Following on from the success of the first Choral Inspirations project in 2019, Sonoro has launched Choral Inspirations: Volume 2, a collection of six contemporary works for choir inspired by well-known ‘choral classics’ by Bach, Brahms, Elgar, Franck, Lotti and Mozart, written at a level that choirs everywhere will be able to sing.

Composers Rebecca Dale, Michael Higgins, Cecilia McDowall, Oliver Tarney, Gareth Treseder and Errollyn Wallen CBE have been commissioned by Sonoro to write new works for choir, each inspired by well-known choral classics, such as Franck’s Panis angelicus and J S Bach’s Jesu, joy of our desiring.

Artistic Directors Neil Ferris and Michael Higgins say, “We are so happy to be able to continue the ‘Choral Inspirations’ project and build on the outstanding success of the first set of new pieces in 2019. As well as introducing six new works into the choral repertoire, our aim is to encourage amateur choirs to have the confidence to sing more ambitious and contemporary music, and we are looking forward to introducing our wonderful new pieces to our partner choirs around the country.” Neil Ferris continues: “The composers of our new commissions have all been so skilful at writing at a suitable level for amateur choirs, without being simplistic.”

Composers & pieces

  • Edward Elgar/Oliver Tarney The Spirit of the Lord
  • A. Mozart/Errollyn WallenAve verum corpus
  • César Franck/Rebecca DalePanis angelicus
  • Antonio LottiCrucifixus a 8/Cecilia McDowallCrucifixus Reimagined
  • Johannes BrahmsGeistliches Lied/Michael Higgins See, I am God
  • S. Bach/Gareth TresederJesu, joy of our desiring

All six pieces, and the 6 classic partner pieces, are recorded by Sonoro and released online as freely accessible video and audio tracks, both as tools to help choirs learning the works, as well as for anyone to listen to and enjoy. All twelve pieces are released in a new album,Choral Inspirations: Volume 2, available from Spotify, AppleMusic, Deezer and YouTube.

Sing with Sonoro

From July 2022 to March 2023, Sonoro will take all twelve pieces on tour to provide workshop, side-by-side performance and “come and sing” opportunities with choirs around the UK in Newcastle, Derbyshire, Chester, Reading and London. Led by conductor Neil Ferris and Sonoro’s professional singers, the workshops are open to all and aim to give choirs the confidence to sing more ambitious and contemporary music – and by touring and workshopping the music, it means that the new pieces get directly into the consciousness of choirs up and down the country. The project draws on the wide impact and success of Choral Inspirations Vol 1 in 2019 and contributes brand new music to the choral repertoire.

Choral Inspirations with Sonoro will bring so much to the music programme at the University of Reading. Two outcomes are particularly important for us – an amazing opportunity for our students to experience sitting and singing next to professional musicians, and secondly, sharing the experience with singers in our local community and connecting through music.” – Victoria Ely, conductor & Artistic Director of Music at Reading 

Praise for Choral Inspirations: Volume 1

Everyone enjoyed it hugely… the singers are still on a high!” Simon Davies-Fidler, Voices of Hope and Quay Voices, Newcastle

“Most enjoyable and inspiring.”

“A well-balanced programme of familiar and new pieces.”

Find out how you and your choir can get involved here

About Sonoro

Sonoro, one of the country’s foremost ensembles, have gained recognition for their warmth of tone, colour and blend.

Combining a passion for excellence in choral music and choral education, Sonoro have rolled out education projects, side-by-side performances, conducting masterclasses and new commissions that have gained significant recognition.

A rich, robust texture, abundant in vibrant colour and undoubted excitement.” The Guardian

Their performing programme has included appearances at internationally renowned festivals and concert halls, including the St Magnus International Festival, Orkney, the Wimbledon International Music Festival and King’s Place, London and in St Gallen, Switzerland.

Outstandingly refreshing.” BBC Music Magazine

Their album Christmas with Sonoro was Christmas choice in the BBC Music Magazine in 2018, which followed on from their critically acclaimed debut Passion and Polyphony featuring works of James MacMillan and Frank Martin.

Classical concerts seldom feel so downright uplifting.” The Scotsman

The Royal School of Church Music announces the ‘Platinum Project’, a special choral music commission from award-winning British composer Thomas Hewitt Jones to commemorate Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in June 2022.

In Our Service’ is a 4-minute anthem with themes of service and dedication, celebrating the RSCM’s Royal Patron, HM The Queen. The text has a deliberately wide appeal to ensure it has a lasting value beyond the Jubilee itself.

Encouraging for all

Written as an attractive and uplifting piece of music, which is really enjoyable to sing, ‘In Our Service’ is adaptable for different ensembles/situations – 4-part/SATB choir and organ, unison/2-part with piano and leadsheet, and a full symphonic orchestration available for hire. Music packs are available to download from the RSCM’s online shop at £19.95, together with optional backing tracks, videos and other resources to inspire others to take part.

