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Festival of modern devotional delight

Seventy events over nine days of concerts and recitals at the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music

09 May, 2019 — By Michael White

St Pancras Choir

THERE was a time – admittedly some centuries ago – when all composers wrote church music. It was what you did. These days the church is a less active patron of the arts, and not so many of the big names in the world of composition give their time to it.

But some do. There are more than you’d imagine. And a spotlit platform for their work is the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music which opens this weekend at St Pancras Church in Euston Road, where the whole project is based, but runs events across the city from St James’ West Hampstead to Westminster Abbey.

Some are ticket-entrance concerts, like the one this Saturday at Hampstead Parish Church – introduced by no less a personage than Master of the Queen’s Music, Judith Weir. But most are free-access church services that, for the purposes of this festival, will be full of serious new music. Much of it with ink still dripping from the page.

“This is our 18th year of operation”, says festi­val director Christopher Batchelor, “and in that time we’ve commissioned 90 new works from all sorts of composers, not just the ones you might associate with organ lofts. It’s a legacy thing.”

But it’s also a reminder that London remains, even in these times of ecclesiastical decline, full of outstandingly good choirs – many of them based in churches and delivering fine perfor­mances, free of charge, to anyone who turns up for a Sung Eucharist or Choral Evensong.

One not to miss next week is at St Pancras Church when, at 3.30pm on Wednesday 15th, you can hear an Evensong with five world premieres – including an anthem by the eminent and inter­esting Deborah Pritchard who will talk about her work before the event. If you can’t make it, the Evensong is broad­cast live by Radio 3.

And there are so many other fascinating things in this festival, it’s worth checking them all out on the website.

• The London Festival of Contemporary Church Music,May 11-19. Full details at

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