The Ambrosian Singers are one of the best-known London choral groups, particularly esteemed for their wide variety of recorded repertory. The group's founding was connected to the beginnings of the post-World War II early music movement in England. One of its co-founders was Denis Stevens (b. 1922), a British musicologist and viola player who joined the BBC Music Department in 1949 and developed programs of Renaissance and early Baroque music. The other was John McCarthy (b. 1919), a professional tenor soloist.
They organized the Ambrosian Singers as a small, professional chorus in 1951. The group's aim was to give authentic, accurate performances of the complex polyphonic choral music of the medieval and Renaissance eras. Its first professional engagement involved the musical illustrations for the BBC Series The History of Western Music, which was primarily Stevens' production. In so doing the group sampled a wide repertory in addition to its primary area of interest.
Stevens left the BBC and went to Cornell University in the U.S. in 1955, ending his formal ties with the group. In 1956, a group of six solo singers from the choir founded the Ambrosian Consort. Since then, the organization of the Ambrosian Singers has evolved into a talent pool of some 700 professional singers available for work in concerts, operas, recording, and films and television. Groups drawn from the 700 perform under the original name, the Ambrosian Opera Chorus, the John McCarthy Singers, and others. While John McCarthy was choral director for the London Symphony Orchestra (1961-1966), the group called the "London Symphony Orchestra Chorus" was, in fact, the Ambrosian Singers.
The organization is considered ideal for specific recording projects, for it can provide a choir of experienced studio singers of the needed size and type of experience for anything from Baroque operas to film scores. It participated in the great RCA Classic Film Scores series. Aside from purely classical work, it has participated in numerous Christmas albums and appeared on albums with such pop and rock artists as Neil Diamond, Grace Jones, Van Morrison, and Julie Andrews.
Its original film score credits include Brainstorm, Krull, Chariots of Fire, Sphinx, and The Secret of NIMH, and in such film score excerpt albums as Cinema Italiano: Film Scores of Ennio Morricone and Nino Rota (conducted by Henry Mancini), collections of Miklos Rozsa scores, and original scores from MGM Classic Musicals.