Salisbury Girl Choristers Celebrate 30 Years!

A special Gala Concert marking the 30th Anniversary of the founding of Salisbury Cathedral’s girls choir is happening tomorrow (Saturday 9 October) at 19.00. The Cathedral’s ground-breaking initiative has had life-changing implications for many girls! Tomorrow’s concert will be led by the current girls’ choir and adult singers, supported by former girl choristers. Joining them in Salisbury Cathedral will be Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester.

“Our girl choristers are thrilled at the prospect of singing alongside some of the pioneers! The programme is so diverse and we look forward particularly to hearing Roxanna Panufnik’s The Pearl, when it is performed by past and present choristers. The whole school hopes they have a wonderful evening” Clive Marriott, Head Master, Salisbury Cathedral School Photo: Ash Mills

In a wide-ranging programme designed by the Chairman of the Salisbury Cathedral Girl Chorister’s Foundation, Lady Chichester, the concert features music by Purcell, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Britten, Vivaldi and Stanford, with solos sung by award winning former choristers.  

Panufnik Composes for the Occasion

A highlight of the evening is a new work by the renowned composer Roxanna Panufnik, which has been commissioned specially for the concert.

To mark the anniversary, Panufnik has taken George Herbert’s poem, The Pearl, and created a choral work to be sung by the whole girls choir (former choristers and current choristers). The poem she has selected is part of a collection, The Temple, published after the poet’s death in 1633. One of a series of poems exploring the individual’s struggle with his faith, The Pearl reflects on Herbert’s decision to leave Parliament and his academic life in Cambridge to become a vicar in the small village of Bemerton, just outside Salisbury.

Making History

The original line-up!

The Gala concert takes place three decades (almost to the day) after the girls choir sang their first Evensong on October 7 1991, an extraordinary moment not just in the history of the Cathedral but in cathedral music. At the time there were some girls singing in other cathedrals, but Salisbury was the first English Cathedral to admit girls on parity with the boys and to establish an independent foundation to support girl singers. 1991 was also the 900th anniversary of the founding of the very first boys’ choir at Old Sarum was celebrated.

The youngest of that first intake of girl choristers, Amy Carson, returns to perform a solo, Pamina’s aria Ach, ich fühl’s from The Magic Flute by Mozart. Amy, who graduated as a music scholar from Cambridge and then the Royal College of Music, sang Pamina in Kenneth Branagh’s film of The Magic Flute shortly after leaving music college.

Another award-winning soloist, Camilla Harris, also a former chorister and recent graduate of Royal Academy Opera, sings Let the Bright Seraphim, the aria from Handel’s oratorio Samson, in which the soloist summons the celestial hosts of seraphim and cherubim to hail the dead hero.

A fitting Programme

“Nun danket alle Gott”, Op 65 (organ solo)                            Sigfrid Karg-Elert
“Happy, happy shall we be” (Semele, Act 3)                            George Frideric Handel
“Ach, ich fühl’s” (The Magic Flute, Act 2)                              Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
“Now that the sun hath veiled his light” (Evening Hymn)      Henry Purcell
“Lift Thine Eyes” ( Elijah, Part 2)                                           Felix Mendelssohn
“O for the wings of a dove” (Hear my prayer, Part 2)             Felix Mendelssohn
“The Pearl”                                                                             Roxanne Panufnik
“Hymn to Saint Cecilia”                                                          Benjamin Britten
“Let the Bright Seraphim” (Samson)                                       George Frideric Handel
“Gloria” (Gloria in D major, Ist Movement)                            Antonio Vivaldi
“A Song of Wisdom”                                                               Charles Villers Stanford
“The King Shall Rejoice” (5th movement, Allelujah)               George Frideric Handel

Leading the Way!

Speaking about the anniversary and concert, Director of Music David Halls said: “The success of our girl chorister tradition has been replicated in cathedrals throughout the country and is something of which we are rightly proud. For thirty years the girls choir has been an integral part of our worship, and a wonderful training ground for young musicians. This concert celebrates that legacy and reflects the long tradition of music at Salisbury Cathedral, a tradition that stretches back nearly a thousand years.”

Lady Chichester adds: “I am delighted the Gala Concert is able to go ahead, given the challenges all musicians have faced over the past year. More than 150 girls have benefitted from the outstanding choral training at this Cathedral, and the pioneering decision to establish the Girl Chorister’s Foundation has been generously supported by our donors over the years, offering girls and young women life-changing musical opportunities.”

An equally ground-breaking orchestra, the South Bank Sinfonia, accompanies the singers at the Gala Concert. The South Bank Sinfonia was set up in 2002 specifically to offer graduate musicians, recruited from around the world, orchestral experience. This year the orchestra merged with St John’s Smith Square, which will become the orchestra’s permanent home, with the intention of establishing a hub for world-class musical development focusing on emerging talent.