Chichester Singers offer world premiere

The Chichester Singers this weekend offer the world premiere in Chichester Cathedral of Peter White's Te Deum, a piece they have themselves commissioned.

Conductor Jonathan Willcocks
Conductor Jonathan Willcocks

The full programme on Saturday, November 12 will be: Vaughan Williams – Wasps Overture; Peter White – Te Deum; Vaughan Williams – The Lark Ascending; and Vaughan Williams – Hodie.

Chichester Singers musical director Jonathan Willcocks said: “Chichester Singers are committed to performing music by contemporary composers as well as the great masterpieces of the past and a legacy from a former member of the choir enabled us to commission this work from a composer with a strong history with choral music.

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“It is always a special occasion when giving a first performance of a new work, and the Chichester Singers are greatly enjoying the challenge of learning the piece. Around the Te Deum we have three works by Vaughan Williams, undoubtedly one of the greatest English composers of the last century – an orchestral work (The Wasps Overture), a mini violin concerto (The Lark Ascending) and one of his greatest (and final) choral works (Hodie). The latter work requires three soloists, chorus, large orchestra and a separate upper voice boys’ chorus, which gives us a lovely opportunity to work again with the Cathedral choristers, directed by the organist Charles Harrison.

“Our last collaboration with the choristers from the Cathedral (Britten – War Requiem) two years ago was very memorable. Violin soloist for The Lark Ascending (invariably Classic FM’s number-one popular piece in public surveys!) will be Sophie Langdon, the principal leader of Southern Pro Musica.”

Guildford-based composer Peter said: “For a composer writing a new work, the search for texts can be quite troublesome. All the more so when the instruction about words from the commissioning choir is – anything you like really, as long as it’s in English! For several weeks I dithered, exploring various avenues which generally proved dead-ends. Several poets came and went, I looked for texts relating to Chichester or Sussex, I tried to find a way to include the great prayer of St Richard of Chichester and, mindful of the current commemorations of the First World War, I even examined the possibility of a work based on an event from November 1916, but the appearance of the first tanks in battle, though dramatic, still failed to ignite the creative process.

“I was reluctant to fall back on one of the great but potentially rather dull Christian texts, but, maybe as a result of having very recently coached some boys for a performance of Berlioz’s Te Deum in the Albert Hall, conducted by Jonathan and also featuring the Chichester Singers, I began to gravitate towards a text that initially I had been determined to avoid. The direction of tonight’s work eventually crystallized when it seemed to me that the wonderful poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, a poet I have loved for forty years, provided the perfect textural counterpoint.”

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