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December 18, 2004

Singing Blues go for a first at the Grammy awards

The Times (UK):

Although more used to competing on the Thames and the rugby pitch, Oxford and Cambridge will soon enter an entirely new arena: the Grammy Awards. The choirs of King’s College, Cambridge, and Magdalen College, Oxford, have both been nominated in classical categories of the 47th Grammy Awards, the musical equivalent of the Oscars. Although it is not unknown for a college choir to be nominated for an award — New College Choir, Oxford, was last year — this is the first time that both universities have fielded nominees, and the race is on to become the first to win a coveted Grammy 24-carat gold-plated gramophone statuette.

King’s College Choir, known internationally for its Christmas Eve Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, features in the Best Choral Performance category for its rendition of Rachmaninov’s Liturgy Of St John Chrysostom. The choir, conducted by Stephen Cleobury, the college’s director of music, won the Ensemble Album of the Year prize at the first Classical Brit Awards in 2000 for another Rachmaninov composition, the Vespers.

“This nomination is a great thing for us, an excellent thing,” said Mr Cleobury, speaking from the choir’s pre-Christmas tour of the United States. “We’re engaged in trying to achieve the best in musical standards that we can. If we get this recognition, it’s great for us.”

During the American tour the choir has performed a programme dominated by Christmas carols to sell-out crowds in six cities, culminating in tonight’s final concert at the National Cathedral in Washington. “The tour is proving to be a resounding success; we’ve had hundreds and hundreds of people attending,” said Dame Judith Mayhew-Jonas, Provost of King’s College, who is travelling with the choir. “They are such a brilliant choir and there is a huge public following for them out here. We’re reaching out to a huge number of people,” she added.

Magdalen College’s nomination, in the Best Small Ensemble Performance category, is for With a Merrie Noyse, a recording of works by the 17th-century composer Orlando Gibbons. Anthony Smith, the president of the college, was “absolutely thrilled to bits” at the news. The choir is best known for its annual May Morning performance, when it sings the Hymnus Eucharisticus from the top of Magdalen’s Great Tower at 6am to usher in the spring.

The competition between the two colleges is heightened because Bill Ives, who conducts Magdalen’s choir, is a former member of the King’s Singers, the a cappella sextet originally formed by choral scholars of King’s College. Mr Ives, who holds the ancient title of Informator Choristarum at Magdalen, said: “The nomination is accolade enough; but it would be very nice to win.” The choral crossover between the two colleges does not end there. Orlando Gibbons, the Baroque composer who wrote the piece for which Magdalen has been nominated, was a choral scholar at King’s College, Cambridge, in 1596, and was born in Oxford.

Posted by acapnews at December 18, 2004 12:59 AM