A native of Great Britain, Philip Barnes was a boy chorister at an early age, and as an adult sang with the cathedral choirs of Bristol, Hereford, and Wells. He was educated at the Manchester Grammar School and the University of Manchester (music); he also studied at Bristol University (classics) and King's College in London (education). There he sang with numerous choruses, notably St. Margaret's - Westminster Abbey, the Consort of St. Martin's-in-the-fields, the Chapel Choir of the Tower of London, and was a frequent deputy at St. Paul's Cathedral. He also worked with many secular ensembles in London's leading concert halls, and recorded for several major classical labels, including anthologies of Tallis (Hyperion) and Mendelssohn (London-Decca) as well as Peter Dickinson's Outcry (Conifer) and Mannheim Steamroller's A Fresh Aire Christmas (American 'Gramaphone') with John Rutter's Cambridge Singers. His experience as a choral director included positions with the Hereford Chamber Choir, and a six-voice ensemble, Variation, which undertook numerous concert tours and made recordings in France.
In 1988 he left London for St. Louis, where he was invited to chair the faculty of the Classics Department at John Burroughs School. In 1999 he relinquished the department chair following his appointment as the Johnston Endowed Chair in Classics. In addition to his teaching, he also served as Burroughs's curriculum co-ordinator. Though he has since yielded the Chair and the coordinator positions, he remains the director of the school's annual Italy trip program and continues to teach Greek and Latin at the school. Soon after his arrival in St. Louis, he was appointed assistant choirmaster at Christ Church Cathedral, and also sang in the choir at Temple Shaare Emeth. Since then he has also sung with the choirs of St. Peter's in Ladue and several other churches, and for three years served as choirmaster of Holy Communion Church in University City. Since 2016 he has served as Director of Music at Third Baptist Church, located in St. Louis’s Grand Center.
In 1989 Mr. Barnes was invited to direct the St. Louis Chamber Chorus, becoming only its fourth artistic director since the foundation of the choir in 1956. Mr. Barnes's tenure with the Chamber Chorus has been marked by continual growth, both artistically and in terms of organization. The group has established itself as the leading chamber choir of the region, and received numerous plaudits from the press and media. Philip Barnes has created a distinctive sound for the choir, achieved through insightful choir training, and supported by regular auditions. The Chorus has embraced the literature written for unaccompanied choir, and has ensured that St. Louis audiences have regular access to the masterpieces of the repertoire, from the Renaissance to the Romantic period, and thence to the present day. Mr. Barnes has led the choir in the performance of more than 1300 works, some of which individually contain many movements; see the repertoire section of this web site for listings of all of these works. No other choir in the Midwest, and few anywhere beyond our region, can boast such a broad repertoire of music from many periods and lands, performed in the original language and to the highest musical standards.
In addition to his remarkable knowledge of the existing choral repertoire, Philip Barnes has forged a reputation for championing new additions to the literature. In addition to his numerous first American performances, He has also presented many world premières, many of which were written for him and the Chamber Chorus. He has worked closely with many prominent choral composers around the world, including Ronald Arnatt, Richard Rodney Bennett, Melissa Dunphy, Sydney Guillaume, Howard Helvey, Stephen Paulus, Ned Rorem, and Steven Stucky in the United States; David Bednall, Judith Bingham, Bob Chilcott, Jonathan Dove, Gabriel Jackson, Sasha Johnson Manning, David Matthews, Jonathan Pitkin, Francis Pott, Robert Walker, Magnus Williamson and Patrick Zuk in Great Britain; Clare Maclean in Australia; Eriks Esenvalds and Ugis Praulins in Latvia; Carl Rütti in Switzerland; Mårten Jansson in Sweden; Yakov Gubanov in Italy. Recent collaborations with the acclaimed musicologist Dr. Craig Monson have also seen the first performance in modern times of motets by Gabriele Fattorini and John Sheppard. For several composers, notably Sasha Johnson Manning and Ned Rorem, Philip Barnes has provided either a translation from Greek or an original verse in English.
Under his direction the Chorus has made fourteen compact discs. Six of them were produced locally, one in collaboration with a Chicago-based publisher, and one with the Swiss-based label, Guild. Most recently, he has recorded six times for Regent Records in Great Britain, first releasing a disc of works commissioned for the Chorus, and then an anthology of compositions by Granville Bantock, released in late 2009. In the Fall of 2011 Regent released Christmas in Saint Louis, a program Mr. Barnes directed of traditional American carols contrasting with recent commissions written specially for the Chamber Chorus. In the Fall of 2013, a new anthology of American Masterworks became available from Regent, followed by Saint Louis Firsts and Saint Louis Classics. The latest disc for Regent is Saint Louis Premieres, recorded in February 2019. (See our Recordings page.)
Mr. Barnes has also worked with a touring vocal ensemble, Musica Missouri, which he co-founded to present the works of choral composers with Missouri associations. This group's first tour was to Italy in 1998, where he directed concerts to packed audiences in Rome and the Naples area. Another European tour was arranged in the summer of 2004, and Mr. Barnes was invited to conduct concerts in Lisbon and Évora (Portugal), and Cáceres, Merida and Trujillo (Spain). Four years later the ensemble returned to Portugal and Spain for programs in Lisbon, Oporto and Braga, and then across the Spanish border, in Cambados and Santiago de Compostela. In 2012 Musica Missouri toured East Anglia (Great Britain), collaborating with local choirs―The Escorial choir and the Norwich Cathedral Consort―and appearing in several concert series, including the Wymondham Festival.
Philip Barnes has lectured widely, and has directed choral workshops in Missouri and beyond. In January 2019 he flew to Moscow to address the Orthodox Patriarch’s Christmas Readings conference. He maintains a dual career of musician and classicist, and has given numerous papers on the application of music in modern productions of ancient Greek drama, and also analyses of modern settings of Roman verse. For many summers he has taught at New York State's Chautauqua Institution, leading classes on both music and classical languages. Since 2006 he has served as a CD reviewer for The Choral Journal, the monthly magazine of the American Choral Directors Association, and articles by him have been published in the British magazine, Choir & Organ.
Like Dr. Arnatt, the Chorus's founder, Philip Barnes has been recognized with an award from the American Guild of Organists for his outstanding contribution to choral music in St. Louis. In her year end summary of 2006, Sarah Bryan Miller of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch dubbed Philip Barnes "Conductor of the Year" in recognition of his achievements with the Chamber Chorus. He has continued to garner similar recognition in ensuing years.
In appreciation of twenty years at the helm of the Chamber Chorus, Philip Barnes was awarded a sabbatical for the 2009-2010 season, which he spent as a Lay Clerk in the celebrated Norwich Cathedral Choir in Great Britain. In addition to singing the daily office, Mr. Barnes volunteered as a music adviser for printed and recorded music re-sold by Oxfam, a national charity. He continued his work as a reviewer, while researching material for both scholarly articles and concert programs by the Chamber Chorus.
In his fourth decade with the choir, Philip Barnes conducts new commissions from Judith Bingham, Kerensa Briggs, Melissa Dunphy, Yakov Gubanov, Mårten Jansson, Sasha Johnson Manning and Dobrinka Tabakova. He continues to present papers at various classical meetings, teach in St. Louis, and give lectures at Chautauqua. In 2022, he was awarded a Bogliasco Fellowship, which provided the opportunity to complete his translation of all the choruses (‘odes’) in the Antigone by Sophocles. These have been made specifically for composers to set to music for the Chamber Chorus, and so far, versions have been made by Kerensa Briggs, Sasha Johnson Manning, and Ned Rorem.