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I want to put on a concert in Antarctica. Who will help me?

The Tallis Scholars have performed on every continent on the planet except one. Founder Peter Phillips wishes to correct this

7 November 2015

9:00 AM

7 November 2015

9:00 AM

In this exciting new era of Spectator cruises I have been put in mind of a dream event long in the planning: to hear Allegri’s Miserere on ice, specifically on the ice of Antarctica. A number of things came together to put this on my bucket list, from the thought of dressing up like penguins (as usual) while we sing to penguins, to reading in the press that the Tallis Scholars ‘have performed on every continent on the planet except Antarctica’. I want to fill a boat with like-minded enthusiasts and adventurers, and set off from South America via the Falklands to the Antarctic Peninsula, hoping to make a landing and a concert at Paradise Bay.

The plan is to fly from the southern tip of Chile (Punta Arenas) or Argentina (Ushuaia) to Port Stanley, from where the chartered boat will sail for the five necessary days to the Peninsula. On the Falklands we hope to give a concert (or sing Evensong) in Christ Church Cathedral, the southernmost Anglican cathedral in the world. The idea of joining forces with local singers is a sound one, though in my experience a catchment of 3,000 people spread across a wild terrain and several islands tends not to produce good choirs. However, since the plan is also to film the whole trip for DVD and television release, I imagine an effort of some kind might be made. On enquiring of the authorities at the cathedral who might join in with this, we were told that there is a Gilbert and Sullivan Society, a good start of sorts, though possibly not ideal for Byrd and Tallis. We’ll see. Meanwhile I may choose to forget what someone told me recently: that if in 1982 we had simply given every Falkland Islander a million pounds and a plot of land somewhere intractable — the Hebrides come to mind — we would have saved a lot of expense, and lives.


From Port Stanley it is hoped that the boat will travel to Wilhelmina Bay where, as the blurb has it, ‘we frequently encounter playful humpback whales’. En route the Tallis Scholars will serenade you at dinner with lighter numbers from our repertoire. We discovered that Tavener’s Funeral Ikos — music designed to make the hardiest contemplate an early grave — makes perfect sense and sounds really quite merry when sung at four times the speed indicated by the composer. We could experiment for you along these lines. During the day you could attend our rehearsals, assuming we are well enough to hold them. One of the more scientific aspects of the trip is to put to the ultimate test the notion that voices carry more clearly in freezing temperatures. We know something of this from recording in unheated buildings in the UK in January, the theory being that our voices acquire a crystalline quality not available in the summer. It would actually be of benefit to all if this idea could be exploded once and for all.

Paradise Bay itself was so named by the whalers who worked in these waters 100 years ago. The icebergs here are as spectacular as they come, the effect heightened by their reflections on the icy surface of the water. This is the place to make friends with gentoo penguins — the ones with long tails and a cry like a trumpet — and green cormorants called shags, which flock here. This is the most likely place for us all to go ashore, put up some kind of temporary structure and sing. The result will surely be a concert with a difference: you will be the audience and, possibly, the chorus; but the essence will be the surrounding silence.

In addition to a professional documentary crew to make the DVD, I propose that we have a well-known composer on board, to write a piece for us to sing which has obviously been inspired by what has been experienced en route. And then there is one of my tenors, who wants the once in a lifetime experience of singing the opening (tenor) solo of William Walton’s ‘Set me as a seal upon thine heart’, while holding… a seal.

So. The scheme is to go in the first two weeks of February 2018. It may take a little longer than two weeks, depending on the weather, and it will not be cheap. We need philanthropists as much as music-lovers. But it will be the trip of a lifetime. Who would like to join us?


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