Spem in Alium at the BBC Proms: London

“We are delighted to return to the BBC Proms with Tallis’s magnificent Spem in alium”

24 August 2022


Venue: Royal Albert Hall

Tallis’s extraordinary Spem in alium – the magnificent 40-voice motet that’s one of the one of the great landmarks of polyphony – forms the dazzling centrepiece of our late-night meditation in the Royal Albert Hall. Around this we weave together music from the medieval to the contemporary, with sublime and tranquil works from John Sheppard, John Tavener and Sir James MacMillan.

This week Paul Presents The Sixteen with Julie Cooper. Images of audiences queuing to hear early Tudor polyphony or contemporary choral compositions belonged to the world of fantasy before The Sixteen and Harry Christophers brought them to life. The UK-based ensemble, hallmarked by its tonal richness, expressive intensity and compelling collective artistry, has introduced countless newcomers to works drawn from well over five centuries of sacred and secular repertoire. The Sixteen’s choir and period-instrument orchestra stand today among the world’s greatest ensembles, peerless interpreters of Renaissance, Baroque and modern choral music, acclaimed worldwide for performances delivered with precision, power and passion.

Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2019, The Sixteen arose from its Founder and Conductor Harry Christophers’ formative experience as cathedral chorister and choral scholar. His enterprise, launched in 1979, built on the best of the British choral tradition while setting new standards of virtuosity and musicianship. The Sixteen’s professional female and male voices create a distinctive sound of great warmth and clarity. Although refined over four decades, that sound has remained remarkably consistent, always responsive to the emotional content of words and music, ever alert to subtle nuances of colour and shading.

The Sixteen has widened its reach at home in recent years as ‘The Voices of Classic FM’, Associate Artists of The Bridgewater Hall and Artistic Associates of Kings Place, and with an ongoing Artist Residency at Wigmore Hall. Since 2000 its annual Choral Pilgrimage has brought the ensemble to Britain’s great cathedrals and abbeys to perform sacred music in the spaces for which it was conceived. Appearances in the BBC television series Sacred Music, presented by Simon Russell Beale, have also helped grow The Sixteen’s audience. The most recent edition, an hour-long programme entitled Monteverdi in Mantua: The Genius of the Vespers, was first broadcast in 2015.

‘No praise would be too high for the range of The Sixteen, from seraphic notes on the brink of audibility to a richness of which a Russian choral ensemble would be proud,’ concluded one reviewer following the world premiere performance of Sir James MacMillan’s Stabat mater, commissioned for The Sixteen by the Genesis Foundation. The work, first performed at London’s Barbican in October 2016, was later streamed live from the Sistine Chapel and recently received its US premiere at the Lincoln Centre, New York. Their long-standing relationship with James MacMillan has continued to flourish with the group recently performing the world premiere of his Fifth Symphony at the 2019 Edinburgh International Festival.

International tours are an essential part of life for The Sixteen. The ensemble makes regular visits to major concert halls and festivals throughout Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas. It gave its first tour of China in October 2017, followed soon after by debut concerts in Estonia and Lithuania. The Sixteen’s touring credits include performances at the Cité de la musique in Paris, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw and Vienna’s Musikverein, together with appearances at the BBC Proms and the Edinburgh, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Lucerne, Prague and Salzburg festivals.

The Sixteen’s period-instrument orchestra, central to the ensemble’s ambitious continuing series of Handel oratorios, has drawn critical acclaim for its work in semi-staged performances of Purcell’s Royal Welcome Songs in London, a production of Purcell’s King Arthur in Lisbon and new productions of Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse at Lisbon Opera House, The Coronation of Poppea at English National Opera, and Handel’s Belshazzar at Grange Festival.

