Harry Christophers CBE conductor
Eamonn Dougan associate conductor (for selected performance)
The Sixteen’s annual Choral Pilgrimage returns in 2018 to explore the sacred and secular music of William Cornysh and Benjamin Britten: beginning in St Albans Cathedral on 14 April, the tour runs for 28 performances across beautiful venues all over Britain.
William Cornysh and Benjamin Britten were prolific in both sacred and secular music. Cornysh is actually two people, often confused with one another and quite possibly father and son. Both originated in Westminster, the Elder died in 1502 and the Younger in 1523, of whom much more is known. The matter of telling which man wrote which works is impossible to settle, therefore for the purpose of this programme the two composers are linked as one. Whether it be the Elder or the Younger, fortunately they not only excelled at writing complex and adventurous antiphons for the church but also beautiful secular songs for the Tudor court. For Britten writing in the 20th-century life was very different; he is a composer who encompassed so many facets of music excelling in opera, solo song and all manners of vocal and instrumental music.
This programme looks at the way these two composers mixed sacred with secular. Whilst Cornysh’s sacred music is elaborate and rhythmically complicated, his secular music is simple yet subtly evocative. Britten makes constant demands on vocal artistry, best displayed in the last work he ever wrote for unaccompanied voices, Sacred and Profane, composed in the winter of 1974-5. Britten chose his texts with great care and devotion: these are mediaeval lyrics and give a fascinating mixture of the devotional and the rumbustiously secular. The final song A death is a wicked blend of horror and gallows humour far removed from the melancholic canon Ah Robin by Cornysh.
The Sixteen continues to invest in a number of dynamic education and outreach projects with the aim of engaging further with its current audience and also developing a new one. The ethos of access and support runs throughout their thriving education programme. Whether it’s introducing oratorio to babies, mentoring choristers across the country, working with over 1,000 Key Stage 2 pupils in the Schools’ Matinee Concerts, nurturing student composers and conductors, exploring the fascinating stories behind the music on Insight Days, or working with 800 amateur singers through the Choral Workshop Series, The Sixteen delight in inviting those who enjoy choral music, of all ages and backgrounds, to join in. During the tour The Sixteen undertake 8 choral workshops, 7 chorister workshops, an Insight Day and a schools’ matinee project in four locations: Carlisle, Lancaster, Liverpool and Peterborough.