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Michael White’s music news: Holy Week Festival at St John’s Smith Square

11 April, 2019 — By Michael White

Sir James MacMillan’s music features in Holy Week Festival. Photo: Hans van der Woerd

GETTING us all into the right frame of mind for Easter, St John’s Smith Square is about to run its annual Holy Week Festival of sacred choral music – which has some of the finest choirs in Britain passing through as though on a conveyor belt, and has a special feature this year in the music of Sir James MacMillan.

One of Britain’s most significant living composers and a devout Catholic, MacMillan’s work tends to come with a spiritual agenda that’s somehow both direct and mystical – “not that I’m trying to hit people over the head with a monstrance”, he told me last week, “but we live in times when people are fascinated by religion, and the most baffling aspects of Christian belief seem to be the most appealing.”

The festival starts on Sunday with the celebrated Tallis Scholars singing works by Palestrina and other composers connected with the Sistine Chapel, Rome.

On Tuesday the Marian Consort sing contrasting settings of the Stabat Mater by Palestrina and MacMillan.

Wednesday brings the Birmingham-based Ex Cathedra choir to sing Bach’s St Matthew Passion.

And on Thursday MacMillan conducts the BBC Singers in his own music alongside that of Gesualdo.

• Holy Week Festival runs from April 14-20 at St John’s Smith Square, SW1P 3HA, 020 7222 1061. Full details: sjss.org.uk

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