The Proteus Ensemble


Stephen Shellard

Stephen Shellard comes from Dublin. He began his musical career as a chorister in the choir of St Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, later moving to St. Patrick’s Cathedral where he became Head Chorister and Winstanley Scholar. He continued his musical education at Trinity College, Dublin during which time he became the youngest ever Alto Lay Vicar Choral in the 800-year history of St. Patrick’s.

In 1990 Stephen joined Worcester Cathedral Choir where he is now Senior Lay Clerk. He has sung and recorded with specialist early music ensemble ‘Musica Contexta’, singing solo on their debut recording of Sheppard’s Cantate Mass on the Herald label and in subsequent recordings on the Chandos label. He has featured as a soloist with Musica Contexta on the Palestrina ‘Lamentations’ project and more recently ‘Le Divin Arcadelt.’ The group’s most recent disc of Byrd’s ‘Great Service’ has been widely praised in the press. Stephen also sang solo in the group’s Wigmore Hall debut, which was broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

In 1998 Stephen founded the Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir to further his lifelong passion for conducting. The choir sings regular services in the Cathedral and has its own established concert diary every year. Stephen made his orchestral conducting debut in Worcester Cathedral in March 2000 with the combined Chamber and Cathedral Choirs and the London based Westminster Chamber Orchestra in Bach’s St. John Passion. He has directed the choir in six recordings: ‘ Sing Choirs of Angels’ (2002), ‘Jerusalem’ (2004), ‘A Worcester Evensong’ (2006), ‘Hodie’ (2009), and ‘Rise Heart’ (2011). Both ‘Hodie’ and ‘Rise Heart’, on the Regent label, have been well received by the musical press both in Europe and the USA. The latest recording is a disc of choral works by the Australian Composer Paul Paviour, also on the Regent label. In 2006 Stephen founded the Worcester Chamber Orchestra, made up of professional players from London and beyond to accompany the Chamber Choir in larger choral works.

Stephen is also Musical Director of the professional Gloucester based ‘Ensemble Sine Nomine and in 2013, he formed ‘The Proteus Ensemble,’ a professional 16 voice choir. The ensemble’s first recording, ‘Serenity, Courage, Wisdom,’ with Regent Records, was released on August 28th at the groups debut concert as part of the 2014 Three Choirs Festival in Worcester.

Stephen has a thriving private teaching practice and teaches singing at the Elgar School of Music and is Head of Vocal Studies at the Worcester Sixth Form College.





The First World War occupies a unique place in the European memory. It was the moment when the shape of war itself changed: armoured vehicles, gas, dogfights in the air, vast artillery bombardments, the ugly and unspeakable tedium of the trenches. It was also the moment when society changed: a generation of young men died. Coming as they did from all classes of the old class system, those young deaths had a dreadfully levelling effect, with profound consequences for the emerging labour movement. And women took jobs which had belonged to men, and that had profound consequences for the future of women in society. And for many, religion died.

All this was just one hundred years ago: a couple of generations, not so far back but most of us can remember someone who can remember that War. I used to know an old woman, who was young at the time. ‘I never married’, she told me; ‘all my brother’s friends, all the young men I danced with, were killed’. Every village war memorial repeats, a million times over, that individual loss.

Even at the time, people tried to find some way of absorbing the horror of it by means of both music and poetry.  ‘My subject is War,’ Wilfred Owen famously wrote, ‘and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity … these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true poets must be truthful’.  Owen suggests, I think, that it is not the function of poetry – or, indeed, music – to change the awfulness of war into something less awful, but through its very beauty to warn and disturb while at the same time offering some kind of hope or consolation. This imposes on the reader or the hearer the obligation not to be too easily consoled, but to find in the poetry or the music that which continues to ‘warn’.

Here is both music and poetry that commemorate those dreadful years from 1914 to 1918. The beauty of both song and verse is there to be received and enjoyed – but also to remind us that the ‘War to end war’ did not do that, and one hundred years on, we still inhabit a war-torn world.

Peter Atkinson

Track listing

  1. Reading – Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, vv. 1-8 [1:31]
  2. Elegy – Sir C.H.H. PARRY [3:22]
  3. Reading – To His Love – Ivor GURNEY [0:52]
  4. Messe pour Notre Dame Kyrie – David BRIGGS [5:21]
  5. Exhortation (They Shall Grow Not Old) – John TAVENER [3:20]
  6. Reading – Still falls the rain – Dame Edith SITWELL [2:31]
  7. And I saw a new Heaven – Edgar BAINTON [5:44]
  8. Reading – Not to Keep – Robert FROST [1:55]
  9. Quam dilecta! – Donald HUNT [4:40]
  10. Reading – Everyone Sang – Siegfried SASSOON [0:42]
  11. Messe pour Notre Dame Sanctus – David BRIGGS [3:12]
  12. Messe pour Notre Dame Benedictus – David BRIGGS [3:31]
  13. Méditation – Maurice DURUFLÉ [3:54]
  14. Kohima (When you go home) – John TAVENER [1:45]
  15. Reading – The Veteran – Margaret P. COLE  [0:55]
  16. Messe pour Notre Dame Agnus Dei – David BRIGGS [6:06]
  17. Serenity – James MACMILLAN [4:52]
  18. Reading – May 1915 – Charlotte MEW [0:59]
  19. Jesu, dulic memoria – Pierre VILLETTE [1:17]
  20. Reading – For the Fallen – Laurence BINYON [0:21]
  21. O Lord, support us – David BRIGGS [6:49]

“A moving ‘sequence of music and readings for remembrance'”


- Choir and Organ Magazine




The 16-strong, mixed-voice Proteus Ensemble makes its debut on disc with a moving ‘sequence of music and readings for remembrance’ marking the centenary of the beginning of the first world war.

