December 2015: This had to be the best Christmas ever for Crouch End Festival Chorus. The whole country was humming along to our songs when national radio station Classic FM chose our new release,The Greatest Christmas Choral Classics, as its album of the week in the lead-up to Christmas Day. And the album wasn't just popular in the UK - it hit the number one spot for western classical music on Amazon India!
Back at home, our hardy carollers turned out in force on 5 December to sing seasonal favourites on the streets of Crouch End, entertaining the locals and raising money for this year's CEFC Christmas charity, the London Air Ambulance.
And then came the highlight of the festive season: the annual Sing Christmas concert. Held on 19 December in St Michael's Highgate, the programme featured Britten's beautiful Ceremony of Carols, performed in full by the soprano and alto sections and harpist Sally Pryce. The large audience was also treated to many of the pop-carol arrangements from The Greatest Christmas Choral Classics, which went down so well that an encore was demanded - so we supplied Wizzard's I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day. Which is actually a great idea, what with all this brilliant music to sing...
December 2015: Watch our photogenic singers in the video for Stay Another Day, from The Greatest Christmas Choral Classics - our new album with Silva Screen Records and the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. If you like what you hear, the album is available now in the CEFC Music Shop.
CEFC 12-Hour Choir - we did it!
November 2015: Our tired but elated singers completed their 28 November 12-hour singathon at the Muswell Hill Baptist Church, lending their voices to the Bach Magnificat , Elgar's Dream of Gerontius, Beethoven's Mass in C, Handel's Messiah, theVaughan Williams Dona Nobis Pacem and theFaure Requiem - all in one day.
The Sing Messiah! event in the middle of the afternoon was a particular success, with the choir's numbers boosted by a high turnout of family and friends, all keen to raise the roof with the Hallelujah Chorus.
The feat of endurance was all to raise funds for a fabulous music project - the first recording in English for 40 years of Bach’s St John Passion. And it looks like the sponsorship from our generous supporters has put us well on our way to meeting our target. If you'd still like to chip in, you can donate by credit or debit card securely online through Virgin Money Giving.
October 2015: Crouch End Festival Chorus prides itself on giving top-notch performances of major works from the choral canon as well as introducing audiences to new music. And 17 October saw a most enjoyable "traditional" concert at the Barbican Hall in London.
The chorus was delighted to be working with the renowned London Mozart Players for the first time, and the experience and precision of the instrumentalists lifted Mozart's Mass in C minor into something special.
Reviewer David Winskill of the Ham & High praised the dynamic contrasts of the Qui Tollis movement as the point where the performance really came alive.
He added: "Conductor David Temple was like a military general marshalling his army as he impelled each part of the choir to deliver this great work: the Qui Sede was simply awesome."
Another treat followed the interval, as CEFC was joined for Britten's St Nicolas by young choirs from Rhodes Avenue Primary School, St Michael's Catholic Grammar School and Finchley Children's Music Group.
The junior singers - some as young as nine - brought musicianship beyond their years to the performance, with the Finchley group making a particularly strong showing from their offstage position in the Barbican's Circle level. David Winskill said all the children were "attentive, confident and nuanced", and praised their teachers and conductors for achieving a warm and professional sound.
Tribute must also be paid to the evening's fine soloists, with Grace Davidson's seemingly effortless soprano tones a highlight of the Mozart, ably supported by Julia Doyle, Ed Lyon and Dominic Sedgwick. Lyon returned as the vibrant voice of the adult St Nicolas in the Britten, and there were excellent performances from child soloists Lucas Watson, Jack Chambers and Caspar Herberg.
October 2015: Crouch End Festival Chorus concerts are now scheduled right through to July 2016 - with tickets already available online for every single one.
You can browse through all the concerts in our Concert calendar section, and we also have a brand new 2015-2016 season brochure to download and print. Check out the enticing full-colour brochure and start planning your listening now!
September 2015: Crouch End Festival Chorus has appeared at the BBC Proms many times, but this year's concert was particularly suitable for the choir - making the most of our reputation for versatility. As north London music critic Michael White said in the Ham & High:
"I can’t think of a more up-for-it choir than Crouch End Festival Chorus, and on Wednesday [9 September] they’re up for a spotlit moment in the Proms, helping the BBC Symphony Orchestra perform one of the most magnificently bizarre musical scores to have emerged from America in the early 20th Century, Charles Ives’ 4th Symphony."
The night at the Royal Albert Hall - under the batton of Andrew Litton - turned out to be just as varied and dramatic as everyone had hoped. It happened to be the day that Queen Elizabeth II broke Queen Victoria's record to become Britain's longest-reigning monarch, so to mark the occasion the concert began with two rousing verses of God Save the Queen.
There followed Springtime in Funen by Carl Nielsen, and that composer's virtuosic violin concerto, but from the CEFC perspective the best part was the second half. Straight after the interval, our singers adopted an American choral style to sing four of the revivalist hymns that had inspired Charles Ives to create much of his gloriously idiosyncratic music. These stirring pieces for choir and organ led straight into Ives's 4th Symphony - a vast dramatic work perfect for the Albert Hall, featuring a huge orchestra, two conductors, offstage string group, two pianos and, of course, a choir.
The CEFC singers relished their contribution to the first and fourth movements, but many also said how much they had enjoyed being present in the hall for the awesome live experience of the orchestral second movement.
The combined hymns and the Ives symphony were very well received by the large audience, whose applause brought the conductors (including chorus master David Temple) back to the stage several times. There were also warm words from the critics, as seen in these reviews: The Arts Desk | Bachtrack | Guardian
So good, we sang it twice
July 2015: After three decades in operation, it's quite hard to find a major choral work that has not been tackled by Crouch End Festival Chorus. But it turned out that there was a masterpiece new to the choir: Rachmaninov's Vespers. Hailed by many as the composer's finest achievement, the work was to form the centrepiece of this year's summer a cappella concert by CEFC.
