Sidney Sussex College rose from the ruins of the Cambridge Greyfriars in 1596 and has long been a nest for professional musicians. Indeed, the large chapel that stood on this site in pre-Reformation times was the regular venue for University ceremonies and was where a number of early English composers took their degrees, including Robert Fayrfax (MusB, 1501; DMus 1504) and Christopher Tye (MusB, 1536). Later, the great Elizabethan composer William Byrd would have been well-known to the foundress, Lady Frances Sidney, and two very fine elegies by Byrd survive for her nephew, the poet and courtier Sir Philip Sidney.
It is thought that a dedicated chapel choir must have existed in some form since the foundation of the College on St Valentine’s Day 1596. Since the admission of women to the college in 1976, the Choir of Sidney Sussex has blossomed into one of the most esteemed choral groups in Oxbridge. In 2009, the American composer Eric Whitacre was appointed as Sidney Sussex’s first Composer in Residence; in 2015, that mantle was assumed by British composer and Choir alumnus Joanna Marsh.
Aside from the abundant contribution the Choir makes to the musical life of the College, Sidney is home to a wealth of musical ensembles and choral groups, and Fellows with both academic and practical expertise. The College boasts an active Music Society which organises weekly chamber recitals with guest appearances. Small-scale operas and musicals are often staged in the Master’s Garden in Easter Term. Currently resident in the College are Dr Christopher Page (1991), founder and former director of the multi-award-winning Gothic Voices, and Dr David Skinner (2006).
‘They sing with as much sensitivity and soul as many more famous rivals’
‘There’s both freshness and fire in these accounts, Skinner underscoring the music’s dramatic and madrigalian qualities, and enhancing dynamic and textural contrasts to elating effect.’
BBC Music Magazine