The recording made by Leeds leisure Services of our recent lunchtime recital Songs of Serenity and Peace in Leeds Cathedral is now available.
Double Entendre! Yes, we’re teaming up with the Leeds Guild Of Singers so you can hear two choirs for the price of one!
The idea, which has been on the table for quite a while due to the pandemic, is not to form an augmented chorus for some performance on a grand scale, but to offer a programme of music written for single choir, double choir and a number of variations in between. So you can experience the thrill of hearing all 70 voices singing together but also enjoy the contrasts of each choir singing on their own.
Double choir ? it’s not a new idea
The idea of two groups of singers singing to each other in dialogue is nearly as old as western music itself. It goes back to the practice of monastic communities, who would sit facing each other in a collegiate arrangement, and chant alternate verses of the Psalms to each other, thus originating what is known as antiphonal music. Even in plainsong it works like a conversation with a musical idea stated in the first half of the verse and the answer contained in the response.
Antiphonal writing is a feature of the early choral writing of the Venetian Giovanni Gabrieli (b c1554) and also of Heinrich Schütz (b 1585) and indeed continues to be used through to modern times – those who attended our concert in November (A Vision of Albion) may recall Stanford’s brilliant motet Coelos ascendit hodie especially for its antiphonal writing.
Some composers have of course taken advantage of having choirs capable of singing in eight or more parts (two each of soprano, alto, tenor and bass) to create richer, symphonic textures with more colourful and complex harmonies. Parry’s There is an old belief, and indeed Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G Minor from that same concert are fine examples, with Vaughan Williams mixing antiphonal writing into it as well, and there are many more.
The programme for this concert includes a broad range of choral music ranging from the early German music of Schütz and Buxtehude through Romantic works by Mendelssohn, Rheinberger and Rachmaninoff to more modern works by Schnittke and Arvo Pärt. It illustrates the amazing creativity of these composers as they continually sought and found news ways to vary and develop the use of double choir resources.
The motet Jauchzet dem Herrn by Heinrich Schütz (himself influenced by Gabrieli) shows antiphonal writing at its strongest with echo effects and great rhythmic drive as two four-part choirs of sopranos, altos, tenors and basses fling words and musical ideas back and forth between them, almost interrupting each other at times. By contrast, the Magnificat that was once attributed to Buxtehude finds a different way of varying the sounds and textures by switching from 5-part choral writing to solo voices or single-voice ensembles. And in his lyrical motet Denn er hat seinen Engeln befohlen, Mendelssohn provides a further variation, creating separate groups out of the upper and lower voices for antiphonal use.
Rachmaninoff’s Choral Concerto and Schnittke’s Three Sacred Hymns take us into Russian Orthodox tradition, where the desire to enrich the music of the liturgy while retaining the restriction to just a cappella choral resources led to the development of great dynamism and richness, exemplified in the Choral Concerto. Schnittke demonstrates both antiphonal writing and the concerted building of richer choral sound, with the two being combined in the third hymn. Arvo Pärt, by contrast, and possibly seeking to return to basics, achieves the opposite in his setting of the Magnificat: a spare, minimalist, almost glacial texture created through, not despite, a multiplicity of parts, and a reminder of the simple chant that lies deep in the heart of all liturgical music.
The concert reaches its climax with the opulent Mass in E flat (‘Cantus Missae’) by Joseph Rheinberger. This magnificent work boasts antiphonal writing reflecting all the glory of the Venetian tradition, while also displaying mastery of contrapuntal textures – the weaving together of many moving parts – bequeathed to him in the German tradition by Bach and Mendelssohn. With all 70 or so voices of the two choirs combined in the warm key of E flat major, this work will provide an uplifting end to the concert and a fine memory to take away.
|Three sacred hymns||Alfred Schnittke|
|Denn er hat seinen Engeln befohlen||Felix Mendelssohn|
|Jauchzet dem Herrn||Heinrich Schütz|
|Choral Concerto||Sergei Rachmaninoff|
|Mass in E flat ‘Cantus Missae’||Joseph Rheinberger|
The concert takes place in the beautiful setting of Leeds Minster at 4pm on Saturday 11 February, and will last about an hour. Refreshments will be served.
Leeds Minster is a large and well-ventilated building offering plenty of space, as well as impressive architecture and ambience. Car parking is available on streets nearby, in the car park by the Palace Hotel, and in the NCP Markets Car Park.
We were delighted to welcome so many of you to our presentation of Music for Good Friday, which received good reviews. It is always good to see friends and familiar faces, but it was also very pleasing to see and meet people for whom this was their first choral concert or their first concert at Leeds Minster. We hope you enjoyed it ! Judging by the feedback, both music and surroundings contributed to a new and at times very moving experience. We hope you will come again!
