Today a new fundraising ‘single’ is released by John Hosking and Olivia Hunt raising funds for Cathedral Choir Emergency Fund which is being organised by the Friends of Cathedral Music, part of the Cathedral Music Trust in partnership with the Ouseley Trust and Choir Schools’ Association. I was delighted to speak with John and find out a little more about the project. Before reading further, the link to the recording on itunes is Ave Maria
Olivia Hunt – soprano; John Hosking – organist & composer
Anna: How do you know each other?
John: Olivia and I have worked together over the past six years, mainly as an early music duo partnership, although I always approach Olivia first to be the soloist in choral concerts and special services that I direct when the need arises. Over this period, we have been broadcast on the BBC’s ‘Introducing’ scheme several times, opened the North Wales International Music Festival, Conwy Festival and Beaumaris Festival, released two CD recordings for Willowhayne Records and given concerts in cathedrals, parish churches and other venues throughout the UK. Our highlights during this time must be performing in the London International Exhibition of Early Music and touring the South West, giving concerts in venues such as Bristol Cathedral and St. Michael’s Mount.
Anna: Who came up with the idea and who approached who?
John: Olivia and I began by thinking of ideas about how to raise money for our new CD recording taking place in Blackburn Cathedral, which will consist of works for soprano and organ (interspersed with some organ solos) that have never received a commercial recording. I had written a crossover style setting of the Ave Maria a couple of years back that has never yet received a performance, so we decided to release this as a remotely recorded single during lockdown.
Anna: How did rehearsals run?
John: In typical fashion for us, they simply didn’t. We often meet to plan programmes or discuss future plans, but only really have dedicated rehearsals for especially difficult works (such as David Briggs’ ‘3 motets for soprano and organ’) or prior to a big concert. Olivia works as an NHS theatre support worker as well as running her own equine physio business, so time is often in short supply. Our main rehearsal for any event is usually on the day of the concert. Olivia learns repertoire exceptionally quickly and has a very natural ability to get into the feel of a piece immediately, usually shaping it exquisitely at sight. Given this, when I write a new work, any run through is usually for my benefit to hear the result of my scribblings rather than anything else. It’s wonderful to know that in Olivia, I have someone who I can trust to learn and perform a new work at a high standard without having to worry about right notes or rhythms.
Anna: How did you gather the orchestra?
John: For the orchestra, I decided mainly to ask people who I have worked with over the years to play – some of whom I haven’t worked with since leaving school in 1994. Included in the players is the principal horn of the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, a recently graduated harpist from the Royal College of Music, an oboist who I haven’t seen since teaching her the piano back in 2004, a viola player and violinist who regularly plays backing tracks for pop songs and a clarinettist who premiered a sonata I wrote a couple of years ago. This mix of players just wouldn’t be possible usually and lockdown
provided a great opportunity to bring these excellent musicians together.
Anna: What were the challenges of putting everything together and what was the biggest surprise of the project?
John: I expected the biggest challenge to be synchronising all of the parts; thanks to a click track and extremely rhythmic players, this wasn’t an issue at all. The biggest hurdle to overcome was the tuning of wind and string instruments without anything else for them to play to. In a live orchestral or chamber performance, musicians are naturally used to listening to what is going on around them and tuning into that. To overcome this initial issue, I eventually asked everyone to play along to a Sibelius Sounds track – almost imitating a live ensemble experience.
Anna: Why support the Cathedral Choir Emergency Fund which is being organised by the Friends of Cathedral Music, part of the Cathedral Music Trust in partnership with the Ouseley Trust and Choir Schools’ Association?
John: Both Olivia and I have choral foundations to thank for our training and developed musicianship. Olivia was Head Chorister of Chester Cathedral, singing as a girl chorister for 10 years. This unparalleled singing experience has made her into the musician she is today. As an organist, I was fortunate to work at St. Martin-in-the-Fields and Westminster Abbey as a student, which taught me most of what I know today as an accompanist. I was Assistant Director of Music at St. Asaph Cathedral for 14 years and still regularly work as a deputy organist at Chester Cathedral, so cathedral music has stayed in my blood. Our cathedrals find it difficult to support their wonderful music departments at the best of times, but the Corona Virus has made this even more difficult, with a severe loss of income everywhere. Cathedral music’s main job is to enhance the liturgy, but it does so much more than that. It empowers those trained as choristers to achieve so much more in later life through attention to detail, learning about time keeping, prioritising work at busy periods, working as a team and enhancing confidence, reading and interpretation of literature. It would be a travesty to lose this in any one of our cathedrals and so we were keen to do our bit to help save this tradition. We therefore decided to divide the proceeds of the single equally between this fund and our new CD recording.
Anna: Can donations be made to this fund?
John: If anyone would like to do more to support the fund than download a copy of the single, they can find out further information on the Friends of Cathedral Music’s website.
Anna: Can the Ave Maria score be purchased?
John: Yes – it will be published as the piano and voice reduction by the Chichester Music Press in conjunction with the release of the single on 15th August.
John Hosking is Director of Music at Holy Trinity, Southport and one of the organists for BBC Radio 4’ ‘Daily Service’.
John Hosking has written a new setting of the Ave Maria which has been recorded remotely during lockdown by Olivia Hunt (soprano) and an orchestra. It will raise money for the Cathedral Choirs’ Emergency Fund being run by Friends of Cathedral Music, part of the Cathedral Music Trust in partnership with the Ouseley Trust and Choir Schools’ Association, aiming to support Cathedral choirs after lockdown.
John Hosking said: “as a church musician myself, and someone who has learned their trade via Britain’s unrivalled Cathedral and Collegiate choral tradition, I felt it important to support this rich heritage and ensure future generations can use their creativity and musical talents at a high standard in daily worship. Many cathedrals struggled to maintain their high standard of daily choral worship prior to lockdown; the onset of the Corona virus has put additional financial pressures on our cathedrals and it is important to help them through this crisis.
During lockdown, I have kept myself extremely busy undertaking remote recordings with many singers across the UK. It has been wonderful to be able to give people a chance to continue singing, albeit in different circumstances, and to not only work with those I perform with regularly but to also regain contact with friends I have performed with over the years. My biggest lockdown project to date – a remote recording of Guilmant’s ‘Ecce panis angelorum’ for harp, organ, soloists and chorus – was featured in the online Costa Rica International Choral Festival.
The Ave Maria recording features my duo partner – soprano, Olivia Hunt, who was formerly Head Chorister at Chester Cathedral, during which time she sang as a soloist on BBC Radios 3 and 4 and reached the final of the BBC Young Chorister of the Year competition. Olivia and I have worked together closely over the past 6 years, releasing CDs, performing all over the UK and having broadcasts on the BBC ‘Introducing’ scheme.
The remotely recorded orchestra includes recent graduates from the Royal College of Music and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, a viola player who regularly records backing tracks for pop artists and the principal horn player of the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra in Norway – a mix that wouldn’t be possible during normal times.
The single will be released on iTunes (and other major digital platforms) on 15th August and sales will be split equally between the FCM appeal and a new CD recording that Olivia and I will be undertaking in Blackburn Cathedral.”
John Hosking is Director of Music at Holy Trinity, Southport and an organist for the BBC’s ‘Daily Service’, formerly holding organist posts at Westminster Abbey and St. Asaph Cathedral.