Coming Soon: Another Important Choral Première from the Vasari Singers

Coming Soon: Another Important Choral Première from the Vasari Singers

rathbone portrait credit Gerald Place-300
Jonathan Rathbone Portrait Credit Gerald Place

The Vasari Singers were founded over thirty years ago and over the years they and their director, Jeremy Backhouse have been noted advocates of contemporary choral music. Not just content to perform existing music the choir has commissioned – and recorded – a considerable amount of new music. For their twenty-fifth anniversary they commissioned no less than ten new pieces. Nine of these were included on their album,

Anthems for the 21st Century (review). The tenth commission, The Cloud of Unknowing by Francis Pott, grew into something infinitely more substantial than a short anthem. This major work for tenor soloist, choir and organ, was later premièred and recorded separately by the Vasari Singers (review). Another significant addition to the choral repertoire that came about through the enterprise of the Vasari Singers was Gabriel Jackson’s Requiem. Having commissioned and premièred it the group went on to make a very fine recording of it for Naxos (review).

 Now Backhouse and the Vasari Singers are about to unveil another substantial commissioned piece. On 17 October 2014 at St Alban’s Church, Holborn, they will give the world première performance of a new 60-minute a cappella work entitled Under the shadow of His wing by Jonathan Rathbone. With this commission the choir continues its commitment to commissioning new works from British composers, and develops further their relationship with Rathbone, a composer whose works it has performed in concert many times.

 Under the shadow of His wing is conceived as a live aural experience – something between a concert and a service. It is written for a large acoustic and utilises several different areas of a church. The choir starts and finishes at the back in the gloom and during the performance gradually moves all around the church enveloping the audience with music, which swirls all around them. The piece has been written to incorporate the inevitable time lag between distant choirs. Words are taken from the services of Compline and Evensong, and other poems and hymns connected with night-time and sleep. The work will be performed in semi-darkness.

Under the shadow of His wing consists of 16 individual movements, linked together thematically via the use of plainsong with an overarching theme of a musical journey from darkness to light. The selected texts are a mixture of Latin and English.  The central core of the work will be the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis.

The 16 movements are composed for voices with a range of technical abilities, featuring a variety of part allocations, and are designed so that they may also be suitable for stand-alone performance. In addition, the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis will be eminently suitable for use during Choral Evensong. These considerations will enable many different sorts of choir to sing the music, and for the movements to be used in a wide range of performance situations.

 The work will be recorded on Naxos in February 2015. Before then the Vasari Singers will be performing another new work by Jonathan Rathbone, ‘Christmas Truce’. The choir plan to perform the piece on the Centenary of the famous informal World War I truce on Christmas Eve 2014.

 John Quinn

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