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Tributes

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Dame Felicity Palmer, Mezzo-soprano, member of the Monteverdi Choir 1966-74

goldq1Last Sunday’s Rameau Prom with the Soweto kids took me back to my earliest days in the choir – the thunderbolt that was my introduction to Monteverdi and the luck I had in being part of those heady days (almost by accident, I think) for some years. I was struck by the commitment and enthusiasm of the Choir, and, throughout the concert, by a distinct sense of occasion, which I remember being a hallmark of concerts years ago with you and the Choir. Although I left baroque music behind professionally many years ago, it remains ‘in my blood’ and never ceases to move me still.
The collaboration with that astonishing Soweto band and great dancers, left one uplifted, enlivened and hopeful, which is something of a rarity in our bleakish world. Thank you for putting it all together, and for extraordinary music-making. Thank you for the inspiring and indelible mark you made on my beginnings as a singer and for the opportunities you gave me all those years ago. The demands could be daunting then (and remain so!) but they have been a benchmark for me in the years since and Sunday’s concert was proof of what is possible, what can be achieved with dedication, inspired planning and sheer hard work and was a reminder to me of the gift it was to have been part of similar work so many years ago.goldq2

Extract from a letter to John Eliot Gardiner (2007)

Niklaus Boulting, Design consultant and friend of the Monteverdi Choir from its inception

goldq1Last night’s Vespers Prom [10th September 2011] was a simply wonderful performance and, yet again, totally different from all its predecessors. It’s almost as if over the years you have been performing an entirely new, but slightly familiar, piece. Each setting – King’s Chapel, Ely Cathedral, Westminster Cathedral, Royal Albert Hall, St. Mark’s Venice, wherever – and doubtless at Versailles, the Sheldonian and majestic Durham too! – has allowed you to re-invent Monteverdi’s magnum opus. What wonderful musicianship, what beautiful voices, what a choreographical tour de force! How do you do it, time and time again? Thank you for such a treat.goldq2

Sir Charles Mackerras, Conductor

goldq1I feel I must write to say how impressed with your Christmas Bach programmes I was. What marvellous singing and playing under your direction, especially the chorus, which sings with such precision and clarity. It has brought back to me Bach’s world … As an experienced Handelian I’m afraid I’ve rather neglected the equally gigantic JS Bach and I must thank you from the bottom of my heart for bringing him back to me in such a wonderful manner!goldq2

Extract from letter to John Eliot Gardiner (2006)

Imogen Cooper CBE, Pianist

Heard Pelléas et Mélisande in 1988 at the BBC Proms
goldq1I constantly marvelled at the precision of what was going on … I heard so much that I’d never heard before … the emotional impact was stunning.goldq2

Abigail Graham, Former Development Manager for the Monteverdi ensembles

goldq1John Eliot’s version of a piece of vocal music takes the text as its starting point and everything he does with the music is determined by this … it means that one of his performances of vocal music is like an intelligent actor reading: John Eliot has thought about how a composer has reacted to the text and everything he asks the musicians to do is with a view to bringing this out, so that the point of the piece assails you … Orchestral musicians say that John Eliot approaches purely orchestral music from a vocal perspective and that this is quite challenging for them.goldq2

Lennox Mackenzie, Chairman and Sub-Leader of the LSO

goldq1Performing with the Monteverdi Choir is always an immense pleasure for the members of the London Symphony Orchestra. There is a palpable mutual respect when we perform together, which inevitably leads to memorable and special concerts. I know that the remarkable artistry of the choir members and their versatility in all kinds of repertoire is rewarded by all the consistent and hugely deserved accolades the choir receive. The LSO is very proud to have collaborated in various concerts and recordings over the last sixteen years and is particularly looking forward to the LSO Live release of Oedipus Rex in the coming year.
I will never forget the Orchestra’s amazement and delight at the Monteverdi’s astonishing contribution in Beethoven’s Choral Symphony when 36 singers unfailingly brought the house down in the most respected European concert halls with their virtuosity, sound, flair and musicianship. I raise my hat to you the members of the Monteverdi Choir, and offer you all the warmest wishes for your upcoming 50th anniversary.goldq2

