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King’s Singers (Vocal Ensemble)

Founded: May 1968 - Cambridge, England

The King's Singers is a British mainly a cappella vocal ensemble who celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2008. Their name recalls King's College in Cambridge, England, where the group was formed by six choral scholars in 1968. In the UK, their popularity peaked in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. Thereafter they began to reach a wider international audience, appearing frequently on the Johnny Carson show in the USA. In February 2009 their CD, “Simple Gifts”, won a Grammy Award for Best Classical Crossover Album.

Today the ensemble travels worldwide for its performances, appearing in around 125 concerts each year, mostly in Europe, the USA and the Far East, having recently added the People's Republic of China to their list of touring territories. Recent UK performances have included 40th anniversary concerts at the Cadogan Hall, London, on April 30, 2008, and the following day in the chapel of King's College Cambridge, several appearances in the Royal Albert Hall Proms, and concerts as part of the Three Choirs Festival.

History

The group has always consisted of six singers in total, with their membership changing over the years. None of the original members remains.

The first stable incarnation of the group, from 1968 until 1978, included:

The current ensemble is composed of (starting year in brackets):

Nigel Perrin (counter-tenor 1)
Alastair Hume (counter-tenor 2)
Alastair Thompson (tenor)
Anthony Holt (baritone 1) (actually from Christ Church, Oxford, rather than King's)
Simon Carrington (baritone 2)
Brian Kay (bass)

David Hurley (counter-tenor 1) - (1990)
Timothy Wayne-Wright (counter-tenor 2) - (2009)
Paul Phoenix (tenor) - (1997)
Philip Lawson (baritone 1) - (1993)
Christopher Gabbitas (baritone 2) - (2004)
Jonathan Howard (bass) - (2010)

Former members of the King's Singers also include Jeremy Jackman, Bob Chilcott, Nigel Short, Bill Ives, Bruce Russell, Colin Mason, Gabriel Crouch, Stephen Connolly and Robin Tyson. There have been 20 members of the King's Singer for whom the average length of tenure is around 12 years.

Influences

The group cites as its influences The Hi-Lo's vocal jazz group, the Comedian Harmonists, the Mastersingers and (perhaps most importantly) the style of singing instilled into them by Sir David Willcocks, their Director of Music at King's College, Cambridge. It was this serene and precise sound, with vibrato used only as a colour rather than a default setting, that was expanded by the early King's Singers to be used on all genres of music, from renaissance church repertoire such as they had performed as part of the daily chapel services at the university, to pop/jazz/folk/spiritual arrangements that were soon added to their concert programmes.

Repertoire

They took hold of the idea that concerts need not contain merely one form of music; audiences could be educated as well as entertained. For those who came expecting pop music there would be classical music as well, and vice-versa. This started out of necessity; for their first few concerts the group simply had to perform everything they knew in order to fill a concert programme, and this included religious music from their chapel library, along with folksongs and other "lollipops". Over the years their library has expanded so that it now includes some 2,000 works of all styles.

The group is best known for its a cappella performances which have as a foundation a strong bass/baritone blend on which the other voices sit, a principle known as the "Pyramid of Sound." In addition, the King's Singers have frequently performed with instruments, both in recordings and in concert.

Concert Structure

Most of their a cappella concerts are divided into five distinct groups of pieces. The first four vary widely (madrigals, folk songs, recently commissioned pieces, etc.) but are generally taken from the serious side of the group's repertoire, but the last group of the concert is typically a "close harmony" set. Often it consists of lighter fare, including music of The Beatles, Billy Joel, Queen, George Gershwin, Harold Arlen or Irving Berlin, many of which have been arranged for the group by composers such as Richard Rodney Bennett, Jeremy Lubbock, Bob Chilcott, Philip Lawson and John Rutter. Sometimes the final set (in a concert of religious music) will be a spiritual harmony set - entitled "Songs of Faith and Hope." This set could be composed of American Spirituals, arranged by contemporary composers, including group member Philip Lawson and former member Bob Chilcott. Pieces in this set could include Simple Gifts, Deep River, Down to the River to Pray, and Stand Still, Jordan as well as more spiritual pop songs such as "Some Folks Lives Roll Easy" by Paul Simon.

More recently, however, the King's Singers have begun to perform "Concept Programmes" which have a set theme running throughout. These could be simply a 60-minute first-half sequence, often performed in European Cathedral concerts, with a Mass or Requiem setting providing the backbone, interspersed with other shorter works, or a more fundamental concept which infuses every piece performed. Examples of this latter art include "Sacred Bridges," a programme of Jewish, Islamic and Christian Psalm settings, performed with Dr. Vladimir Ivanoff and his ensemble, "Sarband." The group has also created concert programmes relating to recent CD recordings, including "Landscape and Time" and "Treason and Dischord," the latter a programme commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, and including a script read in live performances by actors Joss Ackland and Bill Wallis. The group works closely with concert promoters and local agents to determine the best possible programme for each concert, whether for church, concert hall, open-air venue or private house.

