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New Cambridge Singers chamber choir leads Choral Renaissance

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New Cambridge Singers
New Cambridge Singers

The New Cambridge Singers (NCS) chamber choir is busy rehearsing for two spring concerts - the first on Saturday - that will bring exciting new perspectives to our understanding of Renaissance music.

The performances mark the culmination of the choir’s innovative Renaissance Reimagined project, designed to bring together professional musicians with talented amateurs, and reach out to audiences in new ways.

Spanning five centuries of glorious choral and instrumental music, the programme combines 15th- and 16th-century masterworks with two new commissions inspired by the Renaissance.

The highlights of the concert will be three great sacred works from the Renaissance: Thomas Tallis’ extraordinary 40-part motet Spem in alium, which has achieved iconic status in the choral repertoire; William Byrd’s Mass Propers for Ascensiontide from Gradualia; and Orlando Lassus’ magnificent Missa Bell’Amfitrit’ altera with its rich double-choir sonorities.

The choir will be joined by two superb instrumental groups – Newe Vialles and The Guildhall Sackbuts and Cornetts led by Jeremy West.

The two performances take place at:

• Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge on Saturday (April) 1 at 8.00pm, and

• St James’s Church, Sussex Gardens, London on April 22 at 7.30pm

For tickets for the Cambridge concert – priced at £20 (or £6 for students) – visit, cambridgelivetrust.co.uk or call the box office on 01223 357851. Booking information for the London concert can be found at brandenburg.org.uk.

It’s no secret that singing in a choir can change lives for the better.

A search on the internet turns up a string of results that highlight the health benefits of singing together, both physical and psychological – and when it’s a chamber choir like the New Cambridge Singers, there’s huge musical satisfaction to be had too (not to mention a lot of fun).

New Cambridge Singers (NCS), founded in 1986, are currently on the lookout for a new second soprano to join, and are always interested to know of potential recruits for their reserve list.

Their director, Graham Walker, is an award-winning cellist and conductor who combines directing choirs and orchestras in Cambridge with solo and chamber cello playing around the world. He studied mathematics as a choral scholar at St John’s, Cambridge, and was subsequently awarded a scholarship and bursary to study cello as a postgraduate at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

NCS members come from all walks of life and range in age from students to retired people.

They count among their number people in diverse occupations – IT specialists, office workers, teachers, a baker, a piano tuner and a diplomat – but what they share is a love of singing and making music to a very high standard.

“I get the chance to perform gorgeous music in great venues with talented people in all parts,” says Jeremy, one of the bass singers and a museum curator by day.

With just 40 singers, everyone makes an essential contribution, but they are quick to point out that the focus is on being part of a team.

Sophie Cotton, a full-time mum and former teacher, sings soprano and has been with the New Cambridge Singers for five years.

“We sing as a choir rather than as individuals,” she said. “Graham has made an amazing difference where he’s really bringing us to sing together, and when we do it’s just fantastic.”

For alto Candy Smellie, a webmaster and social media guru, the choir is not just a place to make fabulous music but also a place to socialise.

Sophie agreed: “We have a lot of laughs and every concert is very different, which I absolutely love.”

Bass Matt Wilkinson, a zoologist, writer, actor and voice artist, said: “It’s a wonderfully friendly choir.”

Being a part of the community is important to the choir. They put on a variety of concerts and always give two performances of each programme – starting with one in Cambridge and then taking the music to one of the beautiful villages in the surrounding area.

“NCS has big dreams,” said music teacher Kate Cameron. “This choir is looking to make a name for itself and be the best choir that it can be.”

Earlier in March, members of the public were invited to an open rehearsal to hear the choir working on one of its new commissions, Everybloom, by distinguished composer Giles Swayne, which is a setting of text from James Joyce’s great novel Ulysses.

Mr Swayne will be sharing his insights when he discusses his new piece in a free pre-concert talk before each performance (at 7pm before the Cambridge concert and at 6.30pm in London).

Everybloom will be performed alongside another new work, Then The Angel Showed Me The River… by a young New Zealander, Paul Newton-Jackson, who is studying music at Cambridge.

This piece won NCS’ first ever composition competition, being chosen from more than 50 entries submitted by composers from all over the world, with an age range spanning 19 to 90.

Scored for soprano, alto, tenor and bass, a Renaissance brass ensemble and an audience chorus, it sets a beautiful description of the New Jerusalem from the Book of Revelation – a vision of a broken world made whole.

If you are a singer with some choral experience, visit newcambridgesingers.org.uk.

The New Cambridge Singers are extremely grateful for the support they have received for this project from Arts Council England’s Grants for the Arts and the RVW Trust.

Saturday April 1 8.00pm, Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge CB2 1TQ

Pre-concert talk with Giles Swayne at 7.00pm

Tickets £20; Students £6; Under 18s free

Booking information at newcambridgesingers.org.uk or cambridgelivetrust.co.uk 01223 357851

Saturday April 22 7.30pm, St James’s Church, Sussex Gardens, London W2 3UD

Presented in partnership with the Brandenburg Choral Festival of London

Pre-concert talk with Giles Swayne at 6.30pm

Booking information at brandenburg.org.uk.

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