We are privileged to sing in some of the greatest concert halls as well as some of the more intimate spaces across the world. Both to serve the group’s history and to look to the future, we create programmes to perform and record, sometimes in collaboration (Sean Curran’s Dance Company, Emanuel Ax, Christina Pluhar, Albrecht Mayer), often with new music. The King’s Singers have commissioned over 200 new pieces from composers such as Takemitsu, Rodney Bennett, Maxwell Davies, MacMillan, Larsen, Lena Frank, Ligeti and Whitacre as well as multiple arrangements of much-loved repertoire. Here we share a few recent projects, new ideas and events.
The madrigal, that most polished form of secular choral music, first emerged in Italy in the 1530s, supplanting a rather more unsophisticated repertoire of secular songs. Italian madrigal composers were soon vying with one another to express the meaning of the text as fully as possible through their music. Most madrigals spoke of love and mythology, reflecting the most popular themes of Renaissance culture, and these themes are to the fore in the collection of madrigals first published by the Venetian music printer Angelo Gardano (1540–1611) in 1592 under the title Il Trionfo di Dori.
The collection was dedicated to Leonardo Sanudo (1544–1607), a nobleman from one of Venice’s oldest and most respected families. Sanudo, who commissioned the poems first, later having them set to music, worked closely with Gardano to make the collection available to a wider audience.
The collection comprises 29 madrigals by 29 madrigal composers, including many of the most significant Italian musicians of the time, such as Giovanni Gabrieli, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Giovanni Croce, Felice Anerio, Giovanni Giacomo Gastoldi, and Alessandro Striggio.
The madrigals extol the virtues of Sanudo’s wife, through the alter ego of the sea-nymph, Dori, the daughter of Oceanus, the divine personification of the sea from mythology. The texts paint an idyllic Arcadian scene, inhabited by nymphs, shepherds and satyrs, who all join together at the end of each madrigal to sing the praises of Dori, with the refrain Viva la bella Dori (Long live beautiful Dori).
Along with the album, released in April 2015, we have constructed a concert programme which we continue to perform regularly throughout the touring season.
A live recording of Palestrina’s Quando dal terzo cielo – the closing track from The King’s Singers recent album, Il Trionfo di Dori – recorded at St. Augustine’s, Kilburn (London).
In our travels we have amassed a wonderful collection of folksongs and popular songs from numerous countries, many of which we use as encores when we visit. The influences and sources are extraordinarily far-ranging, and each song brings out its own local characteristics. To celebrate the diversity of music that we perform and the numerous countries we visit each concert season, we have recorded an album of some of our favourite folksongs from around the world. In many cases the choice of songs has been very difficult to make, given the tremendous wealth of material, too many of these songs sit in our library until our next visit to the country.
To accompany the album, we have crafted a concert programme which we continue to perform regularly throughout the touring season. In addition to folksongs from Europe, North America, Asia and South America, the programme includes a new commission from British composer Joanna Marsh entitled “Arabesques” which sets English translations of Arabic texts that reflect on the span of life. We hope to take audience members on a journey, reflecting on our own life-style as itinerant musicians.
To enjoy these wonderful arrangements of folksongs from the around the world, you can purchase a selection of some of the groups favourites from this project published in a Postcards Songbook.
Around the time The King’s Singers were starting up, one of the most productive periods of song-writing in history was coming to a close in America. Starting with composers such as Gershwin, Berlin and Porter in the early 1920s, and continuing through to the early 1960s, a body of work was slowly built up that unofficially gained the title “The Great American Songbook”. Many of the songs were originally written for musicals but stand proudly on their own merits, such is the quality of the melody-writing and wittiness of the text.
Following two years of planning and recording, in Autumn 2013 we released our own album of Great American Songbook favourites. The track-list for the album included seventeen of the most-loved songs from the era, all heard in stunning new arrangements by the British jazz composer and arranger Alexander L’Estrange. The two disc album also contains eight orchestral arrangements which were recorded live in concert with the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra under the baton of David Firman.
