Neil in right place to take up the baton permanently

Neil Taylor, organist and Director of Music at Sheffield Cathedral,
Neil Taylor, organist and Director of Music at Sheffield Cathedral,
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NEIL Taylor becomes the Sheffield Chorale’s fourth conductor in almost as many years when he directs them at Ecclesall Parish Church next Saturday, June 18, and on July 9 when the concert is repeated as part of this year’s Fringe Festival in Buxton.

If it sounds like a Sheffield United scenario, it isn’t. The Blades have gone through four managers in a quarter of the time and the reason for the Chorale’s turnover of conductors isn’t failure, it’s success.

Created by James Kirkwood in 1984 from the highly successful BBC Radio Sheffield Choir, when he retired in 2005 Yorkshire-based Craig Edwards was appointed conductor and choir bloomed, but commitments in London forced him to resign after two years.

Jim Kirkwood returned to fill the breach until January 2009 when another talented young, Yorkshire-based conductor Thomas Leech took up the baton and the choir further blossomed, but he also found it too much with other commitments and resigned earlier this year, conducting his last concert in April.

Enter, Neil Taylor, organist and Director of Music at Sheffield Cathedral, who says: “The Chorale approached me with a view to conducting their two forthcoming concerts at Ecclesall and Buxton.

Thereafter, he adds: “The choir and I will discuss what the future holds.”

He is certainly equipped to take on the job on a permanent basis and unlike Jim Kirkwood’s successors, will not have to travel from far flung parts of Yorkshire for weekly Chorale rehearsals at Endcliffe Methodist Church.

Away from Sheffield Cathedral, Neil’s highest profile conducting job at present is with the extremely successful St George’s Singers in Manchester whose music director he became in September 2006.

He appears frequently with the BBC as music director and organist for Radio 4’s Daily Service, as well as Sunday Worship, Sunday Half-Hour and Songs of Praise and he also directed or assisted on choral courses at Aldeburgh, Eton and in Mexico City

When time allows, as he puts it, he gives organ recitals, playing in many major venues throughout the UK – the next one, Temple Church, London on July 6.

Hailing from Bradford, he was a cathedral chorister there and, after graduating from the Royal College of Music, was appointed assistant organist and master of the choristers at Norwich Cathedral in 1990 where, among other things, he started and trained the Girls’ Choir with conspicuous success.

He came to Sheffield Cathedral from Norwich in 1997 as organist and Master of the Music (a title since changed to Director of Music) where the choirs of boys, girls and men have gone from strength to strength under his stewardship.

Speaking about the content of the imminent Sheffield Chorale concert, entitled Music to Hear, Neil says: “The programme was compiled to give the singers and audience alike the chance to perform, hear and enjoy the wide ranging styles that choral music has to offer.”

The concert takes its title from one of items in it, Music to Hear by George Shearing, a five-movement work of Shakespeare sonnet and song settings by the legendary jazz who died earlier this year, while elsewhere there is a Ward Swingle version of the Bard’s often-set It Was a Lover and Her Lass.

Three pieces by John Rutter, four if his arrangement of Down By the Riverside is counted, include the third and fifth of the five Birthday Madrigals he penned as a 75th birthday present to George Shearing, plus Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind from his choral cycle When Icicles Hang.

Three pieces by Elgar are also on the programme, all pre-1900: two part-songs The Snow and My Love Dwelt in a Northern Land, and final chorus – also in effect a part-song for female voices – from his King Olaf cantata of 1896, As Torrents in Summer.

The Chorale men get a chance to show off their expertise if George Stead’s setting of Psalm 126 penned for Colne Valley Male Voice Choir before the oldest piece in the concert his heard, Robert Pearsall’s fairly familiar madrigal Lay a Garland.

Parry: My Soul There is a Country, and Delius: Midsummer Song (1908), each get a look in, Ernest Tomlinson’s setting of Rollicum, Rorum gets an outing and proceedings end in further realms of swing with an arrangement of Cy Coleman’s Rhythm of Life from Sweet Charity.

Giving vocal chords a rest, pianist Ian Sharpe has a couple of solo slots at Ecclesall which will be filled by Ella Taylor, 2011 BBC Choir Girl of Year and Neil’s teenage daughter should it have escaped your attention, at Buxton Methodist Church on July 9.

Tickets for the Ecclesall concert, £10, £8 concessions, £6 students, under 16s free, are available from 07816 062905, or on the door and it begins at 7.30pm.

Neil, meanwhile, is on home turf this Sunday for an uplifting concert of Choral Music for Pentecost, a joint affair involving the choirs of Sheffield Cathedral and St John’s Church, Ranmoor that ends this year’s Cathedral/ University Arts Festival.

And, as part of the same festival 24 hours earlier, this Saturday, the Sheffield Oratorio Chorus bring their present season to a close with a performance of Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle.

As people who know the composer’s ‘last mortal sin of his old age’ as he described it will know, it is neither little or solemn and more operatic than liturgical, though it was conceived in a ‘petite’ sense with Rossini specifying the work for 12 singers, two pianos and harmonium.

Four of the singers were the soprano, alto, tenor, bass soloists who with the other eight made up the SATB chorus.

First performed in 1864, two years later he began orchestrating the work in a way that didn’t destroy its ‘chamber’ conception and this version was premiered on February 28 1869, three months after his death, the date being significant because he had been born 77 years earlier, in a leap year on February 29.

The work follows the usual form of Mass settings, Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei, though he interpolated the Holy Sacrament hymn, O Salutaris Hostia, between the Benedictus and Agnus Dei.

The Oratorio Chorus performance, as most do, uses the piano and harmonium instrumentation.