Ely Consort can trace its history back to the late 1980s, when the need for a chamber-size choir in Ely was recognised by Aidan Fairlie, then a lay clerk at Ely Cathedral and director of the Ely Choral Society.
Aidan formed St Mary’s Chamber Choir (SMCC) in 1987, which gave a number of well-received concerts during the late eighties and early nineties – the St Mary’s name coming from Ely’s parish church, where the choir often performed. A very few current singers – including the present Chairman, John Simmons, date their involvement back to this time!
Following Aidan’s departure from Ely, SMCC was directed by a series of highly-regarded local musicians, including Graham Griggs (King’s School Ely) and New Zealander, Peter de Blois, during his time as tenor lay clerk at Ely.
In 1994, it was decided to formally wind up the old choir and re-launch under a new name. The name ‘Ely Consort’ was arrived at during a particularly pleasant evening meal at the Anchor in Sutton Gault, and was the idea of John Simmons and the director designate, David Price.
David was at the time Assistant Organist of Ely Cathedral and widely regarded as an up-and-coming musician of considerable talent. The choir’s debut under David’s direction took place on Friday 16th December 1994, in the Cathedral’s presbytery. The programme included Vivaldi’s Gloria, the Vaughan Williams Fantasia on Christmas Carols – with Paul Smith as soloist – and works by Tavener and Arthur Wills. The choir numbered twenty-seven for the performance: only five of those performing still sing with the choir thirteen years later, demonstrating the extent of change and renewal such choirs have to go through over the years!
A number of highly successful concerts followed over the next few years, until David’s departure for Portsmouth upon his appointment there to the post of Organist and Master of the Choristers. David remains there today, having made a great success of his role (including CDs, and a notable BBC Songs of Praise edition featuring the lay clerks’ topless charity calendar!)
Meanwhile in Ely the Consort maintained its links with the Cathedral, appointing both Sean Farrell and his successor as Assistant Organist, Scott Farrell, to the post of Director. Scott (no relation to Sean!) arrived from St Edmundsbury Cathedral and made an immediate impression with his great enthusiasm and larger-than-life approach to music making, winning many friends during his time at Ely.
Another turning point in the choir’s history occurred in 2002 upon the appointment of Scott Farrell as Organist at Newcastle Cathedral. During this period the choir had received invaluable support from the well-know local teacher and performer Peter North. However a new permanent Director needed to be appointed and this time the choir found their man outside Cathedral circles!
At the time Matthew Rudd was a 28-year old music teacher at Perse Girls’ School in Cambridge. Matthew sang with the noted Cambridge Chorale and played trumpet in various local orchestras. Since then, Matthew’s talents have led him to become Head of Music at Perse Girls and he has staged an ambitious programme of major concerts and events there – including a performance of John Rutter’s Requiem directed by the composer.
Matthew’s first concert with the choir took place in St Peter’s Church, Ely, on Saturday 14th December 2002. It included Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit as its major work. Rehearsing regularly under Matthew on Thursdays at the King’s School’s Gibson Room, the choir has since produced a string of accomplished performances ranging widely in style from Bach to Broadway! The Consort has been pleased to work with a number of talented local musicians as soloists, although often solo parts are taken by members of the choir.
Our 2007 performance of Handel’s Messiah was the most ambitious ever undertaken in the whole history of both SMCC and Ely Consort – and it is a credit to all involved that the evening was such a great success!
2008 saw Ely Consort reaching new heights in musicianship, audience attendance and even a european tour! With performances of English Music in Ely’s Methodist Church on 8th March, followed by a visit to Bruges and Antwerp at the end of May and John Rutter’s Magnificat & Birthday Madrigals during Sutton’s Feast Week on 28th June. The year was finished off with a highly memorable candlelit concert of ‘Music for Advent’ in Ely Cathedral Lady Chapel on November 29th.
There was much to look forward to in 2009, with a return to Chatteris, reuniting ourselves with previous soloists and the excellent Con Brio Chamber Orchestra. This was followed by a Choir only concert in the summer, and our first, much anticipated, invitation concert to sing at the King’s Lynn Hansa Festival. Another invitation was joining Ely Sinfonia & Swavesey Community Choir in October, performing Mozart’s Requiem in Ely Cathedral; to celebrate Ely Sinfonia’s 10th Anniversary. We rounded 2009 off with a traditional Carol Concert at Chippenham St Margaret’s Church on December 5th. Something we haven’t done for a while, but was a welcome return ending a busy year for the Consort!
May the choir continue to go from ‘strength to strength’ in 2010, with exciting concerts planned in Ely Cathedral (March) & Sutton (June); another trip to Belgium (May) and our conductor, Matthew, wedding to Anna in July (many congrats to both!)
John Simmons, EC Chair (2009)