Hannah Nepil catches up with John Rutter to discuss the upcoming performance of his Requiem with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and The Purcell Singers at the glorious St Paul’s Cathedral on Thursday 14th November.
When John Rutter composed his Requiem, back in 1985, he couldn’t have imagined how well it would be received. ‘I thought it would only get one performance,’ he remembers. Since then, the work has been taken up all over the world, by choirs of every kind, often conducted by Rutter himself. This November, he will conduct it again in a special Remembrance Week performance featuring the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and The Purcell singers, in a programme which also includes Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No.5 and Rutter’s anthem Lord, Thou Hast Been Our Refuge.
But Rutter, 67, is hardly a one-hit wonder. With his flair for creating infectious melodies, he is one of the most popular British composers working today. ‘I firmly believe that if you’ve got a musical gift you should share it with many people rather than just keep it to a few. It’s not just for your selfish benefit.’ And he is unfazed by those who assign the ‘crossover’ label to his music. ‘I don’t think it should be looked on as a term of abuse,’ he says.
Born in London, Rutter first began composing as a schoolboy. His classmate was the contemporary composer John Tavener. ‘We used to show each other our latest compositions,’ says Rutter. ‘His were much better than mine. It was clear he was destined for fame and fortune.’ The two are still friends. ‘Whenever we chat it’s like resuming a conversation that we left half-finished when we last met.’ Although their compositional voices differ widely, like Tavener, Rutter veers towards the sacred idiom, often writing for choral forces. ‘I think most musicians – whatever faith they subscribe to, if any – are sympathetic to religious faith because music is mysterious in the same way that religion is,’ says Rutter.
That very sense of mystery should come to the fore in the architectural, acoustic wonder that is St Paul’s Cathedral. All the more so, as Rutter points out, since the November concert programme is especially chosen for the venue: ‘All of us remember those photographs of St Paul’s in The Blitz surrounded by flames and bombing. The Vaughan Williams piece was written at the height of World War II, and stood as a symbol of hope. The Requiem is also based on themes of death, life and renewal and Lord, Thou Hast Been Our Refuge was written especially for St Paul’s. So this concert is something of a homecoming for me.’