Fifth Anniversary Concert Review - DB

The youthful and virtuosic chamber choir SANSARA began life as the brainchild of largely Winchester-educated music students. Five years on, and democratically directed by three of those students, it was entirely appropriate to return to the city and in the generous acoustics of St. Cross Chapel regale a large audience with consummate music-making. Now a fully professional ensemble drawing on young voices from across the country, the choir presented nineteen singers all imbued with a palpable relish for a wide range of repertoire and the technical skills and interpretative maturity to communicate easily with its listeners.

Apart from the shared and expert direction, common features of SANSARA’s programmes include eclectic style choices across an over-all theme and an enthusiasm for exploiting the physical properties of the venue. Here seasonal texts were set by composers ranging from Tallis to one of the group’s Associate Composers, Marco Galvani. Awesome tuning made the dense progressive harmonies devised by the likes of Cecilia McDowell and Morten Lauridsen heart-stopping and beautiful. And the willingness to surround the entire audience in multi-part textures only highlighted the security and tonal richness of individual voices. Very remarkable throughout was the breath control in long sustained lines such as those dominating 20 th century John Tavener’s music and Lauridsen’s now classic O Magnum Mysterium.

Ever imaginative was the inclusion of Geoffrey Keating’s arrangement of The Twelve Days of Christmas punctuated with tongue-in-cheek readings from John Julius Norwich delivered perfectly by Lucia Quinault, an English tutor at Winchester College. Oliver Tarney, who teaches composition at the College and is an associate composer with SANSARA, provided a serene encore after John Rutter’s What sweeter music - such a fitting text, summing up this sublime concert.

The appreciative audience will look forward to the next five years of this brilliant group.

- Derek Beck

Fifth Anniversary Concert Review - JM

For those of us fortunate enough to be at St Cross on the 22nd December, this outstanding concert by SANSARA shone like a light over our Christmas. What marks SANSARA out is its approach to the music. Conducting shared, and the ability to allow the music to breathe. Measured tempi, but never excessive.

For some, the mostly dissonant repertoire here might have been a challenging listen. However, because the singing is so perfect, this matters not. Like rippling water, the sound - some familiar, some less - envelops you, particularly when the group spreads out and fills both side aisles, singing as one. This is exceptional and remarkable ensemble work and has become a hallmark of the choir since it was formed. Of this concert’s eighteen pieces, including the encore, only two were pre 20th century, by Tallis and Mouton from the fifteen hundreds.

Mouton’s Nesciens Mater, which began the second half, has become a favoured example of the choir’s finest singing as one in surround sound. Impeccable. But then whether around you, at the west end, or in front, the quality remains.

Flowing through the evening were works from the twentieth and twenty first centuries by Cecilia McDowell, Eric Whitacre, Bob Chilcott, Franz Biebl. In revelatory detail we were treated to the favourites Warlock’s Bethlehem Down, Lauridsen’s O magnum mysterium, Tavener’s The Lamb, Rutter’s What sweeter music.

Geoffrey Keating’s arrangement of The Twelve Days of Christmas was punctuated with the entertaining and irascible correspondence by John Julius Norwich. They were read here superbly by Lucia Quinault. Funny and fitting. What a way for SANSARA’s Fifth Anniversary Concert to leave you smiling into Christmas.

- James Montgomery

A quick interview with Tom

What do you do off the stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I love cooking and am often struck by the similarities with music making, especially with directing or conducting an ensemble. Whilst you are not totally responsible for the outcome, in that ingredients have their own flavours, singers their own voices and musicality, your influence in bringing certain elements together and the ways in which you manipulate them is vital for the success of the finished product. The need for experimentation and the occasional disaster is also important in both; I’m not particularly good at following recipes, inevitably veering off course at some point and often with interesting consequences. 