Designed to be performed by a wide variety of groups, from cathedral and church choirs, choral societies and chamber choirs to community choirs and in schools, RSCM is inviting all choirs to join in singing ‘In Our Service’ and to share their performances via the RSCM’s website and on social media using the hashtag #RSCMplatinum to create a wonderful, collaborative celebration of this unique occasion through shared musical expression.

RSCM Platinum Project

Listen to a full performance of ‘In Our Service’ sung by St Martin’s Voices, directed by Andrew Earis, with organist Polina Sosnina: In Our Service (mp3)

Hugh Morris, Director of RSCM, says:

‘We wanted to be able to celebrate our Royal Patron’s unique Jubilee; and for us as a charity to commission this new piece was a fitting way of doing that. We have made sure that it’s accessible, easy to learn, and rewarding to sing, and very much intend it to be an ‘Anthem for all’, be that cathedral or church choir, community choir, school choir; indeed pretty much any group of singers. As a charity, RSCM works to encourage, nurture and inspire musicians in a wide range of contexts. I warmly encourage you to include singing this piece in your Jubilee celebration planning; and to join us on an exciting journey for this project over the next few months. Keep us up to date with your progress on social media!’

Thomas Hewitt Jones says:                                        

‘I was delighted to be asked by the Royal School of Church Music to write a choral anthem to celebrate HM the Queen, their Royal Patron, on her incredibly special jubilee. Typifying selfless service to her country, her very existence encourages togetherness – so the opportunity to celebrate her with a new and inclusive, yet weighty, piece of choral music that can be sung by choirs all around the UK really resonated for me.

When searching for words to set to music, it became apparent that many of the Queen’s royal speeches over the years have contained pertinent and thoughtful messages, all relevant to today’s world. I wanted to incorporate many of these in the anthem, so I decided to write new words inspired by certain quotes which particularly stood out. I hope that the result is a vibrant, uplifting (and, if I’m honest, quite emotionally-charged) piece of music which celebrates both the reign of our incredible monarch, and the ever-valuable medium of choral singing – arguably one of the most natural, uplifting and unifying experiences of the human condition.’

RSCM hopes that this special commission will not only encourage groups to come together to sing, but will also draw attention to its wider activities, aims and vision as it approaches its centenary in 2027. One of RSCM’s most important annual activities is Music Sunday, which celebrates the role of church music in worship and the dedication of all church musicians, and aims to reach out into the community and join with others. This year Music Sunday takes place on 12th June, the weekend after the Jubilee.

About the Royal School of Church Music

The RSCM is the Salisbury-based, national, independent charity supporting, nurturing and sustaining church music. As the central ‘home’ of church music, RSCM provides relevant education, training and resources to its membership, the wider church, and beyond. It is committed to encouraging the best of music in worship, and to advocating music as a tool for growth of the church.

The RSCM supports thousands of Affiliated churches across the UK and worldwide through its international partners. In addition, it also supports many schools and Individual members, and its work is sustained by thousands of Friends, Regular Givers and other donors.

RSCM is an open, life-long learning organisation, offering face-to-face and distance education and training through its programmes, published resources, courses and activities.

Founded by Sir Sydney Nicholson in 1927, the RSCM’s original emphases were English and choral. Now, in a diverse international context, the RSCM’s work is far broader and more diverse, and aims to make all its work ecumenical in purpose, nature and content.

HM The Queen is RSCM’s Royal patron, and its president is The Most Revd and Rt Hon The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury. The organisation celebrates its centenary in 2027.

About Thomas Hewitt Jones

Thomas Hewitt Jones is an award-winning composer of contemporary classical and commercial music. Since winning the BBC Young Composer Competition in his teens, his music has been published by many of the major music publishers and is frequently heard in concert and on radio, TV and in the cinema.

Thomas’s diverse catalogue includes small instrumental, orchestral, choral and ballet works, and his large number of choral titles includes seasonal carols. ‘What Child is This?’ (OUP) has become a choral classic of recent years, garnering large numbers of performances each season. In 2021, he released ‘Can you hear me?’, an acclaimed response to the COVID19 pandemic.

On 19 June 2017, St John’s Smith Square announced its 2017/18 Season. 

In a characteristic programme, punctuated by a range of Festival celebrations, St John’s Smith Square continues its core mission to provide a home for Baroque music within the UK’s only concert hall dating from the Baroque period while equally championing new music. International artists sit comfortably alongside emerging talent and St John’s Smith Square also continues to provide a vital and unique central London home for the best in community music.

Festivals at St John’s Smith Square

This season, St John’s Smith Square presents seven festivals, each with their own distinct identity, featuring the highest calibre artists and repertoire as expected of its renowned programming approach.

