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Castles, curries and canticles: Cantemus’ London tour, 2015

We’re just back from a mini-tour to London, where we’ve been singing services at St Paul’s Cathedral and St George’s Chapel, Windsor. It was a wonderful experience; five services, two iconic venues, and plenty of amazing music. Below are some of the highlights: watch this space for news of future tours! (Thanks to Andy Quick for the pictures.)

Our whirlwind weekend trip kicked off with Friday evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral. We sang a challenging unaccompanied programme of Praetorius, Rose, Schutz and Grieg. The seats under the Wren dome were packed and it was a real thrill to sing in those famous choir stalls. But it was poignant, too, as John Scott, the Cathedral’s former Music Director and Huw’s old boss for many years, had died suddenly just two days before. John’s death is a massive loss to the music world, and while Cantemus never worked with him directly, we benefit from his influence through Huw’s leadership. We gave of our best in the service – particularly in Schutz’s moving German setting of the Nunc Dimittis – and it was great to get so much positive feedback over a few drinks in the Cockpit pub afterwards. After a bite to eat in the nearby Strada and the consumption of several well-earned glasses of wine, we all scrambled onto the Central line to make a late connection back to Windsor.

outside castle bwv2

After some relaxed shopping  – a dangerous pastime in Windsor – and brunch on Saturday morning, it was time to head to the Castle. We lined up at the Henry VIII gate, where – some might say surprisingly – we all made it through a rigorous security check. Our rehearsal venue was the dungeon, where we spent a couple of hours rehearsing with Richard Pearce, our organist for the weekend. Then it was off to the famous Gothic Chapel itself, where, as it was the Feast of the Assumption, we sang a Marian-themed programme of John Tavener’s Collegium Regale service and Bruckner’s beautiful setting of the Ave Maria. Again, we had a good audience in the form of a large congregation and innumerable former monarchs under the Chapel flagstones. After posing afterwards for some carefully-choreographed choir photographs on the Chapel steps, we headed off to the pub for some liquid refreshment. With an early start the following day, we weren’t able to paint Windsor as red as we might have liked, but a fabulous curry, with plenty of beer and laughter to wash it down, more than made up for it!

P1090900B arriving Chapel BW

With a 0815 start, Sunday was a real choral marathon. The day kicked off with Mattins, where we had three big “sings” – Walton’s Jubilate, Britten’s Festival Te Deum and Monteverdi’s Cantate Domino – so plenty of strong coffee and throat sweets were in order. Then it was straight on to Eucharist, where we got the opportunity to reprise some movements of the Martin Mass for Double Choir, which we’d performed in Llandaff Cathedral earlier in the summer.

After a couple of hours’ break for a hearty lunch and a final trip to the shops for panic-buying of souvenirs, we re-assembled in the Dungeon to rehearse for our final Evensong of the weekend. The Quire was packed full for the service and, despite a mobile phone bursting into life during the Intercessions, the congregation were very appreciative. Howell’s shimmering Gloucester Service came off beautifully in the Chapel’s lofty acoustic, and it was lovely to have the chance to perform Brahms’ Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen, which was a staple of our stint as choir-in-residence at Dortmund’s festival two years ago.

Once the service was over, and after a fond farewell to Windsor Castle’s resident tabby cat, it was time to hit that M4 again, exhausted but hugely uplifted by our experience. Huge thanks go to: our hosts at St Paul’s and Windsor Castle; all our guest singers; Richard Pearce; our tireless Chairman, Mike Page; everyone who came to listen to us; and of course the indefatigable Huw for making this tour possible in the first place. A weekend singing gorgeous music in stunning buildings: choral singing doesn’t get much better than that.

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