Hear The Angels Sing

Christmas Greetings from St Peter’s Singers!

This message comes with our warmest wishes of goodwill, comfort and joy to you as Christmas approaches. We hope most sincerely that you are able to celebrate it this year as you would wish.

For many of us, Christmas would not be Christmas without hearing a choir singing carols and other beautiful seasonal music. This important chance to remind ourselves what really matters was denied us all last year. Like many other aspects of the pandemic, we have no wish to repeat that grim experience.

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So St Peter’s Singers will be giving a festive concert of carols and other heavenly music at Leeds Minster on Friday 17 December at 7.30pm.

A glass of wine or juice will be served in the interval.

Why not take this opportunity leave behind the noise for a short while and hear the angels sing!

The concert will finish by 9pm

The programme

Happily, touching base with this Christmas tradition is not an exercise in pure nostalgia. Composers of today continually find new and often captivating things to say. And so this treasure trove, liberally stocked with music from a rich and ancient tradition, is continually being renewed. Our programme will feature some of the better works composed in recent times mixed with traditional carols and well-known arrangements.

This will be a feast. Popular arrangements of traditional English carols such The Holly and the Ivy, The Sussex Carol, and We wish you a Merry Christmas, will join with with Edgar Pettman’s deceptively simple arrangements of two traditional Basque carols.

These will be complemented by John Rutter’s Dormi Jesu, John Tavener’s The Lamb, Will Todd’s My Lord has come, James MacMillan’s O Radiant Dawn, and Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium, all recent works by contemporary composers and stunningly beautiful in their different ways. There will be carols for everyone to sing, and more besides. Alex Woodrow directs, with David Houlder at the organ.

Covid precautions

From a Covid security perspective, Leeds Minster is a large, airy and well-ventilated building with plenty of seating in which you can space out, while the choir will be singing at the far (East) end of the church. It is now Government policy to require the wearing of masks indoors. And to make the event as safe as possible for everybody, we would also suggest taking a lateral flow test before coming if you can.

We look forward very much to welcoming you.

Please note: should Government advice on Covid-19 force us to cancel the concert, we will fully refund the price of purchased tickets.

Hallelujah !

Hallelujah!

A change of mood

It was heartening to see so many people at our recent recital Songs of Solace. We felt we had maybe struck a chord with a programme of music that acknowledged the grief and loss brought by the pandemic. Now we feel that, although the pandemic is far from over, a Hallelujah or two are in order!

So it is a delight to switch moods, and to celebrate the return of live music-making. We do so by performing one of the greatest choral works of all time, Handel’s Messiah.

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This extraordinary oratorio, with its iconic Hallelujah chorus, its history of fund-raising for charity, and its frequent performance by countless choral societies, has reached further into the national consciousness than any other.

Messiah resonates at almost any point in the year. But it sits firmly in the minds of many as integral to their annual preparations for Christmas.

The opening invocation ‘Comfort ye’ – never more welcome than now – seems to light the Advent candle in the winter darkness more poignantly than one could possibly imagine.

Humanity

The work covers not just the foretelling of the coming of Christ and his birth. It also tells of his Suffering and Death, his Resurrection and Ascension – the full, and rather remarkable, life-cycle!

Yet despite all this, the overwhelming feeling that this amazing music leaves us with is of the humanity of its subject – once a baby, and then ‘a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’. This is emotionally intelligent, empathetic music, composed by someone who understood the human condition.

Performance details

This performance is given with organ, rather than orchestral, accompaniment. At the time of planning we were unable to predict whether conditions would allow space for an orchestra. We feel this has proved a wise decision. We hope that on this occasion you will enjoy hearing the glory of the Minster’s famous Harrison & Harrison organ deployed on all the familiar arias and choruses. We’re grateful to Tom Moore for agreeing to undertake this herculean task.

Our soloists – Ruby Hendry, Esther Colman, Christopher Trenholme and Quentin Brown – and St Peter’s Singers are directed by Alex Woodrow.

Tickets

We very much hope to welcome you to this concert. Tickets are available below or at the door: £15, Concessions £12, (Free FTE / Under-18). A glass of wine or juice and a free programme is included in the price.

