The magic of Harry Christophers and The Sixteen



Sixteen is more than a number that sits between 15 and 17. Small yet perfect in balance it has numerous manifestations. It is a composite number and is the square of 4 and the fourth power of 2; it’s a coming of age that brings privileges of adulthood.

There are sixteen semiquavers in a semi-breve and sixteen ounces in a pound; it is a centred pentagonal number – one that makes the shape of a pentagon with one point in the centre and the remaining points arranged around it in concentric layers of 5.

Whichever way it is considered, 16 is powerful as a single entity, as a product of its factors, and in those factors considered individually.

These abstractions were unlikely to have been considered by Harry Christophers when he named his choir over three decades ago. In choral music, sixteen is the number of singers who comprise a stand alone ensemble but who can dissolve into component parts, where each part is flawless and blended in its delivery of music for both smaller and larger forces. There aren’t many choral ensembles around with fewer than 16 performers.

Next month, Christophers brings his world renowned choir, The Sixteen with its orchestra, to Sydney where they will perform at the Sydney Opera House.  In this single Sydney performance they will present an all-Handel programme, including the cantatas Dixit Dominus and Nisi Dominus, the Coronation Anthem No 2  Let thy hand be strengthened, HWV 259 and the solo cantata Silete Venti.

 It is the programme they performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 2011. Edinburgh Festival reviewer Kenneth Walton observed:

Dixit Dominus was sensational, driven by a cool, crisp exuberance, coupled with an overwhelming theatrical grandeur. It was solid in intent, but never lazily predictable. Even its blatant overdose of hallmark Handelian suspensions and sequences – flogged almost to death in the Juravit Domiinus chorus – bore intoxicating power in this powerfully measured performance’.

Listening to Christophers’ interpretation of Handel in vivo will be a rare treat. His knowledge of Baroque music is profound; his repertoire extensive. Live performances and recordings by Christophers and The Sixteen have earned dozens of plaudits, including a Grand Prix du Disque for Messiah, a Gramophone and a Classical Brit Award, several Schallplattenkritik, and in 2010, they were nominated by Gramophone magazine as one of the world’s top 5 choirs. Christophers is an esteemed Handel scholar and in 2010 was appointed artistic director of Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society which he will lead through its bicentenary in 2015.

Whilst the choir celebrates 32 years of performing this year, the orchestra is younger, having been formed in 1986 for The Sixteen’s inaugural performance of Messiah. The instrumental presence varies according to the requirements of the repertoire.

One final cryptic message in numbers. The website of The Sixteen features an image of Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s 1563 painting The Tower of Babel. A random selection of a beautiful painting? Perhaps. It also happens that The Tower is the 16th in a deck of Tarot cards.

This concert is a must.

“Christophers draws brilliant performances from his singers, both technically assured and vividly impassioned”. The Guardian October 2002

Tickets from $49; Call 9250 7777 or book on line at


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