Mid-December is a great time to be in London, where Christmas is taken very seriously. It’s impossible to navigate around the city without bumping into carol singers, twinkling lights or “drinks parties”, and there’s plenty of sumptuous music going on. I heard the choir of Westminster Abbey sing a Christmas concert to a sold out crowd of about 2000, a dress rehearsal at Handel House of Messiah performed by my friends Trevor and Gitai, I Fagiolini singing “The Little Match Girl Passion” by David Lang at the Spitalfields festival, Paul MacCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort with Britten’s “A boy was born” and modern carols, and a concert in the Actor’s Church, Covent Garden. There was plenty of church music too: Wednesday evensong with the men of St. Paul’s cathedral, a six-voice women’s ensemble singing at the Temple Church, and Sunday morning mass at Handel’s own church (pictured here) in Hanover Square that was a pleasant surprise – a high church with bells and incense – not what Handel would have experienced.
The real reason for my visit to London was to hear my own composition “The Portinari Nativity” sung by Ex Cathedra Choir at St. John’s Smith Square. Jeffrey Skidmore programmed a beautiful seasonal concert, with many carols and readings strung together in a seamless work of theatre, and of course sung in flawless British choral fashion. Cori Martin’s poem “Christmas Cattle” was also presented as one of the readings, and it was very well received, as was her poetry for the Portinari carol. It was a real pleasure to meet the movers and shakers behind the incredible organization that is Ex Cathedra. They are an ensemble I greatly admire, not only for their exquisite music-making, but for their excellent work in the community bringing the joy and healing power of singing to the children of Birmingham.
After my friends Janet and Renee left town I had one remaining task: to visit the British Library and spend some time alone with Handel’s autograph score of Solomon. You can imagine it’s an exciting and moving experience to turn the pages of the score where Handel poured out his vigorous musical thoughts on to fragile paper. Handling an object almost 300 years old is a terrifying privilege. But more of a privilege will be hearing the music begin to leap off the page as we start our working rehearsals on Monday night with Pax Christi Chorale.