Whether you like it or not, John Rutter is the pre-eminent choral composer of our times. When future musicologists look back at the late twentieth-century (and beyond) they will single out Rutter as the most performed, most discussed and most imitated composer of choral music in the English-speaking world. Tavener may get a look in, maybe Britten or Leighton may get a mention, but for sheer weight of activity, it has to be John Rutter. Is this a problem? Does this give a fair representation of choral music in our times?
In some ways the answer is irrelevant, because whether you like or loathe it, John Rutter’s music is a staple part of choral music-making in the Anglican world – from school choirs to cathedral choirs, from parish churches in Nottinghamshire to university chapels in New Hampshire it is sung on a regular basis by and to many people (whether worshipers or not) who instantly feel an attraction to the cantabile melodies and simple harmonies. It is easily dismissible music (not least by the composer himself who has an uncanny knack of downplaying his abilities), partly due to its obvious simplicity, partly due to its origins in ‘light’ or popular music (again, something that Rutter is happy to flag) and partly due to its success and prevalence. It is easy to paint Rutter as the bête noire of contemporary choral composers – giving an unfair impression of what choral music should sound like, seeming to reject or refuse to acknowledge any of the musical developments of the mid-twentieth-century. At best he is referred to as a ‘craftsman’, or a ‘tunesmith’ with the references to trades here being in a pejorative sense rather than a master of an art. Perhaps these labels are fair – I may have used them myself. Read more…
It was great to hear my work Invocation (2010) on BBC Radio 3’s The Choir yesterday. The show was dedicated to works for choir and brass and they played the recording from the recent CD release Phillip Cooke, Choral Music. The show can be heard here (UK only, available until the 14 April).
This month, the Choir of King’s College, Aberdeen, will perform three of my motets: Veni Sancte Spiritus (2012) and O lux beata Trinitis (2013) [08/03]; Veni Sancte Spiritus [04/03] and O Sacrum convivium [18/03] all will be conducted by David Smith.
Later this month I will be giving a taster session on my new oratorio Noah’s Fire to members of the choir that commissioned it, the Chester Music Society choir at St Mary’s Church, Chester. I’ll be giving an introduction to the work, before rehearsing the choir in two movements from the work. It will be fun to feel like John Rutter or Bob Chilcott for the day! PAC
As I put the finishing touches to my largest work to date, Noah’s Fire, my mind begins to wander to new works that I will compose this year. I’m very excited to be involved in the choir Siglo de Oro’s Seven Last Words from the Cross project in which seven composers each take one of the famous lines – the premiere of which will be given in the Victoria International Arts Festival in July of this year in Malta. Other composers featured in the project include John Harle, Alexander Campkin and Thomas Hewitt Jones. I’ve also been commissioned to write a substantial new work for community choir for the SOUND festival in Aberdeen for this year’s festival – something themed around Northern Skies is planned. The final work I’m writing is an orchestral song-cycle for soprano and our own (Aberdeen University) chamber orchestra which will be premiered in Antwerp next year. Looking forward to getting started! PAC
After a glut of performances of pieces (including four new pieces) in November and December I have uploaded five new recordings (as YouTube videos with the score). These are: Epitaph (2014 – performed by Roger Williams), Threnos (2014 – performed by the Aberdeen University Chamber Choir), Third Service (2014 – performed by Ely Cathedral Girls’ Choir), O magnum mysterium (2005 – performed by the Aberdeen University Choral Society) and Sweet was the song (2014 – performed by Con Anim Chamber Choir). Great performances, great occasions. PAC
2014 was a successful (and busy) year for me, with more performances than ever before, great reviews, broadcasts and commissions. The highlight of the year was the release of Phillip Cooke, Choral Music in April on Regent Records – the CD has had unanimous good reviews (which has been a huge shock to me!) and has already opened some new doors for me. The book I co-edited The Music of Herbert Howells (which was published in October 2013) also had extremely good reviews (apart from a miserable one on Amazon…) which has been hugely edifying. It has been a year of organ music with new works broadcast on BBC Radio 3 Choral Evensong and featured in the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music and Sound Festival in Aberdeen. My early organ work Elegy (2003) has been performed across the country and a new work for pedals only was premiered in August. Works have been performed in Canterbury, Ely and St Paul’s Cathedrals and in many other towns and cities across the country. My liturgical music continues to be performed with six performances of my first service, two of the second and the premiere of my third. December was my busiest month with twelve performances across the country. It’s not easy making performances in London whilst living in Aberdeen, but I made it to four, which was great. 2015 promises to be just as busy with my new oratorio being premiered in Chester Cathedral in November and various new works in the pipeline. I’ll also begin my book on James MacMillan which will keep me busy. All the best for 2015! PAC
It’s that time of year when I try to find some time to write a blog on something musically Christmas-related. It’s not always the easiest task, particularly as I’ve been to seven carol services already this festive period, so I feel a little bludgeoned by angels, holly, Wise Men and cockatrices (whatever they are). And with trying to write some music, and dampen the expectations of two Christmas-fixated small children, and the REF – there isn’t always time to decide on something to write on. But then I remembered Bethlehem Down…
Peter Warlock (1894 – 1930) is one of the most notorious British composers of the early Twentieth Century, more known for his louche lifestyle and forthright opinions then for his music. He is the very essence of a ‘nearly man’ – he had all the musical abilities and the right contacts to be a formidable composer of the very first rank, but like many before and after him he was hugely emotionally unstable with a predilection for self-destruction. Which he did in 1930. His reputation rests on his musical criticism, his pioneering work in reintroducing Tudor music to Britain in the 1920s and on a small canon of works including The Capriol Suite and some beautifully wrought little masterpieces such as Bethlehem Down. And it is a masterpiece, in my opinion. Read more…
The London Welsh Chorale will give two further performances of O magnum mysterium (2005) firstly at the Welsh Nine Lessons and Carols at the London Welsh Centre, Grays Inn Road, London on the 14/12 at 18.30. The second performance will be at St Benet’s Welsh Church, London on the 16/12 at 19.00. Pob lwc to all involved!
Aberdeen-based chamber choir, Con Anima will give the première of my new carol Sweet was the song (2014) today at St Mary’s Chapel, Blairs, Aberdeenshire. They will give the second performance at King’s College Chapel, Aberdeen University later in the day. The third performance of this work will also be today (and the London première) at St Andrew’s Church, Holborn, London, given by the London Welsh Chorale conducted by Edward Rhys Harry. They will also give the London première of O magnum mysterium (2005). Busy day. PAC