Jesus College, founded out of the ancient nunnery of St Radegund in 1496, has a long and rich tradition of church music. It is distinctive in maintaining two choirs: the Chapel Choir, dating from the foundation of the College, which is made up of boy choristers and adult male singers; and the College Choir, formed in 1982, which has female undergraduates for its top line. The adult male singers form the ‘back row’ for both choirs. Each choir has developed a distinctive reputation and repertoire, whilst combining for key events and large-scale projects. In addition to the weekly schedule of choral services, members of the Choirs enjoy concerts, recordings, broadcasts and foreign tours.
The College Choir sings two services of Choral Evensong each week and regularly performs at additional services, special events and concerts in Cambridge, the UK and abroad. Recently, the Choir has given well-received performances of Bach’s St John Passion, Handel’s Dixit Dominus and Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle; participated in the BBC Proms as part of the University’s 800th anniversary celebrations; and recorded broadcasts for BBC TV and Radios 2, 3 and 4. Praised by The Times for their “energy, verve, immaculate tuning and beguiling tone”, Jesus Choral Scholars enjoy an exciting schedule of European and long-haul travel and in recent years have undertaken major international educational programmes in India and Sri Lanka.
The Chapel Choir is one of only three all-male college choirs of its kind in Cambridge, and is highly regarded. It is thought that boys may have sung in the Chapel from the foundation of the College in the fifteenth century, but in 1849 the Choir was re-endowed and provision was made for “six singing boys” to adorn the worship of the newly restored Chapel. Since then, trebles from all over Cambridge have volunteered to sing for College services. The College does not maintain a choir school, but instead recruits choristers from a wide range of local schools.
The Chapel Choir sings for two of the four Choral Evensongs each week, and at concerts and special events throughout the year. The Choristers have recently performed in Switzerland, France and Germany, and enjoy leading regular singing days which see hundreds of local schoolchildren visiting Jesus College Chapel to take part in vocal workshops and a final concert. The Chapel Choir has made several recordings, including a disc of Choral Evensong from Jesus College, and Sweet Spirit, Comfort Me, a selection of music for boys’ voices on the Priory label.
The Combined Choirs, an ensemble of nearly fifty singers, come together for occasional services, concerts, recordings and tours. Recent projects have included Fauré’s Requiem and works by Poulenc and Rodney Bennett, also with Britten Sinfonia; Bach’s St Matthew Passion in St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Haydn’s Nelson Mass, Monteverdi’s Vespers with His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts, and Handel’s Messiah with Britten Sinfonia, all under Mark Williams. In December 2010 the Combined Choirs toured together for the first time in several years, performing in a variety of venues along the East Coast of the United States of America, and featuring on television stations including BBC1, ITV, CNN and ABC, and on BBC Radio 5 Live. They then toured Germany together in July 2012, performing in Arnstadt and Leipzig amongst other places, and visited the West Coast of the USA in December 2012 where performances in Seattle, Portland, Oakland and San Francisco were greeted with standing ovations. In July 2015, they performed in France. This is the fourth disc recorded by the Combined Choirs for Signum Classics. Their first disc Journey into Light, featuring music from Advent to Candlemas, was released in 2012, their second, War and Peace, featuring music for Remembrance, was released in 2013 and their third My Beloved’s Voice, featuring music from the Song of Songs and other sacred songs of love, was released in 2014. In 2015, their fourth disc, Out of Darkness, entered the UK specialist classical charts at number one.