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Three newly commissioned anthems to celebrate the return of choral singing at York Minster

7 Sep, 2020

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World premiere performances of three specially commissioned anthems, will mark the resumption of choral singing at York Minster after a six month break caused by the Coronavirus pandemic – the first break in choral singing at the Minster in 360 years.

The three anthems will be premiered at Evensong performances by the adult singers of the York Minster Choir.  On Wednesday 9 September, the choir will perform ‘O sing unto the Lord a new song’ by Cornish composer Becky McGlade. Thursday 10 September will mark the first performance of ‘Now cheer our hearts this eventide, Lord Jesus Christ’, composed by Philip Moore, Organ Emeritus of York Minster. Friday 11 September will be the premiere of ‘After this, we will return’ by Cambridge composer, Sarah MacDonald. The boy and girl choristers will return to their singing in the Minster later this month.

The last sung service in the Minster was on 15 March 2020.  Explaining the historical significance of the interruption, Robert Sharpe, Director of Music at York Minster said:  “The last break in singing in cathedrals was 360 years ago – the period between the execution of Charles I on 30 January 1649 and the Restoration of the Monarchy with Charles II in London on 29 May 1660 – when the Puritans outlawed choral music in worship. The Act of Uniformity in 1662 restored earlier Church of England liturgical practice including choral singing. Singing in the Minster continued throughout both World Wars and even after the catastrophic fire of July 1984 when choral services sung by the York Minster Choir continued in our sister church, St Michael-le-Belfrey. Choral music is at the heart of worship in the Minster: the virus stopped everything.”

Robert continued: “There is a real sense of anticipation and excitement at the Minster.  After such a long time without singing, to come back with three remarkable new compositions is both a great honour and a great privilege.”

Composer Becky McGlade said: “Like so many, I am thrilled that choirs will once again be singing in our churches and cathedrals after this unprecedented hiatus. It is exciting that at York Minster there are going to be some new anthems to mark the recommencement of this wonderful tradition. It is a delight to be a part of this. The text of my anthem, taken from Psalm 98, exhorts us to sing a new song to the Lord and to celebrate the marvellous things He has done. It is a timely reminder that however demanding the season, He remains faithful at all times, and I hope to convey in my setting the joy of being able to sing to Him once more.”

Composer Philip Moore said:  “News that the Minster Choir will sing once again is joyous indeed.  I was therefore honoured and delighted to have been asked by Robert Sharpe to contribute to a series of anthems for alto, tenor and bass.  Writing for a three-part choir is an enjoyable challenge, akin perhaps to cooking with only three ingredients.  I hope these new musical recipes will mark a significant step in restoring our treasured choirs to their full glory and will give worshippers a taste of eternity.”

Composer Sarah MacDonald said:  “The news that we are allowed to sing again has relieved and revived musicians across the country.  We need innovative, creative and optimistic ideas to rebuild our wonderful cathedral tradition, and Robert’s invitation to participate in this brilliant initiative was a joy to receive as I’m sure it was for all of the composers.  I have sourced Biblical texts for my contribution which speak of loss, return and renewal, not only reflecting what we have been through as a community, but also serving as a metaphor for my own compositional mind set. Fortunately, some of those longed-for fresh ideas reappeared with the knowledge that the piece will be sung live very soon by such a fabulous choir.”

In recent weeks, the 11am congregation has numbered more than 100 and is expected to increase as soon as choral singing resumes.  In order to safely maintain the guidelines for social distancing, a reservation system will be introduced from Sunday 27 September for the most popular Sunday services – Matins at 10am,  the Eucharist at 11am and Evensong at 4pm.

Patricia Dunlop, Director of Visitor Experience at York Minster said:  “Our priority is to enable everyone to keep safe as we return to worship in the Minster and to adhere to the social distancing guidelines currently in force. Covid-19 has affected virtually every aspect of our lives, and this change is just one more adaptation that we have to make in order to enjoy Sunday worship in a safe manner, as we welcome choral music back to the Minster.”

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