Michael Berkeley [Roger Harris / CC BY 3.0]
IF last week’s coronation demonstrated nothing else it was how awesome, beautiful and moving is the great choral tradition of the English Church. It’s one of the historic glories of our culture. But it mustn’t be consigned to history: it needs to be maintained, refreshed, renewed. And playing no small part in keeping things alive is the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music which runs this year from May 12-21.
Based at St Pancras Parish Church in Euston Road but with events spread around 40 other religious venues across London in a full-on programme of performances, educational events and the odd curiosity like Liturgical Dance (where you get literally moved by the spirit), LFCCM sets out to encourage composers of worth to write for the Church, especially ones that aren’t known as ecclesiastically-minded. In recent years it’s commissioned more than 80 new works, from motets to masses. And much of the music playing this year you can hear for free, because it happens in the course of Sunday services.
But there are also concerts for which you need tickets, with two big ones that merit special attention. May 12 at St Pancras involves a collaboration by no less than 19 composers on music to celebrate the festival’s 20-year existence. And May 20 at Hampstead Parish Church celebrates the music of distinguished father/son composers Lennox and Michael Berkeley.
Michael (now Lord) Berkeley happens (a) to live these days in Hampstead, and (b) to hit the age of 75 this year – which gives him two good reasons to have written something for the Hampstead Choir that gets its premiere on the night. And if that didn’t give the choir enough to do, it’s also commissioned a new mass setting from composer Toby Young that will be done in a separate liturgical context.Full details of everything in the LFCCM schedule – and there’s a lot – at lfccm.com
• Michael Tippett was a giant of modern British music but became a casualty of post-mortem neglect. After his death in 1998 his work began to vanish from the concert hall. And even performances of his most famous score, the oratorio A Child of Our Time, have reduced – largely, I think, because the settings of African-American spirituals it contains are seen as “cultural appropriation”. But that’s unjust. The Tippett spirituals are both respectful and inspiring: works of towering genius, as is the whole piece. So it’s good to see the BBC Symphony Orchestra doing the Child as part of an all-Tippett programme on May 12 at the Barbican. Sir Andrew Davies conducts. barbican.org.uk
• Long before Succession, Dynasty or any of those other small-screen dramas about ruthless people doing anything it takes for power and wealth, Handel was writing operas on the subject. And one is Agrippina which HGO stages at Jackson’s Lane Theatre, Highgate, from May 13-21. Watch enthralled as an ancient Roman matriarch spares no effort of guile or subterfuge to get her son Nero on the throne – sparing no effort of voice either, in displays of serious Handelian virtuosity. jacksonslane.org.uk