Sidney Sussex rose from the ruins of the Cambridge Greyfriars in 1596 and has long been a nest for professional musicians. Indeed the large chapel that stood on this site in pre-Reformation times was the regular venue for University ceremonies and was the venue where a number of early English composers took their degrees, including Robert Fayrfax (MusB, 1501; DMus 1504) and Christopher Tye (MusB, 1536). One of the earliest musicians in the College was the Royalist pamphleteer, author, and violist Roger L’Estrange (1616-1704), whose family were patrons of the composer John Jenkins. Earlier still, the great Elizabethan composer William Byrd would have been well-known to the foundress, Lady Frances Sidney, and indeed two very fine elegies by Byrd survive for her nephew, the poet and courtier Sir Philip Sidney. Currently resident in the College is Dr Christopher Page (1991), founder and former director of the multi-award-winning Gothic Voices, and Dr David Skinner, Sidney’s first Director of Music.
The Choir regularly performs at home and abroad and, more recently, has made a niche in making professional recordings for specialist markets, including museums, art galleries, and national libraries. Their first recording with the new early music label Obsidian, Thomas Tomkins ‘These Distracted Times’, was awarded Editor’s Choice and CD of the Month in the Gramophone, and they have since gone on to record and tour a number of innovative programmes. Activities for 2008 included a recording of the music of Ludwig Senfl with the early brass ensemble QuintEssential, which took place in Regensburg in Bavaria. The Choir has also recently toured California (2009) and Spain and Italy (2010), and Italy and Germany (2011). The Choir tours the USA once every three years, and our next visit is scheduled for 2012. The Choir recently featured the music of Tomas Luis de Victoria live on BBC Choral Evensong, in the form of its popular Latin Choral Vespers, on Easter Week 2011.
Sidney Choir performs a wide range of music from late medieval to newly commissioned works. The Choir excels primarily in music of the 16th century (the research specialism of the Director of Music) and the late 19th/ early 20th centuries, but endeavours to maintain a healthy balance of music from all periods. Choral and Organ Scholars are invited to offer suggestions for the termly music lists, and we often perform works written especially for the Choir by members of the Sidney community and beyond.
Sidney is one of the few colleges in Cambridge to host annually a professional musician or ensemble in residence. The first incumbent in 2007 was the viol consort Fretwork, and in 2008 we welcomed the gothic and renaissance harpist Andrew Lawrence-King. The College’s Composer in Residence is the American composer Eric Whitacre who held a Visiting Fellowship in Michaelmas Term 2010; he continues to compose new works for the Choir and is involved in a number of projects. The College also regularly spotlights a number of professional musicians who work alongside members of the Choir, and provide very useful connections for music-making in the wider world.