Christopher’s post-Biber blog

Conducting massive polychoral works has somewhat been a theme of my musical life ever since we started exploring the larger scale works of the 16th Century, such as the 40 part works of Striggio and Tallis.

When choirs and ensembles go to such considerable lengths to bring together polished and beautifully performed versions of these works, it has always struck me as pointless for them to stick the whole lot in front of the audience. It sounds great, but can also lose the definition of each part, which is why I always opt for performing in the round. Yes, it is incredibly dangerous from a performer’s point of view as there are, quite literally, 53 things that can go wrong on every page, but to not perform surrounding the listener is starving the audience of the very thing the composer intended: an absolute theatre of aural spectacle.

It quite literally is ‘Surround Sound for the Baroque!’ Together with the instruments of the period, such as natural trumpets, recorders, cornets and sackbuts, it creates an extraordinary sound world. I was delighted to see so many young people in the audience and hear how blown away by the experience they were. We also invited children from our AC Academy choirs to bring their parents to the rehearsals and their feedback was so refreshing. They were simply fascinated and drawn in to this incredibly dramatic way of presenting live music.

We can never thank David Phillips of Phillips and Becker Accountants enough for enabling us to bring these works to life. David has already asked us to do it again in a couple of years, which we will!

If you can’t wait that long, we don’t think 53 parts is enough, and this summer we will be pairing up with the Choir of my old College, Gonville and Caius, Cambridge to tour extensively the 60 part mass by Striggio and Tallis’ 40 part Spem in Alium in ‘Supersize Polyphony 360’. Alongside the main tour, we will create 3 new small works with our composer in residence, Toby Young, as part of our educational programmes across the UK. This project, called Spemalot!, will enable almost 1000 children to sing alongside our professional performers in sections of these 40 part works and immerse themselves in the incredible sound world that will set their hearts on fire for life.


Christopher Monks

February 2018