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How does he see the Vasari Singers and his own role as Director? 'We differ from most other chamber choirs in London. Their policy seems to be to find the best singers, put them together and conduct them. That way, they reason, you will automatically get brilliant results. At a very top level that is possibly true, but at a semi-professional level which is where we are, I completely disagree.

'I've built up the choir over ten years. I now have a dedicated group of singers that get on very well both musically and socially. They're all intelligent people and all educated musically and we work together for the choir's good.

'So when we're fixing a recording or a concert I don't say "Right, I'll have him, him and her because they're the best singers". I have my choir of exactly the same singers, give or take say, three or four. We've built up this tremendous rapport.'

Having been a singer, Backhouse feels, certainly helps. 'It's not so much that I gained a knowledge of how to do things, but of how not to do things. As Director I make most of the musical decisions. But it's a very, very easy-going atmosphere.'

'We are a choir of estate agents and accountants and teachers and so forth. There's a limit to the amount of time the singers can give to the choir -- we're pretty much at peak output now. But we'll go on doing prestigious venues like the South Bank and St John's and I hope we'll continue to broadcast and make CDs.'

'Of course making a CD is a great excitement. We get paid for making records and we get a royalty on what is sold of course, but we're self-financing. There's no compunction for us to make records to survive.

'We give two types of concert -- there's the charity event where we give our services free and maybe get expenses. Then we did a concert for St John's Ambulance in Eton College Chapel one Christmas for which we were paid, and that sort of thing finances a St John's Smith Square concert.

Jeremy Backhouse. Photo: Gerald Place
Jeremy Backhouse. Photo: Gerald Place

'In fact, this is the first year I've been paid for conducting the Vasari Singers. It was a big decision for me, because up to then I'd really been learning my trade and I just didn't want to be paid. But I'm pleased to say they seem happy to do it!'

Copyright © 15 November 2003 Bill Newman, Edgware, UK


Bill Newman's conversation with Jeremy Backhouse took place in the late 1990s. Since then, the Vasari Singers have made many more recordings, details of which can be found on the choir's website.

Jeremy Backhouse and the Vasari Singers present a concert of Hungarian music as part of Magyar Magic, supported by the Hungarian Ministry of Culture, on 22 November 2003 at St John's Smith Square in London. The concert features the music of Kodály, Matyas Seiber, László Lajtha and Emil Petrovics.






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