Spitalfields Winter Music Festival opens with 12 days of spellbinding performance

Need a rehersal room? Performers ready for Spitalfields 12-day Winter Music Festival opening today i

Need a rehersal room? Performers ready for Spitalfields 12-day Winter Music Festival opening today in London's East End - Credit: Spitz Music Fest

Early music and seasonal Christmas music are set to keep audiences spellbound for the next 12 days when this year’s Spitalfields Music Winter Festival opens today in London’s East End. It features a wealth of early music, festival debuts from renowned European ensembles, premieres, exclusive works-in-progress, family-orientated concerts and activities and seasonal music from some of the country’s most popular ensembles.

Rehersing al fresco on a Regent's Canal narrow boat for Spitalfields Winter Music Fest [photo: Alex

Rehersing al fresco on a Regent's Canal narrow boat for Spitalfields Winter Music Fest [photo: Alex Harvey-Brown] - Credit: Spitz Music Fest

Early music

The festival which runs until December 15 begins at Shoreditch Church this-evening with Fretwork viol consort and Red Byrd vocal ensemble who, together, present a series of sound portraits with music by Gibbons, Dering and Ravenscroft.

Sixteenth century London is brought to life through a series of works based on the ‘town cries’ of merchants who plied their wears on our streets 500 years ago.

The concert at St Leonard’s is part of Bishopsgate Institute’s series on The Cries of London, with the anonymous Spitalfields Life blogger known as ‘The Gentle Author’ discussing his book of the same name in a pre-concert talk.

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The early European music ensemble Les Arts Florissants makes its festival debut on December 10 at Spitalfields Christ Church with Monteverdi’s first three madrigal collections.

The programme directed by Paul Agnew is performed a cappella at Hawksmoor’s imposing and magnificently-restored 18th century church.

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The Marian Consort young vocal ensemble present works inspired by the Visitation of the Shepherds at the Nativity for its Festival debut on December 14 back at Shoreditch Church, directed by Rory McCleery. The performance is centred on Mouton’s motet Quaeramus cum Pastoribus and features works by Guerrero, Morales and Victoria.

Music inspired by Yultide

The Aurora Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Collon and featuring tenor Allan Clayton presents Schubert’s iconic song cycle Winterreise next Tuesday at Shoreditch Church (December 8), with ‘instrumental forces’ replacing the original piano accompaniment.

The English Concert returns to the Festival with a vibrant collection of 17th-century seasonal music. Harry Bicket directs a programme next Wednesday (December 9) at Spitalfields Church centred around two cantatas: Charpentier’s In nativitatem Domini, a retelling of the Christmas story, contrasted with Stradella’s Ah! Troppo è ver.

The atmospheric setting of Shoreditch Church hosts She’Koyokh instrumental group on December 10, for a journey through eastern European winter folk traditions. The programme weaves together Balkan folk and klezmer elements, with Romanian singer-puppeteer Monooka.

B’Rock Belgian Baroque orchestra, directed by Rodolfo Richter, make its festival debut on December 11 at Spitalfields Church, fusing together old and new, works by Handel, Purcell, Charpentier, Scarlatti’s Christmas cantata, and an arrangement of Arvo Pärt’s Fratres.

The Sixteen, conducted by Harry Christophers, performs an atmospheric evening on December 12 at Spitalfields Church, themed around the relationship between Mary and her Child, music from Renaissance polyphony to contemporary, including works by Tallis, Byrd, James MacMillan and Tavener’s The Lamb.

Festival newcomers Solomon’s Knot Baroque Collective close to this year’s festival on December 15 at Shoreditch Church, with JS Bach’s Christmas Oratorio from memory and without a conductor.

Premieres, new commissions and contemporary work

Disappearing Dining Club presents a three-course seasonal feast in a secret East End location tomorrow, with a performance from artists of contemporary music, singer-songwriter Mara Carlyle and viol player Liam Byrne.

the Water Poet’s Underground Picture House this Sunday presents the culmination of a project begun during 2014’s summer festival, with screenings of director Thomas Guthrie’s musical documentary Death Actually. This uplifting film, featuring Bach’s great motets fused with pub music from around the world, explores attitudes surrounding death while challenging preconceptions through music, singing and dance.

