Jeffrey Skidmore and Ex Cathedra

by Christopher Morley

"It's been wonderful returning to performing live! Okay, we did plenty of filmed events during lockdown, but you can't beat singing to an audience actually there in front of you."
Ex Cathedra director Jeffrey Skidmore is enthusing about the way his crack chamber choir is launching its new season, already with concerts at festivals in Chipping Campden and Leamington under its belt, performed to huge acclaim.
They come home to Birmingham on Sunday October 17, bringing a programme evoking Beethoven's funeral, and featuring his three Equali for four trombones (transcribed for four male voices at that huge event in 1827) and Mozart's Requiem,. What a difference in obsequies that was, Beethoven's idol perishing in poverty, the whole city turning out to bury its notorious adopted son.
"The whole concert is an act of remembrance for many reasons," says Jeffrey, "and it will be dedicated to the memory of Sir Graham Vick, artistic director of the Birmingham Opera Company."
That concert in Symphony Hall is followed soon afterwards by two programmes in Birmingham Town Hall, and then the round of Christmas by Candlelight events gets underway throughout the region and beyond.
In addition to his excitement about Ex Cathedra's return to the new normal, Jeffrey is thrilled to be back working with the musicians at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. "There is just a fantastic bunch of students there," he raves.
But Jeffrey, who reached the proverbial three-score years and ten during lockdown (mere stripling), is already looking much further ahead.
"We have a seven-year plan," he explains, "culminating in the celebration of three huge anniversaries in 2027.
"That will be the bicentenary of Beethoven's death, so the idea is to return to his Missa Solemnis," (and the excitement in Jeffrey's voice is palpable). "It is also the tercentenary of the premiere of Bach's St Matthew Passion at St Thomas' Church in Leipzig, so of course we must perform that.
"It is also the centenary of the birth of our own John Joubert, so we are going to return to his oratorio Wings of Faith, which follows on naturally from the St Matthew, and which we premiered at Birmingham Oratory."
John Joubert also figures in Ex Cathedra's plans for the not-so-distant future.
"We're looking to November 2022 to perform South of the Line, his settings of Thomas Hardy's poems about the Boer War, as part of a Songs of Protest concert. We've recorded the piece twice over the years, so it feels part of our family!

"It will be put together with James MacMillan's Cantos Sagrados, and A Knock on the Door, by Sally Beamish."

Away from the concert-hall and recording studio, Ex Cathedra is exploring the possibility of becoming Musician-in-Residence at the historic Birmingham and Midland Institute. Situated whether in its magnificent original building or now in its elegant Margaret Street home, the BMI, at the heart of Birmingham city centre, has been the hub of so much artistic activity here for almost 200 years – and was the birthplace of what has now become the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.

"This would be in such a strategic position for us, close to the Town Hall, to Symphony Hall, and just up the road from St Paul's Church in the Jewellery Quartet, one of our regular performing venues," Jeffrey concludes.

But he is too modest to expand upon an exciting personal accolade. Jeffrey Skidmore has been shortlisted for the conductor category of the prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society Awards 2021. The winner will be announced in a celebratory presentation at Wigmore Hall on Monday 1 November.
This is the first time the Royal Philharmonic Society has shortlisted a conductor whose career has been dedicated to the choral genre. The illustrious list of past winners and nominees is dominated by conductors who have distinguished themselves in the opera house and with orchestras.
Jeffrey sees this as recognition of the vibrant musical life reviving in the city, of which he and his colleague choral directors Simon Halsey (CBSO Chorus) and Paul Spicer (Birmingham Bach Choir and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir) are active cogs.
"Something is about to happen," his eyes glitter. "Birmingham is about to erupt in a frenzy of cultural activity!"
*Details of all Ex Cathedra concerts, beginning with Symphony Hall on October 17 (4.30pm), are available on

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