CLS MEMORIES: The Cathedral Tours

Posted on: December 28, 2021 in: CLS at 50, CLS Memories

We are very fortunate in this country to have so many beautiful Cathedrals whose choirs, organists, and masters of music deliver outstanding music-making all year round.

In 2013, helped by The Friends of Cathedral Music and Arts Council England, CLS set off on its first Cathedrals Tour to perform with the cathedral musicians, to celebrate the architecture and musical heritage of these institutions and to bring to a wider audience the outstanding music making – particularly by young people – that occurs every day in our cathedrals. 

Centuries of Meditation in Truro Cathedral

The second tour occurred in 2016. Both tours mixed traditional repertoire with more modern pieces; there were new commissions by Gabriel Jackson and James MacMillan, and cathedral organists performed concertos (Handel and Poulenc) with the orchestra. During the 2013 tour, each cathedral director of music conducted the orchestra and choir together, whilst in 2016 Stephen Layton was conductor for the whole tour. 

In 2019 we modified the concert format to bring our ‘seriously informal’ roaming performances to each cathedral. Musicians performed from different parts of each building, and audiences were encouraged to explore the architecture and to create their own journey through the performance. Orchestral pieces were interspersed with vocal works, all of which exploited the wonderful acoustics of each cathedral space. The orchestral and choral forces came together for the final piece in the programme: Dobrinka Tabakova’s Centuries of Meditation.

Rehearsing in Lichfield Cathedral

These tours could only have been achieved with the commitment and involvement of cathedral music department. Here Christopher Gray, the Director of Music at Truro Cathedral, reflects on his cathedral’s participation in the tours:   

Our first collaboration with CLS was in September 2016 when, as part of their cathedrals tour, we had the chance to perform Handel’s ‘Coronation Anthems’ and what turned out to be the world premiere of a new work by James MacMillan, ‘O give thanks unto the Lord’. Stephen Layton was conducting the concert and I relished every moment of the rehearsal – a model of focus, technical perfection and edge-of-your-seat energy. This was top-level stuff and I couldn’t wait for the boys, girls and adults of the cathedral choir to join them. The playing and direction had such conviction that it all slotted together effortlessly and the concert was simply thrilling – one of the highlights of my twenty years in Truro. 

Our next joint venture was in October 2019 and had a few more unknowns: we had an atmospheric, often mesmerising programme with the audience invited to sit anywhere they liked around the cathedral, or indeed to lie on the floor if they preferred, with the musicians moving around to perform from different locations. Would it work to have BBC Radio 3 broadcast a concert where there were so many moving parts? There was only one way to find out. We were honoured to have been asked to take part, and especially so because the programme included ‘Centuries of Meditations’ by Dobrinka Tabakova. As luck would have it, we had just completed a nourishing and inspiring project with Dobrinka which included a number of new works being commissioned, and the release of a single-composer CD. I was delighted that we could continue our journey with Dobrinka, and it felt very special indeed to have her here in Truro for the concert. CLS simply blew us away with their stylish, open-hearted and, with BBC Radio 3 microphones up, fearless performing. It really made us all give of our best and the BBC managed to capture it all wonderfully.

Living in Cornwall has so many advantages, but one drawback is that there are not so many opportunities to experience groups like CLS and the particular power those top-level musicians have to move people. Our choir and audience members here in Truro are deeply grateful to CLS for taking the extra time (and budget) to come all this way to share their music-making with us, always with such flare and spirit. Let’s hope we can do lots more in the next fifty years!  

Cathedrals which have taken part in the tours are:

2013 – Durham, Ely, Portsmouth, Derby, Coventry, Guildford, Exeter, Chester, Southwell Minster, Liverpool Metropolitan.

2016 – Truro, Hereford, Lichfield, Southwell Minster, York, Chester

2019 – Worcester, Exeter, Bristol, Liverpool Anglican, Sheffield, Bradford, Truro, Llandaff, Lichfield