December 2012 – Christmas is almost upon us!

After a few days rest following the London Quartet America tour, the busy run up to Christmas has begun. This was kick-started by my favourite service of the year at York Minster – The Advent Procession. The Cathedral begins in darkness, and as the evening progresses with readings and music, candlelight is spread from the west to the east of the congregation. It really is a magical experience. This stop motion film of last year’s service gives a sense of the effect.

The musical highlight for me was Sandström’s Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen which was new to me. This is only the second piece of his that I have come across, the other being his completion of Purcell’s Hear my Prayer, but on the strength of these his work is definitely worth exploring further.

DSC_0076Our Minster commitment continues with the second of our Carol concerts taking place on Friday the 14th, two Nine Lessons and Carols services on the 23rd and 24th as well as the special services of Christmas Eve and Christmas day. For a full list of the Minster’s Christmas activities, visit their website.

I have also been singing with Ex Cathedra this month. They have a busy schedule of Christmas Music by Candlelight concerts, which are an inventive combination of words and music in several venues in and around Birmingham. As the name suggests, these are lit solely by candlelight, which can present a challenge when trying to read new pieces by the likes of Stephanie Martin, Panufnick, Esenvalds and Runswick. This clever programme not only conveys a beautiful sense of the meaning of Christmas, but also also manages to provide a retrospective of the choir’s activities of the past 12 months. Jeffrey Skidmore’s programme note sums this up perfectly. I am singing the programme four more times in Hagley (11th), St John’s Smith Square (13th) and St Paul’s, Birmingham (18th and 19th).

In addition, the Ex Cathedra Consort (solo voices) also had two concerts in York and Birmingham. These explored the rich Christmas repertoire of the South American Renaissance in the first half, and juxtaposed this with more familiar French and early English repertoire in the second. Both concerts were sold out to very appreciative audiences. In Birmingham, we had the opportunity to explore the incredible facilities of the new Bramall Music Building at the university with it’s stunningly flexible Elgar Concert Hall. This place really sets the president for departments where students are expected to pay up to £9,000 in tuition fees.

20121212-105823.jpgStill to come, The Ebor Singers will be performing their Ceremony of Carols programme in the Chapter House of York Minster on Saturday 13th. This year the Britten will be accompanied on the harp by Melanie Jones. The programme will also include the premier of Ian Colson’s Angelus pastores as well as new pieces by Campkin and Campbell. Tickets can be purchased via the Minster Box Office.

Finally, as light relief from all the Christmas stuff, John Potter and I met yesterday to rehearse the new music for Conductus Vol II which we will be recording in January 2013. It was fantastic to get back into the mindset of reading from manuscripts and it all felt surprisingly familiar. With the experience of the last recording as well as singing the Conductus live, I think the second recording experience is going to be a real pleasure. We also heard this week that there are a couple of concerts in the pipeline for 2013. I’ll post more details once they are confirmed!

As I said previously, I am still working on a new programme idea, so keep an eye on this new page for more details soon.

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