We’re pleased now to announce details of the two concerts we will be giving this summer: a Platinum Jubilee recital on June 11 at Leeds Minster, and a trip out of town to St Cuthbert’s church in Pateley Bridge on July 9. You can book for both of them on-line now.
Music to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee
Saturday 11 June 2022 7.30pm
The music for this Jubilee recital is drawn mostly from Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation in 1953, including well-known classics such as Handel’s Zadok the Priest and Parry’s I was glad. The short anthem Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace by SS Wesley, once organist of Leeds Minster is part of the mix, along with movements from Vaughan WIlliams’ Mass in G Minor in this his 150th Anniversary.
The programme looks back briefly, as did the Coronation, to the music of Queen Elizabeth I, and forwards to the current day with a composition by the late Francis Jackson from the 2011 Choirbook for the Queen, and a work by Judith Weir, the current Master of the Queen’s Music (pictured above).
Shaun Turnbull plays the organ and Alex Woodrow directs.
The concert will be followed by a chance to meet members of the choir and other music lovers over a complimentary glass of wine or juice.
A Choral Fancy
Musical delights for a Summer Evening
Saturday 9 July 2022 7.30pm
St Cuthbert’s Church, Pateley Bridge
nr Harrogate, HG3 5LQ
The programme for this recital incorporates a delightful mix of styles and sounds. There’s a nod to the Queen’s Jubilee with two of Handel’s Coronation Anthems and Parry’s I was glad, together with three of his beautiful Songs of Farewell. Rheinberger’s Abendlied (‘Evening hymn’) brings a more reflective mood, while James Macmillan’s Lux aeterna allows us to briefly revisit our Songs of Solace programme from last October, and remember those lost in the pandemic.
Two of Poulenc’s short Motets for a time of penitience take us briefly to the very different sound world of Twentieth century French spiritual music, before we switch to a more relaxed set of secular part songs, including the well-known Linden Lea by Vaughan Williams and Stanford’s gorgeous The Blue Bird. This group finishes with Weaver bird, a short and humorous composition by our in-house duo poet Hannah Stone and composer Matthew Oglesby.
We finish, fittingly for a choir with our name, with two settings of the text Tu es Petrus (You are Peter), one by the 16th century master Palestrina and so one of the earliest known settings, and the other composed for our 40th anniversary in 2017 by Philip Moore, formerly Organist of York Minster.
Anthony Gray plays the organ and Alex Woodrow directs.
Tickets (£10) will be available at the door or on-line.
The concert starts at 7.30pm and the bar will be open from 7.00pm
Italian Music for Passiontide
We look forward with great excitement to our presentation of Music for Good Friday, always one of the high points of our calendar, and one we’ve had to forgo for the last two years.
This year we present a programme of absolutely gorgeous music for Passiontide by Italian composers. Gregorio Allegri’s famous Miserere is included, as well as Antonio Lotti’s well-known Crucifixus est pro nobis in 8 parts.
But the real stars of this programme are settings of the Miserere (Psalm 51) and the 13th century latin poem Stabat Mater Dolorosa by Francesco and Domenico Scarlatti respectively. They were uncle and nephew, Francesco being the younger brother of the more famous Alessandro, who was Domenico’s father. They lived at the height of the Baroque period, Domenico being born in 1685, the same year as Handel and JS Bach.
Both these works will sound familiar to lovers of Vivaldi’s Gloria, but with different textures providing additional variety to the ear. Francesco’s Miserere exploits different combinations of soloists, expertly sung by members of the choir, mixed in between full choral movements.
Domenico writes for 10 vocal parts and continuo, demanding considerable virtuosity at times, but achieving a richness and sonority rarely matched in the baroque era.
He rises superbly to the challenge of setting words that express so eloquently not just the sorrow of Jesus’ mother Mary as she watches her son dying a cruel death, but also the sorrow of any other compassionate human being reflecting on such events. As so often, the music reaches into places that the words, especially the latin ones, don’t necessarily reach.
They are very fine works, deserving of greater exposure. This is a rare chance to hear them live.
The music starts at 7.00pm on Good Friday 15 April 2022 in Leeds Minster, and will last about 75 minutes.
Why not book now ?
Members of St Peter’s Singers wish to join the many other voices in saluting Dr Francis Jackson CBE, who has died aged 104.
Like many other choirs, St Peter’s Singers were fortunate and privileged to work with him numerous times and count him as a friend of the choir.
