Of stopwatches and ordnance maps

Music by American composers or with an American connection


Ives: Psalms 90 & 100
Philip Glass: Three songs
Bernstein: Hashkiveinu
Copland: In the beginning
Barber: Twelfth night
Barber: To be sung on the water
Barber: A stopwatch & an ordnance map
Howells: Take him earth for cherishing

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Charles Ives: Psalms 90 & 100

One of the most original composers of the Western tradition, Ives astonishingly began these two psalms (for choir, organ and bells) in the closing years of the 19th century. Despite this, they are arguably the most harmonically and rhythmically advanced of the works in the programme, displaying many of Ives’ hallmarks such as bitonality and complex cross-rhythms.

Samuel Barber: Three partsongs

Barber is famous for his supremely poetic choral writing. Each of these partsongs conjures up a very different atmosphere, from the wintry landscape of ‘Twelfth Night’, through the nightmares of the Spanish Civil War in ‘A Stopwatch and an Ordnance Map’, to a serene boating scene in ‘To be sung on the water’.

Leonard Bernstein: Hashkiveinu

This early work was composed in 1945 for a New York synagogue: its Hebrew text inspired the composer to produce music which is in turn characteristically lush, and jazzy.

Aaron Copland: In The Beginning

One of the undoubted masterpieces of American choral music, this setting of words from Genesis for mezzo-soprano solo and unaccompanied choir traces each day of Creation with a remarkable variety of descriptive writing, ending in a climax of overwhelming luminosity.

Herbert Howells: Take him, earth, for cherishing

The assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 inspired this most English of composers to write a motet in his ‘honoured memory’. It remains one of the most outstanding examples of post-romantic choral writing.

Philip Glass: Three Songs

These songs, one in English and two in French, were commissioned to commemorate the 350th anniversary of Quebec in 1984. The result was a rare, but successful, foray by one of the leading ‘minimalist’ composers into unaccompanied choral music.

  • "A fascinating programme, full of...
    unexpected modulations and intensity...to which Laughton and the Elysian Singers do justice" (Gramophone)

    "Bantock's sizeable following will be grateful that holes in his discography have been filled with such expertise and empathy" **** (BBC Music Magazine)

    "It would be difficult to praise the performances too highly" ***** (Choir and Organ)

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  • “An entrancing aural kaleidoscope,...
    which beguiles with its ravishing combination of the ethereal and the profound" (Radio 3 broadcaster, Jeremy Summerly)

    "The singing is among the finest you’ll hear from a chamber choir" (Radio WRST, University of Wisconsin)

    "A very enterprising selection...the choir make a light, fresh sound and sing with enthusiasm and commitment...the music is well performed and well recorded"
    (MusicWeb)

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  • Recordings

    It would be difficult to praise the performances too highly (Choir and Organ)

    Highly attractive...hugely enjoyable" (Time Out)

    Robust yet tonally refined performances ***** (BBC Music Magazine)

    Sam Laughton's Elysian Singers perform here with captivating intensity ***** (Classic FM)

    Subtle, disciplined, radiant (Gramophone)

    The Elysian Singers perform this often difficult work with clarity, precision and emotional punch (American Record Guide)

    Exquisitely sung with full-bodied, lively tone ***** (Classic CD)

    Magnificent (Church Times)

  • Media

    The female voices of the Elysian Singers contributed to a magical serenity descending over the [Albert] hall during Neptune, and when considered alongside the evening’s earlier strengths, helped to register this show as an undoubted early highlight of this year’s [Prom] festival (Music OMH, July 2015)

    A profound otherworldliness was initiated by the entry of the Elysian Singers, the off-stage female chorus seeming to sing from a distant planet, far beyond earthly realms (Seen and Heard International, July 2015)

    In the posthumous premiere of Sir John Tavener's Monument to Beethoven, [John] Scott's organ interjections brought visionary breadth to the Elysian Singers' luminous tapestry (The Times, March 2014)

    Amongst chamber choirs they’re one of the best (Sir John Tavener, BBC TV interview)

    The classy Elysian Singers (Howard Goodall on Twitter, November 2013)

    That superb choir (John Woolrich, Radio 3)

    The excellent Elysian Singers directed by Sam Laughton (Classical Source, reviewing our 2014 Festival Hall concert)

    Ambitious, well executed and strangely compelling (Simon Jack, reviewing Open Outcry on Radio 4)

    Excellently performed by the Elysian Singers under Sam Laughton (Keith Potter, The Independent)

    A persuasive ensemble, excellently attuned to this repertory (The York Press)

    “The Elysian Singers came up trumps…luminously soft and uniform” (David Ardatti review)

  • Feedback

    Heard you sing last Sunday in St Patrick’s Cathedral. Wow! (especially the Kodaly). Thanks, come again soon (S&MG, Dublin)

    I was moved, not just by the music, but also by the creativity of humankind, continually sharing new ways of contemplating life, and by the discipline of ordinary people who work hard and unpaid to interpret this beauty and emotion to others (York blog)

    Last night's concert was wonderful--and the links between these two great composers intriguing. Many thanks indeed (PE, Oxford)

    Heard your Gallant Weaver recording played on Radio 3 this morning - beautiful! It made my day 🙂 Gordon (e-mail address supplied)

    There were so many bits I loved. But most of all you looked, as a choir, like you were actually enjoying yourselves. Your encore made me cry for some reason – I think sitting there for a couple of hours was perfect therapy in the run up to Christmas – it made me want to run home and stick the girls’ stockings up and scatter cinnamon around the house (TM, London)

    Your CD of Sir Granville Bantock's music arrived today - what treasures it contains. As someone who has enjoyed singing in choirs for many years, I found this recording very special. Congratulations to all concerned!! (BL, Hobart, Tasmania)

    I just wanted to let you know how much I've been enjoying the new album. The choir sounds fabulous throughout. Congratulations! Please pass along my gratitude to your excellent singers (JL, USA)

    The closest I’ve come to a spiritual experience for a very long time... (DF, Streatham, after hearing the choir perform James Macmillan's Seven Last Words from the Cross)

    You made such a lovely sound this morning. Ave regina coelorum was exquisite - quite the loveliest thing I've heard for a long time (J P-B, Salisbury, 2011)

    We cannot thank you enough for the beautiful singing, which totally exceeded our expectations. We feel very privileged. I particularly loved the descant - it was a moment I will always remember (N&T wedding, April 2013)

    The Elysian Singers truly live up to their name; there is something heavenly about their singing...For the duration of [Peter Maxwell Davies’ Solstice of Light], I felt washed clean by its words and its music, taken out of the clutter and complications of London life. (JB, London blog, Feb 2014)


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