Carols at Christmas

Carols at Christmas

Carols at Christmas

Singing together has a unique power to inspire and connect people, making us healthier and happier.  This is never truer than at Christmas, when children and adults of all ages join together at school, at their local pub or in a concert hall, to sing their favourite Christmas carols. At The Bach Choir we have a strong history of both celebrating classic Christmas repertoire and in continuing the tradition by commissioning fresh and exciting new carols from around the world.

Come to a Christmas Carol Concert!

Our annual Carols at Cadogan concert (conducted by David Hill) exemplifies The Bach Choir’s passion for celebrating the classics and creating new ones with a repertoire combining past, present and future. It’s happening on Monday 20 December 2021 at 7.30pm this year. We’ll be premiering the winning carols from the the Sir David Willcocks Carol Competition on the night, and there will of course also be plenty of traditional favourites performed in addition to these, during which audience participation is actively encouraged.

Here’s our full Christmas carol schedule:

We look forward to seeing you at any these concerts – they’re guaranteed to get you in the festive spirit!

The Sir David Willcocks Carol Competition – the Future of Christmas Carols

The Sir David Willcocks Carol Competition is an annual competition which was launched in 2017. It’s open to composers from all over the world, and of all ages. The aim of the Competition is to commission new carols each year, to encourage composers to keep creating and to add new original carols to this important genre. Sir David Willcocks was Musical Director of The Bach Choir for 38 years and a prolific arranger and composer of carols for choirs. The choir’s current musical director David Hill and President John Rutter have both continued that tradition, which is why carols and this competition are so close to our heart. 

David and John make up two thirds of the prestigious panel for this competition, and they’re joined by Jonathan Willcocks, son of Sir David Willcocks and an accomplished composer in his own right.

The competition actively celebrates diversity. We had 139 entries in total this year, and we were delighted to receive nominations from as far afield as South Africa, Brazil, Nigeria and Japan which showcased a huge variety of musical styles. There was a wide age range as well – in our 18 and under category we had entries from composers as young as nine years old! We’d like to say thank you to everyone who entered – our judges noted that it was a pleasure to listen to of the entries.

The Winners

We’re really excited to announce the winners of the competition. Our judges had such a tough time choosing first prize that in the over-19 category they’ve chosen to award two composers with the honour. You can hear John Rutter speaking about the winners’ carols in the video below, and read more about each of them in the descriptions. Remember, the only place to hear them first is at Carols at Cadogan on Monday 20 December 2021, so don’t delay in getting your tickets as they’re going fast!

19-and-over category Joint First Prize – Fernando Taberner, Villancico Xicarrero

Words and music by Fernando Taberner

In the words of the judges, this carol was ‘very striking’.

Fernando Taberna was born in 1966 in Aldaia, Spain, where he began his musical training, continuing his studies as a pianist at the Conservatory of Music in Valencia.  He has given concerts both as a soloist and as an accompanist all over Spain and has given world premieres of works by Spanish composers.  He has also worked with choral groups and currently conducts the Orfeó d’Aldaia alongside his role as a piano teacher at the Joaquín Rodrigo Conservatory of Music in Valencia.

Fernando Taberner’s winning carol, Villancico Xicarrero, was conceived during the pandemic.  Fernando writes:

“My daughters came to stay with me last Christmas and they filled me with happiness and positivity, inspiring me to compose this Christmas carol.  Today, in return, I dedicate the award to them.  The carol uses onomatopoeic sounds extracted from the Valencian language: xica means girl and I used it as a tribute to my daughters.  The sounds of the drum – rom, pom, pom – appear throughout the carol, and the text depicts the desire to travel with haste to where Jesus is born and to sing joyfully to the New Born King.”

19 and Over Category Joint First Prize – Thomas Neal, Out of Your Sleep Arise 

Words 15th century anon, music by Thomas Neal

The judges collectively described this carol as ‘very effective and polished’.

Thomas Neal is a musicologist, conductor, keyboardist, and teacher based in Oxford, where he lives with his wife and two children.  He has researched and written widely on music and culture in early modern Italy and has developed particular expertise in the music of the sixteenth-century composer, Palestrina, rediscovering several lost sources and musical works.  Thomas’s work as a conductor and choir trainer has also focused on music of this period and he is passionate about the traditional liturgical music of the Catholic Church.  Since 2015 Thomas has pursued a career in education and he is currently Director of Music at New College School, Oxford.

Thomas explains the influences on his compositional style:

“My carol, Out of your sleep arise, is the result of two influences.  First is my interest in the poetry and religion of pre-Reformation England. The text, which has also been set by Richard Rodney Bennett, Francis Pott, and Imogen Holst, among others, comes from The Selden Carol Book which probably originated at the priory at Worcester (now the Anglican cathedral) in the fifteenth century; it is a paean on the Blessed Virgin Mary’s role in the story of salvation.  The second influence is the music of William Walton (1902–1983), particularly his carols and shorter choral works which are masterclasses in composing effectively on a small scale.  I hope I have managed to capture some of the tunefulness, immediacy, and vibrant medievalism of Walton’s carols.”

18-and-under Category First Prize – Christopher Churcher, Before the Ice is in the Pools

Words by Emily Dickinson, music by Christopher Churcher

The judges described this carol as ‘beautifully crafted’ and ‘impressively fluent and musically sophisticated’.

Christopher Churcher is a seventeen-year-old composer and musician based in Birmingham.  Writing music since the age of thirteen, Christopher’s love of choral music was established by his time singing in Birmingham Cathedral Choir whilst at Primary School. He also sang with the Ex Cathedra Vocal Academy from 2018 to 2019. With a diploma in piano performance and ABRSM grade 8 bassoon already under his belt, Christopher has enjoyed expanding his interest in composition, winning the 2021 Benslow Young Composers’ Competition, judged by Judith Weir, and receiving performances of works for orchestra at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and for vocal ensembles and film at the Sound and Music Summer School. His chamber opera, Wanderer, kommst du nach Spa, which received its premiere last month, was also shortlisted recently for the International Commonwealth Composition Award.

Of his winning carol Christopher writes:

“Emily Dickinson’s poem, Before the ice is in the pools, spoke to me immediately as it encompasses the ethereal and ineffable in such an awe-struck manner, declaring triumphantly: “Wonder upon wonder / Will arrive to me!” She is saying that there are unfathomable delights at Christmas, immediate and intangible — a message of hope and comfort for us all.”

“I love the intimacy and humanity of the human voice in its purest form, which is why I chose to set these words a cappella.  As each fragmentary verse rises higher and higher to the climax of “Wonder upon wonder”, the carol draws quickly to a hushed conclusion, echoing the serene opening.  It was my intention for the setting to be short and gentle, but not without freshness or direction.”

Celebrating past winners

Here are some of the winners of the carol competition to date. It’s been wonderful to watch these composers as they have grown their own musical careers and we’re proud to be part of their journeys. 

2018: Ruth Sellar, a First Class Honours graduate from Kings College London with ‘The Snow Lies Thick’.









2019: Aaron King, music graduate and former Oxford University Music Society Composition Competition winner, with ‘A Spotless Rose’. Aaron has gone on to compose music for short films and his works have been performed across the UK.