In England’s green and pleasant land:
Jeffrey introduces our 2016-17 season

The wonderful BBC film of Ex Cathedra’s Holy Trinity performance in Stratford upon Avon of Shakespeare Odes is available to watch until October 2016: worldwide at www.bbc.co.uk/shakespearelives and in the UK via the BBC iPlayer. The British Council funded the visualisation, and are promoting it in their networks.

Following on from the excitement and euphoria of this amazing project our 47th season continues to celebrate Britain’s cultural heritage, old and new. We are very happy to be performing again James MacMillan’s stunning cantata Seven Angels for Cheltenham Music Festival and the Barbican, London. Included in the programme are Parry’s Jerusalem and Blest Pair of Sirens and music by Gillian Weir and Herbert Howells.

Ex Cathedra’s two Candlelight programmes celebrating the Winter and Summer Solstices both feature music by contemporary British composers Alec Roth, David Matthews, James MacMillan, John Joubert, Roderick Williams and Fyfe Hutchins as well as the much loved traditional repertoire. It is the 10th anniversary of our first concert of music by Alec Roth. It has been a prolific decade in which Ex Cathedra has been privileged to premiere masterpieces such as Shared Ground, Earthrise, Hymn to Gaia and A Time to Dance. These works form an integral part of our season.

England’s earliest great opera Dido and Aeneas heralds Ex Cathedra’s exploration over the next few years of music by Henry Purcell, this ‘fairest isle’s’ true Baroque gem. My research also continues to mine the rich repertoire of Latin America and A Brazilian Christmas features the music of the remarkable João de Deus de Castro Lobo (1794 -1832). This man had a great story. The distinguished musicologist Paulo Castagna writes: Castro Lobo began playing and conducting music at the opera theatre in Ouro Preto with his father and brothers. They were an afro-brazilian family of musicians, a kind of afro-american “Mozart family”, but suddenly he decided to change his life and became a priest in Mariana some years later, and then the cathedral’s organist and chapel master. In Mariana he started to write sacred music mixed with the italian operatic style, with colo-ratura arias and dramatic orchestration. The Matinas de Natal is one of his finest compositions, a work which made such a vivid impression on my first visit in 2013 to the exquisite Baroque church Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário in Ouro Preto.

No Ex Cathedra season would be complete without JS Bach. On Good Friday we perform the St John Passion in Symphony Hall in a special reconstruction to mark 500 years of Lutheran worship. In the Autumn our Birmingham season begins with Bach’s Mass in B minor, the crowning achievement of a musician whom many people believe is the greatest composer of all time. In almost every way this work is a performers’ toughest challenge, a true benchmark of achievement, a musical Everest. Not to be missed!

© Jeffrey Skidmore, 2016

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