Two beautiful settings were chosen for the concert: Southwark Cathedral in central London for the first run and St John's College Chapel in Cambridge for a repeat performance. Many weeks of preparation were needed for the singers to get their tongues round the ecclesiastical Russian of the Vespers, and this paid off in their rich, sonorous performance, with the majestic music lifted by the wonderful church acoustics.
Both concerts were well-attended, and the audiences were treated to four more unaccompanied works - two performed before and two after the Rachmaninov: Victoria - O Quam Gloriosum;Grieg - Ave Maris Stella; Lotti - Crucifixus; Gabrieli - Jubilate Deo.
The singers were on more familiar ground with these Latin texts, but it took considerable skill to switch between the two different vocal styles needed for these pieces and the Rachmaninov. This was clearly appreciated by the two audiences, many of whom rose to their feet during the applause at the end.
April 2015: Now, this was ambitious. With support from Arts Council England, Crouch End Festival Chorus commissioned a brand new concert drama from composer and jazz musician Roland Perrin. The piece was to be Lansky: The Mob's Money Man, which uses choral music, band, jazz soloist and narration to tell the story of Meyer Lansky, one of the 20th century's most notorious gangsters.
Perrin's vision involved some major musical challenges for both the singers and the instrumentalists, with the styles in the piece veering from klezmer to jazz to film noir, all underpinned by the composer's highly-accomplished classical technique. As the weeks of rehearsal went by, the choir members realised how much the piece would be worth the effort, and really rose to the occasion.
The big night was 27 April at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. There was a good turnout from music-lovers willing to take a chance on an interesting new work, and the audience was richly rewarded by the performance. The choir was on the top of its game, soloist Rachel Sutton put in a fine turn with her acting as well as her singing, and Roland Perrin and The Blue Planet Orchestra were smokin'! Holding the story together was narrator Allan Corduner, whose gravelly American tones worked perfectly with the music to evoke the world of the early 20th century mobsters.
The critic David Winskill was as impressed as the rest of the audience. He wrote: "There were plenty of wonderfully memorable moments – Jerusalem (Farewell my Grandson) spoke of loss and exile and the desolation of his grandmother. The Chorus worked wonderfully with Rachel to produce a very emotional moment. Two scenes later and perhaps Perrin’s tour de force – On The Lower East Side – breaking the Chorus into four choirs, he managed, musically to create the atmosphere 30s New York - opportunity and thuggery, desperation and creation, bustle and bravado." Read the full review here.
The London Jazz News reviewer J Shoham also enjoyed the night, commenting: "The performances were hugely impressive. The 100-plus members of CEFC managed to make the complex arrangements sound both simple and beautiful ... Holding it all together was conductor David Temple ... It is to be hoped that this premiere will be the first of many public performances." Read the full review here.
Everyone in the choir hopes to perform this piece again sometime soon, but in the meantime, there's a taste of the work in the snippets below...
Lansky: The Mob's Money Man - trailer
Even better live!
Lansky: The Mob's Money Man - sneak preview
>> Listen to the tracks Nickel to a Dime and La Mulatta right here, thenbook your tickets to catch the full show at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Monday 27 April >>
March 2015: Crouch End Festival Chorus patron Noel Gallagher knew where to come for his backing singers this month... The choir's finest joined Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds for an arena tour of the British Isles, kicking off in Belfast on 3 March and then performing to packed houses in Dublin, Nottingham, Glasgow, Manchester and London.
Seems like quite a change of musical direction after the Monteverdi concert in February, but was it really so different from the choir's usual fare? Alto Anna Stuttard didn't think so. After the Glasgow gig, she penned the following meditation on her experience:
"In some ways singing to 12,000 Noel Gallagher fans is very strange indeed. The logistics, the tech, the hanging around backstage, the security, the volume, the blissed out faces of drunk fans. And in other ways it's very ordinary - the choir, the conductor, the dots, the singing.
"And at certain moments it is, in the very ordinary way of music, beyond explanation, beyond understanding, the inexplicable moments of connection and beauty that arise when some people make music and other people listen and the world stands still for the perfection of it all."
The 10 March gig in London's vast O2 Arena was the final date of the British Isles tour - but it wasn't to be the last the fans heard of Crouch End Festival Chorus. On 28 March, the singers were delighted to rejoin the rock musicians for a special performance in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust at the Royal Albert Hall. Spot the altos, tenors and basses in the blog of the show...
February 2015: It can be a tall order for large choirs to perform music from the 17th century, but Crouch End Festival Chorus has pulled it off before, and we knew we could do it again. Weeks of drilling by conductor David Temple turned the chorus into a Baroque music machine fit to sing Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 alongside some of the country's best soloists.
The 7 February Monteverdi concert was performed to an almost full house at St John's Smith Square in central London. By turns stately, playful, intimate and powerful, the Vespers was, as ever, a joy. The excellent English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble provided expert instrumental support, and the vocal soloists showed fine musicianship and great skill in early music technique.
Tenors Matthew Long and Nathan Vale impressed throughout, whether singing alone, in a duet or in a trio with the equally effective baritone Andrew Ashwin. The rapport between the two sopranos, Grace Davidson and Zoë Brown, resulted in a heavenly rendition of the duet Pulchra es. And the chorus was delighted to welcome back the fine bass tones of Callum Thorpe, once again stepping in after the original soloist had fallen ill.
Following the performance, audience members were heard to give high praise to the choir's crisp diction, tunefulness and rhythmic delivery. There may have been more bodies on stage than Monteverdi might have expected, but the composer would surely have recognised the style and spirit of his music.