I wrote this for the King’s College website but think that it may be interesting to readers of Another Angle. For the full report (with photos) click here
The Choir has just returned from a hugely enjoyable and successful two-week tour in China. The tour completed a remarkable few weeks of highly prestigious and successful events which began when they appeared at the Aldeburgh Festival in June. A few weeks later in early July they gave the third of this year’s Promenade Concerts, broadcast live on BBC television and radio. No sooner had the thunderous applause that greeted their performance of the Fauré Requiem in the Royal Albert Hall died down, they were en route to a concert near Brussels. And just a few days after that were flying to Hong Kong.
In China the full Choir performed to packed halls in Hong Kong, Nanjing and Tianjin, with the final concert at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing being the most prestigious and spectacular.
The first half of the programme varied from place to place, with Christmas carols being sung in Nanjing – where the temperature outside was in the 90s. And in Beijing the Choir opened with Hubert Parry’s magnificent Blest Pair of Sirens and included Herbert Howells’ Take Him Earth for Cherishing, this being a rather poignant touch as he wrote it to mark the assassination of President J.F Kennedy, and it was now being sung just a short walk from the historic Tiananmen Square. In the second half of each concert the Choir sang the German Requiem in Brahms’s own arrangement for piano duet accompaniment, with one of the Choral Scholars joining the Organ Scholar at the keyboard.
Comparing audiences in UK with those in China is very interesting. While at the Royal Albert Hall there was a preponderance of people old enough to claim a bus pass, in China people come in whole family groups – with many parents bringing their young children. Many of whom were completely spell-bound.
Simply to take part in such a tour is hugely educational but visits to museums and introductions to historic sites in the rare moments of free time added to the value of the experience for the Choir members – all of whom are still engaged in full-time education. Many were impressed by the visit to the Nanjing Museum – and were charmed by their first experience of Kunqu Opera that they experienced live in the theatre there.
Always well received, the Choir produced rapturous applause and cheers when they sang – in Chinese – a setting of the 18th century Chinese folk song Jasmine Flower. Many commented on the quality and accuracy of the Chinese pronunciation, which they found almost as remarkable as the boys’ ability to stand for so long to sing the full programme.
The tour was supported by a number of sponsors from England and China and was widely reported in the Chinese media, being seen as an important cultural exchange. As such it builds on, and contributes to, the work to forge bridges with China that have been inspired by the memory of one of China’s most famous twentieth century poets, Xu Zhimo, who studied at Kings in the 1920s and is memorialized in a stone near the bridge over the river Cam past which the Choristers walk each day during term on their way to and from Chapel.