The 32nd Annual Christmas Festival curated by Stephen Layton (9 – 23 December 2017) includes concerts with regular favourites Ex Cathedra, The Tallis Scholars, Solomon’s Knot, the choirs of Clare College Cambridge, Trinity College Cambridge, Christ Church Cathedral Choir Oxford, King’s College London, City of London Choir, the National Youth Music Theatre, Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. New to the Festival this year are Vox Luminis and the London Choral Sinfonia. A very special bonus for December will be organ curator David Titterington’s marathon undertaking to perform the organ works of JS Bach on the magnificent Klais organ at St John’s Smith Square. The Bach in Advent series comprises daily recitals, usually at 6.00pm, from 3 – 23 December 2017, and these will be open to all, free of charge.

The Holy Week Festival (26 March – 1 April 2018) returns after the huge success of the inaugural festival in 2017. Curated by Nigel Short and Tenebrae and featuring a mix of ticketed concerts and free late-night liturgical events, St John’s Smith Square will once again resound with choral music for Passiontide. Artists include Tenebrae, Polyphony, the Britten Sinfonia, Gabrieli, Skylark (from the USA), Aurora Orchestra, Ex Cathedra and The Tallis Scholars.

The London Festival of Baroque Music (11 – 19 May 2018) will have a French theme. In this, the 34th Festival since it was originally launched as the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music in 1984, the LFBM commences its new system of working with different Guest Artistic Directors for each festival. To develop the French theme, the Guest Artistic Director for 2018 is the conductor Sébastien Daucé who will be bringing his own Ensemble Correspondances for a staged setting of Charpentier’s Histoires sacrèes (17 May 2018). The Festival will also celebrate the 350th anniversary of the birth of Couperin.

Following the ‘taster day’ in May 2017, Rolf Hind and friends will return for the iconoclastic Occupy the Pianos festival (19 – 22 April 2018). The growing stable of pianistic trailblazers will be joined by percussion, voice, film and elements of theatre in an exploration of the two broad subjects of Nature and Technology. The festival will also feature a performance of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ ground-breaking Eight Songs for a Mad King.

The Brook Street Band (and friends) lead a weekend Festival in February (23 – 25 February 2018) exploring the varied musical styles that informed and shaped the composer Georg Muffat. The Band will explore his legacy in the form of chamber and orchestral music by composers including Bach and Handel, with four concerts (plus a dance-music workshop and illustrated pre-concert talks) providing a comprehensive musical survey, as well as a natural ebb and flow in terms of mood and scale, small chamber versus orchestral line-ups, and art music versus dance music. Concerts include music from Muffat’s Armonico Tributo as well as a selection from the two volumes of Muffat’s ground-breaking Florilegium 

Also in February, St John’s Smith Square welcomes back the Principal Sound Festival (16 – 18 February 2018), which this year will focus on the music of Luigi Nono, alongside works by Rebecca Saunders, György Kurtág, Claudia Molitor and, once again, Morton Feldman. Artists featured include Exaudi, Explore Ensemble, the Bozzini Quartet, Siwan Rhys, George Barton and Jenni Hogan.

Americana ’18

Throughout the calendar year of 2018, St John’s Smith Square celebrates music from America in a series of concerts curated by the conductor David Wordsworth. Highlights include a celebration of Stephen Montague’s 75th birthday (9 March 2018) with a day of events including his complete works for keyboards and the London premieres of a number of his concertos. There will be a whole day of events, stretching for 13 hours (to represent the 13 stripes of the Stars and Stripes flag) on Independence Day (4 July 2018) and in Autumn 2018, there will be a focussed festival of American music.

Other features of Americana ’18 include the Carducci Quartet playing Philip Glass (23 March 2018), the London Chorus with Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, celebrating the centenary of Bernstein’s birth (8 March 2018) and Orchestra Nova in a programme that includes the complete chamber version of Copland’s Appalachian Spring (22 May 2018). The pianist Zubin Kanga will give a concert of music by Terry Riley and John Adams among others (9 February 2018) and the Crouch End Festival Chorus will collaborate with the Brodsky Quartet in a programme including music by Randall Thompson, Copland and the Barber Adagio (10 February 2018). For everyone, there is an opportunity to ‘Come and Sing the Bernstein Musicals’ (17 March 2018).

Period Instrument Performance

Period instrument performance is always at the forefront of St John’s Smith Square’s programme. La Nuova Musica and The Holst Singers, both familiar to St John’s Smith Square audiences, collaborate for the first time in a programme of Handel and Mozart (13 November 2017).

London Bach Society make their contribution to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with a concert which brings together the Steinitz Bach Players and Tenebrae under the direction of Nigel Short (30 October 2017). St John’s Smith Square continues marking the Reformation’s anniversary when Gabrieli and Paul McCreesh return with their recreation of a 17th century Lutheran Christmas morning (7 December 2017) 

Following their debut performance back in April, the Armonico Consort and Baroque Orchestra with Christopher Monks will give a performance of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 (4 October 2017), continuing the celebrations of the 450th anniversary of Monteverdi’s birth.

The young conductor, Joel Sandelson, brings his period instrument orchestra Wond’rous Machine for a concert of Corelli, Purcell and Lully (28 October 2017) and soprano Anna Dennis will give a concert of Purcell songs with Sounds Baroque directed by Julian Perkins (19 January 2018).

