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