On BBC Radio 3 Breakfast today, Thursday 21 December, presenter Petroc Trelawny announced Rebecca (13) from St Albans and Clare Welfare (46) from Dereham as the winners of the 2023 Breakfast Carol Competition in the Junior (11-15) and Senior (16+) categories respectively. The winning compositions were voted for by listeners over a week, and will feature across BBC Radio 3’s festive schedule and on BBC Sounds. As part of today’s Breakfast show, they were performed live from Maida Vale Studios by the BBC Singers with Chief Conductor Sofi Jeannin, and composer and arranger Iain Farrington on the piano.

Rebecca and Clare’s carols triumphed among eight shortlisted compositions (four in each category) all setting Polaris, a lyric by Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, inspired by a transformative visit to the Arctic, which has since shaped how he considers the natural world around him. The eight finalists had the opportunity to work with composer and arranger Iain Farrington to transform their melodies into fully harmonised Christmas carols. All the shortlisted carols were recorded especially for Radio 3’s Breakfast show at Maida Vale Studios by the BBC Singers led by Nicholas Chalmers, Associate Conductor: Learning, with Iain Farrington on the piano.

The 2023 competition launched in September, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the initiative. Once more, amateur composers from across the UK were invited to create a memorable, singable festive tune. To mark this special anniversary year, a new Junior category was created, allowing young composers to take part for the first time.

Many of the Breakfast Carol Competition winners have gone on to establish themselves on the UK choral scene, with publishing opportunities and involvement in commercial recordings. 2018 winner John Merrick’s setting of The Bee Carol, a poem by then Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, is to be performed as part of Carols from King’s on BBC Two on Christmas Eve.

Shortlisting the finalists was a star-studded panel of judges including broadcaster Clive Myrie, Blue Peter presenter Mwaksy Mudenda, Daniel Hyde – Director of Music at King’s College, Cambridge – and Beverley McGeown, who runs Open Arts Community Choir in Northern Ireland. Chairing the panel was Abimbola Amoako-Gyampah from the Coronation Gospel Choir, who performed at the Coronation of Their Majesties King Charles III and Queen Camilla.

Winner of the Junior Category Rebecca from St Albans plays the violin and the piano, and is also a member of the cèilidh band at school. Her first violin teacher loved folk music, and that rubbed off on Rebecca when composing this carol. When she was writing her entry, she wanted her to sound like a traditional one that’s sung from door to door.

Rebecca said: “When I first heard I had won I could hardly believe it, it was a dream come true and I was so happy. This has been an incredible experience and I am so grateful to everyone at the BBC who performed and produced my carol as well as all those who supported and voted for me. Thank you so much”

Winner of the Senior Category Clare Welfare from Dereham studied music, oboe and piano at Trinity College of Music and at the Royal Academy of Music, and was Principal Oboe in the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra for a number of years. As a child she entered a competition to compose a Christmas Carol and her nostalgia for that encouraged her to submit her piece this year.

Clare said: “I’m so delighted to win, it’s been an amazing experience to see my composition go from an idea one late night to a full-blown BBC Singers live broadcast, and to know that listeners to the BBC have made it their choice. It’s just wonderful! And once again heartfelt thanks Iain Farrington for his fantastic arrangement.”

Sam Jackson, Controller of BBC Radio 3, said: “This 10th anniversary year has been remarkable, seeing a huge range of entries to the competition, and exceptional talent shining through in our new Juniors category. Thanks to everyone involved – Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, our brilliant panel of judges for their shortlisting, Iain Farrington for the arrangements and of course the BBC Singers for bringing these carols to life. We hope these two winning carols will have a long life beyond this competition.”

The winning carol, alongside the other shortlisted entries, are available to listen to on the BBC Radio 3 website and BBC Sounds.

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