Choral evensong is one of the longest-standing and most unique features of life in Cambridge. With an abundance of chapel choirs to choose from – and with many of them offering free entry – there is no better place to experience this time-honoured tradition. We’ve picked some of our favourite choral music offerings for you to enjoy.
Choral evensong typically consists of a selection of hymns, two sung Canticles (the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis), a musical Anthem, and a sermon. Whether you’re religious or not, the sermons are generally thought-provoking and enjoyable. Most colleges carry out evensong in candle light, which, combined with the exquisite setting of a college chapel and world-class choral music makes for a very relaxing and atmospheric evening.
King’s College is the place to go for an introduction into choral evensong; the service is among the most traditional in Cambridge, and the choir is widely considered to be one of the best in the city (you may have seen them singing A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on the BBC over Christmas – this has been broadcast every year since 1928). King’s Chapel itself provides a stunning backdrop and there’s an evensong every day of the week, so you can pop along whenever suits. The mixed choir, King’s Voices, perform evensong every Monday, while the all-male Chapel Choir sing evensong the rest of the week. The only disadvantage is it’s so popular you’ll probably have to queue right around Main Court to get in…
Trinity Choir is an equally-renowned mixed choir offering three services a week, so this is a good place to go if you prefer the sound of female voices on the top line. The choir has just been awarded the Limelight Recording of the Year Award 2016, and has one of the best sounds of all the Cambridge college choirs.
If you’re willing to go slightly further afield, the much-admired Choirs of Jesus College offer four excellent services a week. The chapel, completed in 1245, is the oldest college Chapel in Cambridge, and this makes for a wonderful acoustic. Jesus have an all-male Chapel Choir which perform two evensongs a week, in addition to a mixed College Choir who also perform two weekly evensongs.
For something more alternative, the Girls’ Choir of St Catharine’s College perform a “scaled-down” evensong every Tuesday. The service, dubbed ‘Luminaria’, was created especially for the choir, and uses the imagery of Christ as the light of the world as its basis. The choir was the first all-female college choir in the UK and remains the only all-female chapel choir in Cambridge. The concept of a chapel choir made up entirely of girl choristers has proved a very successful one – the choir currently boasts the BBC Two Young Chorister of the Year as their Head Chorister. Expect music from modern female composers such as Judith Bingham, Sally Beamish and Joanna Marsh, who has recently written several pieces for the Girls’ Choir and the student choir.
For a more traditional choral fix, Catz’ student choir offers an intimate and friendly evensong every Sunday evening. The choir’s repertoire ranges from pieces by the modern, female composers who write for the choir to works from the French Renaissance. Catz offers all the atmosphere and tradition of King’s and Jesus offset by an alternative and interesting choice of music.
The choirs in Cambridge are of such a high standard that you’ll likely be very impressed wherever you go for evensong; the opportunity to see these choirs and have a moment to reflect while living in Cambridge is simply one too good to miss.