Much has already been written about this charming and disarmingly modest man, and about a long life well-lived. Much reference has been made to his towering contribution to choral and organ music, and to his genius as an organist. There are many undocumented and often humorous stories about him, too, but this brief post just recalls some of our encounters with ‘FJ’, also sometimes known as ‘The Good Doctor’.
Daniel in Babylon
Our collaboration began in 1987 when, under Dr Lindley’s enterprising leadership, we performed Daniel in Babylon (composed in 1962) in Leeds Parish Church (now Leeds Minster). Daniel in Babylon was the first of two monodramas written in collaboration with the actor and librettist John Stuart Anderson. John Stuart took the leading spoken part with Francis playing the organ. We gave a second performance in Leeds Town Hall the following year. 1997 saw a further performance at Leeds Parish Church, and a recording followed in 1998 for Amphion Recordings with FJ at the console.
A Time of Fire
St Peter’s Singers followed Daniel with a number of performances of a second monodrama from the same collaboration, A Time of Fire (1967) – originally called Tyndale’s Dream. In some ways this piece demonstrated a rather more successful and imaginative engagement by Anderson with the drama of his subject matter – the turbulent life and times, and the grim death, of William Tyndale, one of the first translators of the Bible into the English vernacular.
FJ responded with some truly dramatic writing – an organ score pulsating with energy, tension and alarm; a range of vividly, and at times playfully, characterised cameo roles for choir soloists that capture both the wit and the pathos of Anderson’s vivid text. The choir acts as the sharp-eyed, occasionally sarcastic but always empathetic turba, or crowd of onlookers. The work concludes with an unforgettably touching, elegiac chorale of simple, yet truly haunting beauty for unaccompanied chorus that ends as soprano and alto soloists depart into the distance singing ‘The ploughboy who follows his team down the furrow shall sing as he goes the psalms of King David…’.
We performed this wonderful work in Leeds Parish Church in 1989 and 1991 with Matthew Beetschen on the organ, and again in 1992 for a concert in honour of FJ’s 75th Birthday with Carleton Etherington playing, with John Stuart Anderson in the speaking role on each occasion. We recorded the work in 1999 with FJ playing. Further performances followed at Leeds Minster and then Ely Cathedral in 2004 and Derby Cathedral in 2005 with Dr Richard Rastall delivering the spoken text and Jonathan Lilley playing. This work would grace (and enliven!) any conference on the Reformation or the history of the Bible in the UK, but can appeal to a much wider audience as it brings to life this colourful period in our history.
The success of this collaboration with Dr Jackson emboldened Dr Lindley to commission a work from him for the choir’s 20th anniversary in 1997, and he responded with a fine setting of the Stabat Mater for choir, organ and baritone solo. This received its first performance in Leeds Parish Church in that year, with subsequent performances there, at Giggleswick School and at St Matthew’s, Chapel Allerton. Two performances followed under FJ’s direction, with Simon Lindley at the organ, as part of recitals given in York Minster in 2004 and 2008. (Entitled ‘The Composers conduct’ and given in honour of Dr Lindley’s 60th birthday, the latter recital also included Philip Moore conducting his Three Prayers of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Donald Hunt conducting his Hymnus Paschalis – that was some evening, that was…)
The earlier recital at York Minster was given in the nave, and featured both the Stabat Mater and Dr Jackson’s magnificent Evening Hymn (1970). This unaccompanied setting of a poem by Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) is quite unlike most of Dr Jackson’s choral music – the characteristic angular counterpoint being replaced by vertical, translucent chording full of challenging dissonance, but a huge thrill to sing in a big acoustic such as that of York Minster.
Building on the witty text’s wordplay exploring the possible likeness of sleep and death, this is surely one of the most successful contemporary musical attempts on this scale to look death in the eye through the lens of hope. It is challenging to sing, which accounts for it being relatively unknown, but we included it in our 2014 CD One Equal Music. It is very much in our minds at this time, as we send our sincerest and heartfelt condolences to Francis’ family.
St Peter’s Singers recorded a 2 CD set of Daniel in Babylon [PHI CD 145] and A Time of Fire [PHI CD 146] – details are available on request.
Christmas Greetings from St Peter’s Singers!
This message comes with our warmest wishes of goodwill, comfort and joy to you as Christmas approaches. We hope most sincerely that you are able to celebrate it this year as you would wish.
For many of us, Christmas would not be Christmas without hearing a choir singing carols and other beautiful seasonal music. This important chance to remind ourselves what really matters was denied us all last year. Like many other aspects of the pandemic, we have no wish to repeat that grim experience.
