Tuesday, 5 June 2018

King's College Cambridge Appoints New Director of Music

Daniel Hyde will from Michaelmas term in 2019 be the Director of Music of what is probably the best known English choir in the world: that of King's College in Cambridge.

In November 2015, the author of this blog paid a visit to Magdalen College, Oxford, where Mr Hyde was the incumbent, shortly before his move to the Big Apple.

At the time, I posted part of the Faure Requiem sung by the choir for All Souls' Eve, noting that "The choir was in good voice, producing a very natural sound not too dissimilar to that cultivated by George Guest when director at St John's College at The Other Place."

By the choir, I was referring particularly to the trebles. Since his appointment to King's, the media has taken an interest in something Mr Hyde was quoted as saying in the New York Times almost exactly a year after my blog post (Nov 2016), Mr Hyde having now been appointed St Thomas' Fifth Avenue. From the relevant article:
"During his time at Cambridge, he said, he sometimes found the King’s College Choir stifled by the weight that rested on such a storied ensemble, its work familiar to millions through annual Christmas radio broadcasts. He found himself attracted to the choir of St. John’s, a neighboring college.
“It wasn’t just the buildings,” he said of the difference in sound between the two choirs. “I think there was a freedom of expression at St. John’s because there wasn’t the pressure of expectation. So I tried to soak both those things up, and wherever I’ve gone since I’ve tried to mix that detail and accuracy of King’s with that more open-throated, expressive, musically phrased singing of John’s."
So I wasn't making it up! He is going for the John's sound. In my opinion, it's a slightly older John's sound, which is not necessarily a bad thing (the current sound is magnificent, but in a different way).

The one comment I would make is that I'm not so sure that John's didn't also have the "pressure of expectation". Other English Cathedral and College choirs have had prolific recording and performance programmes over the last 50 years, but perhaps none so much as St John's College Cambridge (not even the Abbey, New College, Christ Church or Winchester). It had recording contracts with many of the biggest labels (including Decca and EMI). So Hyde's explanation for John's different, more liberated style of singing is perhaps a little overstated.

Elsewhere, Hyde has spoken of how King's has not always sounded so clipped. Personally, I consider that the King's sound has changed quite a lot between directors of music, and even during their own tenure. For instance, Sir David Willcocks often had the choir sounding a little hooty, but on other recordings fulsome and continental. His recording in 1971 of the Palestrina Missa Papae Marcelli and Missa Brevis remains, for me, one of the very best.

Hear for yourself again the beautifully natural sound Magdalen College were producing under Hyde in late 2015, perhaps a good indication of the sound-world to which the new King's maestro will want to take his new choir:

I wish Mr Hyde the very best in his new position, and look forward to many years of glorious singing from the Choir of King's College.