Back in January there was quite a rumpus when BBC Television screened Jerry Springer – The Opera by Stewart Lee (writer) and Richard Thomas (composer). Almost 50,000 people complained about the 8000 obscenities in the opera, and there were protests by a number of religious groups. Among the objectors was BBC Radio 3 producer Antony Pitts who resigned his job in protest about the alleged blasphemous content in the broadcast. Among the programmes Pitts worked on was the highly acclaimed, and cutting edge, Late Junction.
But Antony Pitts didn’t disappear as a footnote in history. He has a flourishing career as a contemporary composer, and the new Hyperion recording of his choral work Seven Letters has been selected as Editor’s Choice in the August edition of the prestigious Gramophone magazine. And the story doesn't end there. The chamber choir, Tonus Peregrinus, that he founded and directs is gaining quite a reputation with its recordings of both new and medieval music.
Antony Pitts (see photo) was born in 1969, sang as a boy in the Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace, and was an Academic Scholar at New College, Oxford. His recent commissions include works for the Berlin Radio Choir, Cambridge Voices, the Clerks’ Group, the Choir of Westminster Cathedral, the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music, Oxford Camerata, Schola Cantorum of Oxford, and the Swingle Singers.
His choral music is jazz influenced (note the Swingle Singers connection), but retains strong links to traditional musical forms, and reflects his own personal beliefs. Antony Pitts seems to be having the last laugh on the Jerry Springer – The Opera affair as his highly acclaimed new work Seven Letters is a choral setting of St John’s damning indictment of the depravity of the first-century church in Asia Minor from the Book of Revelations. It was composed in 1998, and is scored for SSAATTBB. The writing is both contemporary and accessible, and all credit to Hyperion for investing in new choral music. The complete sleeve notes are available through this link.
Find out more about Seven Letters by listening to four minutes from the new recording using these buttons. Let us know what you think of Antony Pitts' music based on this short sample by adding a comment through this link. And why not share this exciting new music with a friend or colleague by emailing them a link to this post including the music by clicking here?
Seven Letters is sung by Antony Pitts' own group Tonus Peregrinus shown in the adjacent photo. (The name is from a form of plainchant). The group's repertoire spans 800 years, and they created a classical best seller with their Naxos recording of Arvo Part’s iconic Passio. But the recording I want to share with you is their new Naxos release of medieval sacred music from Notre-Dame Cathedral, including works by Leonin and Perotin. This budget priced CD is one of the most rewarding I’ve heard for years. It was recorded in Chancelade Abbey, outside Perigeux in France. The sound is atmospheric (including the distant sound of rain falling in some takes) and vivid, and the singing is both technically excellent and really moving. Try it, even if, like me, you may have found these medieval composers a little ‘hair shirt’ in the past. The opening track with Rebecca Hickey singing Perotin’s Beata viscera contains six minutes of the most ravishing sounds you will ever hear. I can’t link to the Naxos audio clip of this recording because registration is required. But take my word, for around £5 ($9) you just can’t go wrong.
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Hildegard comes to Norwich via IRCAM and Darmstadt