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Canberra Today 8°/13° | Tuesday, April 23, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Top singers swap venues to play at Snow hall

English vocal group The King’s Singers… from left, Jonathan Howard, Nick Ashby, Edward Button, Christopher Bruerton, Julian Gregory and Patrick Dunachie. Photo: Frances Marshall

In another extraordinary coup for Ana de la Vega, international flautist-turned-artistic director of Snow Concert Hall, one of England’s most loved vocal groups, The King’s Singers, will be coming to town.

It’s further proof of what de la Vega told us when she first took the job, that her overseas connections would stand her in good stead when engaging artists.

“The great benefit of having a career as a soloist is that one way or another, I’m connected to everyone,” she says. 

“I knew The King’s Singers manager Isabella when I was in London and told her about the hall when I knew they were coming to Australia.

“Having them come to Snow is a bit of a dream, come true,” and she’s especially chuffed because she knows for sure that after one member of the group heard about the acoustics on the grapevine, they ditched another Australian city to perform in Canberra and test the Snow Concert Hall acoustics.

“This is the big-grin moment for me… from the moment I played my first note in the hall, I knew this would change everything… I said: ‘We’ve got the honey, the bees will come’ and it’s happened.”

The King’s Singers will play a smorgasbord of songs, including sections called Tom and Will, (Thomas Weelkes, Thomas Tallis and William Byrd) New Romantics, (Ravel and Saint-Saëns) and Finding Harmony, (Alma Androzzo, John Cameron, Eric Bogle, Quirino Mendoza y Cortès). 

The second half will be a bit more contemporary with Wonderland, (Kinoshita, Ligeti and Malcolm Williamson) and 100 Years of Disney. 

Thrown in for good measure will be a bit of Billy Joel and George Gershwin. 

Yes, she says, young people will love them – “they’re enjoyable for everyone because they’re so witty”.

De la Vega is fascinated by “the very British respect for tradition”,  meaning that they’re totally committed to their history, even though they do new things.

De la Vega particularly likes the history of their name. They started out as Schola Cantorum Pro Musica Profana in Cantabridgiense, as the original six members had graduated from King’s College Cambridge, but changed to Six Choral Scholars of King’s College, Cambridge.

Then when in 1966 the famous conductor, Sir Neville Marriner, invited them to play for him, they changed their name to something more palatable, so from 1968 they have been called The King’s Singers.

It excites de la Vega that what put them on the map and made them a world phenomenon was a tour to Australia and NZ in 1972, followed by visits to South Africa, Canada and the US, before the word spread to Europe.

From the outset, The King’s Singers, she says, have been passionate about broadening the repertoire and commissioning new pieces of work. 

And in the manner of a perfect vocal consort, they plan together.

The main construct she says has been the same from the outset – two counter-tenors, a tenor, two baritones and a bass. 

The make-up of the singers has changed, with the present line-up being Patrick Dunachie, countertenor; Edward Button, countertenor; Julian Gregory, tenor; Christopher Bruerton (from NZ), baritone; Nick Ashby, baritone and Jonathan Howard, bass.

Of them, Howard has the greatest longevity with the Singers, having joined in 2010, but he’ll be leaving at the end 2024 and says: “Being in The King’s Singers is like being at a great party… I also believe that the key to having the best time at any party is not to stay too late.” 

Howard, who, like the others, began as a boy chorister, says: “It was a dream to become the group’s bass in October 2010. I began without a driving licence, and I can now reverse a minivan. 

“I initially had one passport and now have three. I’ve also performed on lots of the world’s greatest stages, worked with some of the world’s best musicians, and have seen places I never dreamed I’d see, from Kosovo to the Faroe Islands, South Korea to South Africa, and New Zealand to Yellowknife.”

The King’s Singers, Back! In Harmony, Snow Concert Hall, Canberra Grammar School, March 21. 


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Helen Musa

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