In December 2010, the Combined Choirs flew west to conduct a major two-week tour of the east coast of the United States of America,
Concerts were performed in Greenwich CT, St Luke-in-the-Fields (New York City), Christchurch Christiana Hundred DE, the University of Virginia and St George’s Arlington VA, as well as services at St Bartholomew’s Church (New York City), St Thomas’ Fifth Avenue, and St Paul’s K Street (Washington D.C.). The Choirs also had the chance to visit a number of famous American cities and sights, including the Rockefeller Centre in New York, Yale University in New Haven CT, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, and various landmarks around the National Mall in Washington D.C.
The programme was formed around seasonal music for Advent and Christmas, including Byrd’s Vigilate and movements from Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, as well as some more light-hearted music, such as Britten’s highly amusing The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard, sung by the gentlemen of the Choir. The centrepiece of the programme was a new piece entitled Bright Star Carol, commissioned for the Choirs from young New York composer Nico Muhly, whose recent success at ENO with his premier opera Two Boys has marked him out as one of the shining stars of contemporary classical music scene. Bright Star Carol was later recorded by the Choirs on their first disc under Mark Williams, Journey into Light, which was released to critical acclaim in September 2012.
Much to the Choirs’ surprise, the tour also resulted in their becoming media celebrities on both sides of the Atlantic. The closure of Heathrow due to snow, resulting in an unexpected five-day extension to the tour, led to the Choirs becoming the human face of the ensuing widespread travel disruption, with interviews and features on BBC News, ITV, ABC, NBC, and BBC Radio 5 Live, as well as in major national newspapers. During the extra five days in the US, the Choirs sang for the Governor of Virginia, and at a reception for European Ambassadors at the British Embassy in Washington, before enjoying an early Christmas dinner with members of the local community in Arlington. At the last minute, British Airways managed to secure the necessary flights back to the UK, ensuring that the Choir returned on the morning of Christmas Eve, in time for the Choristers to open their presents at home.