David Alberman, Principal Second Violin of the LSO

goldq1You are an inspiration to those of us who try to make music so as to be proud, for once, of being human beings. The palpable thrill of sharing a stage with you, whether it be to perform Beethoven, Lili Boulanger, or Stravinsky, makes us lift our game, and reminds us that when done right, the whole that can be produced by an extraordinarily committed and talented group such as yourselves, is many times greater even than the already large sum of the parts. Your achievement goes way beyond professionalism: your unity and unanimity are shining beacons for sore orchestral eyes (and ears...) and you have surely been “built as a city which is at one with itself”! Thank you for the glorious sounds you have given to lift us up, and I hope that you can come again soon!goldq2


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Former Members

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Brian Kay, Founder member, conductor and broadcaster

goldq1March 5th, 1964, is still vividly etched in my memory, as are the weeks of intense rehearsal leading up to it, when the undergraduate John Eliot Gardiner had produced his own edition of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 – a work rarely performed at the time. Not only that: he already knew precisely what he wanted to do with it in terms of sound and style. The performance was a Damascene moment for me and, I would guess, for most of us privileged to have been invited to form what became the Monteverdi Choir. As choral scholars, we probably thought we knew the lot! But John Eliot took us into pastures new, determined that in our performance of this glorious Italian music we should not sound like the rather traditional, ever-so-English choirs to which we proudly belonged.
Fifty years later, King’s chapel still looks the same, smells the same and feels the same; but on that glorious night back in ’64 we could just as easily have been at St. Mark’s in Venice, such was the impact of John Eliot’s inspiration in bringing Monteverdi’s magnificent score to life – and life more abundant than I had ever experienced at the time. Whenever I’m lucky enough to conduct a performance of the Vespers these days, I’m right back there in the chapel re-living every precious moment...goldq2

John Shirley-Quirk CBE, Bass-baritone soloist in the 1964 performance

goldq1What a whirl it all was! And, perhaps because of that, what a blur it all now is! Monteverdi Vespers took place in this beautiful setting. Although possibly my first visit to King’s College Chapel, I can still feel the frisson on entering this glorious building. But what an exciting musical time it was! A resurgence of both the study and practice of baroque music was taking place, with all the possibilities of ornamentation coupled with the use of older instruments. Led by academic and practicing musicians, King’s had become a hotbed of musical adventure, which gradually infected all of British and European performance. Sir John Eliot Gardiner, whom I had already met and performed with in an open-air staging of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas at his family home, now tells me that this performance had been pivotal in convincing him to take up the music profession, and we can all thank  goodness for that! How much poorer would we be now be without his energy and daring in exploring the true sonorities of this glorious music? To him, and to the Monteverdi Choir go our gratitude, while we wish them every success for the next half century and beyond.goldq2

Charles Brett, Counter-tenor soloist in the 1964 performance

goldq1In 1964 the Monteverdi Vespers were something of a rarity. They were too difficult for most choirs, and required an unusual array of instruments for an authentic performance. So it was an immense achievement, musical and administrative, for an undergraduate to mount the concert in King’s, which has rightly acquired legendary status. As a conductor, John Eliot’s mastery was evident from the first, and I was lucky enough to work with him as a soloist periodically over the next twenty years. Our collaboration embraced concerts (including a good deal of Monteverdi in the early days), some highly diverting tours, and some of the best recordings in which I have had the privilege of being involved. These include the iconic Messiah disc, Handel Dixit Dominus, and the Bach Magnificat - all among the highlights of my career.goldq2

