vasari singers – chamber choir
Vasari Singers, under Jeremy Backhouse, is one of the UK’s leading chamber choirs. Now in its 32nd year, the chamber choir performs a wide range of repertoire with passion and sensitivity to exacting standards and considerable press acclaim.
Recent reviews of the choir’s commission and premiere CD of the oratorio The Cloud of Unknowing by Francis Pott, included “a top flight choir and, moreover, one that is at the top of its form, a performance that goes way beyond the printed page of the score” – MusicWeb International, “passionate and precise” – The Times, and “The Mighty Vasari Singers give it everything they can muster” – The Gramophone.
MusicWeb International’s review of recording of Will Todd’s Mass in Blue described Vasari as “one of the world’s finest choirs”. In Gramophone Magazine’s November 2005 review of Anthems for the 21st Century, Vasari was described as “a consistently outstanding choir” and “one of the most accomplished small choral groups of our time”.
Vasari performs regularly in most of London’s major concert venues and taken part in numerous commercial concerts and festivals, including the BBC Proms. The choir appears regularly on BBC Radio 3 and BBC Television, recently including appearing on the BAFTA-award winning documentary soundtrack Seven Wonders.
The choir is acclaimed for its versatility, performing choral music from a wide range of styles and eras, from the Renaissance to contemporary. As well as concerts, taking part in choral evensong is a major feature of Vasari’s schedule. The choir sings regularly in Canterbury Cathedral other main English cathedrals, with recent visits to Durham, Salisbury, Bath Abbey, Gloucester, Liverpool and Ripon.
New music is central to the choir’s activities, and since 2000 has commissioned over 20 works from British composers. In 2005 Vasari celebrated its 25th anniversary with 10 new commissions, a recording of these and other 21st-century anthems and a world première concert at St John’s, Smith Square. In November 2008, the group commissioned and premièred a new a capella Requiem by the British Composer Gabriel Jackson.
Vasari’s extensive discography reflects the choir’s versatility, passion and quality. The highly acclaimed Cloud of Unknowing was MusicWeb International’s CD of the Year in 2007. The two CDs of works by the French composer Marcel Dupré, both received Gramophone’s ‘Editor’s Choice’. The Howells Requiem and Frank Martin Mass CD was Gramophone Award-nominated, and the 2007 disc Noel Nouvelet was MusicWeb International’s Recording of the Month. A new recording of Maurice Durufle’s Requiem, with soloists Sarah Connolly Christopher Maltman, Robert Cohen, and Jeremy Filsell at the organ, was released on Signum in 2009.
In 2010, the choir marked its 30th anniversary with a season of “Choral Masterworks” performances, the centrepiece of which was a gala concert of JS Bach’s B Minor Mass, at St Martin in the Fields, London.
2012 saw the choir release two new CDs; the world premiere recording of the Gabriel Jackson Requiem, and a new collection of Christmas works entitled A Winter’s Light. Both CDs received wide critical acclaim and both achieved chart success; the Jackson Requiem reaching as high as number 5 in the specialist classical charts.
jeremy backhouse – music director
Jeremy Backhouse enjoys a growing reputation in the UK and overseas for inspiring vivid, passionate performances from choirs and choruses in a wide range of repertoire. Equally at home with Renaissance music through to contemporary commissions, he is widely recognised as one of Britain’s leading choral conductors. He has been the sole Music Director of the award-winning chamber choir Vasari Singers since 1981 and is also Conductor of the 150-voice Guildford Philharmonic Choir, now Vivace Chorus.
Head chorister at Canterbury Cathedral, Jeremy Backhouse studied music and composition at Liverpool University and began his career as a Music Editor with EMI. From 1998 to December 2004 he was Conductor of the Wooburn Singers – only the third in the choir’s history, following Richard Hickox and Stephen Jackson. He has also worked with the BBC Club Choir, Kent Youth Choir, Brighton Festival Chorus, London Choral Society, Trinity College of Music Chamber Choir, Philharmonia Chorus and the BBC Singers in a series of programmes for BBC Radio 3.
Major concert works include Mahler Symphony no. 2 and Mahler Symphony no. 8, Prokofiev Alexander Nevsky and Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.3 at Guildford Cathedral with the Guildford Philharmonic Choir; Bach B Minor Mass with the Hanover Band and the Wooburn Singers; Tallis Spem in Alium and works by Jonathan Dove, James MacMillan and Francis Pott at St John’s, Smith Square with Vasari Singers, Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man (A Mass for Peace), Mendelssohn Symphony no.2 (Lobgesang) and Bach Magnificat all at Guildford Cathedral.
Jeremy champions contemporary choral music and works closely with many composers including Richard Blackford, Francis Pott and Gabriel Jackson. He has recorded choral music for EMI, Cala/United, Guild and Signum record labels. Recent recordings with Vasari Singers include Anthems for the 21st Century, the world premiere of Dupré’s De Profundis and La France au Calvaire (both selected as Editor’s Choice in Gramophone) and Brahms’ German Requiem in Brahm’s original version for two pianos. September 2006 saw the release of his recording with Vasari of music by Will Todd.
For updated information including latest performances, please visit Jeremy’s site at www.jeremybackhouse.com.
our patrons - ward swingle
Ward Swingle was the product of an unusually liberal musical education. In his hometown, Mobile, Alabama, he grew up with the sound of jazz and played in one of the great Big Bands before finishing High School. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from the Cincinnati Conservatory and studied piano with the celebrated Walter Gieseking in postwar France. In Paris in the sixties he was a founding member of the fabled Double Six of Paris, then took the scat singing idea and applied it to the works of Bach, hence The Swingle Singers, whose early recordings won five Grammies.
