To Chichester falls the honour this year of hosting the Southern Cathedrals Festival (July 18-21).
The festival rotates on an annual basis between Chichester, Salisbury and Winchester, the three cathedrals which come together every summer to celebrate the nation’s great cathedral music tradition.
And this year it’s Chichester’s turn, with Chichester Cathedral organist and master of the choristers Sarah Baldock masterminding the programme.
It’s a task she is relishing: “There is something very special about seeing a mass of choristers together. It’s something that does not happen very often because we are all very busy in our own cathedrals, doing our own thing. The sound of the three choirs brought together is something very worth hearing!
“I think it gives them a lot of encouragement, certainly the Chichester boys. There are just 18 of them, and it is nice to know for all of us that there are people out there doing what we do. When you sing eight choral services a week, there is not a lot of time for getting out and about - so it is nice to know that we are not alone! And I certainly get lots of ideas from my colleagues.”
Sarah, who is enjoying her sixth year in Chichester, is now on her second stint as SCF festival artistic director, and the earlier experience is certainly proving useful: “I think I am more aware now of all the administrative side that you have to cover. We had a new committee in 2010, but it is a little bit more up to speed now with what has to be done - though it all feels fairly massive right now!”
One of the keys to the whole event is an evensong which is recorded by the BBC: “Depending when the broadcast is, that determines the way that the festival falls.”
But in an innovation this year, the big festival eucharist moves from the Friday morning to the Saturday: “We hope that some people that would be at work on the Friday would be able to come on the Saturday.
“But my main role is in choosing the music for the festival and putting together a programme that people all want to sing and that audiences will want to buy. I am lucky because it is the centenary of Benjamin Britten who wrote a lot of church music. I have hung the festival on that centenary - and also the fact that it is 50 years since Poulenc’s death.
“There is a lot of Britten and Poulenc flitting through the programme, but I am very mindful that it is not everyone’s cup of tea. There is a massive piece of Scarlatti and some other composers that people will enjoy. I have tried to balance the programme, but not make it a hotchpotch!
“I think the children love singing Britten. Our big piece in the final concert is Britten’s St Nicolas when they hear the orchestra really come to life. There is a lot of percussion, and the story is quite amusing as well. It describes the birth of St Nicolas and his childhood. Towards the end of the piece, there is a lovely movement about a famine - and three little boys getting pickled!”
As for Poulenc, one of the main pieces - also in that Saturday concert - is his Organ Concerto, a piece which received its English premiere in Chichester Cathedral in 1943.
Full details and tickets on www.southerncathedralsfestival.org.uk.
This year’s Southern Cathedral’s Festival (in Chichester Cathedral unless otherwise stated)
Thursday, July 18
10am. Mattins. The Choir of Chichester Cathedral - Britten and Walton.
11.30am. Church Music Society Lecture. Benjamin Britten: Too original for his own good? St John’s Chapel. Free admission
2pm. Concert – Rejoice in the Lamb. The combined boy choristers and lay clerks. Music to include
Hadley, Jackson, Haydn, Vaughan Williams, Britten, Elgar.
4.30pm. Evensong. The boy choristers and lay clerks of Winchester Cathedral. Music by Daniel and Henry Purcell.
7pm. Organ Recital – Mark Wardell. Music to include Tournemire, Vierne, Frescobaldi, Buxtehude and Wardell.
8.30pm. Fringe Jazz Club (also Wednesday 17 and Friday 19), The Old Kitchen, Bishop’s Palace. Mark Wardell at the piano.
Friday, July 19
10am. Sung Eucharist. The girl choristers of Salisbury Cathedral
11.30am and 2.30pm. Poulenc and the Painters: a Programme of Portraits, Pallant House Gallery
David Wilson-Johnson baritone; David Owen Norris piano
4.30pm. BBC Choral Evensong. The combined boy choristers and lay clerks. Including Britten Hymn to St Cecilia.
7pm. Concert – Stabat Mater. The girl choristers of Salisbury and Winchester Cathedrals and the combined lay clerks. Including Britten, Bach, Gesualdo, Poulenc, Buxtehude, Scarlatti.
8.30pm. Fringe Jazz Club. The Old Kitchen, Bishop’s Palace. The Fringe Jazz Club returns for a final session in the Old Kitchen with a range of jazz for all tastes performed by the Festival musicians and guests, with Mark Wardell at the piano.
Saturday, July 20
11am. Festival Eucharist. The combined boy choristers and lay clerks. Haydn and an SCF commission from MacMillan.
2.45pm. Pallant Charitable Trust Prize Final Concert. St Paul’s Church. The girl choristers of Salisbury and Winchester Cathedrals and West Sussex County Youth Choir. The first performance of the shortlisted entries for the Pallant Charitable Trust Prize, followed by a discussion of their works between the composers and James MacMillan, and the final judging and presentation of prizes.
6pm. Concert - St Nicolas. The combined boy choristers and lay clerks, Southern Sinfonia, Andrew Lumsden organ soloist. Vaughan Williams, Poulenc, Britten St Nicolas
Sunday, July 21
11am. Sung Eucharist
Tickets on www.chichestertickets.co.uk and 01243 813595.