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A new chapter for the King's Choir

Category: News & Views: International Concert Season

We get to know Daniel Hyde, Conductor and soon-to-be Director of Music for the Choir of King's College, Cambridge ahead of their Australian tour.

In just a matter of weeks, one of the world's most famous choirs, the Choir of King's College, Cambridge will embark on their first nationwide tour of Australia since 2014, however this time the lineup looks a little different. The prestigious choir will be led by British organist and choral conductor, Daniel Hyde, who as of this coming October will succeed Sir Stephen Cleobury as the Choir's Director of Music.

We spoke with Daniel Hyde in the lead up to their highly anticipated Australian tour about his musical background, taking the reins from Sir Stephen Cleobury, the conversation surrounding all-boys choirs and the newly commissioned work from Australia's own Ross Edwards.

Daniel, firstly huge congratulations on your appointment! We look forward to welcoming you to Australia. 

Thank you!  I am very much looking forward to returning to Australia - it’s a country of which I am very fond!

I believe you’ve been here with the Choir before in the position of organ scholar. Tell us about your early years at King’s.

Yes, that’s right.  I was an organ scholar at King’s almost twenty years ago, and during my time we toured to Australia in 2001.  Before going to King’s I was Assistant Organist at St George’s Cathedral in Perth, Western Australia, so I know the place well and have good friends there.  At King’s I immersed myself in the life of the choir and chapel, relishing all the opportunities to perform and sometimes conduct in the absence of the director of music.  More widely in the University, I very much enjoyed all the opportunities that Cambridge had to offer in conducting, playing and performing with many like-minded fellow students across the University. 

How does it feel to be returning as Director of Music?  

It’s a daunting prospect to be taking over from Stephen Cleobury, and I am very aware of the tradition that is being entrusted to me.  I hope to prove myself as a worthy steward and guardian of this amazing institution.

How does your experience with the Choir inform your leadership style?

One of the great privileges of working in a place such as King’s is that one works with young, energetic and very talented students.  It’s a responsibility to take seriously when shaping the minds and talents of both the boys and adults of the choir.  It’s my job to lead by example, upholding the highest possible standards and encouraging all my students to make the very best of their time with us.

What is it about this choir that makes it so remarkable? Is it the tradition, the training, the people, or something else entirely?

There are many choirs that are similar to King’s College Choir.  In my mind, what makes King’s so special is that unique combination of Choir and building; the Chapel is an amazing place to work and it never becomes a space that one takes for granted.  To work in there day by day is a privilege - who wouldn’t want to be in there given half the chance?

I’d be interested to hear about your experiences at St Thomas Fifth Avenue in New York. What are the similarities/differences in the church music ‘scene’ in the US as opposed to the UK and the rest of the world?

The tradition at Saint Thomas is based very closely on the English model found at King’s, Westminster Abbey and other places.  However, Saint Thomas is in turn very much an American version of that model, serving a broad and diverse community of people who come from far and wide to be a part of the congregation on Fifth Avenue.  I think the American church music scene is thriving - it’s such a varied and well-resourced product in the USA, and the shape, size and sound of church music programs reflect a wonderfully eclectic and flourishing tradition.

In the past, you’ve criticised the ‘polite’ tradition of English choral music. Describe the ideal ‘Daniel Hyde’ sound.

I haven’t so much criticized as I have questioned the ‘polite’ sound of English choral music.  For me, the ideal sound is one that is rich in colour and quality; it’s one that is the product of a healthy and free technique.

© Hugh Warwick

It’s no small feat to step into the shoes of Sir Stephen Cleobury. What do you admire most about his leadership? What has he taught you that you will pass on? 

Stephen is the consummate professional.  He has taught generations of students the value of thorough preparation and real hard work.  Not only do I admire Stephen for the length of time he has served at King’s, but also for the sheer drive and constant commitment he has given to the place.  During his time the breadth of the choir’s activities has increased enormously, and the variety of repertoire and projects he’s undertaken is staggering.  The things he taught me are too numerous to list, but they might all be summed up in a standard which is so high, and below which one never dips.  

The traditional all-boys choir model has faced criticism in recent years. What are your thoughts about this?

I think the tradition of the all-boys choir model is just one way in which it’s possible to experience choral music today.  I think it’s a sign of great health that there are now many wonderful opportunities for girls and boys to be able to sing to the highest possible standards.  Indeed, here in Cambridge there are now two Colleges supporting girls' choirs to compliment those already running at King’s and St. John’s.  Of course, there will always be more that we can do; the question is not ‘should there be more opportunities for girls to sing’ but ‘how can we provide more opportunities for girls to sing?’  That’s the real challenge for the future and I think it’s very exciting to see new initiatives growing across the country in this regard.

Tell us about the repertoire for the coming tour. What are some of the highlights?

The repertoire for this tour presents an eclectic mix of the Choir’s regular repertoire; it’s all material that one might hear in the chapel during the course of a given year.  Of course there are some gems of the sixteenth century English school - Tallis, Byrd and Gibbons amongst them; there’s Purcell and Bach as well as some late-nineteenth and early  twentieth century greats such as Finzi, Stanford and Parry.  And we are delighted to be premiering a new commission from Ross Edwards as well as other new repertoire from two former students of King’s - Judith Weir and Errollyn Wallen.

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge is renowned for actively commissioning new repertoire, in this case from Australian composer Ross Edwards. Why is this important? 

It’s so important to commission and perform new repertoire  - one can’t rest on solely the established repertoire of past generations.  When we study and perform new music it can be so satisfying; new sounds, textures and fresh ideas all inform our approach to the older repertoire and our approach to new music is never undertaken in isolation from everything else we sing.

What can we expect from Ross’s new work? 

Ross explores some interesting textures for the choir and some acrobatic singing for the boys - I think you’ll like it, and we will very much enjoy developing our performance in each venue on the road.

Speaking from experience, what’s it like to undertake such a big tour? 

Big tours are tiring, but being away as a group can be a wonderfully enriching experience.  Since I have recently come on board for this tour, I’m looking forward to getting to know the group that little bit better, away from the stresses of academic and performing obligations here in Cambridge.

Finally, what are you looking forward to most about your Australian visit?

Most, if not all, of the current choir members have never been to Australia.  I’ve been many times, and I’m looking forward to seeing what my younger colleagues’ first reactions are to such a welcoming and historically rich country.  I know it’s going to be a very rewarding time for us all.

The Choir of King's College, Cambridge tour Australia from 20 Jul - 6 Aug.

View their full Australian tour dates and program.

Listen to our King's Choir playlist.