The European Day of Early Music (21 March 2018) will be celebrated at St John’s Smith Square with a performance in collaboration with the London Handel Festival, and there will be more Handelian celebrations when Stephen Layton directs a concert with Florilegium, soprano Mary Bevan and countertenor Tim Mead (27 February 2018).


Opera always plays a significant role in St John’s Smith Square’s calendar. Bampton Classical Opera continue to champion the work of Salieri (12 September 2017), this time with his The School of Jealousy, a work that almost certainly inspired Da Ponte and Mozart to create Cosi fan tutte. Later in the season Bampton return to give a programme illustrating the life of the legendary singer Nancy Storace (7 March 2018) marking the bicentenary of her death.

In October there is a chance to hear the opera stars of the future when St John’s Smith Square hosts the final of The Voice of Black Opera Competition (3 October 2018) featuring six young singers accompanied by the City of London Sinfonia , conducted by Kwamé Ryan. There is a further showcase opportunity when Irish Heritage Opera visit to celebrate 44 years of bringing Irish operatic talent to the stage (12 April 2018).

La Nuova Musica return with Handel’s Orlando (1 February 2018), the start of an annual cycle of Handel operas at St John’s Smith Square. There is more Handel in April when Christian Curnyn and the Early Opera Company return with Giulio Cesare (11 April 2018). Further opera can be found during the London Festival of Baroque Music when La Nuova Musica return with Iestyn Davies in the title role of Gluck’s Orfeo (13 May 2018). 

Moving on from the baroque period, Kensington Symphony Orchestra present Puccini’s La Bohème conducted by their music director Russell Keable (21 May 2018).

Orchestral Performances

St John’s Smith Square enjoys close relationships with many of the UK’s top orchestras. The London Mozart Players and Howard Shelley’s innovative explorations of great piano concertos this season features works by Schumann, Saint-Saëns, Mendelssohn, Shostakovich and Grieg whilst the Orchestra of St John’s continues its My Music series with celebrity guests including Sir Simon Jenkins, Lord Archer and Lord Hague. 

As part of the Southbank Centre’s Belief and Beyond Belief series Matthew Barley leads a performance of Sir John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil with the City of London Sinfonia (2 December 2017).

Orchestra Vitae return with an intimate programme of Mozart and David Lang which will be presented ‘in the round’ (7 November 2017) and then in the spring with a programme within the Americana ’18 season including Copland’s Third Symphony and the Gershwin Piano Concerto (2 March 2018). Another classic American Third Symphony, this time by Ives, is featured in a programme marking the return of the English Symphony Orchestra which also includes the Copland Clarinet Concerto, Piston’s rarely performed Sinfonietta and a newly commissioned work from Jesse Jones (18 April 2018).

In Spring 2018, St John’s Smith Square welcomes the European Union Chamber Orchestra for a programme of Haydn and Mozart (21 February 2018). 

The Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra have five concerts this season, and the Kensington Symphony Orchestra once more brings its unique programming style to St John’s Smith Square in its 17/18 concert series. The Royal Orchestral Society and the Salomon Orchestra also return to St John’s Smith Square for regular concerts including a performance of the Berg Violin Concerto with violinist Ben Baker and Schmidt’s Symphony No. 4 conducted by Holly Mathieson (16 October 2017).

Choral and Vocal Music

Given the outstanding acoustics at St John’s Smith Square, many choral societies return year after year and 2017/18 is no exception with performances of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius given by the 1885 Singers and Orchestra and the Malvern Festival Chorus (14 October 2017), Brahms’s A German Requiem with The London Chorus (11 November 2017), Islington Choral Society (18 March 2018) and the Anton Bruckner Choir (28 April 2018), Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony with Twickenham Choral Society (8 July 2018), Handel’s Joshua with the Whitehall Choir (17 November 2017) and Haydn’s The Creation with Vox Cordis with the Orchestra of St Paul’s (21 November 2018).

As part of the Southbank Centre’s Belief and Beyond Belief festival St John’s Smith Square is delighted to once again welcome The Cardinall’s Musick with a programme of music from the 16th Century to present day. The English Baroque Choir celebrates its 40th birthday with a performance of Bach’s Mass in B minor (24 March 2018) and the London Choral Sinfonia return with a programme that places music by James MacMillan, Eric Whitacre and Morten Lauridsen around the Requiem of John Rutter (22 February 2018)

New Music and Emerging Talent

The celebration of new music has always been central to the programming at St John’s Smith Square and this season is no exception. Among those whose works will receive premieres at St John’s Smith Square in 17/18 are Gregory Rose, Sally Beamish, Alexandra Harwood, Hanna Kulenty, Patrick Brennan, Khyam Allami, Nimrod Borenstein, Owain Park, Arlene Sierra, Kareem Roustom and Jesse Jones.

