CHRISTOPHER MORLEY LOOKS FORWARD TO EX CATHEDRA'S NEW SEASON WITH JEFFREY SKIDMORE

With Ex Cathedra's 50th anniversary approaching, the chamber choir's founder and director Jeffrey Skidmore is looking a long way forward as well as back, and is contemplating the arrival of a successor when he eventually retires.

"I don't want Ex Cathedra to stop just because I go," he declares, escaping from seven months of building work at his house near Lichfield Cathedral in order to meet me over what has become a traditional annual pre-season Italian lunch in Brindley Place.

"Lots of singers have come through Ex Cathedra and become conductors themselves, and we've come up with a great scheme, engaging associate conductors, each one to have a five-month period with the choir over the next two-and-a-half years.

"We'll appoint an assistant conductor in 2021, which will be my 70th birthday, with a view to their becoming my successor. We want them to experience the total range of what Ex Cathedra do. It's on social media, it's everywhere, and we've had responses already!"

But all that's a long way ahead, and we turn to looking at the recent past and the near future. Jeffrey and I are both thrilled with the reception of Ex Cathedra's recent release ("Celestial Bird", Signum Classics) of choral music by Roxanna Panufnik.

"I was incredibly flattered that Roxanna approached us to do her CD," he smiles proudly.

And as for the near future, Ex Cathedra already has an inspiring educational programme in place, working with student scholars and graduate scholars -- six from Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, four drawn nationwide -- who "shadow the Ex Cathedra Consort, and work with the Education Team.

"It's an introduction to the entire professional world, and they get paid at a professional rate.

"This has happened on the strength of our recent collaboration with the RBC on Monteverdi's Madrigals of War and Love, given at the Crescent Theatre."

Another initiative is the recruiting of Royal Birmingham Conservatoire PhD students researching baroque compositions in Ex Cathedra's repertoire, with Bill Hunt working on verse anthems by the Tudor/Stuart Edmund Hooper, Adrian Horsfall exploring the fascinating topic of Maltese baroque music , and Joe Waggett  revealing more of the glories of Charpentier.

"So we have a strong team of singers, researchers and schoolkids!

"And several of our singers conduct community choirs, many of them leading to inclusion in our performances of the Bach Passions," Jeffrey adds.

There is also Birmingham Baroque, a long-term project commissioning composers to complement the past, to explore the past in the context of the present, and among the performances on the horizon are works exploring the Moon landings and the NASA Space Station.

With all these plans and initiatives, Jeffrey Skidmore is impatient to get on with things. There is an impressive list of donors, but "we are typically underfunded, though we have a growing list of supporters.

"Artistically we are in a very healthy state, and we have audiences coming from as far afield as Southampton -- because what we do is quite special --, but we need more performing possibilities," says Jeffrey.

"Artistically we're in a very healthy state, but we need more performing possibilities, we just need more platforms. We need to do things to spend the Ex Cathedra word. We need funding!"

Ex Cathedra is doing more than enough this season to justify an increase in funding, from whatever source. Their Birmingham season begins on Sunday October 21 at Birmingham Town Hall (4pm) with a programme of massively-scored choral works by Tallis (his famous Spem in Alium) and Striggio, and includes pieces by composers closely associated with Ex Cathedra, Gabriel Jackson and Alex Roth.

We get a rare opportunity to hear all six cantatas in Bach's Christmas Oratorio at Birmingham Town Hall on December 2 (4pm), and then there follows a sequence of Ex Cathedra's much-loved Christmas Music by Candlelight in the Jewellery Quarter's glorious St Paul's Church (December 18 - 22, with a participatory children's concert on the afternoon of December 22).

The New Year begins with the portentously-titled "Beginnings and Endings", two Bach cantatas followed by the world premiere of Alec Roth's "A Time to be born and a Time to die" (The Bramall, University of Birmingham, February 9 7.30pm).

Jeffrey Skidmore's interest in Latin-American baroque music surfaces on February 17, when a selection precedes Purcell's The Indian Queen at Birmingham Town Hall (4pm).

Following this, we move to what is probably the towering masterpiece of baroque music, Bach's St Matthew Passion, which is given its biennial performance by Ex Cathedra in Symphony Hall on Good Friday, April 19 (2pm).

*All details on 021-780 3333; www.excathedra.co.uk

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