I also love animals and especially my family’s dog Oscar and cat Cosmo. I recently found myself telling singers to ‘be more dog’ in one section of a piece and ‘more cat’ in another to explore contrasting approaches to articulation…

SANSARA’s Advent programme for the Temple Winter Festival interweaves works by masters of the Renaissance with 20th and 21st century composers. Can you explain how you put this together?

The pairing of early and modern music is nothing new. However, what I find most exciting about the combination - and reason enough to keep exploring it - is the narrative potential that unfolds when pieces written centuries apart are heard side by side, possibly for the first time. This stance requires a totally open-minded approach which embraces fluidity of meaning and established interpretations to enable pieces from different eras and sensibilities to enlighten and transform each other in new and often surprising ways. 

The carefully considered and precise ordering of these juxtapositions is something that I have always focused on with SANSARA, drawing connections between pieces at multiple levels; from broad thematic and textual elements down to tiny details of melodic and harmonic material. It is particularly striking when old and new musics speak directly to each other, as with the opening phrases of Tallis’ O nata lux and MacMillan’s O Radiant Dawn which are identical (almost!): a deliberate echo which serves as a humble reminder of our rich choral heritage. 

For our return to the Temple Winter Festival we have a specially curated programme which aims to conjure the aura of mystery and excitement of Advent before turning towards the Nativity and Christmas. With such a wealth of repertoire to choose from, programming for this time of year can feel like an impossible task: do you go down a well-trodden path of crowd-pleasers or try to find something as new as possible? The aim of this programme is to find a middle ground with some well-known favourites such as Britten’s Hymn to the Virgin and carols such as Es ist ein Ros entsprungen alongside lesser-known pieces such as Byrd’s beautiful O magnum mysterium - Beata virgo and the more recent works by Oliver Tarney and Kerensa Briggs. 

SANSARA performing at the Temple Winter Festival in 2016

What can audiences expect from the performance? 

With such an amazing building to work with at Temple Church, we are excited to explore the space as much as possible, emerging from the distance and enjoying the range of acoustics that the building has to offer with its glorious dome and main nave. The programme has a broad range of styles and textures which will showcase the choir’s versatility and palette of musical colours. We will also be performing with an elite team of ten singers without a conductor, increasing the level of intimacy and contact with the audience.


What other projects are you working on right now with SANSARA? 

We have lots of exciting plans in the pipeline and one that I’m particularly looking forward to is our collaboration with composer and artistic director Joe Bates on a choral-electronic project, premiering at the Barbican’s Sound Unbound festival in May 2019. The project includes music for choir and electronics by Jonathan Harvey alongside a new piece by Joe, music by Arvo Pärt and arrangements of chants by Hildegard of Bingen for solo soprano and live electronics. I’ve recently become very interested in human relationships with technology and the ways in which they can be explored through music. The combination of choir and electronics has immense potential to examine this crucial and increasingly relevant issue and I’m looking forward to developing this line of SANSARA’s work in the coming years

Meet Fiona Fraser

We are excited to be expanding the scope of our work with the addition of Fiona Fraser to the SANSARA team as our Education Manager. Fiona has degrees in Social Anthropology and Choral Studies from the University of St Andrews Jesus College, Cambridge.

As well as being one of the group's regular sopranos, Fiona will be developing and leading our educational work. Feel free to write to her at fiona@sansarachoir.com.

Meet the Trustees

We are blessed to have three wonderful trustees on our newly formed board. From left to right we have Sarah Hard, David Hurley (chair) and Fiona Bell. The charity is based in our spiritual home in Winchester and meets every few months to discuss the group’s work and future planning. This new branch of the SANSARA family is a wonderful asset and we are proud to have such a supportive network underpinning our activity.

The trustees are looking forward to meeting Friends and supporters of the choir, so do look out for them at forthcoming concerts and Friends Receptions, particularly at our Fifth Anniversary concert at St Cross on Saturday 22 December.

