When its busy liturgical schedule permits, the Choir of Westminster Cathedral is in demand for concert performances all around the world.
The COVID-19 pandemic put a temporary stop to this, so it was particularly exciting that the choir was invited to take part in two festivals in Germany in September 2022: the Internationale Musiktage at the Dom zu Speyer, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the IMAD Festival in the Paderborner Dom, alongside other international artists, including British choir Voces 8 and the WDR Rundfunkchor. These were also the choir’s first concert performances outside the UK under new Master of Music, Simon Johnson.
The choir performed a programme of music centred around the Mass for Five Voices by William Byrd, with two contemporary pieces inspired by Byrd’s music: Kyrie after Byrd by Roxanna Panufnik and Ave verum corpus reimaged by Roderick Williams. The concerts also included two pieces composed for the choir itself in 1915: Gustav Holst’s setting of the Nunc dimittis, and a Salve Regina by Herbert Howells; as well as the Three Latin Motets by Charles Villiers Stanford.
The concerts were attended by packed audiences, and the choir’s performances were met with standing ovations and great acclaim. German newspaper Die Rheinpfalz praised ‘its exquisite intonation, its clarity, purity and beauty of sound.’ The Holst was sung in ‘particular with a phenomenal sound and a brightly shining, multifaceted luminosity.’
Westminster Cathedral Choir remains the only Catholic Cathedral choir in the world to sing daily Mass and Vespers, occupying a unique position at the forefront of English Church Music. Die Rheinpfalz noted that ‘It’s not for nothing that the British Isles have long been setting standards when it comes to choral singing – and Westminster Cathedral Choir gives the tradition its very own colour through its connection to a Catholic repertoire.’
It concluded that ‘in short: the performance of the English choir under its new Music Director Simon Johnson was sensational.’
Westminster Cathedral Choir’s Christmas Celebration will take place this year on Tuesday 20th and Wednesday 21st December. Tickets for this annual favourite are now available.
Photo: Westminster Cathedral Choir directed by Simon Johnson at last year’s Christmas Celebration in Westminster Cathedral (Mazur/CBCEW.org.uk)