So St Peter’s Singers will be giving a festive concert of carols and other heavenly music at Leeds Minster on Friday 17 December at 7.30pm.
A glass of wine or juice will be served in the interval.
Why not take this opportunity leave behind the noise for a short while and hear the angels sing!
The concert will finish by 9pm
Happily, touching base with this Christmas tradition is not an exercise in pure nostalgia. Composers of today continually find new and often captivating things to say. And so this treasure trove, liberally stocked with music from a rich and ancient tradition, is continually being renewed. Our programme will feature some of the better works composed in recent times mixed with traditional carols and well-known arrangements.
This will be a feast. Popular arrangements of traditional English carols such The Holly and the Ivy, The Sussex Carol, and We wish you a Merry Christmas, will join with with Edgar Pettman’s deceptively simple arrangements of two traditional Basque carols.
These will be complemented by John Rutter’s Dormi Jesu, John Tavener’s The Lamb, Will Todd’s My Lord has come, James MacMillan’s O Radiant Dawn, and Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium, all recent works by contemporary composers and stunningly beautiful in their different ways. There will be carols for everyone to sing, and more besides. Alex Woodrow directs, with David Houlder at the organ.
We look forward very much to welcoming you.
Please note: should Government advice on Covid-19 force us to cancel the concert, we will fully refund the price of purchased tickets.
A change of mood
It was heartening to see so many people at our recent recital Songs of Solace. We felt we had maybe struck a chord with a programme of music that acknowledged the grief and loss brought by the pandemic. Now we feel that, although the pandemic is far from over, a Hallelujah or two are in order!
So it is a delight to switch moods, and to celebrate the return of live music-making. We do so by performing one of the greatest choral works of all time, Handel’s Messiah.
This extraordinary oratorio, with its iconic Hallelujah chorus, its history of fund-raising for charity, and its frequent performance by countless choral societies, has reached further into the national consciousness than any other.
Messiah resonates at almost any point in the year. But it sits firmly in the minds of many as integral to their annual preparations for Christmas.
The opening invocation ‘Comfort ye’ – never more welcome than now – seems to light the Advent candle in the winter darkness more poignantly than one could possibly imagine.
The work covers not just the foretelling of the coming of Christ and his birth. It also tells of his Suffering and Death, his Resurrection and Ascension – the full, and rather remarkable, life-cycle!
Yet despite all this, the overwhelming feeling that this amazing music leaves us with is of the humanity of its subject – once a baby, and then ‘a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’. This is emotionally intelligent, empathetic music, composed by someone who understood the human condition.
This performance is given with organ, rather than orchestral, accompaniment. At the time of planning we were unable to predict whether conditions would allow space for an orchestra. We feel this has proved a wise decision. We hope that on this occasion you will enjoy hearing the glory of the Minster’s famous Harrison & Harrison organ deployed on all the familiar arias and choruses. We’re grateful to Tom Moore for agreeing to undertake this herculean task.
Our soloists – Ruby Hendry, Esther Colman, Christopher Trenholme and Quentin Brown – and St Peter’s Singers are directed by Alex Woodrow.
We very much hope to welcome you to this concert. Tickets are available below or at the door: £15, Concessions £12, (Free FTE / Under-18). A glass of wine or juice and a free programme is included in the price.
Leeds Minster is a seemingly well-ventilated (!) and spacious building allowing you to space out if you wish. We simply request that, in line with its policy, you wear a face-covering on entering and leaving the building.
We are delighted to welcome Alex Woodrow as our new Director of Music.
Alex is a musician of the highest quality, with a passion for choral and organ music. He has a strong record as both organist and choral director.
Born in York in 1986, Alex read music as Organ Scholar at Magdalene College, Cambridge, studying with Anne Page. He became Fellow of the Royal College of Organists at the age of 19, winning first prizes in all categories. He is a Fellow of Trinity College London and recipient of the Silver Medal of the Worshipful Company of Musicians.
Alex is a distinguished recitalist, and has regularly broadcast on BBC Radio and Television. He has performed in many of the major churches and cathedrals of the UK. York Minster, King’s College, Cambridge, and Westminster Abbey are among the prestigious venues where he has played.
After graduating, Alex progressed to positions at Guildford Cathedral, St Albans Cathedral and Hexham Abbey. While at Hexham he directed the chamber choir Cappella Novocastriensis and founded his own ensemble Suspirans.
