Hereford Cathedral School’s senior chamber choir was invited to represent the United Kingdom and join with 38 other choirs from 18 countries around the world in a world premiere of a new commission by Krzysztof Penderecki. The new work was performed as part of the ‘Thousand Voices for Peace’ concert in the International Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Koekelberg Basilica) in Brussels, which is reputedly the third largest basilica in the world. The televised performance took place on Sunday 9 November in front of a large audience which included several high-profile EU dignitaries, as well as the King and Queen of Belgium.
The homage for peace concert, produced by Flanders Festival Brussels, witnessed more than 1,300 professional and non-professional singers, together with the Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra, coming together from countries that were involved in the First World War a hundred years ago. Participating countries included Canada, Germany, Luxemburg, Belgium, Ireland, United Kingdom (Hereford Cathedral School), The Netherlands, Denmark, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Malta, India, Thailand and Australia.
As part of the build-up to the final concert in Koekelberg Basilica, there were 17 other joint concerts in Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels between Wednesday 5 November and Friday 7 November commemorating WW1. Hereford Cathedral School’s senior chamber choir, representing the UK, performed on Wednesday 5 November in ‘Zele meets the United Kingdom’ with Makelbiljde in Sint-Ludgeruskerk, Zele (this joint-concert was supported by the province of Oost-Vlaanderen, the city of Zele, the embassy of the United Kingdom & Northern Ireland and Eurostar). The choir also took the opportunity while in Belgium to travel and perform in Ypres for the dedication of a memorial to Hereford Cathedral School’s fallen pupils in St George’s Memorial Church and to perform at the Menin Gate.
The ‘Thousand Voices for Peace’ concert was under the direction of Estonian conductor Andres Mustonen, and included music by Chinese composer Tan Dun, the young and promising Norwegian Ola Gjeilo, the Russian grand dame Sofia Gubaidulina and the Belgium Andre Devaere (a musician and composer who fell in battle in 1914). The music was alternated with poems and diary excerpts from the First World War, and witnessed the world premiere of Krzysztof Penderecki’s ‘Dies Illa’. There was also a live connection to the International Space Station, with the audience and musicians receiving a message of peace from the German astronaut Alexander Gerst, as well as an introduction from Ban Ki-moon, the current secretary general of the United Nations. Herman Van Rompuy – president of the European Council and former Belgium Prime Minister – was the concert patron.
Two weeks earlier the choir sang choral evensong at Westminster Abbey, and for the remainder of this term have a busy regime of concerts and services which will include performances of a new work written for the choir by John Madden.
David Evans, director of music, Hereford Cathedral School, said: “Our pupils were astounding, as were all the choirs and musicians from across the world.”
Paul Smith, headmaster of Hereford Cathedral School, said: “It was an honour for our school to represent the United Kingdom at such a prestigious international concert. It was particularly poignant for our school community as we remember, at this time of year, that over 400 former Hereford Cathedral School pupils served in World War 1 and 70 lost their lives fighting for their country.”