Spectacular Concert marks Salisbury Girls’ 30th

Over 80 former girl choristers and current girl choristers, along with adult singers and the South Bank Sinfonia, performed a Gala Concert in front of around 900 people to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the girls’ choir on Saturday 9 October.

Along with the solos sung by former choristers Camilla Harris and Amy Carson (the youngest of the original founding choristers), a highlight of the evening was the premier of a new work, The Pearl, by renowned composer Roxanna Panufnik, commissioned specially for the occasion. Panufnik was present at rehearsals and the performance, and she was clearly delighted with the choir’s performance.

In 1991, the same year in which the 900th anniversary of the founding of the very first boys’ choir at Old Sarum was celebrated, Salisbury became the first English Cathedral to form a separate and independent foundation for girl choristers. They sang their first service in October of that year under the baton of Richard Seal whose vision, determination and expertise brought it about. These days the weekly services are equally divided between the boy and girl choristers.

After the concert David Halls Director of Music said: “It was wonderful to be back in the Cathedral doing a concert of this size and ambition after all the disruptions to the music programme during the pandemic. The choir was on good form and tackled the Panufnik composition boldly and confidently – it is not an easy piece – and it was wonderful to welcome back all the former choristers in the way we know best, singing together.”

A Joyous Atmosphere

The Very Rev Nicholas Papadopulos, Dean of Salisbury Nicholas added: “The atmosphere in the Cathedral was joyous. Former choristers and their families were reunited with great excitement, and the music they made was utterly magnificent. The girls’ choir has given its members a voice and trained them to use it for thirty years – I pray that it will continue to reach an ever-wider audience and encourage a new generation to discover their God-given talents”.

By happy coincidence the concert comes just after Clive Marriott, Salisbury Cathedral School’s Head, became Chair of the Choir Schools’ Association. He brings to the role a lifetime commitment to supporting choristership and choral music within education. He comments: “It was a real joy to welcome back familiar faces, from my eight years as Head Master, as well so many former choristers who attended our school before my time. It is a real testament to the joys of being a chorister during a child’s formative years in school that so many of our former students wanted to come back to celebrate with us.”

“The Choir Enriched my life….”

Nicola Ridley, one of the original girl choristers who is now a music teacher and singer, performed in the concert, watched by her father Chris Dragonetti, a former Canterbury chorister.  Reflecting on the reunion at the school and the concert she said: “The intense thrill of singing Stanford’s glorious Song of Wisdom surrounded by 30 years’ worth of girl choristers will remain with me for the rest of my life. Add to that the excitement of the wonderful Panufnik commission, the chance to hear the incredible solo talents of several of the alumni and the sparkling playing of the Southbank Sinfonia and you have an evening that will be hard to surpass! The choir enriched my life hugely 30 years ago and it still continues to do so today.”

Her father Chris Dragonetti added: “The concert was a tremendous success and, as was to be expected, the singing was fabulous. I very much enjoyed the Roxanna Panufnik commission, but the highlight for me was the short unaccompanied Lift Thine Eyes, where the smooth, rich, deep and sonorous upward sweeping phrases made all the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.”

The Gala concert took place in the presence of Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and featured a wide-ranging programme of music by Purcell, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Britten, Vivaldi and Stanford. Designed by the Chairman of the Salisbury Cathedral Girl Chorister’s Foundation, Lady Chichester, the evening event was narrated by Sky News presenter Anna Botting and atmospheric lighting with big screen illustrations enhanced the wonderful sense of occasion.

Photographs courtesy of, and available to view and buy from, Ash Mills.