- Anna Ryan (flute)
- Alex Semple (violin)
- Sophie Westbrooke (recorder)
We present New Millennium, a collection of contemporary choral and organ works all by living composers, many of which were commissioned especially for the Choir. Conducted by former Director of Music, Andrew Nethsingha – who recently conducted music at the Coronation of King Charles III as Organist and Master of Choristers at Westminster Abbey - this release features some of his final recording work for the choir and celebrates his commitment to new music. The album features pieces by some of the most acclaimed composers working in choral music today, including Sir James MacMillan, Judith Weir, Iain Farrington and Cheryl Frances-Hoad, as well as composers at the beginnings of their careers.
Andrew Nethsingha, former Director of Music at St John’s College, Cambridge, said:
“Contemporary music and commissioning have been central features of the last fifteen years at St John’s. It’s been a joy to work with talented student composers, singers and instrumentalists; my own musicianship has been greatly enriched by their creativity and energy. I’ve curated a sequence of music which aims to celebrate some of the broad range of styles in 21st century choral writing. The premiere of Iain Farrington’s Nova, Nova was the final piece in my last St John’s broadcast – I have often enjoyed pushing the boundaries of the Anglican choral tradition!”
Multiple commissions for the choir feature on the recording, demonstrating Nethsingha’s commitment to new music during his tenure at St John’s. Many of these provide opportunities to composers at the beginnings of their careers and are reflected on this recording. Vanity of Vanities was commissioned in 2016 from Ben Comeau, then a recent graduate of Girton College, Cambridge; his compositions and arrangements have now been heard in venues including the Royal Albert Hall, Wigmore Hall and Birmingham’s Symphony Hall. Anna Semple was also a recent Cambridge graduate when her solo organ piece Oriens was commissioned for the 2021 Advent Service, which is performed here by Assistant Organist George Herbert who gave the original premiere of the work. Salvator mundi, Domine was commissioned from Alexander Hopkins in 2021, who was a bass in the Choir at the time.
A striking element of many of the works commissioned by Nethsingha during his time at St John’s is the use of instrumentation not usually heard in liturgical music. This is reflected on this release by David Nunn’s Sitivit anima mea, which is set for choir and electronics, with the electronic sound generated entirely from samples of water; combined with the chanting voices of the choir, the electronic textures create a meditative effect. Electronics also feature on Nunn’s other work on this release, oh pristine example, where the choral parts are gradually taken over by what Nunn has described as ‘an immersive electronic texture’. Sophie Westbrooke’s Quiet Stream, commissioned for the Choir in 2020, features the recorder taking the place of the trebles, with Westbrooke herself performing the recorder.
The release also features music from some of the most celebrated choral composers working today. Sir James MacMillan’s O give thanks unto the Lord opens the recording, setting text from Psalm 105 and ‘To Music. A Song’ by Robert Herrick, who matriculated at St John’s College in 1613. Judith Weir, Master of the King’s Music and whose Brighter Visions Shine Afar was recently performed at the King’s Coronation, has two works featured on the release – Vertue I: Vertue, a setting of words by poet George Herbert, and Leaf from leaf Christ knows, a setting of a poem by Christina Georgina Rossetti.
Another composer featured at the Coronation was Iain Farrington, whose link with St John’s goes back to his time as organ scholar and has three pieces performed here. Two movements from his Fiesta suite feature, firstly Celebration for solo organ (performed here by George Herbert, another former St John’s organ scholar) and later Conversations, which the composer describes as depicting the ‘lively natterings and gossipings’ of individuals who argue and laugh about life. The release also features his piece Nova, nova, which was the 2022 Advent commission for the Choir and was performed in Nethsingha’s final broadcast as Director of Music. Ivor Novello award-winning composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad also features on the recording with a performance of A Blessing, written as a memorial to Ken Hutchinson, an admired teacher from Frances-Hoad’s native Essex.
The Choir have previously released recordings of contemporary music to critical acclaim – DEO, a collection of sacred works by Jonathan Harvey and their first album on their imprint with Signum, received a BBC Music Magazine Award in the Choral category in 2017.
The album artwork – a striking image of the Large Hadron Collider – was chosen to reflect an iconic example of 21st-century science to complement this collection of 21st-century music. Further insights into the recording, including notes by esteemed academic and choral director Dr Martin Ennis and a postscript from Nethsingha, can be found in the album booklet.
- O give thanks unto the Lord (James MacMillan)
- Sitivit anima mea (David Nunn)
- Vertue I: Vertue (Judith Weir)
- Cedit, Hyems (Abbie Betinis)
- Vanity of Vanities (Ben Comeau)
- O nata lux (Piers Connor Kennedy)
- Celebration (Iain Farrington)
- Carmina mei cordis I: Aeterna lux, divinitas (Abbie Betinis)
- Oriens... (Anna Semple)
- Quiet Stream (Sophie Westbrooke)
- Laudes (Francis Pott)
- Salvator mundi, Domine (Alexander Hopkins)
- oh pristine example (David Nunn)
- A Blessing (Cheryl Frances-Hoad)
- Nova, nova (Iain Farrington)