EX CATHEDRA | … to the heart

“Ex Cathedra stood out for the way they combine technical excellence with warmth and humanity … They’re seriously professional but also love the music into being, and I don’t think any choir in Britain does that better”
(Michael White)

Jeffrey introduces our 2024-25 season…

As Ex Cathedra continues its exciting search for my successor our new season looks at some of the highlights of our first 55 years.  One of the key factors which makes Ex Cathedra special is the unique blend of carefully chosen singers – amateurs, students and professionals – which is deconstructed in some concerts this year to highlight the exceptional quality of the basic ingredients.  I like to think of myself as an alchemist, a musical MasterChef or is that MaestroChef?  From the beginning it has always been a team effort bringing together a group of like-minded musicians who love making music in a spirit of friendship and who love what they perform.  Great music, new and old from around the world, has always been the driving force behind what we achieve.

Appropriately, Faire is the heaven takes place in the idealistic utopian Birmingham village of Bournville.  From a council estate in Northfield I went to school there and was a chorister at St Francis Church.  This programme includes music from Ex Cathedra’s first 20 years or so when I was a full-time teacher in four comprehensive schools in the region and all the singers, and the players, performed just for fun!  Well-loved, popular and typically innovative repertoire was mixed with commissions from John Joubert and Martin Bates, and much of the music brings to mind the group’s ‘legendary’ trips to Cork, Lyon, Leipzig and Milan. These special occasions built the ethos of the choir.

Ritual 1631 revisits the vivid colours, the fire and passion of Latin American Baroque music with a newly devised dramatic production around the extraordinary cultural fusion of colonial music in this magical continent.  The haunting mantra of the Inca hymn Hanac pachap cussicuinin (published 1631) provides the heartbeat that binds the narrative together.

Nurturing talent is a key feature in all of Ex Cathedra’s work. Chansons d’amour platforms our current crop of future stars (Scholars) who perform a seductive programme of love-songs from Monteverdi to Bach and Mozart, from Marlene Dietrich to the Carpenters, Bacharach and the Beatles.  As Valentine’s Day approaches enjoy a little light music in the specially created romantic ambiance of the Jennifer Blackwell Performance Space at Symphony Hall!

Education and participation are central to our work and the traditional Good Friday Bach Passion in Symphony Hall – this year the ‘great’ St Matthew Passion – has evolved into a powerful and poignant opportunity for ‘historical’ participation which brings all the elements of our work together through a liturgical reconstruction similar to that which might have been heard in the St Thomas Church in Leipzig in the 18th century.  The audience and musicians’ response last Good Friday was overwhelmingly positive.

Bach’s music is sublime and has always been a major part of our work.   His idealised setting of the Mass in B Minor is the absolute pinnacle of the great man’s achievement and is one of Ex Cathedra’s most loved works.  No-one writes happy music, no-one writes sad music, no-one writes love-songs like Johann Sebastian Bach.

The two solstice concerts – Summer Music and Christmas Music – have for a long time attracted large audiences with their mix of a diverse range of music and poetry presented and choreographed to explore the architecture and acoustic of the beautiful buildings in which we are privileged to perform.  This year, the Summer Music by Candlelight programme includes an ornithological theme – the windhover, swallow, cuckoo and bluebird – with music by Clément Janequin, Benjamin Britten, Caroline Shaw, Charles Villiers Stanford and Liz Dilnot Johnson.  There are poems by Carol Ann Duffy, Shakespeare, Maya Angelou and Benjamin Zephaniah alongside the usual selection of songs about sea, sun and sand. 

For many people Christmas Music by Candlelight represents the start of Christmas.  This year’s  unique programme is still a secret but will contain the usual eclectic mixture of seasonal goodies.  Book early!

We celebrate the anniversaries of Gabriel Fauré (d.1924) and Gustav Holst (b.1874) and the 200th anniversary of Anton Bruckner’s birth.  Continuing a long history of artistic collaboration with many Birmingham companies (Kokomo, MAC, Black Voices, BRB), we perform his magnificent Mass in E Minor with CBSO wind playersThis sacred symphony is one of Bruckner’s greatest works.

There is something for everyone here.  The golden triangle of music, performers and audience is elemental.  So join us to discover some great classical choral music and find out how Birmingham’s “jewel in the crown” is put together.

Jeffrey Skidmore, April 2024