Donald Rosenberg, The Plain Dealer — Oct 28, 2011
A music teacher once told Timothy Brown that he should give up singing. He eventually would, but not before absorbing enough experience and information to guide choruses to the heights.
The British conductor, who led the admired Choir of Clare College at Cambridge University for 31 years, is about to aim in the same direction with Quire Cleveland, the professional choral ensemble with which he makes his local debut this weekend.
Brown will lead “Musick’s Praier: The Glories of English Choral Music,” which promises to stretch Quire Cleveland beyond its normal purview – the Medieval through Baroque eras. This weekend’s repertoire spans the 16th through 20th centuries.
“This is music that means a lot to me,” said Brown, 64, in an interview the other day. “You don’t hear it in concert very much.”
Brown was invited to conduct Quire Cleveland by music director Ross Duffin, whose son, David Simmons-Duffin, sang tenor in the Choir of Clare College for a year while pursuing graduate studies at Cambridge.
Initially, Duffin asked Brown to lead an early-music program. But the conductor “accidentally produced a program with another program tagged onto it” – old music that rubs shoulders with newer music. Duffin told Brown it would be exciting to expand Quire Cleveland’s horizons.
Brown knows first-hand what Duffin means. As a boy, Brown sang in the choir of Westminster Abbey. Later, while studying King’s College at Cambridge, where the popular King’s Singers got their start, Brown sang alto in the choir under David Willcocks and learned the art of close harmony in a male group called The Scholars.
By the time Brown later gave up teaching grammar school to take over the Choir of Clare College, the composer John Rutter had “turned it into a proper choir,” transforming a male ensemble into a mixed choir of men and women.
Then Brown did a bit of transforming of his own.
“You get known for certain things,” he said. “I always had the philosophy of not shoe-horning singers in a particular choral sound. If you wanted to develop your voice, Clare was the choir.
“You have to encourage singers to go in the right direction. What can be a constant, one hopes, is discipline about tuning and phrasing and style. I’m kind of excited where it takes me, rather than the other way around. That’s why it’s terribly exciting to do a gig like this [Quire Cleveland] – to come in and see what I’m able to do with their sound.”
Brown, who made many recordings with the Choir of Clare College, has another exciting adventure in sound on his plate these days. After stepping down from Clare College last year, he was appointed artistic director of the Zurcher Sing-Akademie, a 32-voice chamber choir in residence at the renowned Tonhalle in Zurich, Switzerland.
His first concerts with his new ensemble in two weeks will be another far-ranging Brown excursion: a cappella music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Tomas Luis de Victoria, Benjamin Britten, Frank Martin and Nico Muhly.