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The choir Polyphony and its director Stephen Layton, photographed by Marcin Urban

Polyphony was formed by Stephen Layton in 1986 for a concert in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. Since then the choir has performed and recorded regularly worldwide to great critical acclaim. Recent reviews declare Polyphony as ‘one of the best small choirs now before the public’ (Telegraph) and ‘possibly the best small professional chorus in the world’ (Encore Magazine, USA). In a poll by Gramophone Magazine they were named as one of the world’s leading choirs ‘Stephen Layton's choir have become renowned for both their sound and versatility – whether in early music, or contemporary works such as those of Eric Whitacre, they embody the remarkable tradition of British choral excellence at its finest.’

Polyphony are broadcast widely and have an extensive discography comprising numerous important recordings of works by Bach, Britten, Bruckner, Cornelius, Grainger, Grieg, Handel, Jackson, Jenkins, Lauridsen, Łukaszewski, MacMillan, Pärt, Poulenc, Rutter, Tavener, Walton, and Whitacre.

Recent and forthcoming diary highlights for the choir include appearances at the Oslo International Church Music Festival, performing a programme of Palestrina, Esenvalds and Browne; at the new Polish Sacred Music Festival in London ‘Joy and Devotion’, giving no less than seven UK premieres; several appearances at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, as part of their ZaterdagMatinee series, including Faure’s Requiem with Britten Sinfonia; performances of Bach’s St John Passion, with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris, and the Theater an der Wien, Vienna; and a performance of Mozart’s Requiem, with the City of London Sinfonia, at the BBC Proms. Other notable appearances have included the Belfast Festival as part of their 50 year celebrations; Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh, to mark the start of their Britten celebrations; and the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester with the Philharmonia Orchestra.

Awarded with an MBE for services to classical music in October 2020, Stephen Layton is one of the most sought-after conductors of his generation. Often described as the finest exponent of choral music in the world today, his ground-breaking approach has had a profound influence on choral music over the last 30 years. Founder and Director of Polyphony, and Director of Holst Singers, Layton has recently stepped down as Fellow and Director of Music at Trinity College Cambridge – a post he held for 17 years. His other former posts include Chief Conductor of Netherlands Chamber Choir, Chief Guest Conductor of Danish National Vocal Ensemble, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of City of London Sinfonia, and Director of Music at the Temple Church, London.

Layton is regularly invited to work with the world’s leading choirs, orchestras and composers. His interpretations have been heard from Sydney Opera House to the Concertgebouw, from Tallinn to São Paolo, and his recordings have won or been nominated for every major international recording award. He has two Gramophone Awards (and a further ten nominations), five Grammy nominations, the Diapason d’Or de l’Année in France, the Echo Klassik award in Germany, the Spanish CD compact award, and Australia’s Limelight Recording of the Year. 

Layton is constantly in demand to première new works by the greatest established and emerging composers of our age. Passionate in his exploration of new music, Layton has introduced a vast range of new choral works to the UK and the rest of the world, transforming the music into some of the most widely performed today. Longstanding composer partnerships include Arvo Pärt, Sir John Tavener and Sir Karl Jenkins; in the Baltic, Eriks Ešenvalds, Uģis Prauliņš and Veljo Tormis; and in America, Morten Lauridsen and Eric Whitacre, of whose music Layton made two Grammy-nominated recordings. 

Other award-winning discs include recordings of Britten, James MacMillan, Bruckner, Handel (including BBC Music Magazine’s “Best Messiah recording” with Britten Sinfonia), and Bach’s St John Passion, Christmas Oratorio and B Minor Mass with Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Layton’s recordings have consistently broken new ground, creating a new sound world in British choral music.

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