The Australian Chamber Choir has announced its 2019 season, with founder and director Douglas Lawrence offering a “no sauce” season of choral music, which will also see the choir embark on an 18-day tour of Europe.

“For the 2019 programs, I was not looking for any particular theme; rather a wide ranging repertoire, engaging to both performers and listeners,” Lawrence tells Limelight. “Having said that, there has to be a sequence, tonalities, themes, sometimes simple emotional connections. Clearly when a program consists of just one work such as the Bach St John Passion, I am simply wishing to perform a fantastic piece of music.”

Australian Chamber ChoirThe Australian Chamber Choir

“In a restaurant overlooking Vicenza I ordered a prime porterhouse steak. It was grilled over a wood fire, served on a white plate and accompanied by a slice of lemon. It was the best steak I have ever eaten. If it had been served in a French restaurant, it probably would have been covered in one of many traditional sauces. But this was excellent meat, cooked to perfection. And no sauce,” Lawrence says. “When I put together a program for the Australian Chamber Choir, I want the finest music, presented without fuss or distraction. The music should speak for itself and the aim is to present it in a way that captures as closely as possible the essence of the composer’s intention. We don’t bring in dancers, circus or multimedia. We focus on pure voices, sounding as one instrument. We sing vibrant and engaging programs that excite and delight, allowing you to simply savour the sound.”

The season opens in February with ACC 8 at Mandeville Hall, Toorak. Eight singers from the ACC will perform a program of Byrd, Bach, Brahms and Bruckner, before the choir joins forces with the Melbourne Baroque Orchestra on period instruments in April and May for Bach’s St John Passion in venues across Victoria. “To use a crude analogy; the St Matthew is like the Queen Mary crossing the ocean, very grand, stately, wonderful,” Lawrence says. “The St John is like a Spitfire, fast, lightning responses, thrilling.”

Following the choir’s sixth tour of Europe in 2017, next year will see the ACC embark on an 18-day tour beginning in Hamburg and finishing in London, with stops including Berlin and Paris. “We were invited to propose a program for London’s St Martin-in-the-Fields evening concert series,” Lawrence says. “For this and twelve other concerts in Germany, France, Belgium and Denmark, we wanted a killer program that was uniquely Australian. The Terra Australis program evolved from discussions between my wife, Elizabeth Anderson, and I. She had the idea to pair European voyages of discovery with landmarks of musical composition whose dates coincide. She has really made the running on this one. It is altogether extraordinary. The Germans in particular will go wild for this matching of music with historical events. They admire logic and are fascinated by Australia.”

The program includes Tom Henry’s setting of poetry by Bill Neidjie and music by Josquin des Prez, Vicente Lusitano, King John IV of Portugal, Claudio Merulo, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck and a brand new work by Alan Holley, commissioned by the ACC to mark the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s opening of the secret instructions on June 3, 1769.

Australian audiences won’t miss out, with the choir performing the program at venues in Victoria before and after the tour, as well as a performance in St Mary’s Cathedral Crypt in Sydney.

The final concert of the year – which will also tour Victoria and come to St Mary’s in Sydney – centres around Pietro Perugino’s The Delivery of the Keys, painted on the Northern wall of the newly constructed Sistine Chapel in 1481-82.

“The moment you go near any of the Italian masters’ paintings you are given a rich palette of musical possibilities,” Lawrence says. “The most challenging thing is perhaps to choose which of the hundreds of superb works you will present in such a concert. I wanted to create a program based on the heavenly music written for the Sistine Chapel. The Delivery of the Keys gives the program a clear point of focus.”

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