The Sixteen today announces A Choral Odyssey, a new series of online programmes, produced by The Sixteen, with Founder & Conductor Harry Christophers CBE and presented by actor Sir Simon Russell Beale.

A Choral Odyssey will feature five programmes, exploring sumptuous music and beautiful architecture. Presented by Simon Russell Beale, each episode will take an in-depth look at a wide-ranging selection of choral music in locations that are relevant to the music and which inform the theme and choice of repertoire.

The locations include Hatfield House, Hertfordshire; Magdalen College, Oxford; Our Lady of the Assumption & St Gregory, London; the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe, London; and Penshurst Place, Kent. Starting on 18 November, episodes will be released every Wednesday, all available to watch on demand until 31 January 20201. The series will culminate in an ‘as live’ stream of The Sixteen’s Christmas at Cadogan concert (23 December).

Russell Beale, in conversation with Christophers, will discuss the socio-religious-political themes surrounding each composition. Christophers will talk through each piece of music providing real insight, using singers from The Sixteen to demonstrate, before performing the works in full. A real voyage of choral discovery, these programmes reunite the winning combination of Russell Beale, Christophers and The Sixteen, a formula that proved so successful and popular for the BBC’s acclaimed series Sacred Music nearly a decade ago.

Harry Christophers commented, ‘What a joy it is to be back doing what The Sixteen do best: making music. In these extraordinary times, we have had to be even more creative than usual, but it is essential that we do not lose sight of our identity. We have missed singing together and being together in person and that is why we are so excited to be performing this glorious music in these stunning locations. I am also delighted to be working with Simon again; we are looking forward to exploring what we have learned about how composers are influenced by architecture as well as the social, political and religious themes of the day. In some cases, the times are not unlike our own. We hope you find as much enjoyment in these programmes as we have had filming them.’

Simon Russell Beale commented: ‘I am delighted to be joining up again with The Sixteen – a group that I have admired for many, many years. It’s a fascinating project for me, not least because I will be able to enjoy the company of Harry Christophers – the best possible guide to this wonderful repertoire of choral music.’

Programme 1: Magdalen College, Oxford, 18 November

Davy O Domine caeli terraeque creator

Davy Joan is sick and ill at ease

Sheppard Libera nos

Related CORO Album: COR16119 The Voice of the Turtle Dove

The late 15th Century and early 16th Century produced two of the finest composers of sacred music, Richard Davy and John Sheppard, both of whom held the post of Informator Choristarum at Magdalen College, Oxford. It is also where a fledgling group which was to become The Sixteen first performed. Sheppard’s Libera nos, written for the service of Compline at Magdalen, has become synonymous with The Sixteen, and Davy’s monumental antiphon O Domine caeli terraeque creator was written in just a day here.

Programme 2: Our Lady of the Assumption & St Gregory, London, 25 November

Guerrero Maria Magdalene

Guerrero Credo from Missa de la batalla escoutez

Guerrero Ave virgo sanctissima

Guerrero Lauda Mater ecclesia

Related CORO Album: COR16067 Guerrero: Missa de la batalla escoutez 

The church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Gregory is located on Warwick Street in Soho. Built in 1789-90 on the site of a Catholic chapel pillaged during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots of 1780, the church is attached to a fine house in Golden Square, Soho, built in 1685. Francisco Guerrero was one of the finest Spanish renaissance composers, as well as being a Catholic priest, and one with a fascinating history: after finally being able to visit the holy land in 1589, he was kidnapped by pirates who threatened his life, stole his money and held him to ransom on the return journey. A vast amount of Guerrero’s music is written for the Virgin Mary and in his lifetime, he was perceived to have quite a fixation about her, so much so that he was nicknamed “El cantor de Maria.” In this intimate church on Warwick Street there is a stunning mosaic depicting the Virgin Mary above the high altar.

Programme 3: The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe, 2 December

True Englishmen drink (catch) 

OdeSound the trumpet! Beat the drum! (James II 1687)

Now, now the fight’s done (from Theodosius)

Related CORO Album: COR16151 Purcell – Royal Welcome Songs for King James II

This amazingly atmospheric candlelit playhouse near the site of the original Globe Theatre seems like the perfect place to revisit some of Henry Purcell’s music. Despite Purcell’s relatively short life, he worked for three monarchs, Charles II, James II and William and Mary, and during that time he wrote for court, church, tavern and the place he loved the most: the theatre. His music was written in an era of fast-paced technological, political, and economic change, as well as the plague. The politics were to do with court corruption, rival advisors, there was doubt about the future of the Union and there were wars with and in Europe: a time eerily like our own.

Programme 4: Hatfield House, 9 December

Byrd Tribue, Domine

Pärt Nunc Dimittis 

Pärt The Deer’s Cry

Related CORO Album: COR16140 The Deer’s Cry

Although separated by over four centuries, both Byrd and Pärt wrote their music in the face of strikingly similar adversity, enduring many years of persecution and finding solace in their sacred music. Hatfield House is the seat of the Cecil family and where Elizabeth I learnt that she was to be Queen of England. Byrd composed during her reign and Robert Cecil, First Earl of Salisbury, and his family fostered the arts, supporting the composer and many other musicians; he wrote his famous Pavane in memory of Robert. The present Marquess of Salisbury is Patron of The Sixteen.

Programme 5: Penshurst Place, Kent, 16 December

Anon Make we joy now in this fest

Anon Angelus ad virginem 

Anon Nowell, nowell in Bethlehem 

Anon Salutation carol 

Anon Sweet was the song 

King Henry VIII Green grow’th the holly

Walton Make we joy now in this fest

McDowall Now may we singen

McDowall Of a Rose

Related CORO Album: COR16027 Christus Natus Est

In its earliest form, carols were round dances that were more secular than sacred. Medieval carols were for everyone from festivities in the town square or village green to celebrations in church. This programme will demonstrate the way medieval carols have influenced musicians of more recent times especially the composer, Cecilia McDowall. It is set in the context of the historic medieval Kent house Penshurt Place, and it will consider how Christmas – and carols – might have been celebrated historically. King Henry VIII used Penshurst as a hunting lodge and it is believed that he may well have spent Christmas there one year. Only the chorus survives of his carol Green grow’th the holly and for this programme Cecilia McDowall has specially composed the solo verses.

Christmas Concert: Cadogan Hall, 23 December

Traditional The truth from above
Will Todd My Lord has come
Palestrina Rorate caeli
Howard Skempton Adam lay ybounden
Byrd Rorate caeli
Traditional Gabriel’s message
Nicholas Allan Jesus’ Christmas Party

plainsong Veni, veni Emmanuel
Jonathan Dove I am the Day
Traditional Wexford Carol

Lassus Laetentur caeli
Ord Adam lay ybounden
Byrd Laetentur caeli
Clement Clarke Moore The Night before Christmas

Leontovich Carol of the Bells

McDowall Now may we singen

Related CORO Album: COR16146 Song of the Nativity

The culmination of the A Choral Odyssey series and our programme for Christmas 2020 weaves six centuries of choral masterpieces into a stunning celebration of music written for the voice. Works from the golden age of polyphony by Byrd, Lassus and Palestrina, prefaced by haunting medieval plainsong, are presented side-by-side with music by 20th century and living composers that, like Ord’s Adam lay ybounden, have already become an unmistakable and indispensable part of the sound of Advent.

Tickets are available here

Season ticket £50: all five programmes plus the ‘as live’ performance at Cadogan Hall
Individual programme ticket £10
*Please note that only one ticket is required per household