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Cathedral choir offers sumptuous selection for upcoming concert

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St Mary’s Cathedral Choir. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

The oldest musical institution in Australia – St Mary’s Cathedral Choir in Sydney – is set to perform a concert that Music Director, Thomas Wilson, hopes will give people a unique encounter with sacred music.

The choir – which turns 200 years old next year – will perform works by J S Bach, Benjamin Britten and Leonard Bernstein with the Orchestra of the Antipodes, at City Recital Hall on 30 June.

Mr Wilson says that giving concerts is part of the choir’s “broader mission,” of bringing sacred music to people, and that the venue will enhance the audience’s experience of the music.

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“City Recital Hall is a venue where music is heard with absolute clarity,” he said.

While St Mary’s Cathedral is in many ways the perfect venue to hear sacred music, due to its acoustic and beautiful architecture, the concert will be an opportunity for those not likely to visit the Cathedral to experience its magnificent choir.

“There are lots of concert goers who don’t like the idea of going to concerts in churches,” Mr Wilson said.

Director of Music at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, Thomas Wilson. PHOTO: GIOVANNI PORTELLI

“One of the things that excites me about this concert is that we’ll hopefully be able to attract not only our friends – who’ve heard us before in the Cathedral – but also people who wouldn’t normally come to hear us in that setting. And I like the fact that all the audience that come will be able to hear us with absolute clarity – hear the nuance, the subtleties of music making that we work very hard on down in our rehearsal room, and that may not always be obvious to the congregation in the Cathedral.”

St Mary’s Cathedral Choir consists of 24 boys, the youngest in Year three, and 13 men who are all professional singers. They sing up to 11 choral services a week at the Cathedral amounting to around 500 choral services a year.

Mr Wilson says that the choir is “Australia’s only fully professional choir,” that sings on such a regular basis. The choir sings Vespers and Mass every day at the Cathedral, except for Fridays.

The choir was founded in 1818 by laywoman Catherine Fitzpatrick who organised a group of men, including her own sons, to sing for Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, held in a private home, in the days before priests had arrived in the Colony.

“Before there was even a clerical presence, lay people were actually carrying out the liturgy,” Mr Wilson said.

“There are not too many organisations, or things or places in this country that are 200 years old, and the choir here is one.”

Today, the boys of the choir all attend St Mary’s Cathedral College, located next door to the Cathedral.

Mr Wilson who has been Director of Music at the Cathedral since 2010 was originally from New Zealand. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London and later went on to work at Ealing Abbey – a Benedictine monastery – and Westminster Cathedral.

He took up his role at Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral at a time when Cardinal Pell and the-then Dean were seeking to build-up the Cathedral’s music.

“My job here is relentless,” Mr Wilson says. “The Church’s liturgy never stops. So there’s a sense that we can never stop and that’s tiring but I don’t have to work hard to remind myself how lucky I am. There are just so few places in the world where the liturgy, and therefore music, is considered to be as important as I think it should be.”

“I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to do what I do in such a beautiful place with such great support from His Grace, the Archbishop and a wonderful team of clergy here. I have a really excellent team of musicians to work with. Basically, despite the challenges, every day is a good day because I get to do what I love.”

At their upcoming concert the choir will perform Bach’s Magnificat in Latin, Benjamin’s Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb, in English, and Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms in Hebrew.

A lot of people love Bach’s music and Mr Wilson hopes the audience will take something new from the choir’s performance.

“There’s a freshness anytime anyone performs Bach. It has vitality. It is the most wonderful music to hear but also the most difficult music to perform.”

“I hope there will be others who are switched on to the music of Benjamin Britten. When you hear Britten sung by boys’ voices it does have a kind of authenticity about it. Similarly Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms were written for a men and boys’ choir and are very rarely heard with the full orchestration.”

The Orchestra of the Antipodes, which will accompany the choir is one of Australia’s finest ensembles, according to Mr Wilson, and the performance will be something to behold, particularly the final piece:

“The orchestration for the Psalms is pretty epic. It includes three trumpets, three trombones, five percussionists, two harps and a string orchestra.”

Whenever St Mary’s Cathedral Choir sings the aim is to give people an encounter, Mr Wilson says.

“We hope they’ll have an encounter. An encounter with something, we might call it divine. I hope that encounter leads them to truth.

“We know there’s an equivalence between beauty and truth. Therefore we strive to make our music as beautiful as possible.” St Mary’s Cathedral Choir will perform on Friday 30 June at 7.30pm at City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney. To book tickets go to:

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