To accompany the album release, the arrangements have been crafted into a live concert programme, staged by the wonderful Carrie Grant, and has been performed to more than 30,000 people in ten different countries, and will continue to be toured throughout the 2015/2016 season.
The Lord’s Prayer is the best-known prayer in Christianity, appearing in two of the Gospels. In Matthew’s Gospel (6:9-13) it is included as part of the discourse on ostentation, as part of the Sermon on the Mount. Here Jesus instructs people to pray after the manner of this prayer, and this prayer has become a central part of liturgy in all Christian denominations. This programme is based around the words of the Lord’s Prayer, featuring musical settings of the prayer alongside other works that complement the meaning of the different sentences.
Throughout this programme we compare settings of these texts from different composers and times. We start with presentations of the prayer in plainchant, the most ancient musical form represented here. The Early Renaissance composers include Sir William Harris, Heinrich Schütz, William Byrd, Hans Leo Hassler, Henry Purcell, Orlandus Lassus, Orlando Gibbons. Composers from the early twentieth century here include Maurice Duruflé, Igor Stravinsky, Cyrillus Kreek, Charles Wood, and more recent works from those such as Leonard Bernstein, Bob Chilcott and Sir John Tavener.
Perfectly suited to performances in churches and cathedrals, the programme was recorded live in concert in March 2012 in the Cathedral of the Incarnation, Nashville, USA and released on Naxos in Autumn 2012
Making sense of death is a peculiarly human desire. One of the great certainties of life, yet with no certainty as to its timing or manner, death inspires some of the finest art from composers, poets, painters and writers. This art helps us to remember life and rationalise death, putting it into a context that ultimately allows us to move forward with our own lives.
Epitaph has been constructed to explore aspects of remembrance, tribute and grief. Two great composers, separated by four centuries, are remembered: the late Sir John Tavener’s Funeral Ikos becomes a poignant memorial to the composer himself, and a selection of works honour the Renaissance master Josquin des Pres. Three very different men are commemorated: two nobleman, one circumspect in exile and the other facing his imminent beheading with stoicism and bravery; and Charles I, the English King condemned to be executed. And, finally, one of the greatest Spanish Kings, Philip II, is remembered with various settings of the words Versa est in luctum (“My harp is turned to mourning”), taken from the Book of Job.
Very few if any of us will have such masterpieces written for or about us at the time of our departing, but it is enough that the music exists and helps us to celebrate life, whilst also remembering those about whom we have cared but who now have passed on.
John Tavener Funeral Ikos (in procession)
Jacquet of Mantua Dum vastos Adriae fluctis
Jean Richafort Kyrie (from Missa pro defunctis)
Nicolas Gombert Musae Jovis a 6
Bob Chilcott Even Such is Time
Charles Debussy Trois Chansons de Charles d’Orleans
H. G. Ley Evening Hymn of King Charles I
Sebastian de Vivanco Versa est in Luctum
King John IV of Portugal Crux Fidelis
Alonso Lobo Versa est in Luctum
Steve Martland Jenny Jones
2014 marked not just the centenary of the Great War (1914 – 1918), but also the 300th anniversary of the succession to the English throne by King George I, the first Hanoverian monarch. Both of these anniversaries are behind a new work by the distinguished English composer, Francis Pott, commissioned for a joint concert in Hanover given by The King’s Singers and the Hanover Girls’ Choir. Referring to the anniversaries, the composer writes:
“While the latter circumstance [the Great War] prompted a desire for a work reflecting upon friendship and unity, faint but abiding resonances of the former [the Hanoverian succession] suggested that the theme might be viewed in more universal terms, especially since the music was commissioned with a view to collaborative harmony between distinguished German and English performers.”
Francis Pott has set a poem by Charles Bennett, which “listens to the still, small voice of peace as it insistently reaches us from the oppressed of any time and place”. Alongside this the composer sets the words of the Agnus Dei, sung by The King’s Singers – ‘O Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. O Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace’. The work marks the long-standing, and often turbulent, relationship between England and Germany, and celebrates the accord and friendship of recent times.
‘Hands, voices, hearts are reaching out, reaching across the border, the barrier, the wire: let us turn the darkness into music. Now is the time for all to be at peace.’
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