Ex Cathedra: New Jerusalem

Parry, MacMillan, Panufnik

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 Concert Package, Ex Cathedra Season 2014/15 Concert Package, SoundBite, Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15, Ex Cathedra Season 2014/15 and Vocal Music

Saturday 31st January

Town Hall

Ex Cathedra Choir and Ensemble
Jeffrey Skidmore conductor

Parry Jerusalem 10’
Roxanna Panufnik Since we Parted (world premiere) 8’
Parry Songs of Farewell 31’
James MacMillan Seven Angels (world premiere) 40’

Nostalgia has always been a potent force in British music but the emotions it provokes can look forward as well as back.

In this inspired programme, James MacMillan takes up where Elgar left off with a superb new choral work based on The Last Judgment, while a new work by Roxanna Panufnik, two much-loved favourites by Parry, evoke a century of great music.

Ex Cathedra is a Town Hall Associate Artist. http://www.thsh.co.uk


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Between the two Parry offerings came the first of the evening’s premieres, Roxanna Panufnik’s Since We Parted, a wonderfully warm work of immense emotional sincerity interweaving two deeply-felt poems of lovers’ separations.

Robert Bulwer-Lytton’s mid-Victorian eponymous poem fused perfectly with Kathleen Coates’ A Year and a Day, written on the brink of the First World War, and Panufnik’s well-layered choral textures combined with adroit imagery from a tiny instrumental group to create a heart-stopping 10 minutes.

Four times its length was the evening’s other premiere, James MacMillan’s Seven Angels, bringing to life the Book of Revelations’ Last Judgment and picking up a century later on Elgar’s reluctance so to do in his own New Testament trilogy.

Sharing with Elgar a desire for performance authenticity, MacMillan makes extensive use of two shofars (temple fanfaring instruments) brilliantly alternating with natural trumpets at the lips of Mark Bennett and Simon Munday, high in the organ-loft.

There are also virtuoso parts for solo cello (Andrew Skidmore), harp (Lucy Wakeford) and percussion (Sarah Stuart).

And, of course, the chorus, from which soloists emerge in Ex Cathedra’s traditional manner. MacMillan’s vocal scoring shares the often improvisatory nature of Penderecki’s St Luke Passion, including swooping exhalations, whistling, rapid teeth-palate alternations, humming and the like, all with the effect of setting his more conventional, fully-harmonised choral writing into glorious prominence.

As Seven Angels progressed, naturally structured upon each of the seven angel’s fanfaring, towards its visionary conclusion, we arrived at a final F minor chord, and the sound was genuinely ecstatic.

I doubt this performance could ever be bettered. The stunned audience silence at the end could have gone on forever.”



Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “Roxanna Panufnik’s Since we Parted was commissioned by Ex Cathedra with the support of Jane Arthur. Jeffrey Skidmore had asked that the piece should remember the Great War and, if possible, should set words by or about women. Miss Panufnik combines lines by two poets. A verse by Robert Bulmer-Lytton (1831-1891), from which the work’s title derives, acts as a kind of refrain for the full choir and is heard on several occasions. In between the refrains come lines by Kathleen Coates (1890-1958) from a poem entitled ‘A Year and a Day’. The piece is scored for choir and a small ensemble of harp, piano, cello and a pair of trumpets, the latter being used with great restraint as far as dynamics are concerned. It plays for about ten minutes.

The refrain is wistful and quite gentle. I may be mistaken but I had the impression that the music was subtly varied at each re-appearance. The composer said that in this music she tried “to create a sense of yearning – with harmonies that lean into each other and suspensions that only partly resolve.” I’d say she succeeded. The Coates lines are set in two separate passages. The first is for female voices and here the textures were graceful and the music warm. The men have the second Coates passage and their music is more robust. The performance seemed, at a first hearing, to be expert and the composer, who was present, was clearly delighted.     […]


MacMillan chose as his text lengthy passages from the Book of Revelation in which St John describes that part of his vision when seven angels appear in succession, each to blow a dread fanfare to usher in further apocalyptic events. The angels were represented by two trumpeters, here placed behind and above the choir, next to the organ console. These trumpeters contributed a series of arresting fanfares, using not only trumpets but also natural trumpets and shofars, the primitive ram’s horn trumpets of Old Testament times, one of which Elgar deployed tellingly in The Apostles. In addition to the trumpeters the small accompanying ensemble comprised harp, cello and a battery of percussion, played indefatigably by one percussionist. It should be said straightaway that one of MacMillan’s many achievements in this score is to conjure a tremendous variety of arresting colours from just these five instrumentalists. This is just one way in which the score is highly imaginative.