Alastair Hume, Founder member, singer and double bass player

goldq1Not having been a chorister in a cathedral or even a large parish church anywhere, I arrived in Cambridge in 1962 knowing nothing about anything, except perhaps two pieces of choral music, both probably by Byrd. My learning curve was pretty well vertically upwards. Then, in the middle of my second year, Monteverdi arrived in town. It was hard to comprehend what seemed to me to be a completely different world. Yes, it was music, but it was so different; so extrovert, full of colour, grandeur, fabulous contrasts between the sheer power of the opening of the Vespers and the intimate, delicate trios and spun solo lines which seemed to stretch forever – leaving one astonished that the phrase could take yet another turn before reaching the final resolution, the extraordinary rhythmic vitality of the chorus writing and the energy required to chew and relish the words so that their delivery matched the instrumental writing. I have been lucky enough to sing, and play, the Vespers quite a few times over
the last fifty years, but with any experience like this one, the first time always remains special.goldq2

Gareth Keene, Founder member and first ‘fixer’

goldq1During the autumn term in 1963, John Eliot convened a meeting in the Hall of his Cambridge College, King’s, to outline plans for a performance of the Monteverdi Vespers in the following March. Invitations had been sent to choral scholars and other undergraduate and research student singers, including myself as a choral scholar at St. John’s. I was certainly excited by the plan and eager to support it – and I became increasingly involved in bringing the choir together. The Vespers in King’s College Chapel on 5th March 1964 was an enormous undertaking for a 20-year-old undergraduate, a remarkable achievement in every respect on John Eliot’s part. The Choir, brought together at that stage in a somewhat random fashion, had worked well and John Eliot quickly developed the vision for a permanent ensemble of high standing. (...)
When I attended the Choir’s most recent performance of the Vespers at the Proms in 2010, the sense of theatre seemed greater than ever, but the singing more refined, with the sense of unity enhanced by the soloists being drawn from the Choir itself. 40-50 years ago, I suspect, we were more obviously energetic, less nuanced – and the star system mattered in the choice of soloists. But the changes over the years have been matters of evolution, not revolution. I felt almost immediately at home when I rejoined the Choir in the 90s, and am confident I shall feel the same on 5th March 2014.goldq2

Richard Baker, Long-standing member and ‘fixer’

goldq1I remember coming to hear the Vespers fifty years ago and being exhilarated by this new music, quite unlike anything that I had encountered in the Chapel Choir in King’s, so that when John Eliot established his embryo Monteverdi Choir in London I lost no time in accepting his invitation to join it. After a while he asked me to help put on concerts in modest places such as Crosby Hall, Chelsea, for there was no money for anywhere grander, nor to hire professional singers. My job was to recruit and persuade Oxbridge choral scholars who had recently come down, to join the Choir. Gradually John Eliot persuaded the BBC to broadcast and record our efforts, as a result of which we were able to pay professionals, whose presence helped maintain a balance between them and the amateurs. This resulted in a polished and yet warm timbre which became a hallmark of the Choir and remained so when it became entirely professional many years later. As the Choir’s activity increased, professional management was required, greatly helped by a chance meeting with Giles Hemmings, a partner in Arthur Andersen, who persuaded his senior partner, Ian Hay Davidson, to provide us with a small office. Ian agreed to chair a board of trustees whose task was to raise money for concert promotion and thus put the Choir on a permanent footing.
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In the Words of the Choir...

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John Smyth, Long-standing member, President of the Federation of European Cancer Societies and Professor of medical oncology at Edinburgh University

goldq1I particularly remember the early days when we were all learning our trade: the money was tight
or non-existent and the travel and lodgings far from Business Class! Our first Prom in ’67 took the audience by storm. Most Londoners had never heard anything like our Vespers. Now after all these years, it is the sheer quality of the Choir’s singing that never ceases to surprise me. All the superlatives have been said a million times over. John Eliot’s example has profoundly influenced my approach to my medical research and public speaking. The world around us is crazy and sick in so many ways, but music as an international language has the capacity to heal many of the illnesses that man creates for himself. The emotions engendered by music have extraordinary restorative powers – but the challenge is to create the right music for the right people in the right ambience and time.goldq2