A candlelit Spitalfields Church is the late-night setting on December 11 for Songs From the Northern Lands, by the Royal Holloway Choir directed by Rupert Gough, exploring music by contemporary composers from the Baltics and Scandinavia, including Pärt’s Magnificat and Rautavaara’s Vespers From Vigilia.

The Riot Ensemble Contemporary group presents an exploration of new music for its festival debut on December 7 at Shoreditch Church. The programme is the UK premiere of Serbian-Swedish composer Djuro Zivkovic’s I Shall Contemplate Night Music paired with excepts by JS Bach, one of his main influences, culminating with a world premiere by experimental Spanish composer Helga Arias Parra, commissioned for the festival.

Music for and by young people

Musical Rumpus is the festival’s flagship series for babies and toddlers today and tomorrow at Bethnal Green’s Rich Mix arts centre with Lyrebird, featuring original music by Sam Glazer and Zoë Palmer.

The piece weaves together a world of sounds and textures through traditional and electronic musical instruments and song. It is an interactive, multi-sensory performance for babies up to 2½ years.

Talented young jazz musicians from all over East London return to Shoreditch Church on December 9 for Platform: Upbeat, which brings together THAMES, the Tower Hamlets Music and Education Service Big Band, with Hackney Creative Jazz Ensemble.

Brady Arts centre on December 12 hosts Sound Explorers: Moon Man, an interactive musical adventure using shadow puppetry, music and narration based on Tomi Ungerer’s popular children’s book, performed by Isabelle Adams, suitable for children aged 5-7, with a free puppet-making workshop before the performance for ticket-holders.

Participatory events

Rocking Chairs, an installation by Dutch sound artists Strijbos and Van Rijswijk, appears in several locations around Spitalfields throughout the festival. A modern rocking chair constructed of wooden slats envelops the listener in a kaleidoscope of sounds, with listeners invited to share their Rocking Chair selfies on Instagram.

Singers of all ages and vocal abilities are invited to Shoreditch Church on December 12 for the Spitalfields Sings vocal half-day workshop.




10.30am and 12.30pm Musical Rumpus: Rich Mix

6.30pm The Gentle Author, Shoreditch Church

7.30pm The Cries of London, Shoreditch Church


10.30am AND 12.30pm Musical Rumpus: Lyrebird, Rich Mix

6.30pm Disappearing Dining Club, location to be announced


12.30pm and 4.30pm Troupe work in progress (family matinee), venue confirmed on booking

1.30pm and 3.15pm Death Actually screening, Underground Picturehouse, The Water Poet pub


7pm The Riot Ensemble, Shoreditch Church

8.30pm House of Love work in progress, venue confirmed on booking


6.15pm On White: Edmund de Waal, venue confirmed on booking

7.30pm Winterrese, Shoreditch Church


6.15pm Platform: Upbeat, Shoreditch Church

7pm English Concert, Spitalfields Church

8.30pm King Arthur, work in progress, Shoreditch Church


7pm Les Arts Florissants, Spitalfields Church

7pm She’Koyokh, Shoreditch Church


7pm B’Rock, Spitalfields Church

9pm Songs from the Northern Lands, Spitalfields Church


10am Spitalfields Sings, Shoreditch Church

11.30am Sound Explorers: Moon Man, Brady Arts Centre

6pm Sister (Born Mad), work in progress, Pinter Studio, Queen Mary University

7pm The Sixteen, Spitalfields Church


2.30pm Baskets, Bananas, Bags & Brushes walking tour


7pm Marian Consort, Shoreditch Church


7.30pm Christmas Oratorio: Shoreditch Church


Brady Arts & Community Centre 192-196 Hanbury St, E1 5HU

Spitalfields Church (Christ Church) Commercial St, E1 6LY

Pinter Studio, Queen Mary University, Mile End Rd, E1 4NS

Rich Mix Arts Centre, 35-47 Bethnal Green Rd, E1 6LA

Shoreditch Church (St Leonard’s) Shoreditch High St, E1 6JN

Underground Picturehouse at the Water Poet pub, 9-11 Folgate St, off Commercial St, E1 6BX

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