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Sacred and Profane – music of James MacMillan and Benjamin Britten

Saturday October 21, 2023 at 19:30
Exeter College Chapel, Oxford
£12 in advance, £5 students and under 25, £15 on the door
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Tickets "at the door" - until sold out
  1. Sacred and Profane - 8 medieval lyrics Op 91 - Benjamin Britten
  2. A Hymn to the Virgin - Benjamin Britten
  3. Jubilate in C - Benjamin Britten
  4. The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard - Benjamin Britten
  5. The Gallant Weaver - James MacMillan
  6. Strathclyde Motets - Sir James MacMillan
    • Benedicimus Deum caeli
    • The canticle of Zachariah
    • Lux aeterna
    • O Radiant Dawn
  7. Miserere - James MacMillan

The intimate surroundings of Exeter College Chapel will be the ideal setting for Oxford Pro Musica Singers’ celebration of the sacred and secular works of two of Britain's greatest choral composers: Benjamin Britten and James MacMillan.

Britten's remarkable 'A Hymn to the Virgin' was written in his last term at school before he left to go to the Royal College of Music and was eventually performed at his funeral. It skilfully exploits the macaronic text (part English, part Latin) by setting up a haunting call and response effect between the four-part choir and a displaced solo quartet.

Britten's 'The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard' was written to be performed by British servicemen held in a German prisoner of war camp in Bavaria during the Second World War. Britten somehow arranged for the music to be sent out page by page, on microfilm. It tells the story of Lady Barnard and her lover Little Musgrave. A page boy overhears the lovers arranging to meet and tells Lord Barnard who rushes to confront the lovers. "Arise, thou little Musgrave", sings Lord Barnard, "and put thy clothès on; It shall ne'er be said in my country, I have kill'd a naked man." Things don't turn out quite as expected though…

Our programme also includes one of Britten's last choral works, 'Sacred and Profane'. These challenging settings of eight medieval texts were written for performance by a consort of voices directed by Britten's lifetime partner Peter Pears. Britten sets the Middle English with great harmonic sophistication and an unerring sense of the character of each text, by turns playful, heartfelt, and ironic, and ending with a virtuosic catalogue of the body’s failures on the point of death and the speaker’s rather surprising final response!

Our exploration of the contemporary Scottish composer James MacMillan's works for choir includes his ethereal setting of the Robert Burns poem 'The Gallant Weaver', which aptly interweaves the soprano voices over lush harmonies in the lower voices to create a compelling soundscape. We also sing his acclaimed and powerful setting of Psalm 51, 'Miserere Mei Deus', by turns meditative and passionate, and a selection of his luminous Strathclyde Motets.

Exeter College Chapel
Turl Street

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