Young choral conductor Sam Allchurch has busy days ahead. He has just been appointed as the new Music Director at Sydney Chamber Choir, starting in January 2019, and as the new Director of Music at Sydney’s Christ Church St Laurence where he will be commissioned at the 10.30am Solemn High Mass on Sunday September 30. On top of that, he has just been promoted from Conductor and Artistic Administrator at Gondwana Choirs to Associate Artistic Director, working with Artistic Director Lyn Williams. He spoke to Limelight about his new roles.
Sam Allchurch. Photograph supplied
I know you have been a guest conductor at Sydney Chamber Choir. When did you first conduct them? And how many times have you conducted them since?
I conducted a program of German Romantic music with the choir in April 2017, having assisted with rehearsals for a couple of years prior to that. I then joined with Paul Stanhope and Nicholas Routley to conduct the Ross Edwards celebration concert in July this year.
What have you enjoyed about working with the choir?
Sydney Chamber Choir are a wonderful group of musicians, many of whom are professional singers. As a choir, they have a great attention to detail and have a particular strength in intonation in a cappella works. Rehearsals are always lively and the choristers connect closely with the repertoire. From a conductor’s perspective, they pick up new music quickly and so you can get to work on shaping an interpretation straightaway.
Do you have specific things you’d like to achieve with them in future?
I’d like to build on the wonderful work of my predecessors in commissioning new music from Australian composers. This is an area in which choirs are really leading the way in Australia and with our ability to deal in text, we have a great ability to tell powerful stories. I’d like to experiment with the venues and the ways we perform – but expanding upon, rather than trading in, our concert series.
Will you be planning any of their program for next year or is that already done?
The choir has engaged me this year to work with them on planning the 2019 season, which is one of the best bits of the job. Having such an adventurous ensemble really widens the scope of the repertoire you can consider.
Christ Church St Laurence is highly admired musically. Have you attended the church much and been very aware of their music-making?
I’ve attended Christ Church St Laurence when I’ve been able to for the past 10 years. I went to my first service there when I was 15 and was transfixed by the choir and liturgy. Since that point, I’ve followed their music-making pretty closely.
What was it about your new role with them that appealed to you?
I have been a church musician from the time I left the Sydney Children’s Choir. I was lucky to be handed the reins of a small church choir at St Matthew’s Manly when I was 13, and so had this great opportunity to get up in front of a choir every week from an early age. I then trained as an organist at university and went on to complete a postgraduate degree at Cambridge which was based in the Anglican tradition. Christ Church St Laurence is a unique and wonderful place with a great musical legacy built by my predecessor, Dr Neil McEwan. After training in this field, it’s a great honour to lead the music program of the parish. CCSL’s Rector, The Revd Dr Daniel Dries, is a fine musician in his own right and so I’m looking forward to working with him and the other members of the music staff.
You are being commissioned on September 30. What does that actually involve?
I think the commissioning element is actually quite straightforward – a set of questions and answers and a blessing. It occurs in the context of High Mass, the choral service on Sunday morning and so is just a small part of a much bigger liturgy.
I believe you have also been promoted to Associate Artistic Director of Gondwana Choirs? How much will that increase your role at Gondwana?
That’s right. I’ve been very lucky to be offered this new role at Gondwana Choirs, where I have worked both as a conductor and behind the scenes as Artistic Administrator for the past four years. The new role will enable me to focus on working with Lyn Williams, Gondwana’s Artistic Director, on artistic planning and development as well as continuing to conduct some of the choirs.
Are there particular choral conductors who have inspired you?
Well, I wouldn’t have even considered a career as a conductor without Lyn Williams, who remains a great mentor and close friend. Lyn has an incredible ability to communicate with her choirs and achieve very high artistic standards from which I have learnt so much. She also has an inspiring ability to make things happen, as her creation of Gondwana Choirs shows. I’m also indebted to Richard Gill who has been very generous with me, as he has with so many musicians and I was lucky to have two exceptional postgraduate teachers in Stephen Layton and Geoffrey Webber. There are so many more, especially in Australia which has a very rich and collegial choral scene.
You are clearly going to be very busy. Do you see the three roles working together well or will you be working around the clock?!
I’m lucky to have the support of all three organisations which bodes well. Each choir is a different instrument and so working out how to get the best out of each will be a great challenge. Of course there will be a lot of work to do, but what a privilege to do what you love for a job!