Sacred Music and Sistine Chapel Choir

Bypassing the intellect and reaching into the heart and soul of every audience member, Mark Spyropolous, the first British full time member of the Sistine Chapel Choir, left the Pure Land Series audience in awe as he took us through his fascinating account of the Choir’s history from the year 300 to the present day, in this, the second event of the Series.

Mark was joined on stage by renowned British choristers to sing passages by, among others, Josquin and Palestrina, the Giotto and Michelangelo of music.

Illustrating the perfect balance of text and music, and with the space at China Exchange providing ‘perfect acoustics’, according to the choristers, the room fell silent as they deconstructed Gregorian chant and invoked an atmosphere of complete reverence with deeply moving passages of music from across centuries of worship.

Mark, whose knowledge and passion for his work is unparalleled and infectious, gave us a sense of the extraordinary burst of creativity that returned with the Papal court’s visit to France in 1473 that became known as the Renaissance.

This culminated with Michelango’s transformation of the Sistine Chapel and Allegri’s composition of his ‘perfect’ Miserere. Fascinatingly, this musical work was so prized the Vatican threatened excommunication if the score were to leave the Chapel, but on a visit, Mozart copied it after one hearing.

The audience heard extraordinary historical recordings of the choir over the last 100 years, including the unearthly sound of the last castrato who died in 1922, and excerpts from the new album ‘Palestrina’ released on 7 October. To the audience’s amusement, a comparison was made with British order and the passionate heart-filled Italian styles of singing.

With the voice as an instrument, the vibration of the human body creating sound, Mark movingly described singing and the Choir as a universal tool of empathy and understanding. Today the Sistine Chapel Choir works as a means of uniting the church and the wider world, representing 1700 years of human achievement at its most honest and beautiful.

The Pure Land Series at China Exchange curates innovative programmes with the aim of enriching lives through creativity, spirituality and self-expression. See What’s On for the next events in the programme.

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