St John’s Smith Square announces its 36th annual Christmas Festival, bringing the Christmas spirit back at full strength this year from 14-23 December 2021.

The nine-day Festival of choral excellence is crowned by appearances from world-renowned ensembles including the Tallis Scholars, Polyphony, Ex Cathedra, and the collegiate choirs of Trinity College Cambridge, Christ Church Oxford, and Clare College Cambridge.

Christmas carols and festive favourites old and new take centre stage in performances from exemplary singers of all genres, including National Youth Music Theatre, London Choral Sinfonia, City of London Choir and the Boys of the Schola Cantorum of The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School.

St John’s Smith Square heads into its Christmas season maintaining a reduced venue capacity for the safety and security of its audiences; the venue will look further ahead to the comfort of its audiences as part of its upcoming renovations to take place over future seasons. The Christmas Festival marks the first full seasonal Festival at St John’s Smith Square since its new merger partnership with Southbank Sinfonia was announced in April 2021.

In the grand finale on 22 & 23 December 2021, Festival Director Stephen Layton directs his Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge and Polyphony in a pair of premier Christmas masterpieces: Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (parts I-III) and Handel’s Messiah, joined by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and top soloists Anna Dennis, Helen Charlston, James Gilchrist and Neal Davies.

In diverse works from Josquin to Stravinsky, Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars draw on music written for the Virgin Mary, who has inspired composers since the earliest days of sacred music as an artform in both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions (Tuesday 21 December). Hymns to the Virgin by Pierre Villette and Britten form part of an exquisite series of sacred works from James Long to Messiaen and Tavener, brought to life by Graham Ross and the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge on Friday 17 December.

Contemporary carols come to the fore in a lunchtime concert by the Boys of the Schola Cantorum of The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School (Monday 20 December), including carols by Owain Park, Richard Allain, Errollyn Wallen and Britten’s Ceremony of Carols.

Opening the Festival on Tuesday 14 December, the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford and Steven Grahl bring a range of works from the 16th century to the present-day including Palestrina, Poulenc, and Rutter, while Ex Cathedra and director Jeffrey Skidmore pierce the winter gloom with an atmospheric candlelit sequence of yuletide music old and new (Thursday 16 December).

The young stars of the National Youth Music Theatre present a seasonal selection of readings, music and staged extracts representing the very best from the future of musical theatre. Audience participation returns in City of London Choir‘s carolling extravaganza with director Hilary Davan Wetton (Saturday 18 December), while Michael Waldron and the London Choral Sinfonia perform beloved British choral works from Vaughan Williams to Benjamin Britten to John Rutter (Wednesday 15 December).

Richard Heason, Co-Director of St John’s Smith Square, commented:
“After all the enormous challenges of the past year, I am thrilled that choral singing is back for Christmas, one of the crowning jewels of our calendar.

Joining together in carols or hearing the staples of the Christmas season – whether sacred or secular – is one of our country’s most important festive traditions, and after this joy was bitterly cut short last year we are overjoyed to be welcoming back so many ensembles, award-winning and amateur alike.

We understand many may be hesitant to return to packed venues and we are currently maintaining a reduced 60% venue capacity so our audiences can enjoy the Christmas season safely.”