Leeds Minster is a seemingly well-ventilated (!) and spacious building allowing you to space out if you wish. We simply request that, in line with its policy, you wear a face-covering on entering and leaving the building.

Learn more

We’re back !

St Peter's Singers back together singing

It is so good to be back singing together…

The last eighteen months have been dreadful for everyone, and choirs have hated the silence and separation as much as everyone. Attempts to hold rehearsals over Zoom have been just as frustrating as holding remote meetings, quizzes and the like. So it’s great to be back singing together, and we’re looking forward to welcoming you back too!

Here we are in rehearsal last Sunday – socially a bit distant, but enjoying the warm acoustics of the east end of Leeds Minster. Conditions are a little strange, but we’re enjoying the challenge of adjusting to the spacing and and so far sounding good. Enthusiasm is running high. The Minster is large and seemingly well-ventilated (!), which is good (but may feel less so when it gets colder… ). We are delighted to welcome lots of new faces in our ranks. But who’s that at the front ?

We are in the final stages of planning our autumn season, so watch out for announcements. There will be a recital on October 30 where we sing the music that would have been so appropriate during the pandemic. Watch out too for details of – Hallelujah! – a Messiah on November 27 to celebrate being back singing together. The season will conclude on December 17 with some lovely Christmas music.

Carols with a Yorkshire twist

There will be Carols with a Yorkshire twist at Bolton Abbey on Saturday afternoon.

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Christmas is coming – we’re well into Advent now – and following our highly successful performance of Bach, Vaughan Williams and Handel at Fulneck last Saturday, it’s time for something simpler and more relaxing.

So why not join us for some Carols and Seasonal Music for Christmas in the serenity of Bolton Priory this Saturday afternoon 14 December at 3.30 pm ?

Deliberately timed to coincide with calm of the winter dusk, and to fit in between either a country walk or a city dash and the evening’s social buzz, this will be offering an oasis of calm, and a chance to catch up with the things that matter most.

Alongside many well-known carols from all over the world that have come to characterise the best of Christmas, there will also be a strong Yorkshire twist, with a number of carols written by composers with Yorkshire connections, and a special Yorkshire surprise to finish with!

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Not least among these are Jan Holdstock’s popular ‘Tell out the news’ – remembered fondly by countless grown-up children. We will also be singing her ‘Donkey Carol’ – a carol with a kick, if ever there was one!

We remember Jan with great fondness both for her contribution to our musical family and for the joy she brought to so many through her charming, humorous and sophisticated music for children, who will be welcome to join us. Please bring them with you!

There will be opportunities for everyone to fill their lungs and join in.

Admission is free and there will be a retiring collection in aid of Bolton Priory. Please come and bring your friends !

Music for Christmas – Simon Lindley writes

St Peter’s Singers perform a programme of festive music for Christmas and Advent at Fulneck on 7 December. Simon Lindley, our director of music, shares some characteristic insights:

JS Bach: Cantata 30 ‘Freue dich, erloste Schar

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In common with the component six cantatas of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, the music of his Cantata 30 began life as with a secular, rather than a sacred, verbal text. Like the third element of the Christmas Oratorio its opening chorus is reprised at the end, a characteristic shared with the so-called Ascension Oratorio [Praise our God who reigns in heaven] sung at the very first concert given by St Peter’s Singers way back in the Summer of 1977.

The work begins with a magnificent, energised chorus with full orchestra. This is succeeded by a brief bass recitative leading into the first of two finely festal arias for bass. At the heart of the work is an exquisite aria for solo alto underpinned by glorious sonorities for strings, topped by a solo flute. This is one of its creator’s splendid concepts with a gently dance-like momentum that seems to carry the listener to the gate of heaven itself. A hymn verse of the chorale Freu dich Sehr closes the first half of the work. A second bass recitative and aria follows in what has become known as the gallant style of the 1730s. The big rolling arpeggios that accompany the soprano aria not only illustrate the running of the sinner but also the smoke rising from the altars in the tents of Kedar . There is no final chorale. The piece concludes with a triumphant reprise of the opening.