Later and largely modern musical pieces (only Parry’s solemn Elergy can claim propinquity with the Great War) lend the period readings a poignant topicality. Tavener’s Exhortation is luminously sublime, MacMillan’s Serenity seethes with emotion, David Brigg’s Messe pour Notre Dame a work of powerful chiaroscuro contrasts. The rest of the programme is no less satisfying, Stephen Shellard coaxing singing of nuanced conviction from his promising new ensemble, Christopher Allsop providing sure and subtle accompaniment on Worcester Cathedral’s Tickell organ.


This is the debut recording of Stephen Shellard’s Proteus Ensemble, released to coincide with a performance at the 2014 Three Choirs Festival in Worcester Cathedral. The theme commemorates the First World War and comprises an interesting and moving mix of spoken word and choral music. The readings are shared between the Dean of Worcester, Peter Atkinson, and actress Gabrielle Bullock. We open with Ecclesiastes Chapter Three, read not sung. This moves seamlessly into an organ solo, Parry’s “Elegy” played by Christopher Allsop and then on to the second reading, Ivor Gurney’s “To His Love”. Only then do we meet the 16-strong choir with the first of extracts from “Messe Pour Notre-Dame” by David Briggs. The Ensemble rise to the challenge most creditably, Allsop’s accompaniment is superb and Shellard and Bullock, who had the bright idea of interspersing the Mass throughout the recording, are to be commended as this keeps the programme in balance. After the aforementioned “Kyrie” from “Notre-Dame” we hear the first of two pieces by John Tavener, “Exhortation (They Shall Not Grow Old)” which is followed by a reading of Edith Sitwell’s haunting “Still Falls The Rain”. There is much more – 66 minutes worth – but I hope this gives a flavour: well chosen (and well read) poems with appropriate and often deeply moving music. Even in its segmented form the Mass dominates the sung part of the sequence but everything fits together most excellently. The closing triptych of “Jesus, Dulcis Memoria” by Pierre Villette, Laurence Binyon’s poem “For The Fallen” and David Briggs’ beautifully evocative anthem “O Lord, Support Us” sit beautifully together. No doubt 2014 will bring a flood of tributes and memorials to what happened a century ago but I doubt that there will be many better than this one. Well worth hearing.


The title of this disc – Serenity, Courage, Wisdom – alludes to the ‘Prayer for Serenity’ by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. It’s an unusual and very special issue, a programme of poetry and music devised by the two people who deliver the various readings – the actor Gabrielle Bullock, and the Dean of Worcester, Peter Atkinson. Though recorded last year, it is clearly intended to commemorate the outbreak of World War One, a century ago.

The music has mostly been recorded in Worcester Cathedral, and the performers are conductor Stephen Shellard’s recently-created group, the Proteus Ensemble. The name is taken from the Greek god of the sea, who could change his shape at will – thus a musical ensemble flexible in its component parts. Their singing is committed and impassioned.

It is a beautifully designed sequence, for there is a thread running through it all, namely the movements of David Briggs’ Messe pour Notre Dame. This fine work has already been recorded, together with other pieces by the same composer, by Trinity College Choir, Cambridge (Hyperion CDA67808). In this context it acquires a new poignancy. Christopher Allsop provides the discreetly luminous organ accompaniment. Briggs’ dark and often tortuous harmonies – the Agnus Dei is especially fine – contrast well with John Tavener’s simplicity and directness in the two works of his here. The second, on track 14 has the title Kohima, and sets John Maxwell Edmonds’ famous words.

“When you go home
Tell them of us, and say,
For their tomorrow
We gave our today”

Also included are Edgar Bainton’s fine anthem, And I saw a new Heaven, as well as the unaccompanied motet Quam Dilecta by former organist of Worcester, Donald Hunt, recorded here for the first time. James MacMillan is represented by his Serenity, which begins with almost Victorian sturdiness, but unfolds, as always with this composer, in unexpected and delightful ways. Pierre Villette’s Jesu, dulcis memoria brings a welcome touch of Gallic insouciance. The disc concludes with more Briggs, this time the moving anthem O Lord, support us.

The interspersed readings are as imaginatively chosen as the music. I was particularly struck by the Ivor Gurney poem that I had not encountered before; To His Love is touching, but also deeply shocking. As for that great American Robert Frost’s poem Not to Keep it says so much and so economically.

A disc then for contemplation, but also for profound literary and musical enjoyment.



28th July 2014

Morning rehearsal for debut concert in Pershore Abbey as part of the 3 Choirs Festival. — 14:30 – Debut Concert & launch of the groups first CD – Serenity Courage Wisdom.

“No doubt 2014 will bring a flood of tributes and memorials to what happened a century ago but I doubt there will be many better than this one. Well worth hearing”


- Crossrhythms (9/10 Rating)





Contact Form Included