BILL NEWMAN talks to
Director of the Vasari Singers
Having caught the choral bug as a chorister at Canterbury, Jeremy Backhouse went to
Liverpool University and formed his own choir. He also gained useful experience when
he took over from the conductor of the University Singers for a year when she became
The real break however came a few years later. Backhouse was working for EMI as a
freelance editor and in his free time was singing bass in the London Symphony Chorus.
Tired of endless Carmina Buranas and Beethoven Nines, he and a dozen or so
colleagues broke away in 1980 to form the Vasari Singers.
A few pieces of Italian polyphony and a couple of madrigals into their first
rehearsal, someone pointed out that they had a concert coming up but no conductor.
Jeremy volunteered to fill the gap until they found someone else. He's had the job
From modest beginnings with concerts in country churches, the Vasari Singers
gradually expanded their repertoire, honed their technique and increased their
original complement to thirty, appearing in increasingly prestigious venues such
as St John's Smith Square and Canterbury Cathedral.
The Vasari Singers at Potton Hall, February 2003
It was time, Backhouse decided, to see how they measured up against the country's
finest. So in 1986 The Vasari Singers entered the Sainsbury's Choir of the Year
Although they reached the quarter-finals, Jeremy realised they weren't going to
win over audiences however well they sang. They looked amateurish, all huddled
together for security. He soon fixed that and suggested new gowns for the ladies.
Two years later, they tried again.
Three hundred choirs enter the auditions of the Sainsbury Competition in April
each year. The quarter-finals take place in September, with the semi-finals and
finals in November. At each stage the choir must present a ten-minute programme and
is assessed as much on stylistic variety as on technical expertise.
The Vasari Singers have always favoured an eclectic mixture of early and
contemporary music, including jazz arrangements, but Jeremy is particularly pleased
with their programme for that semi-final: the Gloria from Poulenc's Mass in G,
a partsong by Stenhammer, Jannequin's Chants des oiseaux (with all its
onomatopia) and, Love is here to stay. This time they won.
Fame has not spoiled them. They still give country church concerts, where a typical
pot-pourri might include Italian madrigals, folksong arrangements, 'something
challenging' as Jeremy puts it, and a few goodies -- Swingle hits perhaps, or some
Copyright © 15 November 2003
Bill Newman, Edgware, UK