The King’s Singers

The Kings Singers

The King’s Singers (KS) is a classical music supergroup with two Grammys and one Emmy that performs over 100 concerts per season all over the world. If you haven’t heard of them, then open your ears!

This group have been around since 1968 and is steeped in the English choral tradition of King’s College Cambridge, but brings those high precision vocal and ensemble skills to an eclectic range of styles from avant-garde to Renaissance to contemporary pop.

The line-up has changed over the years, but the quality and versatility of the group have not. Jonathon Howard (bass) has been a member for 13 years, and Christopher Bruerton (baritone) for 11 years. Chris is from NZ, and don’t we Aussies love to embrace Kiwis who make the international stage! Patrick Dunachie and Edward Button sing countertenor (the male equivalent of the soprano range), Julian Gregory, tenor, and Nick Ashby, baritone.

The current lineup has been stable for four years, and what a busy four years it has been! They have released 11 albums since 2019 and also launched their Global Foundation, which seeks to reach out to community singers and choirs through free workshops and online sing-along videos. The foundation also nurtures new composers through competitions, workshops, and commissions and brings in mentors such as Joe Hisaishi and Ola Gjeilo.

Their website says, “Underpinning all this work is the fundamental belief that the act of singing together is beneficial, both individually and also for the societies in which we live. In today’s ever-more fractured world, we feel it’s more important than ever.”

The King's Singers

The album that showcases songs that bind people together in grief, in celebration, or when fighting for a cause is “Finding Harmony”(2020) and their Melbourne Recital Centre concert (19 March, 2024) opened with four songs from this album, including This Little Light of Mine and If I Can Help Somebody from the Civil Rights Movement in the USA.

Three albums were released in 2023 (I told you they were busy!), and we were treated to highlights from each. ”Tom + Will – Weelkes & Byrd: 400 Years” featured Renaissance psalms and madrigals, “Wonderland” featured avant-garde musical storytelling with Georgy Ligeti’s Nonsense Madrigals based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland stories, and “When You Wish Upon a Star” is a Disney album but with arrangements commissioned from the likes of John Rutter, Toby Young and Alexander L’Estrange.

However, it was the Australian ties that brought the experience close to our hearts. During the tour that placed the King’s Singers on the international stage in 1972, they visited 30 different Australian cities and sang a song they had commissioned from Australian composer Malcolm Williamson. This song “The Musicians of Bremen” was recorded for Wonderland (2023) and really shined in performance with each singer taking on a character in the story (donkey, dog, cat, rooster, and two would-be thieves).

Derek Bogle’s song ‘’And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” always brings me to tears but the dissonance between the bare-faced lyrics (about the ANZAC veteran returning from war without legs and asking the question why) and the light musical setting was even more poignant due to beauty of the arrangement and the softly caressing warm velvety tones that is the King’s Singer’s signature sound.

If a choir nerd friend brought you, there was more than enough familiar music to keep you happy: from Mexican mariachi band to Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Beatles and even Horses by Aussie Daryl Braithwaite, now a pop music favourite. They were pleased to tell us that the Melbourne Recital Centre is one of their favourite venues in the whole world and gave us two encores – a hilarious Flight of the Bumblebee (complete with an imagined bee making a nuisance of itself) and then I Still Call Australia Home. What’s not to like!

Finally, to choir nerds—did you know that Timothy Wayne-Wright, ex-KS, now lives in NZ and visits Australia regularly? He will be leading professional development workshops for singers and conductors at UKARIA A Capella Academy, Adelaide, in June 2024, with VOCES8 as Ensemble in Residence. Get on it if you can!

This review also appears on It’s On The House, and check out more reviews at Dark Stories Theatre to see what else is on in your town.

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