Ex Cathedra is a leading UK choir and Early Music ensemble with a repertoire that reaches from the 12th to the 21st centuries. We are known for our passion for seeking out the best, the unfamiliar and the unexpected in the choral repertoire and for giving dynamic performances underpinned by detailed research.
Founded in 1969 by Jeffrey Skidmore, the group has grown into a unique musical resource, comprising specialist chamber choir, vocal Consort, period-instrument orchestra and a thriving education programme, aiming to explore, research and commission the finest choral music and to set the highest standards for excellence in performance and training.
We present a series of concerts in Birmingham, where we are an Associate Artist at Town Hall, across the Midlands, and in London. We also enjoy invitations to appear at festivals and concert series across the UK and abroad. Recent high-profile performances have included Stockhausen’s World Parliament, the world premiere of James MacMillan’s oratorio Seven Angels which we will be reviving in 2016 for Cheltenham Music Festival and for the Barbican (London premiere), and the world premiere of A Shakespeare Masque by the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and composer Sally Beamish (watch here until October 2016). In recent years the group has performed in Belgium, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the USA. There have been collaborations with Fretwork viol consort, The City Musick, His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts, Concerto Palatino, Birmingham Opera Company, Sinfonia New York, the CBSO, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Quebecois dance company Cas Public, the Shakespeare Institute, and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
Ex Cathedra has made a significant number of highly regarded recordings for ASV, Hyperion, NMC, Orchid Classics, SOMM, Signum, and on its own label. A French Baroque Diva won a Gramophone Award in 2015, our Brazilian Adventures CD was released in November 2015 to critical acclaim, and our recording of Alec Roth’s A Time to Dance, also with Hyperion, has been released in 2016.
Our extensive programme of award-winning schools and community projects is delivered by a team of expert vocal tutors, who are all members of Ex Cathedra. Singing Playgrounds now reaches well over 500 primary schools across the UK and also in Belgium, China, New Zealand, Singapore and Thailand, and the project has won the ‘Best Musical Initiative’ Award at the Music Teacher Magazine Awards. Singing Medicine for chronically-ill children continues at Birmingham Children’s Hospital and Birmingham Heartlands Hospital, and Singing Pathways works with adult stroke patients at Solihull Hospital
Nurturing talent is at the heart of our work, and our Academy of Vocal Music has been developed into four regularly rehearsing groups: Children’s Choir for school years 1-3, Junior Academy for years 4-8, Girls Academy for years 9-13 and Boys Academy for years 8-13. We welcome enquiries. Over the years many Academy singers have progressed to sing in Ex Cathedra itself, and some have pursued very successful careers as professional soloists. The Academy choirs regularly perform alongside Ex Cathedra in our concert series and appear in their own right, providing the offstage chorus for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s performances of the Nutcracker and the choir for the annual Swedish Santa Lucia service at Birmingham Cathedral.
And our name?
We are often asked about our name. ‘Cathedra’ is the name for a bishop’s throne, in the same way that a cathedral is the building that houses that throne. When Jeffrey Skidmore and one of the founding members of the choir were choosing a name for the new group, they chose Ex Cathedra because it literally means ‘from the throne’ or in English usage ‘with authority’. At the time, Jeffrey and several members of the choir sang at Birmingham Cathedral, so the pun was attractive. But researching and understanding the repertoire so that it can be performed with authority, style and passion has been a guiding principle since those first performances in 1969.