The King’s Singers,
extraordinary in the group is that you don’t feel the age gap among colleagues. Age doesn’t really come into it.”
What does come into the group’s meticulous upkeep through transitions is a commitment to exemplary musical skill plus alertness to intangibles that suggest that a new member will help the group move ahead in a subtly shifting new direction without undercutting its core character. “When the very first changeovers happened, they found that very traumatic,” Hurley reported. “But what we’ve found since then is that the spirit of former members lives on. The heritage stays, layers of heritage stay; and yet a new person comes in with some new ideas. When the occasion arises that we need to fill a position, we are interested in finding a person who is aware of the group’s traditions and how we have approached a certain piece, but we’re not looking for an actual impersonator of the person who has left. We’re looking for people who can grow into their role in their own way. Our process of choosing new singers is successful for us. We never actually advertise an opening. Instead we quietly put out the word among a network of people we trust deeply, and various possibilities are suggested. And then we invite possible members to sing as part of the ensemble; we have people sing with us, not at us, and eventually you get a feeling that someone has the right voice and an attitude that makes the group feel relaxed. It’s sad to see a member go, but in some ways these transitions help the group maintain a youthful element. It becomes a positive thing.”
Listeners who know the King’s Singers from recordings may have widely varying impressions of what they do. Their discography includes more than 150 recordings, although it’s hard to arrive at an accurate count, as a number of the works they have recorded resurface in various compilations and repackagings, and quite a few have gone out of print only to resurface on a different label. Some of their CDs are devoted to single composers — Josquin des Prez, for example, or Orlando di Lasso. Some are given over to programs tightly bound in time and place, such as a collection of Spanish Renaissance compositions or The Triumphs of Oriana, an assemblage of 25 madrigals written by English Renaissance luminaries and published in 1601 as a collection in honor of Elizabeth I — a cycle whose historical importance and infectious charm have unaccountably failed to earn it much of a following four centuries later. At the other end of the spectrum are CDs the group has devoted to Beatles favorites, to the Great American Songbook, to folk songs, or to the buoyant circa-1930 hits of their distinguished predecessors The Comedian Harmonists, a German group that Hitler’s minions dispersed in 1934.
In concert, however, the King’s Singers typically offer a potpourri that runs from classics to moderns, from the serious to the comical, from the sacred to the utterly secular. That’s what Santa Feans can expect in this week’s holiday concert. “The first half,” Hurley said, “consists of more classically based Christmas music. Some are well-known tunes, like ‘Silent Night’ in an arrangement by John Rutter or a really beautiful setting of ‘O Little One Sweet’ as harmonized by J.S. Bach. Others are rather less known: for example, the French carol ‘Noël nouvelet,’ beautifully arranged by our baritone Philip Lawson, who also wrote another of the pieces, ‘Lullay my liking.’ And we’ve also created some readings, wonderful Christmas readings to add another sort of element, another color to the mix. In the second half, we have a lovely, frothy Christmas piece in four-part harmony by Saint-Saëns, a charming piece, really; and then we go for the lighter material, including definitely one or two pieces you can’t get through Christmas without hearing — a great arrangement of ‘Jingle Bells,’ for example. There’s a real contrast in this program. That’s what a King’s Singers show is all about: creating a cohesive program that includes lots of contrasting repertoire. There are classics and there is lighter fare. It’s quite a bit like a meal. You certainly want to have some dessert, but you can’t eat just the dessert three times over.”