The highly praised Young Artists’ Scheme at St John’s Smith Square enters a fifth season with three extraordinary talents. The Bukolika Piano Trio present music by Boulanger, Hanna Kulenty, Messiaen, Górecki and Panufnik alongside more familiar works by Beethoven and Dvořák; the violinist Mathilde Milwidsky performs music by Arvo Pärt, Janáček, Clara Schumann, Grieg and Richard Strauss, while the piano and percussion duo of Siwan Rhys and George Barton offer programmes including music by Vinko Globokar, Kagel, Cage, Feldman and Sir Harrison Birtwistle. All three Young Artists will be showcased as part of a special concert (17 September 2017) within Open House London. 

Regular Concert Series & Chamber Music

St John’s Smith Square hosts its regular Thursday Lunchtime Concerts, which feature, among others: Yeomen from The Musicians’ Company; prize-winners from the Oxford Lieder Festival; performances from St John’s Smith Square’s Young Artists 17/18; artists featured at the Dartington International Summer School and a monthly organ recital series programmed by St John’s Smith Square’s organ curator, David Titterington. Particular highlights of the lunchtime series include the Pettman Ensemble with Stephen De Pledge and guest violinist Clio Gould (7 September 2017), the chamber choir Siglo de Oro (9 November 2017), the Duke Quartet (1 February 2018) and the violinist Daniel Pioro (22 March 2018).

The Sunday at St John’s programme, in its fourth year, once again includes a number of mini-series within it. Returning artists include I Muscanti and Leon Bosch who will give a series of concerts juxtaposing Russian chamber music with premieres by the composer Alexandra Harwood. Lucy Parham also returns with her Sheaffer Sundays ‘Composers in Love’ concert series featuring well-known actors such as Harriet Walter, Tim McInnerny, Patricia Hodge and Simon Russell Beale.

The Revolutionary Drawing Room reaches the Razumovsky Quartets as it enters the second year of the complete Beethoven Quartets cycle (concluding in the 2018/19 season) and the pianist Julian Jacobson gives four concerts in his 70th birthday year that bring together masterpieces by Schubert, Beethoven and Prokofiev. Deniz Gelenbe and friends give two concerts of romantic chamber music while Ensemble de Note makes its St John’s Smith Square debut with a series of early classical chamber music performances. The Prince Regent’s Band will give a fascinating programme of 19th century band music (5 November 2017) and the soprano Elin Manahan Thomas together with Elizabeth Kenny (lute and theorbo) will set the scene for Christmas with their programme ‘Now Winter Comes Slowly’ (3 December 2017).

The virtuoso brass ensemble Septura opens the audience’s ears to new sounds as they make their St John’s Smith Square debut in a sequence of concerts entitled Kleptomania, playing arrangements of great works written for other instrumental combinations.

Piano recitals include a performance with Sibelius scholar Joseph Tong in a Nordic themed concert to mark the 60th anniversary (to the day) of Sibelius’s death (20 September 2017) and Blüthner Pianos present a series of concerts to showcase their instruments with the pianists Tom Poster, Dmitry Masleev and Martin Sturfalt. Russian pianist Dmitri Alexeev is another pianist celebrating his 70th birthday at St John’s Smith Square (2 November 2017).

Southbank Centre at St John’s Smith Square

The collaboration with Southbank Centre continues for 17/18 during their period of refurbishment. Highlights include the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment with Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion (25 September 2017) and Rachel Podger playing and directing the OAE in a concert featuring two of Mozart’s Violin Concertos (27 November 2017). The London Sinfonietta return under their founder conductor David Atherton to give a performance of Henze’s landmark work Voices, based on 22 folk songs from around the world (11 October 2017) and St John’s Smith Square will also host some of the London Sinfonietta’s 50th birthday celebrations as they revisit many of the most iconic works from the past 50 years including music by Xenakis, Colin Matthews and Sir Harrison Birtwistle.

Highlights from Southbank Centre’s International Chamber Music Series at St John’s Smith Square include the Emerson Quartet in concerts on two consecutive nights with the late quartets of Beethoven (31 October and 1 November 2017) and Steven Osborne returning with friends to perform Messiaen’s monumental Quartet for the End of Time alongside Shostakovich’s Second Piano Trio (14 November 2017). Southbank Centre’s International Piano Series at St John’s Smith Square includes concerts with Bertrand Chamayou, Víkingur Ólafsson, Boris Giltburg, Alice Sara Ott and George Li.

Richard Heason, Director of St John’s Smith Square said: “St John’s Smith Square is unique amongst London’s concert halls. It is the oldest, yet most flexible, concert hall in London and as such I am very proud that we are able to offer a programme that is so diverse but equally filled with events and festivals of deep integrity. The programme at St John’s Smith Square is forged through collaborating creatively with many hugely talented and generous musicians and my grateful thanks go to all those who enable this programme to be offered. We look forward to welcoming artists and audiences to this iconic venue throughout the coming season.”


