United Kingdom Back in Harmony – Various: The King’s Singers, Holy Trinity Church, Chrishall, Herts. Stream viewed via IDAGIO’s Global Concert Hall on 30.7.2020. (RP)
Harold Arlen – ‘It’s a New World’ (arr. Richard Rodney Bennett), ‘Get Happy’ (arr. Paul Hart & Robert Rice)
Martin Luther – ‘Ein feste Burg’ (arr. Johann Sebastian Bach)
Thomas Tallis – ‘If ye love me’
William Byrd – ‘Civitas sancti tui’
Alma Bazel Androzzo – ‘If I can help somebody’ (arr. Stacey V. Gibbs)
John Cameron – ‘O, chí, chí mi na morbheanna’ (arr. James MacMillan)
Quirino Mendoza y Cortés – ‘Cielito lindo’ (arr. Jorge Cózatl)
Judith Bingham – ‘Tricksters’
Traditional – ‘Loch Lomond’ (arr. David Overton)
Freddie Mercury – ‘Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy’ (arr. Nick Ashby)
Billy Joel – ‘And So It Goes’ (arr. Bob Chilcott)
Paul McCartney – ‘Honey Pie’ (arr. Paul Hart)
On 7 March 2020, The King’s Singers sang the final concert of their US tour and flew home to the UK. Their next concert was to have been in Paris the following week. I was in the audience for the group’s concert at St. Thomas Fifth Avenue in New York on 3 March 2020. (For review, click here.) Like the six men who comprise The King’s Singers, the first week in March was the last time that I made or heard music live. In July, however, that changed for them.
In lockdown, they held almost daily meetings online to make plans for the future and work out how they could create music during the pandemic. Their first venture was a collaboration with the Stay At Home Choir in a performance of Billy Joel’s ‘And So It Goes’ with a virtual chorus of 732 singers from 52 countries. The YouTube video, which premiered on 7 May 2020, has received over 312,000 hits. Going forward, the men’s goal was to create video content that was beautiful and authentic until performing before a live audience was once again possible. Back in Harmony, the group’s premiere live digital concert, was the first expression of that dream.
Finding a rehearsal space was difficult, given their commitment to maintain proper social distancing. Rehearsals began in mid-July in the warehouse of a coffee roastery, but they soon moved to Holy Trinity Church in Chrishall. The ancient village appears in the Doomsday Book, the record of much of England and parts of Wales completed in 1086 by order of William the Conqueror. There has been a church in the village for over a thousand years. John Rutter, whose composing cottage is nearby, came to their rescue and arranged for the group to use twelfth-century Holy Trinity Church for rehearsals and performing.
Certain aspects of singing an entire program for an online-only audience, especially while standing two meters apart, posed challenges. The added distance made it harder to listen to the other singers; a few days were needed to find positions conducive to them individually and suitable for audience viewing. The plus is that audiences in places that the group rarely visits while on tour can experience The King’s Singers live. Additionally, connectivity will permit the group to incorporate audience feedback into their programming going forward.
The performance was filmed in high-definition with five cameras and streamed via IDAGIO’s Global Concert Hall, which was launched in May 2020. Concerts are streamed live and are available for 24 hours following the initial broadcast. The Global Concert Hall is the next evolutionary phase of IDAGIO’s Fair Artist Payout Model, to ensure that artists are properly compensated for their content with a commitment to pay 80% of the net revenue directly to performers.
The program spanned vocal music from the sixteenth century to the present. With the lightest of touches, the issues of the moment were addressed. First and foremost was acknowledgment of what has transpired these past five months with an upbeat, but bittersweet, rendition of ‘It’s a New World’ by Harold Arlen. Selections from the Twentieth Century Songbook spanning Arlen to Freddie Mercury beguiled with their melodies and sentiment. The Beatles featured twice, not only with ‘Honey Pie’ as programmed, but with the live audience’s choice of ‘Penny Lane’ as an encore, prevailing over ‘Danny Boy’.
The theme of social change resonated throughout the program. Three works were from the Reformation, a period when the hegemony of the Catholic Church was challenged in much of Europe, including England. This spark that ignited the revolution was revealed in Bach’s setting of ‘Ein feste Burg’. The selections by Tallis and Byrd limed the tensions in England between reformers and the established church in language and style.
African-American composer Alma Bazel Androzzo’s ‘If I can help somebody’, composed in 1945, spoke not only of the Black Lives Matter movement, but also about the needs of so many whose livelihoods were wiped out overnight in March.
The six singers performed with their customary taste, impeccable intonation and refined musicianship. Their diction in whatever style was crisp and crystal clear. Profound emotions – mostly joy, often thankfulness and an ever-present air of hope – were limned in sound. This group exists to make music at the highest level and not once did they miss the mark.
Theatrics, however, were sprinkled throughout the concert. Human voices created a remarkably realistic mariachi vibe and real kazoos were also pulled out. Judith Bingham’s ‘Tricksters’, commissioned by the group, permitted the singers to act, howl and swing as figures from world mythology – Coyote, Loki, Kwaku Ananse, Moon Hare – sought to shape the creation of the world.
I lost myself listening to recordings of The King’s Singers while writing this. One comment on a YouTube video of their performance of ‘The Rose’ by Amanda McBroom caught my eye. ‘I think those elegant European cathedrals must have been built so that human voices like these could have a worthy place to play. What perfection.’ And so it goes.
For more information on The King’s Singers, click here.