It's a doleful afternoon on London's South Bank, with Waterloo Bridge
looming out of the murk-like backdrop to a Jack the Ripper movie, but
it doesn't dampen the enthusiasm of Harry Christophers. Next year will
be the 30th anniversary of his ensemble The Sixteen, and Christophers
can be justifiably proud of his achievements.
We settle onto some squashy coffee-bar furniture and he's off,
outlining The Sixteen's history and performing commitments, and
planning the future with heroic disregard for the ongoing global
turmoil. Like an entrepreneurial actor-manager, Christophers is
perpetually juggling art and commerce, and claims of one of his
projects that "for all I care it could be the 'Victoria's Secret'
Choral Pilgrimage, if they wanted to sponsor it for £100,000."
The Sixteen have just finished their 2008 Choral Pilgrimage, an annual
event inaugurated in 2000, and are eagerly anticipating their 150th
performance of Handel's Messiah at the Barbican on December 3. The
Sixteen's new recording of the piece on their own Coro label burnished
it in tingling new colours, but Christophers doesn't believe in a
single definitive version.
"I bumped into [conductor] Paul McCreesh in a bar in Madrid," he
recalls. "He said: 'God Harry, don't you ever get bored with Messiah?'
I said: 'No way!' I'm sure if you asked John Eliot Gardiner if he gets
bored with doing the Bach Magnificat he'd say no. These are great
pieces, and there's something new to find every time."
Christophers began his odyssey into Renaissance and baroque music as a
choral scholar at Magdalen College, Oxford. He became convinced there
must be an alternative to the regimented formality of the Oxbridge
choral tradition, which he once uncharitably likened to a form of
"Oh dear. Obviously I'd retract that a little bit. Naturally you need
order and precision, you don't want consonants flying all over the
place, but ultimately to me that approach is not natural. The Sixteen
feel and breathe the music as one, and I don't have to give this
incredibly rigid beat because they feel the music through me."