The Westminster Williamson Voices
The Grammy® nominated Westminster Williamson Voices; named for the founder of Westminster Choir College, John Finley Williamson; has been praised by reviewers on both sides of the Atlantic. Founded by James Jordan, the ensemble has quickly distinguished itself in the choral world for its distinctive artistry, recordings, educational outreach and its mission to perform new music. The choir has additionally distinguished itself as a living choral laboratory. The ensemble is the only choir in the world that uses chant as the center of its musicianship study and performance. This emphasis has grown out of its residencies and study at the Choral Institute at Oxford. The choir has embarked on a three-year project studying the performance practice and spirituality surround the works of Arvo Pärt.
Reviewers on both sides of the Atlantic are of one voice in praising the ensemble for its world premiere recordings on the Naxos label. Gramophone magazine has described the Westminster Williamson Voices as an ensemble of “intimate and forceful choral artistry,” with a tone that is “controlled and silken in sustained phrases as they are vibrantly sonorous in extroverted material.” The American Record Guide praised the ensemble as “without peer.” The Choral Journal has described the Williamson Voices an ensemble of “supreme artistry” and a choir that performs with “truth and precision.” A publication of the Arvo Pärt Project this fall wrote, “The Westminster Williamson Voices under his (Jordan’s) direction are coming into their own in the American choral scene both here and abroad.”
In July, 2013, The Williamson Voices had the unique privilege of performing as part of the world’s Britten 100 celebration, participating in the 50th anniversary re-enactment performance of the original premiere of St. Nicolas in the Lancing College Chapel in Sussex, where the piece was premiered with the composer conducting. That concert was attended by representatives of HRH Queen Elizabeth and members of Parliament. As part of that performance, with the Bernardi Chamber Orchestra, the choir performed the world premiere of Agnus Dei by James Whitbourn with the composer conducting. In 2013, the choir also gave its UK debut performance at Oxford as part of the Westminster Choral Institute at Oxford and the SJE Artist series. The choir also performed as part of the SJE Artist Series, performing Annelies under the direction of the composer with renowned British soprano, Elin Manahan Thomas.
The ensemble has established itself as a voice of composers of our time, and it has been acclaimed for its creative programming and collaborations with other art forms. Most notable were the ensemble’s performance at The Philadelphia Cathedral of Eric Whitacre’s Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine with the renowned Spiral Q Puppet Theater and the premiere of James Whitbourn’s Luminosity with The ArcheDream Blacklight Dance Theater Company of Philadelphia.
The choir has premiered more than 40 choral works and presented several early performances and premieres by noted composers Jackson Hill, William Duckworth, Paul Mealor, Tarik O’Regan, Roger Ames, Robert Moran, Blake Henson, Jaakko Mäntyjärvi, Ugis Praulins, Gerald Custer, James Whitbourn, Thomas Lavoy, Cortlandt Matthews and Kile Smith. It has premiered three major works by British composer James Whitbourn that have attracted international attention. In 2007, it performed the world premiere of the chamber version of Annelies, the first major choral setting of the Diary of Anne Frank. In 2008, it shared in a commission of Luminosity, a work for triple choir, dancers, viola solo, organ and tanpura. In 2010, the choir premiered Whitbourn’s Requiem Canticorum. Past seasons have also included performances of the Mozart Requiem in D Minor with an orchestra composed of students from The Curtis Institute conducted by Daniel Stewart, and Debussy’s Nocturnes with The Princeton Symphony Orchestra conducted by Rossen Milanov. In 2013, the choir performed the United States premiere in Princeton and New York of Paul Mealor’s Crucifixus for choir, orchestra and baritone soloist. The composer, in writing of those performances said of the choir, “Williamson Voices sing with delicate sensitivity, radiant warmth and create a truly sensuous sound.”
In April, 2014, the choir made its Lincoln Center debut at Alice Tully Hall performing James Whitbourn’s Annelies. This past summer, as the choir-in-residence at the Choral Institute of Oxford, the choir performed with the renowned Choir of New College, Oxford under the direction of Edward Higginbottom. The choir also was conducted by Oxford conductors Stephen Darlington (Christ Church College) and Daniel Hyde (Magdalen College).
The choir has also assembled an impressive recorded discography. It has recorded more than 30 choral masterworks on the Teaching Music through Performance CD box sets that are used by conductors around the world. The ensemble can also be seen and heard in the DVD The Empowered Choral Rehearsal: Choral Masterclasses with Simon Carrington. The choir has six world premiere recordings to its credit. Its 2011 recording on the Naxos label, Living Voices: The Music of James Whitbourn, debuted on the Billboard Classical Music charts. Annelies, by James Whitbourn, performed with The Lincoln Trio; Arianna Zukerman, soprano; and Bharat Chandra, clarinet; was released by Naxos in January of 2013. London’s Guardian newspaper said of the recording, “ The performance as a whole… is well prepared and palpably committed as befits a premiere recording.” Gramophone has lauded Williamson Voices on the Annelies recording as “exhilarating” and described the ensemble as singing “with a precision and finesse normally found in the best of the UK’s large chamber choirs.” In the spring of 2015, the Westminster Williamson Voices will join with the Chamber Choir of The University of Aberdeen, Scotland and conductor Paul Mealor conductor for performances of Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms.
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