Review of 2017-18
A busy year for the Schola has seen the choir travel to South Africa and perform music from across five centuries in wide variety of settings. As always the heart of what the choir does has been serving the School’s liturgy and the Schola has sung each and every week at the Lower School Mass. We have also this year been able to lead the School’s worship at several Feast Days including All Saints, Ascension and St Peter and Paul, as well as leading the singing at Foundation Day at Westminster Cathedral in September. The boys have sung at Westminster Cathedral on four occasions this year and it very pleasing that we continue to develop our link with one of Cardinal Vaughan’s greatest legacies, and the burial place of his mortal remains.
In the first term of the year two boys, Aidan Cole and James Fernandes, sang the solo roles in The Magic Flute with the Royal Opera at Covent Garden, one performance of which was relayed live around the world. After Christmas twenty boys from the Schola were at Covent Garden rehearsing for the Royal Opera’s production of Puccini’s Tosca, and they appeared in thirteen performances of the opera across January and February, the last five of which were conducted by legendary opera singer Placido Domingo. This team of boys were particularly strong and committed and I congratulate them on doing a splendidly professional job. It was very pleasing too that in the Summer term another boy, Sholto McMillan in the First Form, sang the very considerable solo role of Miles in English National Opera’s production of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, given at Regent’s Park Theatre. Sholto gave a wonderful performance and is greatly to be congratulated on this very major achievement.
At Christmas there were of course numerous Carol Services, including one rather unusual evening when the trebles were at The National Liberal Club whilst the Tenors and Basses were entertaining at The Athenaeum Club. The younger boys also sang for the Mayor of Kensington and Chelsea’s Carol Service, given in the presence of HRH Princess Michael of Kent. The boys got to meet Her Royal Highness afterwards, with the main topic of conversation being the wonderful fur coat she was wearing. We were back at Our Lady of Victories a few weeks later for the Vaughan Carol Service which was a beautiful occasion as always. The Schola also gave its annual visit to Nazareth House in Hammersmith, something it has done for more than thirty years.
Rehearsals in the final weeks of the Michaelmas term focused around Handel’s Messiah, which the Schola sang at Holy Trinity, Sloane Square in December. The boys just love singing Messiah and they know it well. The treble line in the Schola is especially strong at the moment and the combination of these factors made for a very strong performance, easily the best concert I have given with the choir. There were very strong solo contributions from Aidan Cole, Sam Lyne-Hall, Joe Walshe, James Outtrim, Jaedon DeMello, Alessio D’Andrea, Karol Jozwik, Alex Gula, Benedykt Chodzko-Zajko, Joseph Guzman Santamaria and Harold Ayres. We drew a very large audience and were very pleased as a result to be able to make a donation of £1000 to Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital; one of the boys in the Schola has received treatment there for a number of years and it was lovely to be able to give the concert in support of the amazing work of that wonderful institution.
The night before our performance of Messiah the younger boys were at St John’s, Smith Square, performing alongside the Gabrieli Consort and conductor, Paul McCreesh, in a performance of music by Praetorius, celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. This involved extensive singing in German as well as our more usual Latin, in quite exposed solo verses. The boys acquitted themselves very well in front of a large audience, including four boys, Aidan Cole, Sam Lyne-Hall, Joe Walshe and James Outtrim who sang very beautiful solos. Aidan opened the concert with a totally unaccompanied solo verse, hidden away at the back of St John’s. He is particularly fearless, though none of the boys appear fazed by these high pressure situations. They just get on with it!
Early in February the choir traveled to York on the train and sang Evensong at the Minster. This was a particularly lovely occasion as the boys sang music by the famous cathedral musician and composer Francis Jackson, former Master of Music at York Minster, who was present at the service. This was notable firstly because he is 100 years old, but moreover because he is the grandfather of the Music Department’s very own Mr Jackson. I was very pleased to ask Mr Jackson to conduct the Schola singing his grandfather’s music that day. Dr Jackson spoke to the boys after the service to say how delighted he was to see them at the Minster and also to thank them for singing his music so beautifully – he said he had not realised it was such a good piece! This was a memorable occasion for everybody involved.
The Summer Term was dominated by one work for the Schola, Monteverdi’s magnificent Vespers of 1610. This monumental work, one of the great cornerstones of the choral repertoire, offers many challenges to any choir and we had a wonderful time learning it and performing it twice, once at St James’ Spanish Place in April and then at Arundel Cathedral
at the end of June. At Spanish Place the Schola was joined by our Sixth Form Girls who sang in certain sections of the work, whilst at Arundel we were joined by the Choristers of the Cathedral itself. Both performances were given alongside His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts, one of the world’s leading early instrument groups and with tenors Nicholas Mulroy and Peter Davoren as soloists. Monteverdi’s music allows many options in its performance and it was a great pleasure working together with the boys to fathom its many complexities and come up with an approach that would work for us. Both performances were strong but the one at Arundel was especially memorable, with the choir on tremendous form.
Other events in the Summer Term included a lovely and very well attended lunchtime recital at St Martin-in-the-Fields on Trafalgar Square, where the choir sang a concert of English music – this was to have been the launch of a new CD but unfortunately the sessions for the recording had to be cancelled due to the snow in March. The choir also sang for the Feast of St Barnabas at St Paul’s Cathedral and were very warmly received by the clergy, who are very keen that the choir return again as soon as possible.
There has been some commercial work too with the choir recording the theme music for the Eurosport coverage of the Winter Olympics and also contributing to a Christmas CD and a superheroes CD for Sony, due for release at Christmas 2018. In March we welcomed to the School choral guru Gareth Malone who worked with the boys on a new composition being created for the Grenfell Tower Fund Raising Gala, an event held at Opera Holland Park in June to mark the first anniversary of the tragedy. Ten Fourth Form boys represented the School at this event, singing in a massed choir of various schools and other local groups. The concert raised more than £100,000 for Grenfell charities and was a very moving occasion.
Finally, some thanks. I am grateful as always to Mr Evans, who contributes so much in so many ways to the work of the Schola. His gifted accompaniment is very important to the choir’s work. I must also thank our wonderful team of singing teachers who support the choir so admirably – Miss Morrison and Miss Dymott who work so hard with the trebles, and Mr Clarkson, Mr Davoren and Miss Gabriel who are doing great work with the older boys. I would also like to thank the parents of the choir – having a boy in the Schola is a big commitment. And of course I would like to thank the boys who really do work very hard. I have been especially pleased with the very high quality of the treble singing we have achieved this year – the boys we currently have are better than ever before. I have also been very pleased with the approach and professionalism of the Lower Sixth tenors and basses, whose positive and committed attitude has been all I could have asked for. They have been a pleasure to work with.
Next year will see the choir travelling to Spain and Germany, singing at Ely Cathedral and New College, Oxford, performing Bach’s Magnificat and Vaughan Williams' Mass in G minor and much more besides. Lots to look forward to!
Director of Music