Legendary vocal group The King’s Singers are coming to the US to perform at New York’s Zankel Hall at Carnegie on Monday, February 18th at 7:30 PM. This is a show that was postponed from November 2nd due to Hurricane Sandy, and the tickets purchased from that show will be honored for this one.
The group is known for performing in a very significant range due to the rather interesting blend of voices that give them a low-ended sound, and also for their wide selection of repertoire. At Zankel Hall, they will be performing the works of Saint-Saëns, Poulenc, Palestrina, Joby Talbot, and several others.
David Hurley, countertenor with the group since 1990, skyped me from the UK to discuss the group and one of their latest recordings, this one titled Pater Noster: A Choral Reflection on The Lord’s Prayer.
CM: Can you talk a little about the history of the King’s Singers?
David: The King’s Singers itself started in 1968–The members of the group were choral scholars, and in the early 60s, at King’s College, Cambridge, sang in the famous choir there. They did a bit of singing together whilst they were in Cambridge, but they had an opportunity to form a group to perform at a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with some other distinguished musicians–Sir Neville Marriner and Simon Preston amongst them. I think they sort of felt “Gosh, this is quite a good setup we have here!”, and so they did a little bit of work, and one thing led to another–They were taken on by an agent, and after a couple of years, the group was taking up to much of their time, they gave up other jobs, and the rest, as they say, is history!
CM: From that point on, it was an incredible ensemble…
David: It’s amazing, really! The lineup of the group is sort of almost by chance. The logical thing might have been to have 2 countertenors, 2 tenors, 2 basses or a baritone and a bass, which is what a lot of groups have back home, sort of subsequently, but they chose a slightly lower-voiced group with 2 baritones with a bass at the bottom, just one tenor and 2 countertenors at the top. So it gave a sonority to the low-end of the group, which I think is the secret to the sound of the group.
CM: Yes, it has this incredible symphonic quality! And this Pater Noster CD on Naxos that just came out is really good–it covers a lot of early music, and there’s also the music of Francois Poulenc, Leonard Bernstein, Igor Stravinsky–It seems to cover a large history of choral music written for the church.
David: I think as far as we’re concerned, the special thing about this recording is–obviously the repertoire has some fantastic music, but also great is that we recorded it live, which is the usual way we record things. We did have a couple of sessions to provide a little bit of safety material, but a lot of it is the actual live concert, people were there in the church where we recorded it, it was actually a proper live recording, and so, that gives it a certain frisson. It has that feel of a live performance because that’s exactly what it is.
CM: There was a time when I didn’t necessarily like opera or choral music, I was all about orchestral music, but any time there’s a new discovery for me that’s a breakthrough in any other discipline of the classical genre, it just seems to open up my mind to appreciating it more, and with the variety of musical language on this album, it gives me a renewed sense of interest in a cappella sacred and secular music
David: One of the things we’ve often done–the group is known for its variety of repertoire. We don’t generally stick to one repertoire during our concert programs. In a way, the logic is that there’s a theme that runs through this album, but the music is incredibly disparate in style.
CM: How did you guys come upon things like the Stravinsky piece?
David: Actually the Stravinsky came in as a result of formulating a concert program based on this particular recording, one that we did on many occasions, and then the recorded version is an enhancement of that–it’s a little bit longer, it’s got a little bit of different repertoire within it, but in way, why I think it works nicely as a recording is that it worked well as a concert piece. It kept people’s attention during a sequence of music in a live setting, and so, therefore it felt appropriate to put down as a live recording.
Stravinsky: Pater noster (From the CD Pater Noster)