One of our hundreds of visitors came up to me today in College and asked (I was wearing a clerical collar) whether I had anything to do with what would be happening later in the cathedral (sic) and would the service be musical. The short answer to both questions was ‘yes’.
Every year the choirs of King’s and John’s get together for the ‘joint evensong’ and every year it is a special occasion. But this year was an ultra-occasion as we are commemorating the 500th anniversary of the completion of the stonework of King’s Chapel. As it happens, both choirs were on tremendous form and the whole was certainly greater than the sum of the parts.
There was a lot of Herbert Howells – the ‘Collegium Regale’ setting of the evening canticles, and the Te Deum, which was the liturgical icing on the celebratory cake, as well as the organ voluntary. ‘Coll Reg’ is perhaps the most beloved of modern settings. Choirs just love to sing it and congregations are swept along by it – or rather up and up by it. It was written for King’s (obvs) and is the perfect music in the Chapel’s unique acoustic. It struck me today that it’s hard not to luxuriate into what Howells does with the word ‘glory’ whenever it appears.
The Provost of King’s read the first lesson and the Master of John’s the second. The retiring Chaplain of King’s, Richard LLoyd Morgan, sang the Radcliffe responses; Philip Radcliffe having been a fellow of King’s until his untimely death in a motor accident in France. Richard was a professional opera singer before being called to the ministry and his singing is uniquely powerful – not least in the closing responses at the very end of the service.
It was down to me to find some prayers – and I chose the famous one of Benjamin Whichote, Cambridge Platonist and Provost of King’s in the seventeenth century, and one about truth by Brooke Fosse Westcott. Westcott is most famous for having been ‘the miner’s bishop’ in Durham but was also the first ever Professorial Fellow of King’s (choosing to come to us rather than take up an offer from St John’s as it happens – not that I mentioned that on this happy occasion.)
The Chapel was heaving with people and extremely warm. I was astonished that no one fainted, and hugely impressed by the way the great team of chapel staff coped with the scale of the occasion.
The anthem was Parry’s ‘I was glad’ – a magnificent show-stopper that expressed the sentiment of every person packed into that glorious space. We were all so glad to be there.
And you might be glad to know that you can hear the service in BBC Radio 3 on Wednesday 8th July at 15.30hrs BST. Enjoy!
Details of the service.
Introit: King Henry VI’s Prayer (Ley)
Psalms 42, 43 (S. Wesley, Anon)
First Lesson: 1 Samuel 2. vv 12-26
Canticles: Collegium Regale (Howells)
Second Lesson: Luke 20 vv 1-8
Anthem: I was glad (Parry)
Hymn: Glorious things of thee are spoken (Abbot’s Leigh)
Te Deum: Collegium Regale (Howells)
Organ Voluntary: Psalm Prelude Set 2 No 3 (Howells)
Directors of Music: Stephen Cleobury and Andrew Nethsingha
Organ Scholars: Tom Etheridge, Richard Gowers, Edward Picton-Turbervill and Joseph Wicks.