilege to sing with them again – thank you to Alex, Leah and everyone else who put in so much hard work behind the scenes!
ack in October we were delighted to welcome Christopher Hodkinson to the Cathedral to lead a plainsong workshop with our Cathedral Choir. Christopher is Director of Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge and Director of the Latin Schola at the Church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs in Cambridge. During the workshop, Chris gave a general introduction to the basic principles of singing chant before getting stuck into the chant for the next day’s Mass. The session has had a profound impact on the way we now approach singing plainsong and we hope parishioners have also enjoyed our new approach to singing the Introit chant whilst in the opening procession into the Cathedral at the start of Mass.
The Solemnity of Christ the King marked the first appearance of our Youth Choir at the 11.15am Solemn Mass. Members of the Youth Choir were joined by the upper voices of the Cathedral Choir to sing Britten’s Missa Brevis. The Youth Choir also joined the Cathedral Choir (including the men!) for our Festival of Lessons and Carols with a host of new and familiar seasonal music by Darke, Howells, Whitlock and David Fawcett.
Apollo5 were given a hero’s welcome when they returned to the Cathedral in January to lead a singing workshop with the Youth Choir, Choral Scholars and local school children. It was a particular joy to have Charlotte Brosnan back with us - one of our previous Choral Scholars and now professional soprano with the group.
A major date in the diary is the annual Chrism Mass during Holy Week which is led musically by the Diocesan Choir and our Choral Scholars. This year, we commissioned Dorset-based composer David Fawcett (an alumnus of Nottingham University) to compose a new work specially for the choir. The piece, The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me was rehearsed by the choir at our annual singing workshop in March and first performed during the Chrism Mass, in the presence of the composer.
We were proud to announce the appointment of Graeme Vernon as Organist Emeritus at the Cathedral on Easter Sunday. Graeme has been a dedicated member of the Cathedral music team for over 27 years and continues to lead the Parish Singers for the 10am Parish Mass each Sunday at the Cathedral.
The Cathedral choir made a return visit to Holy Cross Priory, Leicester following singing at the Requiem Mass for King Richard III in March 2015. An hour-long concert of Music in Honour of Our Lady included an emotional performance of Gorecki’s Totus Tuus along with other music by Bruckner, Caccini, Patterson, Tavener, Victoria and Rachmaninoff.