Following the success of the inaugural Choral Pilgrimage, The Sixteen launched its own record label in 2001. CORO has since cultivated an award-winning catalogue of over 190 titles, albums of choral works by Francis Poulenc, Purcell’s welcome songs for James II, and the world premiere recording of MacMillan’s Stabat mater recent among them. The Sixteen’s substantial discography for CORO and other labels has attracted many prestigious international prizes, including a Gramophone Award for Early Music and a Classical Brit Award for Renaissance, recorded as part of the group’s contract with Universal Classics and Jazz. In 2009 The Sixteen was named as Classic FM Gramophone Artist of the Year and received the Gramophone Best Baroque Vocal Award for its recording of Handel’s Coronation Anthems. In 2018 the group won the prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society award for best ensemble.

The Sixteen’s commitment to the future of choral music is clearly reflected in its extensive outreach programme, using the power of music to engage and inspire new and existing audiences as well as transforming music education. Genesis Sixteen, supported by the Genesis Foundation, offers the UK’s first fully funded choral training programme for singers aged 18 to 23. It has been specially designed to help participants navigate the testing transition from student status to life as professional performers.


The Sixteen presents Hubert Parry’s Songs of Farewell on its annual Choral Pilgrimage:  An Old Belief

The Sixteen and Founder & Conductor Harry Christophers CBE are delighted to be welcoming back audiences for the start of their annual Choral Pilgrimage of 2022 on 18 March 2022. This much-loved tour has been a staple of The Sixteen’s programming for many years, travelling to the UK’s cathedrals and abbeys, discovering their beautiful architecture and acoustics, and building relationships with the community, many of whom return year after year. Next year’s tour will be dedicated to Anthony Smith CBE, who for many years was a trustee of The Sixteen. We have so much to thank him for, not least for sowing the seed of longevity for the Choral Pilgrimage.

This year’s tour, An Old Belief, focuses on Hubert Parry’s Songs of Farewell. Deeply affected by the First World War, Parry sought poetry that would reflect not only peace and unity and the search for a better world, but also an escape from the horrors of war. The poems Parry chose to set range from metaphysical poetry by John Donne and Henry Vaughan to the aching beauty of Thomas Campion’s verse.

For this Choral Pilgrimage, The Sixteen are delighted to present a new work by Cecilia McDowall – And lo! The winds did blow us ever to the North – which will be programmed alongside three short pieces by Campion and a selection of medieval carols.

Conductor Harry Christophers said “Hubert Parry’s Songs of Farewell must surely rank among some of the finest choral works ever written and I have always wanted to programme them, but I needed to find a way not to dilute either their superb musical expression or the intensity of the poetry Parry sets to music. Three short works by the poet and lutenist Thomas Campion, coupled with medieval carols which explore patriotic ceremony, provide me with a sufficient variety of sound worlds to serve as an amuse-bouche for the rich sonority of Parry’s songs. 

I would like to thank Cecilia McDowall profusely for allowing us to perform An unexpected shore – the first movement of Good news from New England, which is a new work she has written honouring the eventful lives of the Pilgrim Fathers who, in 1620, sailed on the Mayflower to set up home in the New World. Along with the medieval carol Deo gracias, Anglia and Parry’s Songs of Farewell, the mood set is one of hope, unity and national joy.”

The full programme is as follows:

Parry Songs of Farewell

Mediaeval Carol Deo gracias, Anglia

Mediaeval Carol Saint Thomas honour we

Mediaeval Carol O blessed Lord

Mediaeval Carol Benedicte Deo

Cecilia McDowall And lo! The winds did blow us ever to the North

Campion Never, weather-beaten sail

Campion Author of light

Campion Tune thy music to thy heart

Howells Take him, earth for cherishing

During the tour, The Sixteen invite those who enjoy choral music, of all ages and backgrounds, to join in through the Choral Workshop Series. This year, the choir undertakes ten workshops to give keen leisure-time singers an opportunity to explore a selection of music inspired by its Choral Pilgrimage programme. The workshops include advice on vocal health and technique, as well as performance interpretation and historical context led by singers from The Sixteen.

Throughout the Choral Pilgrimage tour the education team spend a five-day residency in Carlisle, Manchester, Medway, and Truro with animateur Patrick Barrett and singers from The Sixteen and Genesis Sixteen, its free choral training programme for singers aged 18-23. The education team also deliver its annual schools matinee project with Key Stage 2 pupils, a series of chorister workshops in cathedrals across the country, as well as working with the wider community with relaxed performances in care-homes, and further developing its work with the homeless and refugee groups.

