The Temple Church Choir

by Christopher Morley

Among the plethora of events spreading the Christmas spirit at Symphony Hall during this festive season is the visit on December 13 from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra joined by the Purcell Singers and the Temple Church Choir, conducted by the much-loved composer John Rutter.

Roger Sayer, director of the Temple Church Choir, tells me about the choir's history.

"London's Temple Church Choir is formed of 18 boy-choristers and twelve choirmen, and rose to prominence in 1927 when Sir George Thalben-Ball and the treble Ernest Lough made their world-famous recording of Mendelssohn's 'Hear my prayer/ O, for the wings of a Dove'. More recently, we were fortunate to work with John Tavener on the commission and – at the Temple Church itself – premiere of his all-night musical vigil, The Veil of the Temple,

"On the morning of Monday 15 June 2015 at Runnymede Meadow, we performed a new anthem by John Rutter, in the presence of HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, to mark the 800th Anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta In April 2016 as part of the Menuhin Violin Competition at the Temple Church, our choristers performed the première of John Rutter's new work Visions for solo violin, string orchestra and boys' voices."

George Thalben-Ball was Birmingham City Organist for many decades, giving weekly Wednesday lunchtime recital at the Town Hall. Roger tells me more about him.

"He was organist at the Temple church for over 60 years. His initial fame was as an organist and pianist, and he famously gave the first British performance of Rachmaninov's fiendishly difficult Third Piano Concerto. He was widely broadcast as an organist, which showed his skills both as a fine technician as well as a master of imagination with the way he used the instrument.

"Despite these skills it was his work with the Choir at Temple Church that was his first love. In an era when few recordings were available he turned the choir into a trailblazing instrument made up of devoted singers who adored him. It was the finest church choir in the country by a long way."

The Choir has strong connections with John Rutter. How did this come about, and do Roger and the Temple Church Choir see themselves as ambassadors for his music?

"John Rutter is an honorary bencher here at the Middle Temple. He has a lifelong appreciation for church choral music. Recently we have collaborated with him on a number of projects such as the Faure Requiem in St Paul's Cathedral and a recording of a new work by John. We are always happy when we work with him and even a greater joy to promote his music whenever possible. We performed a concert of his music for his 70th birthday, which was broadcast by Classic FM.

How much rehearsal time is there before the Birmingham concert, and then here in situ at Symphony Hall?

"This time of year the choir is extremely busy. The rehearsals are a balancing act, which means that we get just enough time to be ready. We will have performed this Christmas concert in the Royal Albert Hall on December 4th so we should be well oiled by the Birmingham concert. We will have a short rehearsal on the day of the concert, mainly to get used to the new environment."

The choir has a new recording out now , The Temple Church Tradition, and Roger tells me how it came about.

"At the time of the recording there was a particularly strong set of choristers. As the boys' voices change, so does the level of experience. Often you need to 'rebuild' a choir if there is a loss of strong voices.
"It seemed a good moment to capture the choir on a recording that primarily featured boys at the height of their power. The repertoire is varied and includes music of many styles. It captures the unique acoustics of Temple church and it's full of joyous and beautiful music.

"We're currently producing a short film/recording featuring a stunning new piece, which we premiered this Remembrance Sunday. The words were taken from the writings of a former Temple Chorister from the front line of World War 1, shortly before he was killed. The music is written by Richard Eteson, a current member of the choir."

* The Temple Church Choir comes to Symphony Hall, Birmingham on 13 December 2018 for John Rutter's Christmas Celebration. Details on 0121-780 3333.

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