Anglophiles and British ex-pats will have a home this Friday in the Coolidge Auditorium at 12pm. The Library of Congress Chorale will perform “Britannia,” a concert celebrating the choral traditions of Great Britain. I happen to be the conductor of said ensemble and am an Anglophile through and through. I had the opportunity to complete my graduate studies at King’s College, London, which itself has a famous choir (separate from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, conducted by Stephen Cleobury). While in London I sang regularly with the London Philharmonic Choir, BBC Symphony Chorus and London Symphony Chorus, three of the world’s great symphonic choruses. What becomes quickly apparent in the U.K. is the fact that choral music, of all varieties and forms, is an indisputably integral part of British culture (popular and otherwise). Many of the greatest British composers are renowned for their choral works—Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Edward Elgar and Benjamin Britten, to name a few. Also of note are the operetta contributions of Gilbert & Sullivan (for where would we be without the Pirate King?).
During the holiday season, London is a wonderland. There is something about the architecture, lights, decorations, double-decker buses and spirit of Londoners that is positively charming and unique. Choral music is a significant part of this delightful atmosphere. You can hear sacred music in the famous carol services of Southwark Cathedral, King’s College, Cambridge, Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral. Massive nightly popular holiday spectaculars are presented at the Royal Albert Hall with London’s leading orchestras. Choral music is played throughout shops and singers serenade tourists at Covent Garden. Needless to say, the British holiday experience is incomplete without choral music.
American choral ensembles frequently perform British choral works, ranging from music of the Renaissance to the most contemporary compositions by composers like Sir John Tavener and James MacMillan (though the latter would surely prefer to be considered Scottish first). Leading British choral ensembles tour extensively throughout the United States. One of the hot choirs on the global scene is Stile Antico, a conductorless choir that approaches choral music with a collaborative chamber music mindset. Stile Antico appeared in the Coolidge Auditorium during the 2013-2014 Concerts from the Library of Congress season. A talk with Stile Antico members Andrew Griffiths and Helen Ashby may be viewed here. The Tallis Scholars, Hilliard Ensemble, Choir of King’s College, Cambridge and Choir of Clare College, Cambridge are just a few of the great British choral ensembles that perform throughout the United States.
The Library of Congress Music Division has a special relationship with British music, particularly from the twentieth century. Many important British composers have been commissioned by the Library and we hold many holograph manuscript scores of British works.
Here’s a glimpse of our contemporary British treasures:
-Bliss, Arthur: Music for oboe and four strings (1927)
-Bridge, Frank: String Quartet no. 3 (1927), String Quartet no. 4 (1937), Trio for violin, violoncello and piano (1929)
-Britten, Benjamin: String Quartet no. 1 in D major, op. 25 (1941)
Selected Koussevitzky Music Foundation Commissions
-Birtwistle, Harrison: Silbury Air, for chamber ensemble (1977)
-Britten, Benjamin: Peter Grimes, op. 33 (1944-1945)
-Davies, Peter Maxwell: Offenbarung und Untergang (1966)
-Harvey, Jonathan: Timepieces (1988) & Tranquil Abiding (1998)
-Holloway, Robin: Double Concerto, op. 67 (1989)
-Knussen, Oliver: Ophelia Dances I (1975)
-Tippett, Michael: King Priam (1961)
-Turnage, Mark-Anthony: Chicago Remains (2007)
-Walton, William: The Bear (1967)
The current Concerts from the Library of Congress season features several British figures and ensembles, as well as an American ex-pat who lives in the U.K. All events take place in the Coolidge Auditorium or Whittall Pavilion. For more information, visit www.loc.gov/concerts.
- British composer Julian Anderson’s String Quartet no. 1, Light Music will receive its U.S. premiere on February 14, 2014. This concert by the JACK Quartet and pianist Ursula Oppens features Brian Ferneyhough’s Exordium and Thomas Adès’ Piano Quintet.
- On March 7, 2014 the Elias String Quartet will perform Haydn, Kurtág and Beethoven.
- Harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, a native of the DMV (District-Maryland-Virginia) and current Artist-in-Residence at New College, Oxford, will perform J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach, Kuhnau, Martinu and Takemitsu on April 4, 2014.
- British composer/conductor Oliver Knussen will be in-residence at the Library from April 8-12, 2014. His residency includes the mid-Atlantic and Washington, DC debut of Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. Violinist Alexandra Wood and pianist/composer Huw Watkins will also be featured, along with cellist Ulrich Heinen, soprano Lucy Schaufer and baritone Andrew Sauvageau. British works to be performed include Knussen’s Cantata (Triptych, part 3), Ophelia Dances and Ophelia’s Last Dance, Britten’s Phantasy, op. 2, as well as Bridge’s Piano Trio no. 2.
- The Danish String Quartet performed on November 2, 2013. It is a featured ensemble in the BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists scheme.
- British musicologist, Liszt scholar and former BBC producer Alan Walker gave a lecture “In Defense of Transcription” on November 9, 2013 for #Wagner200. The lecture was accompanied by a recital by British pianist Valerie Tryon.
- Listen to our recent podcast celebrating #Britten100, the global commemoration of Benjamin Britten’s centenary.
Friday, December 20, 2013, 12:00-1:00pm
Library of Congress Chorale Concert: “Britannia”
Nicholas Alexander Brown, conductor
Dan Meyer, accompanist
John Saint Amour, baritone
Stephen Czarkowski, cello
Thomas Tallis | “If Ye Love Me”
Peter Warlock | “Adam Lay yBounden
Henry Purcell | “Sing, Ye Faithful” and “Britons, Strike Home!”
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor | “Viking Song”
Gustav Holst | “I Vow to Thee, My Country” and “In the Bleak Midwinter”
H.J. Gauntlett | “Once in Royal David’s City”
John Rutter | “What Sweeter Music”
Ralph Vaughan Williams | Fantasia on Christmas Carols
Coolidge Auditorium, Jefferson Building
Free, no tickets required