On sale dates

11 January – Patrons’ priority booking

18 January – General public

Tickets can be booked through The Sixteen’s website.

Tour dates 

The tour begins at St John’s College Chapel, Cambridge on 18 March 2022, taking in the following venues:

18 March – St John’s College Chapel, Cambridge

19 March – Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford

2 April – Winchester Cathedral

27 April – Kings Place, London

17 May – Old Royal Naval College Chapel, Greenwich

20 May – Newbury Spring Festival

4 June – St Mary’s Church, Warwick

8 June – Llandaff Cathedral

9 June – Hereford Cathedral

10 June – Truro Cathedral

8 July – Carlisle Cathedral

9 July – York Minster

8 September – Exeter Cathedral

9 September – Wells Cathedral

10 September – Tewkesbury Abbey

22 September – Southwell Minster

23 September – Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

24 September – Blackburn Cathedral

26 September – Croydon Minster

13 October – Lancaster Priory

14 October – Hexham Abbey

15 October – Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh

21 October – Derby Cathedral

22 October – Peterborough Cathedral

For further press information please contact:

Rebecca Driver Media Relations

Tel: 07990 016977

Email: emily@rdmr.co.uk

Web: www.rdmr.co.uk

The Sixteen  

Whether performing a simple medieval hymn or expressing the complex musical and emotional language of a contemporary choral composition, The Sixteen does so with qualities common to all great ensembles. Tonal warmth, rhythmic precision and immaculate intonation are clearly essential to the mix. But it is the courage and intensity with which The Sixteen makes music that speak above all to so many people. The Sixteen gave its first concert in 1979 under the direction of Founder and Conductor Harry Christophers CBE. Their pioneering work since has made a profound impact on the performance of choral music and attracted a large new audience, not least as ‘The Voices of Classic FM’ and through BBC television’s Sacred Music series.

The voices and period-instrument players of The Sixteen are at home in over five centuries of music, a breadth reflected in their annual Choral Pilgrimage to Britain’s great cathedrals and sacred spaces, regular appearances at the world’s leading concert halls, and award-winning recordings for The Sixteen’s CORO and other labels. Recent highlights include the world premiere of James MacMillan’s Symphony No. 5 ‘Le grand Inconnu’, commissioned for The Sixteen by the Genesis Foundation, an ambitious ongoing series of Handel oratorios, and a debut tour of China, and a new, specially-commissioned series of programmes presented by Sir Simon Russell Beale entitled A Choral Odyssey. For information, please visit thesixteen.com

Harry Christophers CBE 

Harry Christophers stands among today’s great champions of choral music. In partnership with The Sixteen, he has set benchmark standards for the performance of everything from late medieval polyphony to important new works by contemporary composers. Under his leadership The Sixteen has established its hugely successful annual Choral Pilgrimage, created the Sacred Music series for BBC television, and developed an acclaimed period-instrument orchestra. Highlights of their recent work include an Artist Residency at Wigmore Hall, a large-scale tour of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, and the world premiere of James MacMillan’s Stabat mater; their future projects, meanwhile, comprise a new series devoted to Purcell and an ongoing survey of Handel’s dramatic oratorios.

Harry Christophers has been Artistic Director of the Handel and Haydn Society since 2008 and has recently been awarded the distinction of Conductor Laureate. He and has worked as guest conductor with, among others, the London Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, the Deutsches Kammerphilharmonie, and the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields. Christophers’ extensive commitment to opera has embraced productions for English National Opera and Lisbon Opera and work with the Granada, Buxton and Grange festivals. Harry Christophers was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s 2012 Birthday Honours list.

He is an Honorary Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, as well as the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and has Honorary Doctorates in Music from the Universities of Leicester, Canterbury Christ Church, Northumbria and Kent. A New Heaven: Harry Christophers and The Sixteen, Choral Conversations with Sara Mohr-Pietsch was published in August 2019 by Faber & Faber for the choir’s 40th anniversary.


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