Robert King: The King’s Consort @ 25

Written by: Colin Anderson

Robert King celebrates 25 years of The King’s Consort…

Robert King’s energy and enthusiasm makes The King’s Consort 25 years young. “It doesn’t feel 25 years. Time flies and we’re packing extra things in. There’s a lot of film-work coming our way – the Choir of The King’s Consort is the choice of Hollywood; we did sessions for The Kingdom of Heaven and the buzz went round. We just did Chronicles of Narnia, a lovely romantic film score.” Your correspondent, claiming to have a finger on the musical pulse, was surprised recently when TKC played a Mozart symphony! “Half the time is spent trying to get out of the pigeonhole. It took ten years before people stopped saying that TKC are the Purcell people. It’s about keeping one foot firmly anchored and the other foot drawing a much bigger circle: next year we’re doing Duruflé and Britten and we recently did a Michael Berkeley premiere. And we’ll never abandon Handel and Bach – because I love it and we’re good at it!”

Was TKC born as a student caper? “TKC began by accident. I gathered together a fantastic group of musicians at Cambridge and invited some from London; several people still sing with the choir.” Monteverdi’s Vespers was the lavish starting-point. “It was a piece I was very interested in; in my gap-year I edited the Vespers in my naïve, post A-level way, but I don’t argue with many of my decisions. I was probably jolly lucky; I have always relied on my instincts in music.”

Today TKC’s “personnel is immensely settled and TKC works when I’m not around. We have appointed an associate director, Matthew Halls, a very talented musician, fantastic harpsichordist and organist, and he’s been doing great work and stops the musicians being bored with me!”
Not being around means Robert conducting symphony orchestras in the States and Europe: “compartmentalising in Britain is extraordinary; none of the big symphony orchestra can conceive of me conducting them. I’m amused.”

TKC’s London concerts include Bach and Kuhnau at Cadogan Hall on November 23. “Cadogan is smashing. Kuhnau is very interesting. If you’re going to understand Bach you’ve got to look at the line before him. Kuhnau culminated a remarkable line of composers, all of whom were organists at St Thomas’s Church in Leipzig; the guy before Bach was Kuhnau and a terrifically good composer. Knüpfer’s an even better one and one of our worst-selling discs! It’s one of our best CDs; the music is glorious.”

TKC and Hyperion are inextricably linked; recent releases of Monteverdi and Michael Haydn, and Mozart’s sacred music and Rossini to come; and, after 25 years, Monteverdi’s Vespers will be recorded. Some releases are supported by public donation: “it shows how loved Hyperion is.” On December 17, at Cadogan, is two-thirds of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio; “if you do all six parts you get indigestion, but there is no better way to bring Christmas in.” In the Wigmore Hall, November 18, a TKC stamping ground for 21 years, is a Young Artists Concert – “TKC has always had a policy of getting young players in and giving them opportunities” – and TKC’s Wigmore New Year’s Eve Concert is “this year a wacky programme of Tallis, Brahms and Elgar.”

Upwards on onwards, Robert says that “the standard of instrumental playing has risen out of all recognition and we know so much more; the players coming out of colleges now are being taught by the people who have made the mistakes. And instrument technology has risen, too; makers have spent time perfecting the art of the past.” In terms of TKC business, “the first five years was a struggle, then we recorded a cult disc, for Meridian, with James Bowman. We have no permanent funding. Although we get a grant towards UK touring, 96 percent of our turnover has to come from fees and fund-raising, and we’re grossly understaffed. I look back in amazement, but I’m so busy looking forwards. We’re period instrument or historically informed; I never say early music or authentic – we’re not authentic, we’re doing the best we can. The golden rule is there is no golden rule.”

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