Fourteen new boys joined the choir at the start of the year and they were immediately busy singing alongside their new colleagues in the Royal Opera's production of Massenet's Werther. This opera requires a large off-stage chorus for the very end, which made for some very late nights. It also has four on-stage solo parts and four of our boys played these roles beautifully. In total there were 35 boys involved for the run of six performances in September. The opera was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in October.
Photo: Bill Knight
In October the Schola sang a concert of Vivaldi and Bach at St John’s, Smith Square alongside St James Baroque, and was joined by the orchestra again in December to give what has become the choir’s annual performance of Handel’s Messiah, this year held at Holy Trinity, Sloane Square. Both concerts were notable for some outstanding solo singing with 22 solo contributions in the performance of Messiah alone. I am especially pleased that we have forged a strong link with St James Baroque, who otherwise play for the Choir of Westminster Abbey and the BBC Singers. They are very fine players and a delight to work with, always very supportive and positive about the Schola.
The most memorable point in the Michaelmas Term came in November when the Schola travelled to Paris to give a concert at Cathédrale Saint-Louis-des-Invalides (notable as the burial place of Napoleon). The concert, entitled Les Voix des Anges, was given to a packed Cathedral and broadcast live on the French radio station Radio Classique, the Classic FM of France. The station estimates that there were around 100,000 listeners and certainly messages of congratulations have come in from around the world, as people listened on the internet. This event was linked to a recording that the choir has made which will be released in November 2020. We were grateful for the support of Old Vaughanian Francis Gaffney who very generously bought the boys travel jumpers for their trip.
The Michaelmas Term saw all the regular commitments too, singing for Foundation Day Mass at Westminster Cathedral, singing for a Remembrance Day Evensong at Holy Trinity, Sloane Square, singing for the Red Wednesday Service at Westminster Cathedral, whilst of course singing each and every week at the School’s Masses, including All Saints Day at Our Lady of Victories. Other notable events included a film session for three boys with Danny Elfman, a film composer with whom we have worked frequently over the years. He always composes wonderfully for boys’ voices and this score, for the film Dolittle, was no different. It was also very pleasing to have four boys taking part in preparation for The Magic Flute at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and two of these boys appeared in the opera in November, continuing our strong tradition of providing boys for these major solo roles at Covent Garden. It also was a huge pleasure to welcome to the School the world renowned Drakensberg Boys’ Choir, visiting from South Africa who stayed with our families on the first night of their tour of the UK: very many thanks to the parents who helped make this possible.
Christmas was busy as always, with the boys singing Carols at the Dorchester on weekends, singing for various functions in and out of School and preparing for the Carol Service itself which closed the term. The Carol Service was notable for being Father Dominic’s final service as School Chaplain – some eighteen years after he had presided over his first Carol Service – and also because the new organ at OLV was only partly installed we had to place the Choir at the front. Despite being somewhat on display, the boys sang well that evening and it provided a fitting ending to a successful term.
The Lent Term saw the Schola return to Our Lady of Victories to sing for the School’s liturgies on Ash Wednesday, giving a very accomplished performance of the Allegri Miserere and also for a Mass to mark the end of Father Dominic Allain’s time as Chaplain. Fr Dominic has always been a very good friend of the Music Department and the Schola in particular, accompanying us on tours and generally offering wonderful support to the work of the Choir. I thank him for all his support of the Schola and wish him every success as he continues his important work with his charity, Grief to Grace. The Schola also sang for the Vigil Mass at Westminster Cathedral for the First Sunday of Lent, singing music by Byrd.
The term was dominated by the preparations for the Schola's Fortieth Anniversary Concert at Cadogan Hall early in March. This was perhaps the biggest occasion for the Music Department since the Centenary Celebrations in 2014 and a considerable amount of time and energy went into the preparations. The Schola was joined by one of the world's great singers, baritone Roderick Williams OBE, who, as well as singing alongside us in Vaughan Williams' Five Mystical Songs, had also composed a new work for the occasion, a setting of the Ave Maris Stella. It was a huge privilege for us all to perform alongside this extraordinary man and something that will stay long in the memory. The Schola was joined by around twenty-five former members who sang alongside the choir in Widor's Mass. What a noise they made! It was wonderful to have them back with us. Four Old Vaughanians who have gone on to lead professional singing careers sang as soloists: Peter Davoren, Filippo Turkheimer and Alistair Ollerenshaw singing in extracts from Puccini's Tosca, and Jack Comerford in Elgar's Great is the Lord. Music by JS Bach, Handel, Victoria and Danny Elfman completed the programme, designed to illustrate the hugely varied work of the Choir. I was very grateful to the parents and friends and Old Vaughanians who donated to allow this event to take place. This was a famous event in the history of the Choir and we were lucky that it was possible to hold the evening, only a couple of weeks before the Lockdown began.
Not that the singing has stopped during the Lockdown! Rehearsals have been held several times each week and despite the frustrations of working online with the difficulties of latency and so on, the boys, young and old, have been remarkably loyal to the Choir, attending these rehearsals without fail, week after week. We have learnt a great deal of music this term – at least I think we have! Meanwhile the boys’ singing has continued to be developed by our wonderful team of singing teachers: Miss Morrison, Miss Dymott, Miss Gabriel, Mr Davoren, Mr Clarkson and Mr Castle. I am grateful to them for everything they have done for the School’s singing. And it would be remiss not to thank Iestyn Evans, our wonderful organist, who continues to provideworld-class accompaniment to the boys as we travel far and wide. Next year, virus-willing, promises to be an exciting year for the choir with two CDs being released, a possible trip to the Far East for the trebles, and a final foreign tour, somewhere yet to be decided, for the class of 21, which is perhaps the finest single year of boys I have ever known in the Schola. I hope that we will be able to hold a full year of music-making for this remarkable bunch of boys and that we can continue to see the Schola flourish as it enters its forty-first year of singing.