From Byrd to Michael Bublé, The King's Singers cannot be pigeonholed

Christopher GabbitasMon 30th September 2013

Listen to excerpts from the group's recordings of Richafort's Requiem and the Great American Songbook

Following the success of recent recordings on Signum Classics (including the Grammy Award-winning 'Simple Gifts') The King’s Singers release their 'Great American Songbook' on September 30. Christopher Gabbitas – second baritone with The King’s Singers and one of the driving forces behind this major new project – talks about how their unique a cappella style enables them to shift seamlessly from Byrd to Berio to Michael Bublé…

Musical life in The King’s Singers is one long round of learning, interpreting and performing, when it comes down to it. Whether you’re in the first few years of eager panic, frantically learning literally hundreds of new pieces, or later in your career getting to grips with a brand new commission hot off the press, it’s the variety and breadth of repertoire in the library that means no two concerts are alike. The essence of our existence is the music.

It’s always been difficult – even for us – to describe The King’s Singers in one sentence, precisely because we can’t be pigeonholed in the traditional sense. A group that over the past two years alone has released recordings of the Richafort Requiem, a devotional programme focused on the Lord’s Prayer, a live Christmas album and DVD, and a tribute to the Great American Songbook, is not easily pinned down! However, it’s all music, whenever and however written, and who are we to judge its provenance or validity? We present what we think is good music, and what we believe others will enjoy, and to my mind that’s what makes the group refreshing and relevant even after 45 years. It’s certainly what makes this job such a pleasure: we champion whatever we’re singing at the time.

We are often asked how it is that we can strive for a high standard in so many different styles. Quite simply, music is music. We approach everything with the same ideals of performance integrity – whether it’s Renaissance polyphony, Romantic part-song, a contemporary commission or close harmony. As long as we maintain our standard of balance, blend and tuning, and sustain contrasts throughout a performance (there’s nothing worse than a one-dimensional concert), we can’t go far wrong. Besides, the only pigeonhole we’re really interested in is the one marked ‘excellent’.

Recently we’ve decided as a group to focus more on the musicological side of recording. We teamed up with Dr David Skinner for the Richafort, and used brand new performing editions throughout the disc. In September we completed a world premiere recording of 'Il Trionfo di Dori', a collection of Italian madrigals that will provide a counterweight to our 2001 recording of the English collection 'The Triumphs of Oriana', and worked closely with the man behind the sole modern edition, Harrison Powley. For 'Great American Songbook', we decided to commission an album entirely of brand new arrangements, partly in order to provide continuity throughout the recording but also so that each song would relate well to the others in terms of pace and mood. The only way to do this was to construct the album from scratch, and arranger Alexander L’Estrange proved more than up to that task. Many other arrangements of this repertoire lose the essence of the original song, and we were anxious to retain the composer’s intention and feel despite adding elements of Britishness where appropriate. It was a collaborative process, and it worked well.

Approaching this repertoire was a real labour of love because the canon is so vast (and its limits so undefined) that it became almost impossible to choose just 17 songs to record, especially as we all had our own personal favourites and the songs still feel fresh after nearly a century. That’s the measure of a song that’s worth arranging in close harmony – how will it stand the test of time? Today’s fleeting trends are rejected in favour of songs with true ‘first growth’ potential, which is why we still sing songs by Lennon and McCartney, Paul Simon and Billy Joel, to name but four giants of 20th century songwriting.

I can still remember ‘discovering’ the Rat Pack, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James and the other great American singers from this era whilst at school and university. They became the acceptable soundtrack to every dinner-party and my love for the style has only grown with time. Since joining The King’s Singers in 2004, and re-inspired by De-Lovely, the biopic of Cole Porter’s life that was released in the same year, I’ve wanted us to put our own stamp onto this repertoire, and hopefully with this recording we’ve added a different interpretation to the many that already exist.

The King’s Singers’ major new album 'Great American Songbook' is released on Signum Classics on September 30. The group marks its 45th anniversary in 2013. signumrecords.com / kingssingers.com.

Listen to Agnus Dei from Richafort's Requiem on the Gramophone Player below:







Listen to Let's Misbehave from the Great American Songbook on the Gramophone Player below:







Christopher Gabbitas's picture

Christopher Gabbitas

Christopher Gabbitas is second baritone with The King’s Singers. A former solicitor, he sang with the Gentlemen of the Temple Church, Polyphony, The English Concert and The King's Consort before joining The King’s Singers in 2004. (photo: Benjamin Ealovega)

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