The idea for The Carice Singers came from a group of us who had met on choral courses, youth choirs and the likes. Having got on so well, a plan was hatched for us to visit George's local area of the North Cotswolds, and for us to perform a few concerts of mainly Elgar part-songs. We picked Elgar's daughter's name as our emblem, because we all loved the music and felt that we somehow wanted to continue the legacy of being enthusiastic about it. We rehearsed in a Wesleyan Chapel in the village of Oxhill, stayed in the village, and gave concerts in St Peter's Church Whatcote, St James's Chipping Campden and even besides Broadway Tower overlooking the Vale of Evesham and Elgar's county of Worcestershire.
Outdoors Elgar performance at Broadway Tower
Concert in St Gregory's Tredington, Warwickshire
Since the North Cotswolds is full of wonderful, historic churches, we found it much more exciting to return to the same area rather than performing in more familiar locations. With each new project we visited a new venue, the more rural and remote the better! One of these was St Gregory's Church in Tredington, famous for having the tallest spire in Warwickshire, where we gave a Spring concert in aid of local charity Shipston Home Nursing. We were warmly received by a large local audience, and the Friends of The Carice Singers was established to help support us.
Spring involved concerts in Burford and Sibford Gower in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds and saw the expansion of our repertoire to works by J. S. Bach, Britten, Bruckner and Tavener. At every location we visited we were hosted by generous locals which enabled us to see and explore much more of the surrounding countryside, towns and villages. It gave us something to talk about with our audiences, which in turn made the experience of singing for them all the more worthwhile. In September we made our first recording for the Naxos label, choosing as our venue the amazing Church of St Peter ad Vincula in Hampton Lucy, near to Stratford-Upon-Avon. The music, carols and part-songs by the maverick Peter Warlock, had us all entranced, and the task of recording it brought us together in way we hadn't felt before.
Rehearsing Warlock for our debut Naxos recording
Outside Kilkenny Castle
In April we returned to St James's Church, Chipping Campden which ha been the venue of our very first performance. On the menu was E.J. Moeran's Songs of Springtime and works by Grieg, Rheinberger, Finzi and Elgar. We also took the programme to the Chapel of St Peter's College, Oxford, where George was studying for a Master's Degree and had begun to discover the Nordic repertoire that later became a major focus for the choir. But in September our thoughts were firmly fixed on Moeran and his teacher John Ireland in our second recording for Naxos. The disc was recorded in St Michael's Church, Summertown, and in December we returned to the Cotswolds giving Christmas concerts in Cheltenham and Charlbury.
Rehearsing Messiah in St Mary's Warwick
The making of the Warlock recording and the reviews it gained was a significant moment in realising that The Carice Singers had a future beyond what we had previously imagined. This also coincided with the fact that many of us were graduating, and thoughts were turning to careers. In August we headed off-piste from the usual locations and spent a week travelling and performing throughout the Republic of Ireland. George almost single-handedly organised concerts in Dublin, Kilkenny, Limerick, and Killaloe with the addition of boating on Lough Derg, where he has visited annually since childhood. Autumn included a debut performance in London, fortunately attracting a large audience thanks to the new Warlock recording.
Warming up in All Saints' Cheltenham
This year began with something completely different: George revealing a hidden passion for Baroque music in two performances of Handel's Messiah in Banbury and Warwick. We were joined by a small baroque ensemble along with four soloists and created something, as one reviewer wrote, 'sometimes extremly solemn, sometimes thrilling and often very sensitive' (Leamington Courier). A CD Launch concert in July then introduced our audience to newly discovered Finnish repertoire by Sibelius and his students Toivo Kuula and Leevi Madetoja which we also took with us on a return trip to Ireland in August. In the Autumn we took up invitations to perform at St Endellion in Cornwall and in Bristol before making our third Naxos recording of music by Frederick Delius and Arnold Bax. The recording project involved scholarly excavation with the help of Trustee Daniel Grimley, the mastering of German, Norwegian, and Medieval English, and the largest group of singers in the group's history so far. We were beginning to attract serious notice, with a feature about us in Choir & Organ Magazine describing us as 'serious music-makers'.
Encouraging reviews for our Delius and Bax recording, including some extensive responses, nonetheless gave us a sense that we were being judged in the same arena as top professional ensembles. Having existed perhaps fairly innocently before now, the group's attention now turned to how it might fit itself into a bustling market of choral music. George's interest in Nordic music had intensified following a trip to Iceland the year before, and he now visited Helsinki to audition for Sibelius Academy. In July the choir took up an invitation to give a concert in Freiburg, Germany and returned once again to Chipping Campden for a performance in August featuring music by Delius, Grainger, and Grieg's Four Psalms. Having been offered a place to study Conducting at Sibelius Academy, George moved to Finland in September to begin a three-year Master's Degree. He returned once in November to conduct the choir in a Remembrance Concert for Witney Music Society.
Post-concert in Freiburg, Germany
Launching our Parry CD in St Paul's Knightsbridge
We began the year immediately with two 'Twelfth Night' concerts in the atmospheric settings of St Mary's Bourne Street in London and St Mary's Warwick. We explored the wealth of music associated with this mystical time of year including works by Barber, Nørgård, Poulenc, and our old friend Peter Warlock. The composer Matthew Whittall joined us for these performances and accepted our request for him to become our Associate Composer. Jacob Ewens also joined the team as Projects Administrator. In the summer we repeated our 'Sounding North' programme at the Cheltenham Music Festival, the Swedish Church in London, and again in Warwick and this time invited a few Nordic singers to join us. In October Norwegian singer Snnyøve Sætre mesmerised our audience with folk-inspired solos in Grieg's Fire Salmer at the Oxford Lieder Festival. We were also honoured to be invited to give a concert for the High Sheriff of Warwickshire and perform in his Legal Service the following morning.
The year which saw a noticeable increase in our number of engagements began with a special recording of Hubert Parry's Songs of Farewell and other choral music for the BBC Music Magazine. It was a significant choice of repertoire for us, since many of us had met each while singing these pieces for the first time. It was a delight to therefore perform the Parry and other commemorative music in concerts for Oakham School, Cheltenham Music Festival, St Paul's Knightsbridge and Pinner Concerts. Nordic music was simultaneously featured in a programme called 'The Celtic North' for the Ludlow English Song Weekend in April, and more emphatically in 'Sounding North' at the Oxford Lieder Festival in October where we gave the UK premiere of Matthew Whittall's piece Lauantaisauna (Saturday sauna).
Taking applause in St Mary's Warwick
Just before the surreal times of coronavirus put a temporary stop to live music-making, we managed to travel to Helsinki to perform in George's Master's Degree Recital and make our Finnish debut. We shared the stage with Spira Ensemble, who appointed George as their Conductor in June 2019. The recital was held in the new Concert Hall belonging to the Sibelius Academy and attracted a full house. Having made so many wonderful memories in Finland, it was unfortunate that all but one of our UK concerts the following month were cancelled.