New Cathedral Music Launches City of Culture Year

Coventry Cathedral’s Choral Evensong on Sunday 16th May turned out to be the first event of City of Culture Year. The event featured new music by composer Jonathan Rathbone.

It wasn’t planned that way. When the Friends of Coventry Cathedral commissioned the new work, it was expected to be performed five months after the start of the Year of Culture. However the Covid-19 outbreak led to the delayed start of the Culture Year and the official launch was postponed until 5th June. So the Cathedral ended up hosting the first event.  

The new music sung for the first time was a set of Canticles (Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis) commissioned by the Friends of Coventry Cathedral as a contribution to the UK City of Culture year.

The composter, Jonathan Rathbone, was a Coventry Kid, brought up in the city and a chorister at the Cathedral. He became a choral scholar at Christ College Cambridge where he read mathematics and he obtained a second degree at the Royal  Academy of Music where he studied composition with the composer John Gardner.

Jonathan Rathbone was musical director of the Swingle Singers for a decade, creating the majority of their arrangements. He now spends much of his time arranging and orchestrating and he has worked amongst other with Katherine Jenkins, the Kings Singers, Sir Cliff Richard, the choir of King’s College Cambridge and range of orchestras across Europe.

The new music is dedicated to the memory of Professor Roger and Mrs Catherine Morgan.

David Burbidge (Chairman of the Coventry City of Culture Trust) read a lesson at the service.   Also present was Martin Sutherland (Chief Executive, UK City of Culture, Coventry 2021). The family of Professor Roger and Mrs Katie Morgan (to whom the music was dedicated) attended the service, and Martin Williams, the Chairman of the Friends of the Cathedral presented them with a bound copy of the music signed by Jonathan Rathbone, the composer.

Jonathan Rathbone was present together with his brother Tim, and his sister, Rachel. The family was brought up in Coventry and the Cathedral was their church.  Their father (John Rathbone) sang in the Cathedral Choir as did their grandfather, George Rathbone. George was one of the singers who took part in singing the “Coventry Carol” in the famous Empire Broadcast service from the Cathedral Ruins on Christmas Day 1940.

Martin Williams, Chair of the Friends, said “There was a good atmosphere and a number of former choristers attended to hear it live for themselves. On the eve of the service I received best wishes for the musicians taking part from Robert Weddle and Ian Little, both well known in local music circles.   Robert now lives in France and he was the Cathedral Director of Music from 1972 to 1977. Ian lives in the north of England and was Cathedral Director of Music from 1977 to 1984. Paul Leddington Wright (Director of Music 1984 to 1995) drove up from his home in Maidenhead to be present at the service.

“The Friends of Coventry Cathedral planned this service eighteen months ago because we wanted to commission new Cathedral music as a contribution to Coventry’s Year as City of Culture. The Canticles (Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis) are sung in churches around the world, and our hope is that the Coventry setting will be sung in churches far and wide in years to come.   

“When the Friends set out on this journey we had no idea that coronavirus would cause the postponement of the starting date of the Year. As someone brought up in Coventry I am proud that as a result of the postponement the Cathedral Choral Evensong was the opening live event of Coventry’s City of Culture year. 

“This was a world premiere created by a group of people from Coventry, written by a composer brought up in Coventry, sung by a diverse choir of young voices drawn from homes across our city and heard for the first time in the setting of our internationally-renowned Cathedral. This was truly Coventry in Action!   It was a most appropriate start for Coventry’s Special Year.”

The Evensong service is available to view on the Cathedral’s Facebook page. The photo above is courtesy of Martin Williams, Chairman of the Friends of the Cathedral

The Cathedral is currently hosting an exhibition of self-portraits which the congregation were able to inspect.  You can visit the Cathedral between Monday 17 May and Monday 28 June 2021 to see the Ruth Borchard Collection’s Self-Portrait Prize 2021. The Prize is the only art competition of its kinds to focus exclusively on self-portraiture. Pease book a free ticket via the Cathedral’s Facebook page.

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