Since the founding of a mixed voice choir in 1971, the Choir of Clare College has gained an international reputation as one of the leading university choral groups in England. In addition to its primary function of leading services three times a week in the College chapel, the choir keeps an active schedule recording, broadcasting, and performing throughout the UK and the world.
Led by its Director of Music Timothy Brown, the choir has toured widely, including in Europe, the USA, Japan, China, Russia, and the Middle East. In 2000 it became the first Oxbridge mixed choir to perform at the BBC Proms, singing J.S. Bach's St John Passion (BWV 245). At Easter 2002 the choir took part in a sell-out tour to Spain, Belgium, the UK and the USA, performing George Frideric Handel's oratorio Jephtha with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, directed by René Jacobs. The New York Times wrote about the 'brilliant execution' and 'distinctive sense of character' of the choir's contribution. In July 2008, the choir further collaborated with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in a performance of W.A. Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito under the direction of Edward Gardner, earning praise for 'thrillingly fresh and feisty singing.' In 2009 the choir look forward to performances of J.S. Bach's St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) in Cambridge and The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, and will conclude the year with a tour to the States.
In recent years there have been many performances at international festivals, including, in 2007, concerts at the Potsdam Sanssouci Music Festival, the Munich Opera Festival where they were invited to return in 2008), and the Early Music Weekend at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. In a review of the QEH Encounters concert, The Observer praised Dietrich Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu nostri, ‘so ravishingly sensuous… especially in the throats of the choir of Clare College, Cambridge.’
In addition to live performances, the choir has produced an impressive catalogue of recordings. In 1994, it began a major series of CD and video recordings for the Columns Classics label, several of which continue to be broadcast internationally and are now available on DVD; these include a DVD of Francis Poulenc's Stabat Mater, made with St John's and Caius College Choirs. Illumina, an exploration of the theme of light, was runner-up for a Gramophone Award in 2000, earning such comments as 'breath-taking panache', 'the most fervent rendering I have ever heard of Rachmaninov's Nunc Dimittis', and 'one of the most accomplished choral discs of the year'. In April 2003 the choir released a recording of John Rutter's Requiem. Produced by the composer on the Naxos label, the recording was Editor's Choice for the May 2003 edition of The Gramophone, CD of the week on Classic FM, gave Naxos its first Number 1 in the classical charts, and in 2005 was nominated for a Classical BRIT Award. In 2008, the choir recorded Harvey Brough’s Requiem in Blue as well as Ex Maria Virgine, a new Christmas sequence commissioned for the choir from John Tavener, which has recently been released on the Naxos Label.
The choir is committed to the performance of new music and has commissioned and premiered works by John Tavener, Christopher Brown, Andrew Carter, Jonathan Dove, Herbert Howells, Julian Phillips, Tarik O'Regan, John Rutter, Giles Swayne, and James Whitbourn.
The choir regularly contributes to the Choral Evensong broadcasts on BBC Radio 3 and recently performed a service for Remembrance Sunday live on air on November 11, 2007. On December 28, 2008, they will broadcast the première of John Tavener's Ex Maria Virigne in a Christmas Service on BBC Radio 3.
Many former members of the Choir now enjoy distinguished professional solo careers. Others sing in leading vocal ensembles, such as the Monteverdi Choir, The Sixteen and the Tallis Scholars. Both Sir Roger Norrington (conductor) and Richard Stilgoe (musical entertainer) are former choral exhibitioners. Former organ scholars include the present organist of Norwich Cathedral, while others, including Ivor Bolton, Richard Egarr and Dominic Wheeler, are conductors with an international reputation.