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Australia Tour, Sep 2010 - West Australian

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Tickets to the Choir of Trinity College Cambridge at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre have sold out and director Stephen Layton is quietly pleased. It is a bright sunny day in Brisbane and the British conductor plans to spend the day cycling around the river. It’s a long way from the cathedrals and willow trees of Cambridge, where the choir is based. The group of 30 choristers tour only once a year and Australia was Layton’s top pick.

“I have been here previously conducting the Melbourne Symphony, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Queensland Orchestra. I love the country and the climate and I believe in the music I’m doing so I wanted to bring it to Australia.”

The English choral tradition has been part of Layton’s life since he was a boarding schoolboy, when he juggled daily singing as a chorister around football practice. “It was a big commitment but you got a great education. I moved from that tradition into a profession of music and I’m very grateful for the training it gave me.”

He is now director of the City of London Sinfonia and director of music at Trinity College. The choir he has brought to Australia is a mixed-voice choir of Trinity College undergraduates, who provide the music for Trinity College services.

The 19-21 year olds have enjoyed being tourists in Australia and today they are relaxing at the Queensland zoo. Tonight, however, they will robe up and transform into disciplined choristers, performing from memory the ancient and modern choral music Layton has drilled into them. The program for their Perth performance next week includes the traditional choral music of British composers William Byrd, Henry Purcell and Thomas Tallis alongside contemporary music by Arvo Part, Pawel Lukaszewski and others.

“I wanted to juxtapose the Renaissance English music with new music by the Baltic composers to show that modern music is not so new,” Layton explains. “Much of it draws from the past and has grown out of the ancient music. Baltic music is very beautiful. It has been written out of struggle, because until very recently these states were under communist rule. They were so isolated and now they are celebrating being free.”

The program will also include music by Australian composer Paul Stanhope. Stanhope has much experience writing choral music and Layton says the choir enjoys singing Deserts of Exile, which uses Israeli texts from the Hebrew bible and a Palestinian poem to explore the political situation in Jerusalem. 

“It’s very important to me, coming to Australia, to be performing Australian music,” says Layton. “This will be just the beginning of an exploration of music from this part of the world for us.”

Rosalind Appleby