Westminster Williamson Voices
James Jordan, conductor
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. A community of singers, the ensemble, founded by James Jordan, has quickly distinguished itself on the international choral stage for its distinctive artistry, wide palette of choral colors, critically reviewed recordings, educational outreach and its mission to perform new music. The choir has additionally distinguished itself as a living choral laboratory. The ensemble uniquely uses chant as the center of its musicianship study and performance. This emphasis has grown out of its residency 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. Its recording Living Voices debuted on the Billboard charts. 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 Westminster Williamson Voices as an ensemble of “supreme artistry” and a choir that performs with “truth and precision.” And from a publication of the Arvo Pärt Project in 2014: “The Westminster Williamson Voices under his (Jordan’s) direction “are coming into their own in the American choral scene both here and abroad.” In 2013, the ensemble received a GRAMMY nomination for its recording on the Naxos label in the category of Best Choral Performance. It was the first small ensemble at the University level to receive such a nomination.
In July, 2013, the Westminster Williamson Voices had the unique privilege of performing as part of the world Britten 100 celebration, 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 and was conducted by James Whitbourn. 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. This past summer, the choir performed the 50th Anniversary performance of the Bernstein Chichester Psalms on the exact day of its premiere, under British conductor Daniel Hyde. 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 in 2014.
The ensemble has clearly 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 50 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, Peter Relph, Dan Forrest and Kile Smith. It has premiered three major works by British composer James Whitbourn that have brought 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 tampura. 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 premieres in Princeton and New York of Paul Mealor’s Crucifixus for choir, orchestra and baritone soloist. The composer, writing of those performances, says 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. In 2015, 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 Westminster Williamson Voices has also assembled an impressive recorded discography. It has recorded more than 40 choral masterworks on the Teaching Music through Performance CD box sets that are used by conductors around the world as models of choral performance. 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. 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 Westminster 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 choir premiered Thomas LaVoy’s Songs of the Questioner. In the spring of 2016, it performed two premieres of works by composer Dan Forrest in addition to completing another volume of recordings for the Teaching Music through Performance Series.
November 19, 2016, it will perform Arvo Pärt’s virtuosic Kanon Pokajanen, "Canon of Repentence,” in the contemplative setting of the Metropolitan Museum’s Temple of Dendur.
Recordings by the Westminster Williamson Voices can be found on the Naxos label, and additionally on the GIAChoralworks label and on iTunes. Online, the choir can be heard and seen on the Westminster Williamson Voices YouTube channel.
Grammy-nominated conductor James Jordan is recognized and praised throughout the musical world as one of America’s pre-eminent conductors, writers, music psychologists and innovators in choral music. He was described as a “visionary” by The Choral Journal, which cited his book Evoking Sound as a “must read.” His more than 40 books explore both the philosophical and spiritual basis of musicianship, as well as aspects of choral rehearsal teaching and learning and are considered to be essential books in the conducting profession.