Mark Williams, director of music at the the Chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge, talks with us about his upcoming visit to conduct the men and boys at the Festival of the Hours (July 31–August 3) in Oakland, California. Auditions for boy trebles are currently underway. More information at: www.festivalofthehours.org.
Photo by James Appleton
FotH: What interests you about working with men-and-boys choirs?
Williams: There is no doubt that there is something unique about the sound of boys’ voices, and at their best, they can be instruments which combine the seemingly opposing qualities of purity and expressive power. Children who sing must have musical instinct and a natural ability, but refining that and encouraging them to explore not only their voices but also the vast repertoire of sacred music is a challenge which I enjoy a great deal.
FotH: Are there any pieces you are particularly looking forward to preparing?
Williams: I am of course looking forward to the varied diet on offer in the festival but it will be a particular pleasure to spend time with music that’s not familiar to me such as the Moody Pacific Canticles.
FotH: What potential do you see for the Festival in terms of contributing to music within liturgy in the United States and/or internationally?
Williams: Whatever our profession or our area of interest, we all need new ideas, inspiration, refreshment and the chance to share time with others who do what we do. The experience of participating in a festival which places music firmly in its liturgical context is invaluable for all those whose regular work involves music-making of this kind. We all seek to maintain the very highest standards of performance both in concerts and in services but a festival which brings together those high standards in both music and liturgy has the potential to inspire and motivate us all.
FotH: You had a long working relationship with Richard Marlow of Trinity College, Cambridge, who recently passed away. Do you have any thoughts on his contribution to the choral world? How do you feel filling his shoes at Portland’s William Byrd Festival?
Williams: Richard Marlow was a towering figure in the world of choral music and inspired thousands of musicians in Cambridge and across the world. He had a unique and deeply expressive approach to the interpretation of all the repertoire, from Byrd to Berio, principally defined by his extraordinary attention to details of blend, dynamics and the expressive power of text. I could never fill his shoes at the Byrd Festival in Portland, Oregon, but it is an honor to continue the important work begun by him and the inimitable Dean Applegate.
FotH: What’s in store in the near future for the organ and choirs at Jesus College?
Williams: Well, this week we have two performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and then we fly to Ireland for a week of concerts. At the end of the academic year we have a number of UK concerts and another CD recording but our most exciting project will be a visit to Sri Lanka in December to continue the project we began last year in India working with under-privileged children under the auspices of the charity Songbound which seeks to improve the lives of impoverished communities through music.
FotH: When did you first start playing the keyboard?
Williams: I was just six years old. I hope I’ve come on a bit since then.
FotH: Do you have a favorite instrument that you’ve played?
Williams: I have been extremely fortunate to work with two of the finest instruments in the UK – at Trinity College Cambridge and St Paul’s Cathedral, London – on a daily basis. However, one of the most exciting instruments I have ever had the pleasure to play was Durufle’s organ at the church of Ste Etienne-du-Mont in Paris.
FotH: Besides the music, what are you most looking forward to in visiting Oakland and the SF Bay Area once again?
Williams: I have always enjoyed visiting the west coast and look forward to my return. Californian wine and the wonderful food of the Bay Area are a big attraction but I find the vistas towards San Francisco from Oakland deeply captivating. For all the beautiful historical architecture in the UK, such sweeping views simply don’t exist here and always take my breath away.
Visit www.jesuscollegechoir.com for more information about the choral programs at Jesus College. The Festival of the Hours will present three days of the full cycle of Anglican liturgy at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Oakland. Boys and young men with previous choral experience may contact the Festival at firstname.lastname@example.org or 510-473-7736 to make an appointment to audition.