The last time the celebrated King’s Singers visited the Twin Cities, in 2018, they drove through a raging April snowstorm, fortified by Red Bull, for a performance at a packed Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis as part of their 50th-anniversary tour. Their return on Feb. 18, in milder weather and in the more intimate confines of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, promises to feel different.
The six-member group, originally formed in 1968 by alumni of England’s King’s College (Cambridge) Choir, represents the gold standard of a cappella singing, renowned for its varied repertoire, matchless technique and lush harmonies. The current ensemble, together since 2019, has put together a program for this seven-city U.S. tour (see list below) celebrating “Legacies” — including those of English composers Thomas Weelkes and William Byrd, whose 400th death anniversaries occurred last year, and Disney, celebrating 100 years.
Fittingly for a concert at a Minnesota Lutheran church, the group also will “take a tour of Scandinavia,” first baritone Chris Bruerton said, with “beautiful music from Norway, Sweden and Finland, before we get to our close-harmony stuff.” That includes works from their 2020 album Finding Harmony, which Bruerton describes as “music that has brought communities together throughout the world, that has been a unifying force.”
That community feeling was tested a year ago, when the group’s concert at Pensacola Christian College in Florida was canceled on two hours’ notice because of the school’s concerns about the “lifestyle” of some group members. The singers pointed out that they had sung at the college previously with no issues and had just led a preconcert workshop.
“It hasn’t actually come up in conversation recently,” Bruerton said of the incident. “We’re not marking the occasion — we’ve moved on and moved forward. Sadly, the conversation itself is still one that needs to be had.
“We just want to share positivity and love. We’re not preachy; all we wanted to do was sing for them. We feel strongly that music is for everyone,” he said. “We didn’t have ill feelings toward Pensacola College. But it would be nice in the future to go back, to entertain them and have a conversation. I suspect it will have to come from them initiating, but I don’t think we’ll be sitting by the fire waiting for that call.”
Tenor Julian Gregory added, “If anything, it brought us closer together. All we can hope for is for people to accept us for who we are.”
Bruerton said the cancellation brought their supporters to the fore.
“One thing I do remember was how special it felt; our profession and our world reached out. It’s an extraordinary thing to be part of — it was bigger than us. Our journey there was a catalyst for that sort of outpouring of love.”
It perhaps was that outpouring that spurred a burst of creative output from the group, which released three albums in 2023. They include Tom + Will, honoring Weelkes and Byrd; When You Wish Upon a Star, embracing nine decades of Disney movie soundtracks, and Wonderland, comprising music commissioned by the King’s Singers. Indeed, the group is well-known for its championing of new music: Its 1988 commission, György Ligeti’s six Nonsense Madrigals (“fiendishly difficult,” in Gregory’s words), provides a framework for Wonderland.
Such an output — unusual for a one-year span — would be a challenge, Gregory said, but for the rapport and comfort level the group has built up. The six singers (besides Bruerton and Gregory, they are first countertenor Patrick Dunachie, second countertenor Edward Button, second baritone Nick Ashby and bassist Jonathan Howard) have varied musical backgrounds but have melded into a cohesive unit. Gregory pointed out that Howard’s former advertising career and Button’s law career have provided invaluable input.
“If we were all just choirboys, it would be quite different,” he said. “As six human beings, you spend 200 days together touring. We have some different perspectives, but it feels like a very wholesome and healthy community of six guys having fun and hanging out.”
Through the group’s Global Foundation, the singers try to instill that sense of joy in communities “that don’t have access to the kind of work we do,” Bruerton said. The foundation puts on workshops, supports composers with commissions, and brings children and teachers to free concerts.
For some in the audience, it’s their first live performance.
“It’s just joyous to see the look of these kids’ faces,” he said. “That’s something we feel really passionate about, taking new music to new audiences. When the opportunity arises, we just jump at it.”
The singers also are holding their second USA Summer School June 24-28 at Princeton University, billed as an “opportunity to learn the formula that has defined the King’s Singers as one of the world’s leading vocal ensembles.”
Gregory said, “Honestly, what I’ve learned is that by teaching, you often learn more about your own craft.”
King’s Singers on tour
Besides the Feb. 18 concert, Bethlehem Music Series will sponsor its own workshop for vocalists, choral directors and church musicians on Feb. 19, bringing together the King’s Singers and several choirs. The concert also will include a pre-performance conversation with YourClassical MPR’s Steve Staruch.
Minneapolis is the second stop on the King’s Singers. Their national tour also includes:
Feb. 16: St. Mary’s College in St. Mary’s City, Maryland
Feb. 20: Wayne State College in Wayne, Nebraska
Feb. 22: University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut
Feb. 24: Opelika Center for the Performing Arts in Opelika, Alabama
Feb. 25: Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia
Feb. 26: Converse University in Spartanburg, South Carolina
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