Suzanne Flowers, Choir member from 1966 to 2011

goldq1Rehearsing, hanging around luggage carousels, sitting on planes and tour buses, singing our hearts and souls out on the concert platform, sharing in spiritually uplifting church music, gettinginto opera mode and dressing up, and down, to create whole worlds of theatrical make-believe; and yes, taking the occasional glass of wine now and then… we weren’t in it because we were singers and it was a choir: it was, quite simply, THE choir of its generation. A privilege; a fun way to earn a living; above all a shared voyage of discovery.goldq2

Carol Hall, Choir member from 1966 to 2011

goldq1Being a member of the choir for so long has literally changed my life and opened my eyes and ears to so many wonders. So many of the places where we have performed over the years have been extraordinary, fuelling my passion for art and architecture: religious buildings – from tiny chapels and churches to great Gothic cathedrals, grand ornate rooms to concert halls and opera houses the world over. Special moments include climbing in the twilight around the upper galleries in the mysteriously empty St. James in Santiago, or in St. Mark’s in Venice.goldq2

Heather Cairncross, Current Choir member

goldq1For me, the best part of singing in the Monteverdi Choir is the first day of a new project when we work alone with John Eliot. Like nobody else, he takes us on a challenging journey discovering the deeper layers of the music. Of course the concerts are special, but I count those six exhausting yet exhilarating hours as a gift.goldq2

Andrew Busher, Current Choir member

goldq1The most memorable moment for me in the Monteverdi Choir came with the recording and broadcasting of the ‘Bach: A Passionate Life’ television programme. All those years of discovery, research, debate and more importantly live concerts, culminating in what was really a very personal account by John Eliot. The dialogue was so honest and heartfelt that it was impossible not to be captivated by it. It was truly a story for everyone to enjoy, and it was an honour to be a part of it.goldq2

Richard Wyn Roberts, Current Choir member

goldq1Every performance with the Monteverdi Choir is an exhilarating voyage of discovery, with an immediacy that shines a light in between the notes where the music is nascent, and makes the opaque translucent. That is why, after an association which began in the choir’s silver anniversary year (by some strange alchemy now golden), I feel fortunate and tremendously grateful to be still enjoying the ride.goldq2

Eleanor Meynell, Current Choir member

goldq1I listened to our recent Missa Solemnis recording and found myself bursting into tears twice: the outrageously daring tempi, the visceral quality, the sheer bravura and virtuosity of the singing, risktaking dynamics, it was like being dealt a blow in the solar plexus! I could barely believe I had taken part in it. We surprise ourselves by being pushed hard and being made high demands of which is deeply nourishing, both spiritually and musically.goldq2

Kate Symonds Joy, Current Choir member

goldq1What inspires me to sing with the Choir is that John Eliot has handpicked a collection of singers, many of whom are not only impeccable choral voices but also wonderful soloists, conductors, academics, instrumentalists. All these combined skills create an atmosphere which fizzes with the infectious energy of creating something together, with a level of musicianship that is just not found elsewhere. John Eliot is demanding of you, but so is the choir itself as everyone takes real pride in what is created.goldq2

Nicolas Robertson, Current Choir member

goldq1I’ve been privileged to sing with the Monteverdi Choir since 1982, and am now the oldest – though not the longest serving – regular member. I’m immensely grateful to John Eliot for keeping me on so long. There have been epochs of big turnover of personnel, and of relative stability. Yet the sound remains identifiably Monteverdi. How can this be? I’ve come to believe in the sort of osmosis John Eliot describes in his introductory note, whereby somehow succeeding intakes absorb and extrapolate from what came before, without directly ‘learning’ from it. This can only happen with a great and inexhaustible choir conductor, but it also means, to me, that everyone who passes through - for however prolonged or brief a stay - in some way has left her or his mark, and what we think of as ‘the Monteverdi Choir’ is in fact made up of the all the voices and characters who have appeared in it since the beginning in 1964...goldq2

