Schola Cantorum is Oxford Universityís longest-running chamber choir, and one of the most long-established and widely known chamber choirs in the UK. It was founded in 1960 by the Hungarian dissident Lászlò Heltay as the Collegium Musicum Oxoniense. Over the last four decades many of the choirís former members have become involved in professional music at the highest levels. Former singers include Emma Kirkby and Jane Glover, while Andrew Parrott, Stephen Cleobury, and Ivor Bolton are among the choirís former conductors. Schola Cantorumís patrons have been Sir Michael Tippett and Lord Yehudi Menuhin, and for specific projects the choir has worked under Leonard Bernstein, Gustav Leonhardt, Sir Colin Davis, and Sir Neville Marriner as well as Benjamin Britten, Tippett, and Igor Stravinsky in performances of their own music. Current distinguished patrons of the choir include Emma Kirkby (a former member), John Mark Ainsley and the choirís former conductor Andrew Parrott. Schola Cantorum is comprised of around thirty singers, most of whom sing with the choir while they are students at Oxford University. Studying a wide range of academic subjects including music, the choir members rehearse during university term-times, perform regularly in Oxford and give concerts all over the UK.
Since 1990 Schola Cantorum was conducted by Jeremy Summerly under whom the choir has released many recordings and has toured extensively, both in UK and abroad. In 2002, James Burton was appointed Music Director of Schola Cantorum of Oxford, and since then has conducted the choir in concerts all over the UK and on prestigious and ground-breaking tours of Mexico (twice) and Argentina. Schola Cantorum of Oxford is committed to presenting the passion of its young singers for their music in an innovative and memorable way. The choir's energetic approach to both rehearsal and performance allows Schola to tackle unique provocative programmes of music.
The Schola Cantorum has developed a formidable international reputation, and in recent years has given concert tours of Mexico, Argentina, Italy, Israel, Spain and France. In September 2006 Schola returned to Mexico to open the Cervantino Music Festival in Guanajuato. Schola is the first English choir to have toured extensively in Mexico (2004) and Argentina (2005), appearing on national television and radio in both countries, performing at festivals and collaborating with local groups. The choir performed at the opening concert of the Roma Europa Festival (2005) at the Quirinale Palace to mark Britainís presidency of the EU, in Spain (2002) at the Santander International Festival, and in Japan, where Schola won first prize at the Takarazuka Chamber Choir Competition. The trip to Mexico in 2006 included didactic concerts with school children, a collaboration with OFUNAM, one of Mexicoís leading orchestras, and performances in Mexicoís major concert hall, the Sala Nezahualcoyotl. In 2007 they became the first choir from a British university to tour in China, giving concerts in the Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing and the new Oriental Arts Centre in Shanghai. In 2008 they appeared as guest artists at the 43rd International Festival Wratislavia Cantans in Wroclaw, Poland.
In Spring 2006 Schola gave two performances of George Frideric Handelís dramatic oratorio Israel in Egypt. Taking soloists from the choir and performing in two prestigious venues, the Sheldonian and St Jamesís Piccadilly, with an orchestra drawn from some of Englandís finest professional Baroque specialists, this was the perfect showcase for Scholaís young talent.
Over recent years Schola has maintained its history for tackling wide-ranging and challenging repertoire. This stems from both the work of more familiar composers such as Tallis, Strauss and Scarlatti, whose works often challenge ensemble and interpretation, to more modern composers such as Macmillan, Schnittke and Williams whose compositions necessitate great energy and versatility as well as vocal dexterity. Schola also aims to perform a wide variety of music from many different countries and cultures. Recently the choir has performed works in Mandarin, Estonian, Hungarian, Russian and Spanish.
Schola Cantorum has a long recording history, and has frequently appeared on radio and television in the UK and abroad. On June 21, 2006 Schola performed The Oxford Blues Service, a commission jazz setting of the service of Evensong by Roderick Williams which they performed live on BBC Radio 3. This piece provides both singers and audience to experience a new perspective on church music, as well as building on Scholaís tradition of working with eminent composers, who have in the past included I. Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein and Tippett, and more recently Roxanna Panufnik and Per Nørgaard. Schola is keen to cultivate young compositional talent and in 2006 they performed choir member Jonathan Bridcutís Why do you stand far off?, written in memory of the London bombings of June 2005. The Oxford Blues Service was followed by A jazz Matins service in 2007 which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4. In 2008 the choir featured in John Bridcutís BBC film The Passions of Vaughan Williams in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the composerís death.
In October 2008 Hyperion Records released a CD recording by Schola Cantorum, to universal critical acclaim. Recorded in the Chapel of Exeter College, Oxford, the CD features works by the American composer Randall Thompson, centring on his sequence of sacred choruses with texts from Isaiah, The Peaceable Kingdom.