Booking information:  

Box Office 020 7222 1061   

Book online  


St John’s Smith Square 2017/18 Season booking opens:

Monday 3 July 2017 for St John’s Smith Square’s Patrons

Friday 7 July 2017 for St John’s Smith Square’s Friends

Monday 10 July 2017 for General Booking
(Source: press release)

A guest post from Jane Shuttleworth

Among amateur musicians, we choral singers are an incredibly lucky bunch. We get to perform with top professional soloists, conductors and orchestras in the country’s best concert halls, without needing music college degrees and whilst still being able to do regular day jobs that pay the mortgage. When I was invited to contribute to this series, there were any number of memorable performances I could have chosen: my first ‘Messiah’, in the Royal Albert Hall; Bach Passions with professional baroque players; a Remembrance day War Requiem in Toronto; another ‘Messiah’ with Ben Heppner; Mahler’s Eighth Symphony… I’ve chewed through a fair proportion of the choral repertoire, but the piece I’ve chosen to write about comes from one of the works that has thus far eluded me – Haydn’s ‘Creation’.

The chorus, “The Heavens are telling” closes Part One of Creation; it was a staple of my church choir’s repertoire when I was a young girl soprano, and we often sang it either as an anthem during a service or at concerts. Everything about it delighted me, particularly the sheer exuberance of the opening phrases, and the madcap dash to the end when the words all tumble out with increasing urgency and the harmony ratchets up the tension; and the simple fact that it was really loud. But the contrasting trio sections with their graceful fluidity, their cast of angels and air of mystery enchanted me too.

To this day, it’s a bit of a mystery why I joined the choir: I think it was mainly to escape Sunday School, but I had always enjoyed trying to sing along with hymns. One of my earliest memories is standing on a pew next to my father, trying to sing a hymn and asking him what all the words meant. I wasn’t particularly good at singing – the school choir-mistress had made that quite clear. But David Strong, the choirmaster, was willing to take on any trebles who wanted a go, and he put in extra time with us before adult choir practice to help us learn our parts.

And this is really the point of this article. Thanks to that early experience of good Anglican choral music, I have spent my whole life singing in choirs; church and chapel choirs, big choral societies, and smaller chamber choirs. I’ve sung in big concert venues, a fair number of cathedrals and have been moved to all extremes of the emotional compass by music I’ve sung. And it’s all thanks to David Strong, that organist who took the time and effort to bring children into his church choir, and just as importantly to let us sing the same music as the grown-ups. This sort of thorough, accessible and (most importantly) free musical education is so hard to come by and should be valued, supported and lauded wherever it can be found.

I only realised just how grateful I was to David Strong when I heard last year that he was seriously ill, and I was glad that I had the opportunity to get back in touch and thank him. He died a few days before I sang my first St Matthew Passion, in Durham Cathedral, and some of the tears I shed during that concert were tears of gratitude.

We sang plenty of other good repertoire but “The Heavens are telling” captured my childhood imagination so strongly that it’s the piece that sums up my early choir years, and whenever I hear it, I think of my 10-year old self, singing out with more enthusiasm than accuracy, and still oblivious to just how much amazing music-making I had ahead of me. And if I ever get to sing Creation, I’ll be thinking of David…and probably resisting the temptation to attempt the soprano line that I used to sing with such delight.

Jane Shuttleworth is a singer, recorder player and writer, reviewing
for Bachtrack, Early Music Review and her own local music website
Music in Durham ( She currently sings alto in
The Durham Singers, a 40-voice chamber choir specialising in
unaccompanied music, and in Voces Usuales, an occasional cathedral


‘Music Notes’ is a new occasional series, mostly comprised of guest posts, in which contributors discuss favourite or significant concerts, performances, artists, recordings or musical experiences. More ‘Private Passions’ than ‘Desert Island Discs’, the series is an opportunity for people to share their love of music and attempt to explain why certain pieces, places and artists have such distinct resonances and associations for them. Further information about the series here:

Claudio Monteverdi

The Vespers of the Blessed Virgin – Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)

Saturday 8th December 2012, Landmark Arts Centre, Teddington

Twickenham Choral Society & Brandenberg Baroque Soloists

Sopranos: Philippa Boyle & Grace Davidson

Tenors: Peter Morton & David Webb

Basses: Lukas Kargl & Charles Rice

Conductor: Christopher Herrick

Twickenham Choral Society, with the Brandenberg Baroque Soloists, and six solo singers, gave an enjoyable and very committed performance of Monteverdi’s Vespers to a sold out Landmark Arts Centre in Teddington.

Contrary to popular musical myth, Monteverdi did not write the Vespers especially for St Mark’s in Venice, though they may have been performed there. Nor were they specifically an ‘audition piece’ for the post of maestro di cappella. The work may have been written for wedding festivities in the church of St Andrea, Mantua, for the text contains the sensuous love poetry drawn from the Song of Solomon. The birth of the composer’s daughter, whose namesake was that of the Blessed Virgin, may also have been a motivation for the composition. Whatever the origins of the work’s composition, it is Monteverdi’s first sacred work. Published in Venice in 1610, the work is monumental in scale, requiring a choir large enough to cover up to 10 vocal parts in some movements, and split into separate choirs in others. The choir is also required to accompany several soloists.

