Competition success: performing with Tenebrae on 12th November

I can’t quite decide which of this year’s dreams come true ranks the highest but this is a contender for the top spot.

I’ve admired Tenebrae from about the moment I became aware of them, and rate their work amongst the very best.  They are the go-to choir for flawless recorded interpretations of dozens of works. I have particular affection for their Songs of Farewell (2011); their Figure Humaine (2010) was rightly exalted by critics; and most recently, I found their Rachmaninov Vespers recording from 2005 indispensable in my preparations for conducting the work.

Despite their equal reputation as a unique and enthralling performance choir, I never managed to see them live until June this year when I attended one leg of their Russian Treasures tour in Reading Town Hall (side-note: Reading is near enough my home town and I performed there many times as a yoof so it was something of a homecoming; alas we didn’t have the fabulous Town Hall performance space in my day). I was so moved by their singing – gripped from start to finish.

It began to strike me that my aims when setting up Epiphoni were more than passingly similar to  Nigel Short’s aims when establishing Tenebrae. An equal commitment to passion as to precision, as their tagline goes, using performance spaces creatively, connecting with audiences through a total dedication to the meaning and emotion of the music. Striving for something better basically. I once heard him describe how this approach — where a new level of dedication was required of the membership compared to equivalent groups — took some persuading initially, but once the singers experienced for themselves the result of this extra commitment, they were sold. I’ve been on that journey myself this last 18 months.

So when I heard about the competition for which the reward was the opportunity to share a stage with Tenebrae, my reaction was: it just has to be us.

So you’d expect that we threw everything at it right? Hours of rehearsal, dozens of takes. Well, yes and no. We certainly gave the take our absolute all and I’d thought long and hard about the interpretation and how to use gesture to convey it efficiently in limited time. Because this all coincided with the busiest period in our short history. If we were going to nail St Paul’s Service in St Paul’s Cathedral, do justice to the the Rachmaninov Vespers at St Martin-in-the-Fields, hold our heads up high at the London International A Capella Choir Competition (LIACCC), and so on, then there simply wasn’t the luxury to do take after take during our rehearsals (and there’s a limit to how many additional evenings I can diary-in for my choir members in a single month!).

So really we did what I think the organisers hoped we would – no day-long rehearsals seeking that perfect take, no specialist recording equipment, no edits, just a handful of live takes and picked the best one. It wasn’t perfect but it was us. It is how we sing on a normal weeknight on a standard amount of preparation. To me it achieved a suitable creation of the Bruckner soundscape, and I just hoped that Nigel Short would like the overall interpretation and forgive the occasional stray ‘st’…

So to my absolute delight, last Thursday, in the middle of our preparations for LIACCC, I received a call informing us we were the winning choir. And would be performing with Tenebrae on 12th November.


The concert is at St James’s Spanish Place at 19:45 and is the launch concert of their Brahms and Bruckner CD. Tickets available here.

Below is our winning entry.