December 2012 saw the Combined Choirs return to the United States for their second visit in two years, on this occasion touring the West Coast.
The trip coincided with the commercial release of the Choirs’ disc of Anglo-American festive music, Journey into Light (Signum 2012). Both Choirs gave highly popular and often sold-out concerts at the Church of Our Lady of Fatima (Seattle), St Mary’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (Portland), St Paul’s Episcopal Church (Oakland) and Old St Mary’s Cathedral (San Francisco), with standing ovations at every performance. Indeed, a review in The Oregonian of the concert in Portland (which may be found here), hailed the “exceptional voices” of the Choristers and the Choral Scholars, along with their “warm, even tone”.
The concert programmes involved music recorded for Journey into Light, such as Nico Muhly’s innovative and exciting Bright Star Carol, commissioned for the Choirs for their tour of the east coast in 2010 (see here); Britten’s exquisite Hymn to the Virgin; and traditional favourites such as In the bleak midwinter. A number of other seasonal pieces also featured, including Gabriel Jackson’s setting of Creator of the Stars of Night; John Ireland’s beautiful arrangement of The Holy Boy (sung by the Choristers); the Epiphany motet Omnes de Saba by Lassus; and Giovanni Gabrieli’s awe-inspiring seventeen-part Magnificat.
In Oakland, the Combined Choirs of Jesus College were delighted to be joined in concert by the boys and men of Chapel College, with local instrumentalists. In addition to the concerts, both the College Choir and the Choristers sang masses in Portland at St Stephen’s Church and at Holy Rosary Church respectively, performing Victoria’s Missa Alma Redemptoris Mater and Britten’s Missa Brevis as well as motets by Escribano and Dankworth.
Alongside all the singing, there was time to take in many of the sights of Seattle, Portland and San Francisco. The Choirs were able to explore Pike Place Market, enjoy the view from the top of the Space Needle, buy lunch from food trucks in Portland, visit the beautiful Multnomah Falls, ice-skate in a shopping mall, have their photograph taken next to the Golden Gate Bridge, experience the fascinating Exploratorium, and ride the famous San Francisco cable cars.
One unexpected but highly enjoyable activity was an impromptu hula-hooping session with a group of peace activists in Seattle (where even the Director of Music became involved!). The Choirs also attracted a great deal of local media attention, and enjoyed the extremely generous hospitality of local people, Choir Patrons, and friends of choir-members at meals, receptions and parties galore. Finally, and indeed thankfully after the experience of the last tour to America, Virgin Atlantic was able to fly the Choirs home on schedule, without any delays on account of adverse weather conditions, fulfilling the ancient prophecy: ‘Virgin delivers Jesus in time for Christmas’!