Vespers were recited or sung in the evening, and the text of Monteverdi’s vespers adheres to the traditional order of the office of Vespers: it includes recitation of psalms, the singing of the Marian office hymn Ave Maris stella, and culminates in a Magnificat (the Song of Mary). The psalm settings are those used for the feast days of Mary and other female saints. In addition to these standard movements, Monteverdi also included motets for one, two, three and six voices, and an instrumental sonata movement into which the chant Sancta Maria ora pro nobis is skillfully woven. The work has become one of the most popular from this period of late Renaissance/early Baroque music, not least because it combines the profundity of the liturgy with secular music, and presents an array of musical forms – sonata, hymn, motet and psalm – without comprising the scale or cohesiveness of the complete work.

The venue for the concert, The Landmark in Teddington, a deconsecrated church turned arts centre, was perfect for this music in both atmosphere and acoustic, and there were times, particularly in the Concerto: Audi coelum, a tenor duet with “echoes” and choir, during which one of the tenors sang the echoes from the back of the apse, to the accompaniment of theorbo, when we might have been in San Marco, Venice 400 years ago.

The choir were joined by the Brandenberg Baroque Soloists, a new orchestra which plays period instruments, including three sackbuts, chamber organ, Baroque cornetti and theorbo. They provided an authentic accompaniment, underpinning the singing with devices distinct from this period such as ground basses, drones, and some fine ostinato ‘cello lines.

Founded in 1921, Twickenham Choral Society is an amateur vocal ensemble, which draws its membership from a wide area of west London, and has a proud tradition of performing a broad repertoire from every era. They rose to the many challenges of Monteverdi’s music and text (it is isn’t always easy to sing well in Latin) to give a highly committed performance which combined great clarity of diction and attention to detail, dynamic shading and colour, and at times deep emotion and drama. The polyphony and counterpoint were handled with aplomb, allowing us to enjoy the many strands of Monteverdi’s writing, and the choral set pieces were complemented by intimate writing for solo voices, accompanied by a single instrument, such as theorbo or ‘cello, or the choir. The first half closed with a rousing Psalm 147: Lauda Jerusalem, which shone with the celebratory joy implicit in the text.

This was an impressive and meticulously prepared performance, brought together under the skillful baton of conductor Christopher Herrick, who has been working with Twickenham Choral Society since 1974. I look forward to further performances by the society.

For further information about forthcoming concerts, please visit

Brandenberg Baroque Soloists

What inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?

I loved the sound of the cembalo (harpsichord) very much when I was a child. Having no musical background whatsoever, my parents sent me to a local music school, where I was told that I would need to learn some piano before I could learn the cembalo. I fell in love with the piano immediately and quickly forgot about Bach’s harpsichord concertos!

In my teenage years, playing the piano was the activity I loved most. Nobody had to tell me that I should practice. As soon as I came home from school, I ran to my piano and played for hours. My time at the piano was quite evenly split between playing classical music and improvising or composing my own music. When I was discovered by a manager at age fifteen, I knew already that music would always be my main career, although my role as an interpreter of classical music – mainly of the romantic repertoire – was outweighing my activities as a composer at that time.

After two intensive years of touring and recording, I felt burned out. The growing success as a concert pianist had no positive impact on my happiness at all, quite to the contrary: I felt more and more isolated, and it became clear to me that I could not ignore my need to compose any longer. My manager considered my compositions as some kind of private hobby, but to me it was much more. As much as I love the music by the great masters, and as much as I enjoy playing it, composing (and performing) my own music had to come first. It was a difficult decision, since my possibilities as a soloist seemed to be endless and so many promising opportunities were at my fingertips. But I did what I had to do as an artist: I withdrew from the traditional career as concert pianist and immersed myself into the development of my musical language.

Who or what were the most important influences on your composing?

Being so well acquainted with the romantic repertoire, the music of Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov and Scriabin definitely had a strong influence on my early style. But since I am a child of the 20th century, I have also drawn inspiration from pop and rock music, maybe also a little bit from jazz music. When I discovered Keith Jarrett’s solo concerts and Arvo Pärt’s music in the late nineties, I was deeply moved by the sheer beauty that was still “allowed” in our time. My educational background had suggested to me that contemporary music had to be disharmonic, to put it politely, and I never cared for serialism and all the cacophony that followed. So, essentially, I am in constant search for truth and beauty in my music. My love for Gregorian chant, religious choral music and my Catholic faith have a great influence not only on my compositional style, but also on my understanding of music as a whole.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

When the Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz asked me to compose piano accompaniments for the follow-up of their hugely successful album ‘Chant – Music for Paradise’, I did not want to mess up. They were putting “their” sacred chants into my hands and let me interpret them! In plainchant you have so much freedom and detachment from clearly definable emotions in the sense that have become so accustomed to over the last centuries. It is indeed the most universal and pure musical language on our planet. Putting a piano part underneath it would naturally interpret the chants in some direction. Through hard work and constant rewriting of many passages I found a very personal, yet worthy and unsentimental style for these pieces. The monks liked them so much that they commissioned another four chants for their latest album ‘Chant – Stabat Mater’, which was released  recently.

