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Search on for London boys choir conducted by composer Benjamin Britten

Composer Benjamin Britten (PA)
Composer Benjamin Britten (PA)

A search has begun for a London-based boys choir that was conducted by British composer Benjamin Britten.

As Decca Records re-releases the War Requiem album by Britten, the music company is searching for the students from Highgate Boys School Choir, who performed on the recording in 1963.

At the Grammys in 1964, the music, based on Wilfred Owen’s poetry, won best classical composition by a contemporary composer, best classical performance, choral, not opera, and classical album of the year.

Original War Requiem Master Tape
The original War Requiem master tape (Decca Records/PA)

Decca has placed an advert in London newspaper the Ham & High to track down the surviving members and bring them together 60 years on from session.

Speaking about the recent memories of war that inspired the record, Decca Classics’ label director, Dominic Fyfe said: “The music and what the texts were about had a meaning for them that you simply can’t replicate in another generation.”

Britten’s rehearsals, at the former venue Kingsway Hall in London, where he conducted the soloists, three choirs, ensemble and orchestra, were also recorded.

In a vinyl LP recording released on Thursday, Britten can be heard saying: “Boys I know it’s first thing in the morning but please don’t make it sound like it is.”

The then engineer Peter Van Biene and assistant engineer Michael Mailes worked with classical music producer John Mordler in a concealed control room with one microphone, and another on the conductor’s podium, to record Britten’s voice in secret recordings, according to Decca.

Britten was given the recording on his 50th birthday in November 1963.

He died in December 1976 aged 63.

One choir member who has been found is composer John Rutter who visited Decca’s London offices to hear the remastered album along with surviving members of the original recording team.

SHOWBIZ Classical
John Rutter, a composer (Steve Parsons/PA)

Rutter, known for his compositions Requiem, Magnificat, Mass Of The Children, The Gift Of Life, and Visions, said: “That’s now been brought out absolutely to the full in this new remastering… It’s a marvellous achievement.”

Mr Mailes and Mr Van Biene were also brought to tears by the music, according to Decca.

“It sounds like it was recorded yesterday,” they said.

Britten, hailed as one of the great composers of the 20th Century, also released A Midsummer Night’s Dream and his War Requiem pieces were adapted into a 1989 film of the same name starring Lord (Laurence) Olivier.

When and if the original choir are found, they can attend a listening session event at Decca’s London offices together where they will be photographed.

If you think you are one of the choir boys, you can get in touch here: info@umusic.com.