A fantastic festive tour to Germany and France

Posted on: 13 January 2017

Dom St Blasien

The 'White Cathedral' of Dom St Blasien

The Choir had a marvellous time travelling Europe from the end of term to Christmas, performing a multitude of festive works that included many pieces from our latest recording, ‘Christmas with St John’s.’ The choir received a hearty reception wherever it went and Andrew was particularly impressed with the boys as all were accomplished enough in their musicianship to perform at least one solo each.

Our festive series began with two UK concerts: one to a packed Chapel in College and the other at Cadogan Hall as part of their ‘Choral at Cadogan’ series. Critic Robert Hugill gave us a detailed review with much praise: he was delighted with Simon Preston’s I Saw Three Ships which ‘was full of imaginative variations of scoring, with a lively treble solo’; William Matthias’s Sir Christmas ‘was full of lovely rhythmic vigour’; and Peter Cornelius’s The Three Kings ‘was given a magical performance with a lovely baritone solo’ provided by Peter Lidbetter.

Concert at the Schlosskirche, Wittenberg

The Choir's first concert abroad in the Schlosskirche, Wittenberg

The next morning we flew to Berlin and apart from a mislaid suitcase (which was swiftly apprehended the following day) the team arrived safely at our first destination of Wittenberg, which this year celebrates 500 years since the posting of the ‘Ninety-Five Theses’ by the town’s most famous son, the clergyman and theologian Martin Luther. After a somewhat concise summary of the Reformation from the Dean over breakfast, the boys had the morning for a kick-around whilst the Gentlemen sampled the Wurst, Glühwein and handicrafts from the town’s ‘Weinachtsmarkt,’ the first of many on our trip. In the afternoon we prepared for and performed our concert in the Schlosskirche or ‘Castle Church,’ believed to be the building to which Luther nailed his theses, provoking the Protestant Reformation.

Glen Dempsey playing

Our Herbert Howells Organ Scholar, Glen Dempsey, prepares for the concert as the boys look on

A long coach journey awaited us the next day as we crossed Germany to reach Bad Dürrheim, a picturesque town which served as our base for us over the coming days. Our next excursion was to Stuttgart where we had a rather excellent tour of the Porsche Museum. There was something for everyone: a gift shop full of toy cars for the boys; some radical modern architecture and an absurdly tall escalator for Andrew to enjoy; and a fantastic racing simulator for the Gents, who were able to sing a rendition of ‘Jingle Bells’ around the latest model of the 911. Our concert was in the Stiftskirche, which was – due to extensive damage during the war – an interesting patchwork of modern and traditional styles, and it was conveniently located within the most extensive Weinachtsmarkt of the tour, giving the Choir ample enjoyment during the breaks.

Joseph Wicks racing

Assistant Organist Joseph Wicks demonstrates his racing prowess on the Porsche simulator

The next day saw us in a far more secluded – although perhaps the most visually striking – of all our concert venues. We travelled deep in to the Schwarzwald (Black Forest) to what is known as the ‘White Cathedral’ of Dom St Blasien, a majestic Baroque former abbey church which now serves as a Jesuit-run Secondary School. From this stunning location, the Choir performed John Joubert’s There is No Rose live on Facebook before the concert, where the choir exploited the circular dome to full effect by deploying the singers between pillars for a section of the programme.

Choristers playing Football in Bad Durrheim

The choristers enjoy a quick game of football on a brisk winter morning in Bad Dürrheim

Our final concert in Germany was in the ‘Kultur und Kongresszentrum’ in Weingarten, before a flight across the Alps to Marseilles and then on to Aix-en-Provence, the final concert destination for our tour. The place was the exquisitely designed and aptly named Grand Theatre in the centre of the city, constructed in 2007 from the local Sainte-Victoire limestone. Many in the choir were very grateful for experiencing the Provençal cuisine as we explored the city centre between rehearsals.

Despite the excitement of returning home to friends and family for Christmas, it was with a heavy heart that we completed what had been such an enjoyable experience, but the singing wasn’t quite over: after some gentle provocation from a British Airways Air Steward who overheard that a choir was on board, we couldn’t resist just one more rendition of ‘Jingle Bells’ to delight the passengers on the way back to London.

On the flight to London

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Recorded on
23 May 2019


Responses and Preces: Radcliffe
Psalms 110 (Lloyd), 111 (Smart)
Bevan: Magnificat octavi toni
Nunc Dimittis octavi toni
Tavener: The Lord’s Prayer
Boulanger: Lux aeterna
Hymn 486

Choral singing comes no better

Fiona Maddocks, The Observer