For road safety reasons I have up to now avoided looking too closely at St James’s Sussex Gardens, perched on the edge of a busy gyratory system in Paddington. But thanks to the inaugural Voices of London Festival, I have twice this week entered this exquisite, spacious church. The Festival is the invention of five graduates of the Royal Academy’s Choral Conducting course. It’s an illustration of how choral music is being revolutionised before our very eyes, by (relatively) young people.
My first visit was to a concert of Workplace Choirs; heroic performances by ensembles of many shapes and sizes – no altos, or only one bass - in what were, in some cases, their first concert appearances. Last night I judged (together with Stephen Jackson from the BBC Symphony Chorus) the choral composition competition. Eighty compositions had been submitted from around the world, and a shortlist of six were performed by Music Makers of London, an amateur choir from Barnes; this is not the first time the choir have organised and performed in an international competition for composers. Conductor Hilary Campbell told me that ‘apart from one or two naysayers’ the choir relish getting their teeth into newly written music ,which is the opposite of what composers expect. (Congratulations to competition winner Ian Assersohn and runner-up Josh Armenta.) The festival ends tomorrow with Jonathan Harvey’s first opera performed as part of the regular Sunday evening church service.