In conversation with Jonathan Hope
As the choir starts rehearsing for its next concert – ‘For the Joy of Singing’ – we caught up with Musical Director Jonathan Hope to talk about how he chose the programme and what this concert means to the choir.
So this is a concert of the choir’s favourite pieces. How did that work?
I asked the singers to nominate the ‘desert island’ pieces that they would like to sing. With such a clued up choir, I guess I should have anticipated that it would be a long list – there were over 100 pieces! The choir chose some absolutely wonderful music, my job was to curate that into a programme that both singers and audience would enjoy.
Some of their choices were conventional. Some were… the opposite! They ranged from tiny, perfect pieces like If ye love me to a SATB arrangement of Bohemian Rhapsody…
Curating these pieces sounds like a difficult job. How did you whittle them down?
It was difficult in some ways, but absolutely joyous in others. It was quite liberating knowing that whatever I chose, there would be someone in the choir who really wanted to sing it. It was also really affirming to see so many pieces that we had performed recently – it showed that the choir was enjoying the repertoire I’d chosen before, even though I really challenge them sometimes! We want to keep moving forward though, so I decided not to choose any music that we have done before as a choir.
It was challenging to make a coherent programme out of such a wide range of music, so I looked for patterns or pieces that went together, while having some contrast and diversity of style.
What’s the highlight piece for you?
It's very difficult to choose. Obviously, Tippett is always fantastic to perform. He was a 20th century, enlightened, radical, forward-thinking pacifist who was always challenging the status quo. That’s the sort of stuff the St Cecilia Singers really enjoy getting their teeth into, and our audiences want to hear.
The Mendelssohn was also a clear choice for me because of his connection with Queen Victoria who was born 200 years ago this year.
I think if I’m honest though, my favourite piece in the programme is Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens. It’s a real cathedral classic and I love the through composition. It's a triumphant amalgamation of fantastic words and music. There's also a personal meaning for me, as it was one of the first pieces I played on a commercial recording, so it’s a bit of a landmark. That’s what I love most about this concert – for every piece we’re singing, there’s someone in the choir for whom it has special meaning.
What are your ambitions for future concerts?
Well the rest of the season is looking pretty exciting. Our Christmas concert is always a highlight – not just for the choir but for the cathedral community and our loyal audiences. I’m told that our annual concert marks the start of Christmas for many in Gloucester and that makes me very proud.
It would be impossible not to get excited about our March world premiere of Neil Cox’s Requiem Canticles which was commissioned for our 70th Anniversary.
Looking further ahead though, I’d like to do more orchestral concerts and we have some potential cathedral visits in mind.
Now here’s the question we’ve all been dying to ask… When are you going to do some more arrangements for the choir?
When the occasion arises! I love lighthearted music at a summer soiree, so maybe next season. Perhaps that could be the next challenge I put to the choir...?
Come to the choir’s concert at Toddington on 19th October and hear Jonathan’s curated progamme of the St Cecilia Singers’ favourite pieces. Tickets are free with a retiring collection.