Go to content

‘The candles were lit, the Benjamin West painting was radiating, and I just thought ‘Wow!’’

Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stephen J Toope (Trinity 1983), shares the sounds which shaped his student days at Cambridge.

  • Interview
    Mira Katbamna
- 4 minute read
  • FANTASIA ON A THEME BY THOMAS TALLIS cover artwork

    FANTASIA ON A THEME BY THOMAS TALLIS

    RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS

    To me, this is almost quintessentially English music and I really like that – it epitomises the English romantic tradition. Although I knew Williams’s music, I didn’t know this piece until it was introduced to me in Hall at Trinity. I was sitting next to a guy who was an astrophysicist, and we were discussing the kinds of things you discuss at dinner, and then he started talking about this piece. I said I hadn’t heard it and, a few days later, he went out and bought the tape and gave to me. Williams really is remarkable in the way he uses strings, and I love the richness of sound he creates while always ensuring that the rhythms drive you forward.

  • Police album cover artwork

    EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE

    THE POLICE

    I think the first time I heard this was in the car, driving with friends to a restaurant during the long vacation in Montreal. It was a beautiful summer night, and it just stuck in my mind. By the time I got back to Cambridge, of course, it had become a huge hit and was being played pretty much everywhere I went. So it reminds me of those first few weeks of the Michaelmas term, of warm days and good friends. I’ll be very honest and say that I don’t think I was very attuned to the lyrics at the time – it was just a song I really loved – but it does show, at least, that we have travelled some
    way since the 1980s!

  • Trinity Choir College cover art

    O COME, O COME EMMANUEL

    TRINITY COLLEGE CHOIR

    In the Christmas of 1984 or 1985, Trinity’s then chaplain, Robert Atwell, asked if I would read one of the lessons at the advent service. I used to go to services quite often, and as it was to be broadcast by the BBC I think they wanted different voices and accents. It was a really fun occasion – I remember the great opening of O Come and the whole rush of feeling – the place was packed, the candles were lit, the Benjamin West altar painting was radiating, and I just thought “Wow!” It was wonderful, and I feel immense gratitude for the experience. I also like the hymn! It builds so well, it’s very singable, and it has a certain drama to it, which I like.

  • Arvo Part cover art

    CANTUS IN MEMORIAM BY BENJAMIN BRITTEN

    ARVO PÄRT

    Although I am Canadian, I spent much of my younger years singing in choirs in the English choral tradition. So I love Arvo Pärt: I love his mathematical discipline as a composer, and I think this is a great example of that. I discovered Pärt when I was in Cambridge – I think I must have heard one of his pieces sung at Evensong and got very interested and bought a couple of albums. I also happen to be a lover of Benjamin Britten, so this piece is particularly special because of that resonance. Quite a lot of people don’t like Pärt but, for me, it’s the clarity, the force of precision about the music, that I really enjoy.

  • Jennifer Warnes cover art

    FAMOUS BLUE RAINCOAT: THE SONGS OF LEONARD COHEN

    JENNIFER WARNES

    I love Leonard Cohen, but he was a quite dreadful singer in my view – so while I have always been a big fan of his music, I mostly prefer to listen to cover versions, and this album is one of my favourites. Jennifer Warnes was a country and western singer; not someone I knew, but I just thought she had such a haunting voice and such a range. I associate it with mist in Trinity Great Court – it brings back memories of evening drizzle, and a feeling of wistful nostalgia. But also of playing music in my room with my roommate Stuart Young (Queens’ 1983), who was later best man at my wedding. I didn’t have much money at the time, so I had it on tape and played it on repeat.

More from Cambridge