On the weekend of 17th and 18th February 2024 Bradford Cathedral will welcome the Peterborough Chamber Choir as our first visiting choir of the year. They will be leading the music at an extra Evensong on the Saturday, and at both our choral services on the Sunday. We spoke to Helen Reece from the choir and Henry Mansell Duckett – founder member, first bass and treasurer; to find out more about what to expect from the weekend.

  1. Could you tell us a little bit about how the Peterborough Chamber Choir was established?

Henry: The choir was founded in 1984 by the late Henk Kamminga, a Dutch national. Initially known as the Thorpe Hall Chamber Choir, its likely function at the outset was probably seen to be primarily in the secular realm; though many of the then participants were already very familiar with church and cathedral music.

(Thorpe Hall is a Commonwealth-Period mansion in Peterborough – of national significance.  At the time it seemed set to become a Museum and Arts Centre, with the choir as it were as ‘artists in residence’, until the scheme collapsed.)

As the choir was already deputising, inter alia, for cathedral choirs, and the majority of singers were then reasonably local to Peterborough, it was soon decided that the name should be changed to that of its present moniker / soubriquet.

Since then the choir’s principal raison d’etre has concentrated on deputising for cathedral choirs and similar – in short, in any ‘places where they sing’ – its peregrinations taking it to all corners of England and Wales (even, occasionally, to Peterborough too!) with some ‘quasi-ecumenical’ excursions to the near-Continent.  During roughly the second half of its existence direct links with Peterborough have tended to loosen somewhat as the pool of participants from whom each event may be drawn has spread nationally. Consequently nearly all preparation by way of rehearsal must now needs be done ‘on the road’.”

We have always regarded it a considerable privilege to be able to deputise for the resident professionals in a varied range of often spectacular, always fascinating, medieval to modern Foundations, and always aim to do our best to maintain the exceptional standards of cathedral music in this country – which may be said to be unparalleled.

2. Helen: How did you get involved, and could you tell us about your role within the choir?

Helen: I have been in the choir since 2007. I met one of our sopranos, Hilary, through another choir and also through a teaching connection. I was teaching her youngest daughter class music (Year 4 African Drumming) and she came into the school as a parent helper to run the orchestra, choir and handbells. She introduced me to the choir. I sing Alto 2 in the choir, or any other upper voice part I’m required to sing (or tenor!). I have on occasion also conducted the choir. Since Henk’s passing I have taken on the administrator role. My role often also involves organising a group meal on the Saturday evening.

3. The choir last sang in Bradford in 2019 – what are your memories of that time?

Helen: I remember how calm and peaceful it was in Bradford Cathedral. I also remember reading a lesson at both Evensong Services.

4. You are leading the music at Choral Evensong on the Saturday and our two services on the Sunday. Could you tell us a little about the music programme for the three services and why you chose the pieces?

Helen: The music we have chosen is appropriate to the season of Lent and covers repertoire from composers of the British Isles (England and Ireland), spanning 400 years and demonstrating the rich musical heritage and repertoire of the Anglican church.

We are singing the responses, second set, by the contemporary English composer, Paul Spicer at both Saturday and Sunday Evensong services. We sang them in Coventry Cathedral a year ago and they worked really well. One of our sopranos sang them at St Paul’s recently and requested that we sing them again.

The rest of the Saturday Evensong celebrates the music of Adrian Batten (c1591 -c1637), another English composer, but of a much earlier period. Batten was active between the Reformation and the English Civil War, an important period for English church music. Batten is described as ‘the singing man of Westminster’. The music you will hear alternates between solo singing and full choir, underlain by an independent organ accompaniment.

The Mass setting for Sunday Eucharist is by the English composer, John Ireland (1879-1962). Ireland studied composition with Charles Villier Stanford. He also took inspiration from French and Russian schools, namely Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky.

No weekend with the Peterborough Chamber Choir would be complete without a work by Stanley Vann (1910 -2010) Vann was Master of the Music at Peterborough Cathedral from 1953 until 1977. Our Communion Motet is ‘Behold, how good and joyful’ composed in 1951.

Sunday’s Choral Evensong features the music of the Irish composer, Charles Wood (1866 – 1926). We shall be singing his Canticles in D and the Anthem ‘Expectans Expectavi’. Wood had also been a pupil of Stanford. Indeed, he succeeded him in the role of Professor of Music at Cambridge University on Stanford’s death in 1924. The lyrics of Expectans Expectavi are taken from a poem by Charles Hamilton Sorley. The title can be translated as ‘I waited patiently for the Lord’.

5. How is the rest of 2024 shaping up for the choir?

Helen: We have weekends planned this year in Wells, Newcastle, Beverley, Manchester, Llandaff and Ely. We also have an Evensong at St Paul’s.

6. How can people find out more about the choir online?

Helen: We have a website which gives a little of the history of the choir as well as all future planned weekends up until 2027.

All are welcome to the Bradford Cathedral services with our visiting choir. They are Choral Evensong on Saturday 17th February at 5:30pm, and on Sunday 18th February Choral Eucharist (10:30am, also streamed live) and Choral Evensong (3:30pm). For more information, please visit the Bradford Cathedral website.

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