An English Coronation: celebrating music, tradition and opportunity

On 23 July 2018 at Ely Cathedral, Gabrieli premiered An English Coronation, our first historical recreation programme in nearly a decade, and arguably the most spectacular. Celebrating music from the twentieth century’s four coronations, this project revelled in the best repertoire of the Anglican choral tradition and cast new light on the traditions and liturgy of a ceremony that few of us have witnessed, but which remains central to our national traditions.

To realise this extraordinary vision, Gabrieli convened an ensemble of more than 400 performers drawn from far and wide: 250 young singers from Gabrieli Roar sang alongside an extended Gabrieli Consort of 50 professional singers, a symphony orchestra of 100 Gabrieli Players and a fanfare band of brass and percussion from Chetham’s School of Music. Directed by Paul McCreesh, we were delighted to be joined by the renowned actor Simon Russell Beale who – in the guise of the Archbishop of Canterbury – led us through the reconstruction of this historic but somehow timeless ceremony.

The young singers of Gabrieli Roar, aged 11 to 18, were drawn from nine partner youth choirs, hailing from Bradford and Stockton-on-Tees to Northampton and Richmond-upon-Thames. Following a series of individual training days within their own choirs, led by Paul McCreesh, they convened at Wymondham College, Norfolk for a 4-day residential course to prepare, perform and record this exciting programme. Whilst initial levels of experience, understanding and musical ability varied, a rare enthusiasm, energy and excitement united these young people as they rose to the challenge of preparing this demanding programme.

Under the tutelage of Chorus Directors Charles MacDougall and Emily Dickens, supported by a team of Voice Leaders drawn from amongst the members of our Consort, the young singers tackled new repertoire, challenged their usual ways of learning, accepted advice on vocal technique and enjoyed the thrill of singing as part of a huge massed choir. This was an incredible musical and social opportunity for these young people, building vocal skills, musical ability and self-confidence.

Asked what the best thing about singing in a choir was, participants said:

  • “It’s a way of expressing who I am”
  • “I know I’m not alone in my mistakes”
  • “The sense of belonging and friendship”

The music for this programme was drawn from across the four coronations of the last century – 1902, 1911, 1937 and 1953. It included many familiar and well-loved choral works performed in rarely heard, large-scale settings. A flourish of fanfares heralded the monarch’s entrance into the abbey, followed by a hair-raising performance of Parry’s I Was Glad. The Anointing was marked with two markedly contrasting works: the accompanied plainsong of Come Holy Ghost preceding Handel’s Zadok the Priest, heard at every coronation since 1727. The programme culminated in three significant and challenging works: Stanford Gloria in B Flat, Walton Coronation Te Deum and a newly commissioned setting of the National Anthem by David Matthews. Click HERE to view the full concert programme.

A packed audience at Ely Cathedral relished every moment, including the opportunity to make their Gabrieli debut, joining us for the congregational hymns – O God, our help in ages past (St Anne) and All People that on earth do dwell (Old Hundredth) – as well as in the premiere of David Matthews’ setting of the National Anthem. If you were in the audience at Ely Cathedral, we would love to know what you thought! Send us your memories of the event HERE.

A double-CD of the programme, including hymns recorded live at our Ely Cathedral performance, will be available on Winged Lion Records in May 2019. Click HERE to see photography from the (rather epic) sessions in Ely Cathedral, and watch this space for advance purchase information early next year!