Alison Hill, Current Choir member

goldq1There is no doubt in my mind that John Eliot’s unique combination of musicianship, intellect,
passion and direction amounts to an absolutely extraordinary talent which I feel unbelievably lucky to have been alive around, let alone sung under and learnt from over the past ten years. I am ever grateful to him and the organisation for creating the opportunities for me to travel and perform my favourite music, to the highest possible standard, in beautiful places with my best friends. It has provided some of the greatest moments of my life so far and I will never take it for granted. During the Beethoven Missa Solemnis tour in 2012, one very loud and twangy American voice rang out just after the last chord and summed it all up for me: ‘oooohh thaaaaaaaaaaaank yoooooooooou!goldq2

Samuel Evans, Current Choir member

goldq1Whether we are performing in one of the world’s great concert halls, or in a tiny church up a dusty track in northern Spain, John Eliot Gardiner always gives his very best, and always demands the same from his singers. The culture of this choir is infused with a total dedication to excellence, and this sets it apart from other groups. I believe the Monteverdi Choir’s many achievements over 50 years are founded on the ethos of its conductor, which I would sum up like this: “good enough” is never good enough.goldq2

Rupert Reid, Current Choir member and former Apprentice

goldq1I remember my first Monteverdi rehearsal as an Apprentice in the debut year of the programme. I was bowled-over by the attention to detail, commitment and energy of the singers under John Eliot’s direction, which is just as exceptional to this day. There is quite simply no other musical experience like singing in the Monteverdi Choir... and it’s also great fun!
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Katie Thomas, Current Choir member

goldq1Something very special happens when this particular group of people gets together to make music under John Eliot’s baton. His unwavering insistence on us upping our game at every stage of rehearsals and concerts makes for a level of truly rewarding music-making that is unparalleled in the business. The ‘highs’ we experience as a team as result of this work ethic are addictive, fuelling our dedication to strive for the best, the perfect performance. I don’t think we could have got closer to this than in our Bach Motets disc, and, teamed with the inspirational playing of our wonderful ORR, the recording of Beethoven Missa Solemnis. I am unspeakably proud of having a part in those projects.goldq2

Frances Jellard, Current Choir member

goldq1From the heart: 24 amazing years with the Monteverdi Choir. It is never about the ink on the page, but always about the passion in the performance. Every venue is unique, but communication and belief is always the priority. Personal favourites? Too numerous to list. It has been my privilege to explore the great choral masterpieces with John Eliot, and I try at all times to share the importance of this music for all.goldq2

Gwendolen Martin, Current Choir member and former Apprentice

goldq1John Eliot makes every minute of every rehearsal and performance count and I feel like I’m achieving something lasting and memorable when I sing with his choir. A six-hour rehearsal day goes by in a flash and post-tour blues always set in the minute I get my suitcase through my front door.goldq2

Donna Deam, Current Choir member

goldq1My association with the Choir began more than 27 years ago. What a life-changing, lifeenhancing experience it has been! A musician’s life is full of extreme contrasts of highs and lows, coupled with indescribable intensity, requiring an array of life skills in addition to the necessary musical ones. What a privilege to perform wonderful music of the highest standard and to open eyes and ears to its riches, to touch hearts and uplift the soul as no other art form can. The Monteverdi Choir is synonymous with the highest artistic excellence and I am proud to have been a part of its historic journey.goldq2

Lawrence Wallington, Current Choir member

goldq1Monteverdi Vespers in St. Mark’s
Israel in Egypt in Sydney Opera House
Falstaff in Cagliari
Bach in Eisenach
Preparing for the Camino at Las Canals
Don Giovanni in the Concertgebouw
Les Troyens at the Châtelet
Leonore in the Felsenreitschule
..... just a few of my highlights.
But the enduring memory is of :
a galaxy of artists
melding one’s technique with superlative instrumentalists
the daring pianissimi
the breathtaking speeds
the friendships
the cuisines
the languages
the buzz of performing with this Rolls-Royce ensemble
but above all…
relishing in and endeavouring to rise to John Eliot’s high ideals.goldq2