Modern Repertoire

The King's Singers are also known for frequently commissioning works from contemporary composers. Starting with "Timepiece," commissioned by the Camden Festival in 1972 from composer Paul Patterson (and still regularly performed today), they have continued by commissioning pieces from (amongst others) Malcolm Williamson, Ned Rorem, György Ligeti, Libby Larsen, Daron Hagen, Francis Pott, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Sir John Tavener, John McCabe, Sally Beamish, Jackson Hill, Geoffrey Poole, Joby Talbot, Jocelyn Pook, Graham Lack, Ivan Moody and Bob Chilcott. In 2008 they performed a piece commissioned jointly for them and the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain written by Eric Whitacre.

Activities of Former Members

Many former members of the King's Singers have remained active in the world of choral music. Former Tenor Bob Chilcott is now a composer, conductor of the BBC Singers, and workshop leader. Former baritone Gabriel Crouch is now the director of choral ensembles at Princeton University and former countertenor Nigel Short founded a professional choir, Tenebrae, on leaving the group in 2001. Baritone Simon Carrington is the director emeritus of the Yale Schola Cantorum, at the Yale University Institute for Sacred Music and now directs the Simon Carrington Singers based in Kansas City, MO. Tony Holt is on the music faculty at St. Olaf College as a voice instructor. The original bass, Brian Kay, became well-known as a radio and TV broadcaster; Bruce Russell is now vicar of St Francis Church, Langley in Berkshire.

Educational Activities

In addition to recording and performing, the King's Singers have a commitment to education, often participating in master-classes and workshops. Every two years they hold a residency at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival in Lübeck, Germany, at which up to 12 a cappella groups from all over the world are taught over a period of four days, culminating in a public performance. The group also leads around a dozen additional one-off masterclasses throughout the year, normally in conjunction with concert performances and often as part of their twice-yearly USA tours.During its time, The King's Singers have taught many groups that have now become known in their own right, such as the Real Group, Rajaton, Singer Pur and Calmus Ensemble, in all of whose performances the influence of their former teachers is evident.

Several of the King's Singers also arranged pieces, both for the group and pieces to publish in their line of music. Recently, Philip Lawson and Bob Chilcott have been the most prolific composers in the group.

Members

Counter-tenor

Nigel Perrin (1968-1979) > Jeremy Jackman (1980-1989) > David Hurley (1990-Present)

Countertenor

Alastair Hume (1965-1993) > Nigel Short (1994-2000) > Robin Tyson (2001-2008) > Timothy Wayne-Wright (2009-Present)

Tenor

Alastair Thompson (1970-1977) > Bill Ives (1987-1984) > Bob Chilcott (1985-1996) > Paul Phoenix (1997-Present)

Baritone

Simon Carrington (1965-1993) > Philip Lawson (1994-Present)

Baritone

Anthony Holt (1965-1987) > Bruce Russell (1988-1995) > Gabriel Crouch (1996-2003) > Christopher Gabbitas (2004-Present)

Bass

Brian Kay (1968-1981) > Colin Mason (1982-1986) > Stephen Connolly (1987-2010) > Jonathan Howard (From 2011)

Discography

In 2003 the group signed with Signum Records, with whom they have released nine albums in five years, with another two in the pipeline at the time of writing. In addition, the group made an experimental recording of Thomas Tallis' 40-part masterpiece, "Spem in Alium," using modern studio multi-tracking techniques to turn their 6 voices into 40, the results of which can be heard on a Signum CD and Iambic Productions DVD, which includes a documentary on the making of the CD.

The group's latest CD was released on 30 April 2008 and is a selection of 16 pop ballads, spirituals, and folk songs. The CD is called Simple Gifts and is the first full-length studio CD since the 1990s. The arrangements on the album are by current first baritone Philip Lawson, Peter Knight and former tenor Bob Chilcott, and the album was recorded at the studios of Status Quo, located at the house of lead guitarist Francis Rossi, and engineered by Gregg Jackman, brother of former King's Singers counter tenor Jeremy Jackman. In February 2009 “Simple Gifts” won a Grammy award for Best Classical Crossover Album.

In December 2007, The King's Singers recorded a Christmas concert, “Rejoice and be Merry!” with The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square, that was released on CD on September 30, 2008; it also was released on DVD October 21, 2008. The CD features both a cappella and accompanied songs by The King's Singers and The Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Six tracks feature the King's Singers alone, with another another five tracks featuring the combined King's Singer's and Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the remaining eight tracks feature The Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The recorded concert was also broadcast on USA PBS stations in December 2008.


 

More Photos

Source: The King’s Singers Website; Wikipedia Website (October 2010)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (October 2010)

Recordings of Arrangements/Transcriptions of Bach’s Works

Conductor

As

Works

Bill Dobbins

Vocal Ensemble

Bach-Dobbins: BWV 248, arranged for big band

Links to other Sites

The King’s Singers (Official Website)
The King’s Singers (DJ Records)
The King’s Singers Fan Site

King’s Singers (Wikipedia)
King’s Singers - Biography (AMG)
The King’s Singers (Primarily A Cappella Aingers)

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Last update: ýDecember 17, 2012 ý09:01:33