What a remarkable year The Sixteen have had – and what a superb way for the much-loved and consistently excellent choir to celebrate their 30th anniversary season!
It’s particularly pleasing to give this Award – which recognises the contribution made by an artist (or in this case artists) to musical life over the past 12 months – to The Sixteen. Not only do they perform and record music often little-known to all but the choral aficionado (and sometimes even then…) with exquisite style and beauty of sound, they are also among the hardest-working and most dedicated ambassadors for choral music, something we explored in our May issue cover story.
Every year, under the stewardship of founder-conductor Harry Christophers, The Sixteen take a thoughtfully curated programme of music – usually, though not exclusively, early repertoire – on a tour of cathedrals, chapels and concert halls throughout the UK, hosting a number of workshops for amateur singers en route. But as well as the Choral Pilgrimage, they are as likely to be found presenting an oratorio at the Barbican, seen performing at the Southbank Centre where they are associate artists or at international venues, appearing on television in the BBC’s Sacred Music series, or heard on radio as “The Voices of Classic FM”.
And, of course, recording. Their catalogue was already extensive when, in the late 1990s the group founded their own label, Coro. It continues to go from strength to strength, garnering plaudits with its releases exploring the full breadth of the choral repertoire. This year alone has seen The Sixteen commit composers as varied as Purcell and Guerrero, Howells and Stanford, James MacMillan and Roxanna Panufnik to disc. The highlight must however be the superb disc of Handel Coronation Anthems, Gramophone’s CD of the Month in April and now winner of the Baroque Vocal category at this year’s Awards. It demonstrates perfectly what is so inspiring about this group: some of the most familiar pieces in the choral repertoire, even something as firmly etched on our consciousness as Zadok the Priest, emerged feeling newly crafted and thrillingly alive.
But perhaps most satisfying – for us as well as for The Sixteen – is that this year sees the group receive Awards both from our critics and from the public. Affirmation, if it were needed, that this group both excel artistically and inspire and engage audiences throughout the UK and beyond (alongside Gramophone readers, listeners to radio stations around the world from Classic FM to CBC in Canada to Radio New Zealand voted).
The Sixteen emerged as clear front-runners from an extremely prestigious field. Their fellow nominees were: pianists Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly, soprano Diana Damrau, conductors Gustavo Dudamel, René Jacobs and Mariss Jansons, and bass-baritones Gerald Finley and Bryn Terfel. Not a bad selection to beat.