Ben Mowat is a young up-and-coming composer. He has a unique sound and writes in a variety of styles, including string quartet, electronic music and vocal music. This is his choral debut, a rich, dramatic and well-balanced piece which puts the choir through their paces. Written and recorded in 2010, mixed in 2011 and now in 2012, released for the first time. Beautifully recorded by the choir, Ex Collegio and their conductor Tim Venvell and with the help of engineer Richard Carr.
When Ben Mowat wrote this piece, he says he was "in a dark place" and wanted some words that would act as a call or cry for help. The words he chose from Psalm 28 of the King James Bible fitted this need, and it was around those words he built the music.
The piece starts with a dramatic staccato shout by the choir but soon enters a subdued, lethargic moment with the words "Be not silent unto me". Twisting around interweaving melodies and a pad of harmony from the basses and tenors, this leads us to a rhythmic, interlocking pattern between the men and women in the choir. The two soloists, Peter Smith, alto and Claire Rennison, soprano, start to build up melodies on top of this, which intensify. We then have a brief taste of what's to come in the ending. The rhythmic idea continues to build until we hit a silence and a horror movie like fade in of "me me me me me me" emerges. This brings us once again to the dramatic motif from the opening of the piece and develops into a solo section, with an interweaving call and response sequence above the "me me me me" of the choir. We are then led through a reoccurrence of the soft and elegant second idea "Be not silent unto me" to the most beautiful part of the piece: "Save thy people and bless thine inheritance". This final section of the piece is a heartfelt and impassioned moment, wonderful harmonies define the emotion as the choir beautifully weaves in and out, up and down, shaping each phrase with enormous skill. Offbeat and high descending soprano parts enter to complete the picture. The piece is all but ended but for a graceful yet dramatic Amen which Ben Mowat wrote as an afterthought during the week which he spent with the choir, singing in York Minster. This Amen includes a bottom E. for one of the bases, Andrew James who Ben sat next to in rehearsals.
Ex Collegio (not to be confused with Ex Colegio Cantabridgensi) sing Evensong and other cathedral services as a multigenerational guest choir in an English cathedral for a week every summer. Although they all have their own professions, they are extremely proficient sight-readers and excellent singers who work well together. Originally made up of Cambridge University graduates - they were previously the choir of St Catherine's College Chapel. Having graduated in the early 80s, they have now been singing together as Ex Collegio for over 30 years. They recorded for the BBC in 1989 and as the years have gone on, have grown older together, marrying and having children who are now mostly grown-up. They had sung in every large English cathedral except York Minster where they sang for the first time in 2007. That summer, they sang through one of Ben Mowat's earlier choral sketches in rehearsals. In 2010, they recorded his new piece, Psalm 28.
Tim Venvell was the organ scholar at St Catherine's College, Cambridge, 1977-80, and has been the choir's conductor from the start. Now an experienced conductor, a very professional and talented musician, he is also Head of Music at the Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe and conducted several youth and adult ensembles including youth choirs, orchestras, musicals and shows. He's also Ben Mowat's Uncle and God-Father.