St John’s Smith Square Unveils its 30th Christmas Festival
The St John’s Smith Square 30th Christmas Festival has now flourished into a series of 14 concerts running from 11-23 December under the artistic directorship of Stephen Layton.
The great British choral tradition continues to inﬂuence the programming, with The Choir of King’s College London returning to launch the Festival on 11 December with choral masterpieces including Tallis’ iconic 40-part Spem in Alium along with music by Carver and Leighton. More Tallis ensues with Peter Phillips and The Tallis Scholars in the seven-part Missa Puer natus est nobis on 19 December in a concert that also includes music by Arvo Part and John Sheppard.
The Festival has several returning ensembles: Chapelle du Roi perform on 12 December with music written during the marriage of Mary Tudor and Philip of Spain; tributes to the Virgin Mary continue with Britten’s A Hymn to the Virgin performed by the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford and Howard Goodall on 14 December; a festively atmospheric concert follows with Ex Cathedra in a programme of works both old and new on 15 December and award-winning Ensemble Plus Ultra present more homages to the Virgin with music by Byrd, Victoria and Praetorius on 17 December. There are Christmas classics and carols with the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge on 18 December; the National Youth Music Theatre represent the world of musical theatre on 20 December and Solomon’s Knot juxtaposes settings of the Song of Mary on 21 December with Bach’s Magnificat BWV243a and Kuhnau’s Magnificat.
New to the Festival this year are Siglo de Oro who make their St John’s Smith Square debut on 13 December with an unusual festive programme which carries undertones of vulnerability and sacriﬁce including renaissance polyphony and 20th century carols. The Choir of Merton College, Oxford, also new to St John’s Smith Square, give a concert on 16 December with many pieces written specially for the choir as part of the Merton Choirbook project, a series of commissions written for the College’s 750th anniversary.
Handel’s Messiah on 23 December with Polyphony and OAE and Bach’s Mass in B minor on 22 December with the Choir of Trinity College Cambridge and OAE have become part of a St John’s Smith Square annual tradition. Both concerts boast a wonderful cast of soloists including Iestyn Davies, Katherine Watson, Gwilym Bowen and Neal Davies.
Outside of the Festival, another highlight is a programme from EUBO on 3 December. Directed from the harpsichord by Lars Ulrik Mortensen, EUBO performs a concert programme based around music for feasts and banquets by Biber and Telemann featuring natural trumpet. This concert showcases the skilful playing of the EUBO musicians giving prominence to Venetian fashion in an oboe concerto by Marcello and including one of the most beautiful examples of the passacaglia in Muffat’s fifth Sonata from ’Armonico Tributo’. Not to be missed!