The BBC Singers to perform contemporary and traditional pieces

Principal guest conductor Paul Brough says interacting with The BBC Singers is like interacting with a musical instrument

It is not often that we think of the human body as a musical instrument, but the truth is that entire symphonies, melodies and chords are hidden inside every person and unlocked when a voice is raised in song.

"The fact that the music exists within a person never ceases to be a miracle," says Paul Brough, principal guest conductor of chamber choir The BBC Singers.

"Whenever you're interacting with singers, you're interacting with a musical instrument that is part of their make-up and that is something that I have always found endlessly fascinating."

Brough, 51, will be in Singapore with the Singers later this month, conducting them in their first solo engagement here, An Afternoon With The BBC Singers, presented by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO).

In a separate show, the chamber choir will also perform with the orchestra in the SSO 36th Anniversary Concert: Ode To Joy the same weekend.

The BBC Singers were founded in 1924 and are one of nine British Broadcasting Corporation performing groups. They are made up of 24 members and are known for their versatility and wide repertoire.

Brough, who is also a teacher at the Royal Academy of Music in London, has conducted other choirs and orchestras over the span of his career, but says the Singers are special.

"The BBC Singers, for me, are the fastest and most responsive and, in the end, the deepest choral group that I've worked with. Because they are so bright, intelligent and quick, it means that the heart of the music can be sought more readily, should you push yourself very hard," he says.

He adds that working with the Singers is "refreshing and exciting" as the group is so dynamic that it is never the same twice.

Voices also change with age, he explains.

"I think some voices become more soft-grained, some mellower, and perhaps there are more burnished elements in different parts of their range. It really depends on the person."

For their solo concert here, they will perform contemporary British choral pieces by the likes of Gabriel Jackson and Judith Weir. In a nod to tradition, they will also be performing two English folk songs and two Scottish ones.

Explaining the inclusion of the traditional tunes, Brough says that the contemporary music "is very intense, and demanding on the singers and listeners. The idea was to have something in the programme which is older, and perhaps more indigenous to Britain, and it would also give the singers a bit of a lighter load".

While Brough has been principal guest conductor of the Singers since 2011, his favourite choral work that will be performed this time will not be conducted by him, but by the SSO's music director, Shui Lan.

In the SSO 36th Anniversary Concert, Shui will be conducting Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 In D Minor, Op. 125, which is best known for its Ode To Joy theme.

Shui says the rousing, emotive arc of the piece was born out of Beethoven's tragic personal circumstances, stemming from his loss of hearing and several failed performances.

"When he was composing this symphony, his whole life was really in ruins and he was devastated. So the range of this whole piece, unlike his earlier first or second symphonies, is a lot more dramatic."

During the concert, Shui will be conducting the SSO, the Singapore Symphony Chorus, several guest singers as well as The BBC Singers.

He says: "The BBC Singers are really wonderful. They're a small group, not a big choir, and they know the style of early music, especially the classical period. It's a perfect match for us."

lting@sph.com.sg