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Why 'A New Song'?

Updated: May 24

Music Director Harry Bradford reveals what's behind the choices he and Accompanist James Orford made for our concert on 15 June at St Paul's Knightsbridge

For the summer term we wanted to programme something a bit different – hopefully repertoire that would be largely unfamiliar to the choir and challenge them in new ways. What better way to do this than with music written by some of the UK’s leading contemporary composers of choral music? And for a performance at the wonderful St Paul’s Church Knightsbridge with its fabulous organ (an instrument with which James is well acquainted as the church's organist), we thought that a programme of contemporary church music would fit the bill. 


We wanted to pick a selection of pieces that would give choir and audience alike a sense of the ways in which musical boundaries – melodic, rhythmic, textural, harmonic and others – are being pushed by contemporary composers. Many choir members have already expressed how much they are enjoying the music because they have been ‘exposed to sound worlds they had never heard before or more importantly never associated with “classical” music'. 


Both James and I are huge fans of Jonathan Dove’s music and this was an obvious place to start. I remember the first time we performed his epic ’Seek Him That Maketh The Seven Stars’ together and I was completely taken by the overwhelming magnitude of the work, as well as the very cleverly crafted musical effects in the organ, which created the mood for the piece. His Missa Brevis was an obvious counterpart to this with its sparkling and somewhat funky 'Gloria' and 'Sanctus' (a serious rhythmic and counting challenge for the choir) contrasted with the serene majesty of the outer two movements. In many ways this excellent writing is underpinned by simplicity, which is also the key to MacMillan’s A New Song in which a chant-like melody over drones is contrasted with hypnotic organ interludes and moments of MacMillan’s characteristic folk-inspired charm and fervour. 


York minster is the connection between our pieces by Francis Jackson and Philip Moore. Francis Jackson was director of music at York for 36 years until 1982 and his famous set of canticles in G, or as he referred to them ‘me in G!’, have become staples in cathedrals up and down the country. I first came across his setting of the Benedicite as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations at St Paul’s Cathedral and found it to be an extremely fun piece to sing, especially with different characterisations of the various elements invoked – lighting, clouds, seas, floods, fire and heat – it’s got it all. Philip Moore succeeded Francis Jackson and remained director of music at York until his retirement in 2008 – his anthem All Wisdom Cometh from the Lord includes an epic baritone solo to be taken by our Bass Scholar Allyn. 


Cecilia McDowall’s Psalm 65 was a recommendation from James who had come across it playing for its premiere with the London Pro Arte Choir. I’ve loved getting to know the piece and think it is extremely well written for choral forces with a particularly buoyant and playful second section that encourages the choir to experiment with constantly changing rhythmical meter. 


I’ve been singing Richard Allain’s music since I was a child as he worked alongside my father teaching music. I’ve always loved his rich and extended harmonic palette allowing choir and audience members alike to bathe in a sea of scrumptious and often unexpected harmonies.



So that's the music for our June concert. With so many musical challenges, what could go wrong, I hear you say? Come and find out on 15 June! 



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