Friday 10 November 2023

The Christmas Gap

Polyphony, Stephen Layton, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (Photo: Simon van Boxtel)
Polyphony, Stephen Layton, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (Photo: Simon van Boxtel)

The week running up to Christmas is often a time when we look forward to catching some serious music in a loosely Christmas theme, whether it be Messiah or the Christmas Oratorio or perhaps Bach's Christmas Magnificat or some other imaginative programme exploring Christmas past. But something seems to have happened to the programming during the week before Christmas this year. Most of the serious programming seems to be earlier in the month on from Monday 18th, there are carols galore, plenty of Christmas programmes and a few presenting the serious side Christmas carols, but beyond that is rather slim pickings.

If you want a large scale oratorio, then it seems to be St John's Smith Square where the annual presentations of Handel and Bach as part of the Christmas Festival remain in place, and also at St John's you can catch the Tallis Scholars, whilst at the Barbican there is a celebration of Gavin Bryar's 80th birthday, and Sansara are at Kings Place with a typically thoughtful selection. And the junior department of the Royal Academy of Music are giving a lunchtime showcase at St James's Piccadilly.

I went looking around the major venues for events during the week 18 to 23 December, and this is roughly what I found (and apologies if I have managed to miss anything interesting)

St John's Smith Square is holding its annual Christmas Festival, and that week they have visits from the Choir of Clare College, the Choir and Orchestra of the London Choral Sinfonia, the Choir of Westminster Abbey, the choir of Christchurch Oxford, Ibex Brass, and the Tallis Scholars celebrating their 50th anniversaries. There are two oratorio performances, Stephen Layton conducts Polyphony, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and a fine array of soloists in Handel's Messiah and Bach's Christmas Oratorio (parts 1 to 3)/

The Southbank Centre seems to have given up on classical entirely as they are presenting a 'playful reimagining' of The Nutcracker, the comedian Reuben Kaye, Pussy Liquor's Christmas Party and the family show The House with Chicken Legs. 

Over at the Barbican Centre there is plenty of theatre with Told by an Idiot's Get Happy and the RSC production of My Neighbour Totoro, but beyond that we have lone beacons of Gavin Bryars celebrating his 80th birthday with the Gavin Bryars Ensemble, and a visit from King's College Choir who are joined by the Crouch End Festival Chorus, plus Love Actually with live orchestra, and candlelit carols.

Kings Place has just three shows that week, columnist and broadcaster, Steve Richards' Rock 'n' Roll Politics, Tim Edey's Celtic Christmas, and the wonderful Sansara's The Waiting Sky which is a seasonal sequence, exploring the poignancy of Christmas in war-torn Ukraine and seeking consolation and new hope.

Cadogan Hall is in real Christmas mood with carols from The Bach Choir and London City Brass, the City of London Choir and Orchestra in John Rutter and Christmas favourites, A Dickensian Christmas and Candlelit Carols. At St Martin in the Fields it is the Kings Singers who are keeping the festival spirit going. St James's Piccadilly also has lots of carols, but the fine choir Sonoro will be presenting their Christmas programme including the premier of Winter Nights by Michael Higgins and a guest appearance from Andy Hamilton. And the Junior Department of Royal Academy of Music's lunchtime showcase is another highlight.

So what are we doing this year? Well, so far, we will be catching our local ensemble, the ever-wonderful Brixton Chamber Orchestra!

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