When the Paris group disbanded in l973, Ward Swingle moved to London and formed an English group, expanding the repertoire to include classical and avang-garde works along with the scat and jazz vocal arrangements. The 2003 touring schedule of the Swingle Singers (who are now celebrating their 40th anniversary as a vocal group!) will include trips to Europe, North America and the Far East.
In l984 Swingle returned to live in America. Though he remained as Musical Advisor for his London-based group, he devoted most of his time to workshops, guest conducting and the dissemination of his printed arrangements through his publishing company, Swingle Music.
His pioneering ideas in new choral techniques have produced invitations to conduct The Stokholm and Netherlands Chamber Choirs, The Dale Warland Singers, The Sydney Philharmonia Motet Choir, the BBC Northern Singers and the MENC National Honors Choir at Kennedy Center. Over the last ten years he has given a long series of workshops and seminars at outstanding universities in both Europe and North America.
In March of 1994 he and Mrs. Swingle moved back to France, where he continues his work in arranging, composing and guest conducting. He has recently written a book called “Swingle Singing” in which he tells the story of the French and English groups, his own story, and defines ‘Swingle Singing’ techniques with illustrations from his arrangements and compositions.
Stephen Barlow was born in England, began his musical life as a chorister at Canterbury Cathedral and then studied piano, flute, french horn, percussion and composition at King’s School, Canterbury. He won the Organ Scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was Musical Director of the University Chamber Orchestra and Chamber Choir, and went on to study conducting at Guildhall Shcool of Music and Drama, under Vilem Tausky.
In 1977 he began a long association with Glyndebourne conducting The Rake’s Progress for GTO. He co-founded Opera 80 where he was Music Director between 1988 and 1991. During this period he was resident conductor at the English National Opera, conducted with Scottish Opera, Dublin Grand Opera, Opera Northern Ireland, Opera North and made his Royal Opera debut at Covent Garden conducting Turandot, where he later returned for Die Zauberflöte. He was Artistic Director of Opera Northern Ireland from 1996 to 1999. Productions include The Cunning Little Vixen at ENO, La Bohème at Grange Park, Idomeneo, The Barber of Seville, Fidelio and Madama Butterfly in Belfast, Albert Herring, Falstaff, The Marriage of Figaro and Die Entführung aus dem Serail at Garsington and Madam Butterfly with Opera North.
Stephen Barlow made his international debut in 1989 conducting The Rake’s Progress for Vancouver Opera, since when he has returned for Madam Butterfly and Tosca. His US debut followed in 1990 when he conducted Capriccio with the San Francisco Opera and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and then his Australian debut, in 1991, with Die Zauberflöte for Victoria State Opera. Subsequent foreign engagements include Elektra and Gounod’s Faust in Seville, The Cunning Little Vixen in Berlin, Capriccio and I Capuletti ed I Montecchi in Sicily, Rigoletto in Tirana, Il Barbiere di Siviglia in Riga, Madama Butterfly, Don Giovanni and Il Trovatore in Auckland, La Cenerentola and Turandot with Florida Grand Opera, Carmen in Melbourne, Turandot in Miami and Romeo et Juliette for the State Opera of South Australia.
In addition to his extensive operatic work, he has conducted most of the major UK orchestras and further afield, concert appearances have taken him to Aarhus, Adelaide, Amsterdam, Belgrade, Bilbao, Brisbane, Copenhagen, Detroit, Johannesburg, Lausanne, Lille and Perth. In 1997 he was appointed Music Director of the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra. Recent recordings include Joseph James’ Requiem with Sumy Jo and his own new children’s composition Rainbow Bear in collaboration with his wife, Joanna Lumley, as narrator. This season’s and future plans include The Rake’s Progress with Reisopera in Holland, Faust and Nabucco in Australia and the premiere of his own opera King in Canterbury Cathedral.
Gabriel Jackson was born in Bermuda in 1962. After three years as a chorister at Canterbury Cathedral, Jackson studied composition at the Royal College of Music, first with Richard Blackford and later with John Lambert, gaining his BMus in 1983. While at the College he was awarded the R.O. Morris Prize for Composition in 1981 and 1983, also winning the Theodore Holland Award in 1981. In 1992 he was awarded an Arts Council Bursary.
His music has been performed and broadcast throughout Europe and the USA, and in recent years has been heard in Cape Town, Ho Chi Minh City, Kiev, Kuwait, Sydney, Tokyo and Vancouver. His works have been presented at many festivals in the UK and beyond, including Aldeburgh, Cheltenham, ThreeTwo (New York), Lek Art 2000 & 2004 (Culemborg), ppIANISSIMO (Sofia), Haarlem Choir Biennale, Europa Cantat, Festival Vancouver, Festival ProBaltica, as well as Spitalfields and Meltdown in London. His liturgical pieces are in the repertoires of many of Britain’s leading cathedral and collegiate choirs. In 2003 he won the liturgical category at the inaugural British Composer Awards.
His music is being recorded with increasing frequency with works available on NMC, Metier, Usk, GFR, Lammas, Priory, Telarc, York Ambisonic, the British Music Label. In 2005 Delphian Records released a disc devoted to his choral music and in December 2007 they released a Christmas CD including Jackson’s The Magi. Recent instrumental commissions include Kenidjack, for alto saxophone, strings and percussion, works for guitarist Tom Kerstens, organist Michael Bonaventure, and Lunar Sax Quartet, for whom he wrote LM7 Aquarius.
Latest projects include a string quartet for the Psophos Quartet commissioned by the Presteigne Festival, and several major choral commissions: Requiem for the Vasari Singers,The Spacious Firmament, for the John Armitage Memorial Trust, premièred by the BBC Singers and Onyx Brass and Ave, Regina Caelorum for The Sixteen and Tom Kerstens (guitar).