Devised for the midsummer day feast of the Nativity of St John Baptist, the text and style of Cantata 30 make it particularly apt for the season of Advent in which the Baptist is so very intimately concerned.

R Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on Christmas Carols

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First heard at the 1912 Hereford Three Choirs’ Festival, the evergreen Fantasia on Christmas Carols is one of Vaughan Williams’ most characteristic works. Strongly featured are the traditional carols Come, all you worthy gentlemen and the famous “Sussex Carol” – On Christmas night all Christians sing. In just over ten minutes, the composer devises a magical and rapturous sound world of triumphant expectation of raptured utterance. There are memorable solos for ‘cello as well as a baritone soloist that linger long in the memory!

GF Handel: Messiah (Pt I and Hallelujah chorus)

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Messiah, a work produced by Handel in 1742 for performance in Dublin at a major charitable endeavour for the relief of the prisoners in the jails of the Irish capital city, is by far the best known of that great composer’s works. The anticipation of the birth of the Saviour, its prophecy and fulfilment, takes up most of Part I and St Peter’s Singers Fulneck performances of that noble musical torso traditionally end with the singing of the final chorus of the work’s second part – the Hallelujah Chorus. Each of the four vocal soloists is closely involved during the course of the 21 numbers from part one given at Fulneck at this time of year as is the choir.

During the course of the last decade of his long professional life, Handel arranged annual performances of Messiah for the support of Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital at the heart of London. These presentations within the, now long-gone, chapel of the Foundling Hospital, give us much written evidence of the Handel’s performing practice gleaned from the details of the account books that survive to posterity.

Dr Simon Lindley on DuruflĂ©’s Requiem

Remembrance Concert: St Chad's Far Headingley

St Peter’s Singers will be performing Maurice Duruflé’s gorgeous Requiem as part of their Remembrance Concert For the Fallen at St Chad’s, Far Headingley on Sunday 10 November at 3.00pm.

Director of Music, Dr Simon Lindley, writes:

Maurice Duruflé followed his teacher, Paul Dukas, in exercising a profound degree of self-criticism resulting in only a very small number of works surviving.

Of these, the glorious setting of the Requiem – founded entirely upon traditional ancient Plainchant melodies – is by far the most substantial. Its luminosity of expression and profound strength of purpose combine to make it one of the most powerful 20th century sacred choral utterances.

Duruflé follows Fauré in omitting all but the very brief final stanza of the lengthy Dies irae placed between Kyrie and the Offertory of the traditional mass for the dead. He also, like Fauré , includes the final In Paradisum antiphon originally sung at the graveside. Pie Jesu is all that remains from Dies irae – but what a very powerful setting it is, enhanced by a glorious solo part for cello.

The melodic plainchant lines are wonderfully accompanied by vivid and even exotic harmonies. The composer’s original score, as heard at St Chad’s, was for organ alone. Later versions followed for full orchestra and, finally – we believe the composer’s favourite – for strings, trumpets and organ as well as timpani. The work requires a choir capable of the profoundest expression and possessed of an outstanding technique, for much is demanded from the score.

The piece unfolds from a fluent Introit with the chant mainly allotted to lower voices, topped by vocalised soprano and alto parts. Kyrie that follows is polyphonic and builds to a vast plea for mercy. The Offertory, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei continue the relentless, even ecstatic, progress of the piece. Lux aeterna provides exquisite relief, the chant intoned by sopranos with rich harmony vocalised below. The very final movement, again led by sopranos, is slow and sustained, based in the favourite tonality of Olivier Messiaen, the brightest key of all – F sharp major.

The Dream of Gerontius

We were hugely privileged to take part in the most moving performance of Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius on 1 June. Huge thanks to Simon Wright for the invitation, and for directing the performance with such assurance, finesse and feel for the music. Thanks also to the Leeds Festival Chorus, the Leeds Philharmonic Chorus , the Hallé Orchestra and the stellar soloists Barry Banks, Dame Sarah Connolly and David Soar for making it an evening to remember. We had a ball ! Wonderful that this amazing work can still fill Leeds Town Hall in 2019!