‘Trinity College Cambridge is truly the Rolls-Royce of choirs…’

Trinity College Choir’s tour of Australia and Hong Kong has attracted significant media attention and rave reviews for the ‘unshakeable musicianship’ of its performances and ‘cultural leadership’ manifest in its selection of music.

Following performances in Hong Kong featuring Britain’s rich choral tradition and contemporary music from around the world, the Choir is travelling across Australia performing at sold-out venues as part of the Musica Viva International Concert Season.

Trinity College Choir performing in Hong Kong's City Hall
Performing in Hong Kong’s City Hall

The Choir has been interviewed on ABC National News, ABC Melbourne Radio and featured in a Radio Television Hong Kong documentary. Limelight magazine’s Maxim Boon commended the ‘spiritually profound, sensuously crafted performance from the Rolls-Royce of choirs’ and Stephen Layton’s ‘cultural leadership’:

It is particularly commendable that Layton should opt to explore a programme celebrating modern masterworks during Trinity College’s Australian tour. Such a courageous aversion to complacency, from an institution as revered and astonishingly capable as this, is precisely the type of cultural leadership that ensures the thriving vibrancy and continued survival of the choral tradition.

The Choir in Brisbane
The Choir in Brisbane

Stephen Layton, Director of Music at Trinity, said:

This programme contains music with which both I and Trinity College Choir are closely associated: the music has either been written for me or for the Choir. It is therefore music that we want to share with a wider audience.

At the heart of the programme is the Messe by the Swiss composer Frank Martin, who began composing the piece in 1922 but kept it hidden in a drawer for 40 years. Martin, a devout Christian, believed the public performance of such an intensely personal work, expressing the essence of his faith, would be tantamount to blasphemy. He was only persuaded to release it in 1963.

Today, the work is widely recognised as his masterpiece and one of the greatest a cappella works of the twentieth century. Stephen Layton said:

It is a piece that I have known and sung since childhood – it is therefore deep in my consciousness. The Messe itself is very unusual – it is a credo of Martin’s whole life beliefs. I have also had the opportunity to work from the manuscript score which is another reason I feel such an affinity with this piece.

Despite the length and complexity of the programme, the Choir sings without sheet music, which helps them engage with the audience at a new level.  This achievement did not escape the attention of The Age’s Clive O’Connell in his review of the concert in Melbourne:

This excellent choral body began with Arvo Pärt’s Bogoroditse Djevo, the deft balance and shape of this atmospheric prayer showing evidence of director Stephen Layton’s painstaking preparation. Not that he appeared straight away: the Cambridge singers negotiated the Pärt, Byrd and Purcell anthems as well as the Salvator Mundi motet by Tallis without a conductor, singing – as for the entire program – from memory, a remarkable feat of concentration.

For Choir members, touring is an unusual experience, in different ways. Krishnan Ram-Prasad, a second-year student of linguistics, told ABC News:

Touring the world, going to places that I have never been to before – such as Australia, and Hong Kong last week – is an absolutely amazing opportunity.

Local families kindly host students in each city where the Choir performs – a perfect way to find out more about each place, as Susie Hill discovered with her host family, who run a joy-flight business. Susie, a first-year Modern and Medieval Languages student, wrote on the Choir’s tour blog:

While many choir members enjoyed a day at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, we were treated to a flight in an original WW1 biplane – we flew a loop over Brisbane city centre, seeing our concert venue from above!

Rehearsing in Brisbane
Rehearsing in Brisbane

Meanwhile, some Choir members visited a school in Indooroopilly, including Asian and Middle Eastern Studies student, Madeleine Todd, and Kate Apley, who is studying Modern and Medieval Languages. They took part in a Q&A with pupils during their music class. Madeleine said:

We were supposed to discuss the choir, Trinity and tour with the pupils, but somehow we ended up talking about Harry Potter and how to do as little reading for essays as possible. After looking back at the Q&A session, I’m not entirely sure how much the children learned, but they seemed to enjoy my impression of the rumbly organ at Hereford Cathedral.

The Choir is very grateful for Cathay Pacific Airways’ support of the 2016 tour.

You can follow the Choir’s 2016 tour and read their blog.

You can buy tickets for Choir’s performances in Australia as part of the Musica Viva International Concert Season.

Photographs © Phil Winton.

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