Music in Durham

My pick of Christmas Concerts

Now that St Matthew Passion is over and done with, and the stirring-up has been done, it’s time to clear my head and start thinking about Christmas. We don’t have a Christmas concert of our own this year, because St Matthew came so late in November, although we are doing a small carol service in the chapel at Auckland Castle, so I do get to sing a bit of Christmas music. The upside of this though is that I am free to go to everyone else’s Christmas concerts instead, and there’s a good selection this year.

First up in my diary is a concert in the Cathedral Chapter House on Wednesday 27th November by Ben Rowarth and his choir Renaissance. They’re doing their usual delicious mixture of Renaissance and modern music, including a new carol by Jeremy Dibble, the late John Tavener’s A Hymn to the Mother of God and a setting by Ben of the Matins Responsory. They’re also doing Tallis’s Videte Miraculum which is one of my favourite pieces; it has a gorgeous atmosphere of reverence and mystery, and there’s a magical soprano entry on the words “stans onerata” that gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.

Then, on the 1st December, it’s the annual trip to Sage Gateshead with the boy for Messiah with Royal Northern Sinfonia and Chorus. This year their retiring chorusmaster Alan Fearon is conducting it himself and one choir member told me that he’s revelling in the opportunity to do things his way, instead of preparing the choir for a guest conductor, so this should be quite special. They’ve done something rather nice with the soloists this time too: working with Samling, there will one Samling Scholar, and a younger Samling Academy participant one each voice part. All four of the Samling Academy singers have sung with Durham Singers, so I’m really looking forward to hearing them again.

Regular readers will probably have realised that I have a bit of a thing for baroque music and period instruments, so I will definitely be going to David Stancliffe’s Christmas Oratorio on 6 December in Durham Castle. The singers are Durham University Chamber Choir and University College Chapel Choir, and while I don’t know who the soloists are, I’m sure they’ll be drawn from the usual hardworking core of the university’s vibrant choral scene. The orchestra will be David Stancliffe’s usual band of period instrument specialists.

The following night, there’s a choice of the University Chamber Choir with a French-inspired programme, or Northern Spirit Singers. I haven’t found out yet what Northern Spirit are doing, but I’d like to hear them, so they’ll probably be my choice if I can get away with two consecutive nights out.

Nearer to Christmas, I’ll be at my son’s school carol concert (taking a hanky, because they’re doing Little Donkey) and the carol service at St Oswald’s which he’s singing in with the St Oswald’s Children’s Choir. The weekend around the 14/15th looks a bit empty though, and I don’t fancy battling the crowds for the cathedral carol concert, so let me know if you have alternative suggestions.


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