In 2011 Alex took up the position of Organist and Director of Music at Bradford Cathedral. At that time he was the youngest cathedral organist in the country. His tenure was distinguished by substantial restoration of the choral foundation at the cathedral, including the re-establishment of a boys choir and the nurture of many young musicians. After almost five years there, he moved on to be Head of Choral Music at Solihull School.
Alex returned to West Yorkshire in 2020 following his appointment as Organist and Director of Music at Leeds Minster, while retaining a role at Solihull teaching keyboard. To these roles he will now add the position with St Peter’s Singers.
On joining St Peter’s Singers
“I am delighted to have been appointed as Director of Music of the St. Peter’s Singers of Leeds. Since its inception, St Peter’s Singers has developed a strong and visible reputation within the North of England for excellent music, high choral standards and inspired programming. As we resume our musical activities once more, I am greatly looking forward to our music-making in the months and years to come as we continue to be a firm and enriching presence within the cultural life of Leeds and Yorkshire. As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, it will be a privilege to reconnect with our longstanding supporters and patrons, while sharing something of the beauty, majesty and breadth of the choral repertoire with new listeners.”
We extend the warmest welcome to Alex, and look forward to starting a new era under his leadership.
Farewell to Dr Simon Lindley
Dr Lindley’s retirement brings to a close a remarkable era spanning some 44 years. During that time he built up the choir from its foundation in 1977 to the versatile, skilled and enterprising ensemble of the present day, well-known to music lovers throughout Leeds and the West Riding. A charismatic and knowledgeable musician and speaker, Dr Lindley’s persuasive advocacy of a wide range of choral music will be greatly missed by singers and audiences alike. We send him our grateful thanks and every good wish for a long and peaceful retirement.
It is so good to be back singing together…
The last eighteen months have been dreadful for everyone, and choirs have hated the silence and separation as much as everyone. Attempts to hold rehearsals over Zoom have been just as frustrating as holding remote meetings, quizzes and the like. So it’s great to be back singing together, and we’re looking forward to welcoming you back too!
Here we are in rehearsal last Sunday – socially a bit distant, but enjoying the warm acoustics of the east end of Leeds Minster. Conditions are a little strange, but we’re enjoying the challenge of adjusting to the spacing and and so far sounding good. Enthusiasm is running high. The Minster is large and seemingly well-ventilated (!), which is good (but may feel less so when it gets colder… ). We are delighted to welcome lots of new faces in our ranks. But who’s that at the front ?
We are in the final stages of planning our autumn season, so watch out for announcements. There will be a recital on October 30 where we sing the music that would have been so appropriate during the pandemic. Watch out too for details of – Hallelujah! – a Messiah on November 27 to celebrate being back singing together. The season will conclude on December 17 with some lovely Christmas music.
How desolate lies the city, that was full of people…
When we met for the last time before the Coronavirus lockdown, it was already clear that we would not be able to give our traditional presentation of Music for Good Friday. Disappointingly, this meant postponing our keenly and widely anticipated second performance of Matthew Oglesby’s superb Requiem, Penthos. The mood was sombre, with a significant number of our members already choosing to stay at home. So for an hour we just sang music for fun.
However, the Good Friday programme was also due to include a fine motet which we had sung at the first performance of Penthos, and which had special resonances for Good Friday this year: Rudolf Mauersberger’s Wie liegt die Stadt so wüst (‘How desolate lies the city’).
75 years ago, in February 1945, the Allies attacked and destroyed Dresden in a ferocious firebomb raid, timed for the end of Shrove Tuesday, and the traditional Carnival. The children, temporarily relieved of the firewatch duty they now habitually undertook in the absence of the menfolk, were out and about. Mauersberger, then Kantor at the Kreuzkirche, lost eleven of his choristers that evening, as the church, school and archives, together with most of the city were incinerated and reduced to rubble.
Six weeks later, over the Easter weekend that followed, he composed the motet Wie liegt die Stadt so wüst, setting an astringent selection of verses from The Lamentation of Jeremiah so terse and disjointed that it at once conveys the mute speechlessness of trauma while allowing the music to delve deep into that darkness which speech cannot reach. It was first performed the following August, at the first service conducted in the ruins of the Kreuzkirche, but only achieved popularity in Germany in the 1960s, as the next generation of Germans reached adulthood.
With all this in mind, as our last act of singing together before entering this modern period of darkness, we went into Leeds Minster and despite our diminished numbers, sang this wonderful work to an empty church. This is a recording of that occasion, which we offer, ‘warts and all’, in place of the live performance. We hope that it resonates for you as it did for us, while also lending some perspective on our current troubles, whether you are listening this Good Friday or on another day, and we look forward to the day when we can sing it to you live.