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The Sixteen: the sound of sweet Sixteen

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  • A Cappella News
    DAILY TELEGRAPH: 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
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 13, 2008

      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
      musical castration.

      "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."

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