Which compositions are you most proud of?

Many of my choir pieces are very special to me. Unfortunately, not many of them have been performed so far, which makes me all the more excited that the wonderful Platinum Consort under the direction of Scott Inglis-Kidger will sing the world premiere of my ‘Consecration Prayer’ on 16th November, which is a very personal composition of mine. I am also very happy with my piano piece ‘Obsculta’ and the really beautiful video that my friend Vitùc created for it.

Who are your favorite musicians?

At the moment I am very fond of so many magnificent British choirs: Tenebrae, The Sixteen, Polyphony, Platinum Consort, to name a few. You really are blessed with a unique choral tradition in England!

There are countless pianists that I admire and love, but if I had to pick one, it would be Dinu Lipatti. I love his unpretentious and pure musicianship. I try to follow this role model, and I have never liked musicians who take themselves too seriously and want to be more important than the music. It is the musician’s duty to serve the music, not the opposite.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I was crying from beginning to the end when I attended my first live performance of Bach’s B minor Mass in Luxembourg ten years ago. I have never been so moved by a piece of music. It was then that I realised that there is no such thing as old or new music. If music is true, it is timeless and will always reveal a glimpse of eternity to us mortal beings.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

For the interpreter:

  • Never take yourself too seriously.
  • Always play with open ears and an open heart.
  • Look for the essence behind the notes and remain faithful to the text.
  • Find your personal sound by pursuing meaning rather than virtuosity.
  • Practice hard and value technical exercises and scales. They help you to become better servants of the music you love.

If you’re a composer:

  • Compose with open ears and an open heart.
  • Look for the essence inside your musical ideas and omit what can be left.
  • Let the music write itself by listening as deep as you can.
  • Always question your work. If it can still be improved, don’t shy away from the work.
  • Study the masters, again and again, but be yourself when you compose.

What are you working on at the moment?

I practice Brahms’ Cello Sonata in E minor for a performance with a very special young talent next week. After that I will orchestrate my children’s opera ‘The Little Gnome’ which will be premiered on 19th January in Luxembourg. And I expect the master CD of my new solo album ‘Prayers of Silence’ (which I recorded in August) to be ready any day soon, so I will definitely spend some time with listening and preparing the publication of my most important album so far. In December I will play Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, a piece that is not in my repertoire yet, so I’ll have to practice a lot in November.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Perfect happiness is a gift of the moment and it wouldn’t be special if it were a constant state of being. That being said, I can say that I suffer from failures and bad moments like everyone else, but I am also regularly blessed with happiness when I compose or when I play the piano. But the most blissful moments are those that I spend with my family and especially with my three little children. I should also mention that I find peace in prayer, and it is the hidden driving force of my life.

David Ianni’s ‘Consecration Prayer’ receives its world premiere in a concert by Platinum Consort, under the direction of Scott Inglis-Kidger, on Friday 16th November. Further information and booking here

David Ianni was born in Luxembourg in 1979. He was accepted in the piano class of Daniel Feis in the Conservatoire d’Esch-sur-Alzette at the age of nine. At fifteen, he completed his piano diploma in Luxembourg with a “Premier Prix avec grande distinction”. He continued his studies in London at the Purcell School and later with Tatiana Sarkissova, teacher at the Royal Academy of Music. He also studied with Dimitri Bashkirov, Anatol Ugorski, Radu Lupu and Dirk Joeres. In 2005, he completed his studies with Tonie Ehlen at the Maastricht Conservatory.

After winning a number of prizes in national and international competitions, the sixteen-year-old musician began a career as a concert pianist, performing solo recitals as well as with orchestras in many European countries, India and Japan. His debut CD, with works by Beethoven, Rachmaninoff and Scriabin, was released in 1997. In 1999, the recording ‘Theodor Kirchner: Piano Music’ followed.

Since 1998, David Ianni has increasingly dedicated himself to composing his own works. He has written about 100 works, including the oratorio ‘Abraham’s Children’, ‘Pater Noster’ for piano and orchestra, a children’s opera, a string quartet, chamber music as well as numerous choral and piano compositions, which have been performed in Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, France, Italy, India and Japan.

David Ianni’s album Night Prayers with his own piano compositions was published in 2011.

That same year he composed and recorded the piano accompaniments for the album Chant – Amor et Passio by the Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz, which was awarded a Platinum award in Austria. In 2012 the monks commissioned David to compose and play four chant accompaniments for their album Chant – Stabat Mater.

His new solo album ‘Prayers of Silence’ will be released by Obsculta Music.