Singer Profile: Jam Orrell

jam orrell - alto

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I first began singing with Sansara when I was a Music student at the University of Oxford. I was singing in Schola Cantorum of Oxford (one of the University’s chamber choirs) alongside Tom Herring when he asked me to perform in a Sansara concert in Worcester College Chapel in late 2014. Still a bushy-tailed fresher, I was desperate to do as much performing as possible, so I leapt at the chance to work with this group. Even back then, I found Sansara’s programmes so exciting. As a group, Sansara prides itself on combining the more well-known pieces of the repertoire with more unusual works; this is one of many things about Sansara that makes every programme thoroughly enjoyable, as well as challenging.

Singing those pieces in that acoustic was like being wrapped in a warm blanket

Since that first concert back in 2014, I have been lucky to perform with Sansara for many concerts with a few that stand out in particular. Taking part in (and winning!) the London International A Cappella Choir Competition in 2015 was particularly special for me, as was singing in the group’s debut recording Cloths of Heaven. However, one of my favourite concerts with Sansara was back in 2015, when we performed Jean Richafort’s spellbinding Requiem, alongside works by Josquin des Prez and Nicolas Gombert in the chapel of Merton College. Singing those pieces in that acoustic was like being wrapped in a warm blanket and everything about the process of the music-making was so beautiful. When the choir returned to Merton College this summer for another edition of the Music of the Spires series, I couldn’t help but be reminded of those fond memories.

Last year, I moved to London to begin a Masters degree at the Royal Academy of Music in Historical Viola and Viola d’Amore. I have just begun my second year there and I have been lucky to work with some incredible musicians, including Rachel Podger, Lawrence Cummings and Philippe Herreweghe. I work mainly as a historical violist and viola d’amore player and play with groups such as the Hanover Band, Early Opera Company, Oxford Bach Soloists and La Nuova Musica.

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While most of my work is as a historical performer, singing has always been a huge part of my life. Alongside Sansara, I also sing on the London choral scene as much as possible, including with the London-based choir, Erebus Ensemble. As well as performing, I am very keen to have a career in academia and I plan to begin a PhD in the next few years, focusing on ideas of gender identity in musical analysis.

Working with Sansara is always a welcome addition to my calendar. Over the past few years, I have been able to see the group grow and flourish. It is a group that prides itself on collaborative music-making, something which I think is present in all our performances. As we continue the Music of the Spires project, I have loved getting to know the choral history of Oxford in detail. It is sometimes very easy to forget that a place like Oxford is weighted in so much history and these concerts give you an amazing snapshot of the city’s musical past. As we continue with this journey, I hope you will join us as we explore this incredible music.

Christmas Tickets Live!

Advanced sale tickets to our Christmas concert are now available exclusively for the Friends of the choir. Book your tickets below before we open general booking on Monday 1 October. If you would rather pay on the door then please contact Olivia who will add you to the list.

We will be hosting a Friends Reception after the concert and looking forward to catching up with you all then!

Meet Olivia Williams

We're delighted to announce the addition of Olivia Williams to the Sansara team as Concerts Manager and Friends Coordinator. Olivia has recently finished a degree in French and Portuguese at Oxford University and is currently working at Intermusica Artist Management. Outside of the office, Olivia is also the vocalist in her own jazz-electronic quintet Wandering Wires.

Olivia will be the main point of contact for the Friends so do feel free to be in touch with her at olivia@sansarachoir.com.

Tom's move to Utrecht

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I’m delighted to share the news that I am moving to Utrecht in the Netherlands for the next six months, working on a unique development scheme run by the Netherlands Chamber Choir. The scheme is called NXT and brings together eight young professional musicians to work together on their own choral project with performances in March 2019.

I’m writing this in a café in Utrecht, looking out onto one of the canals, and am excited for what the next six months will bring. Whilst I will be based here, I will be travelling back and forth for every Sansara engagement and will remain fully operational as the group’s Artistic Director and General Manager.

- Tom

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