Just as impressive is his writing for the choir. They have many passages of homophonic or polyphonic writing. In addition various other vocal techniques are employed, including Sprechstimme, glissandi, humming, shouting and whistling. The whistling occurs just before the appearance of the seventh angel and I suspect it’s intended to convey the sound of a great wind; if so, it works brilliantly. Indeed, all the various non-singing techniques made their mark and were relevant to the moment in the text at which they occurred; in other words, these techniques were not employed just for effect.

The words are intensely dramatic and MacMillan’s vast experience as a composer both of religious music and of operas equipped him extremely well to surmount the challenges of the text. Among many passages that caught my ear was a section, just before the appearance of the seventh angel, when the cello and tubular bells initiate a fast dance, the rhythms of which are excitingly irregular. This dance is sustained when the choir enters and it’s extremely effective. Effective too were the four passages for solo voices – bass, tenor, alto and soprano successively – which illustrate the appearances of the first four angels. Most imposing of all, however, was the music at the point to which the whole work had surely been aimed: the words beginning “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth”. Here the whole ensemble was united in a luminous outburst which gradually unwound to be followed by several more similar explosions of fervour. The work finished with the words “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” The long silence that followed the conclusion of Seven Angels bore testimony to the power and eloquence of the piece we had just heard for the first time.

I confess that for the first few minutes I wasn’t sure what I would make of Seven Angels but this is a work that draws the listener in and which compels attention. The music is astonishingly inventive and imaginative, though I do wonder if the trumpet fanfares are not perhaps a little overdone. The performance by Ex Cathedra and the small instrumental ensemble was beyond praise. The music is clearly complex and extremely demanding yet not only was it put across with great assurance but also with the conviction that only thorough preparation and highly skilled execution can produce. The composer, who was enthusiastically applauded, looked delighted by the performance and I’m not surprised.

This was an unforgettable concert of memorable music superbly performed. I’m particularly keen to hear Seven Angels again for it is a profound and dramatic work that demands detailed listening and reflection; one hearing simply isn’t enough.”

Brazilian Baroque: A Musical Eldorado

Part of Ex Cathedra Season 2013/14 and

Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14

Saturday 1st March

Town Hall

Ex Cathedra is a Town Hall Associate Artist

Ex Cathedra Choir and Baroque Orchestra

Jeffrey Skidmore conductor

Jeffrey Skidmore and Ex Cathedra have done more than anyone else to uncover the vanished world of the South American Baroque: a lost civilisation of great choral music, sophisticated, passionate and intensely spiritual. Tonight’s programme introduces ravishing, almost unknown eighteenth-century music from Rio de Janeiro and the beautiful Baroque mining town of Ouro Preto: a musical Eldorado, restored to life with unmatched artistry and absolute commitment. www.thsh.co.uk


Et tractatu sancti Augustini

Manuel Cardoso (1566 – 1650)  (from Manuscripto do Grupo de Mogi das Cruzes)

March in G

Francisco Gomes da Rocham(1745 – 1808)

Missa a oito vozes e instrumentos 

    André da Silva Gomes (1754 – 1844)

                Kirie – Moderato

                Christe – Andante

                Kirie II


José Joachim Emerico Lobo de Mesquita

                Padre nosso

                Ave Maria


Missa a oito vozes e instrumentos


                Et in terra pax


                Laudamus  – Amorozo

                Gratias – Largo

Beata Virgo (Divertimento Harmônica no 1) 

    Luís Álvares Pinto (c. 1719 – c.1789)

Lições de solfejo XXV 

     Luís Álvares Pinto

Missa a oito vozes e instrumentos

                Domine Deus – Allegro

                Qui Tollis – Tropo Afectuozo

                Quoniam – Largheto         

                Cum sancto spiritu



Matais de Incêndios Vv 1-4

     Manuscripto do Grupo de Mogi das Cruzes  (17thcentury)

Missa Pastoril para a noite de Natal

     José MaurÍcio Nunes Garcia (1767 – 1830)

                Kyrie – Andante sostenuto               

                Gloria – Allegro spirituoso

                Laudamus te – Andante

                Gratias agimus tibi – Andante sostenuto

                Qui tollis – Andante sostenuto

                Qui sedes – Andante sostenuto

                Cum sancto spiritu – Andante sostenuto

Ascendit Deus 

   Theodoro Cyro de Souza (1761 – ?)

Missa Pastoril


                Et incaratus


                Et ressurexit

Matinas do Sábado Santo 

   José Joachim Emerico Lobo de Mesquita  (1746 – 1805)

               I Noturno Respnsório II – Jerusalem, surge

Missa Pastoril



     Benedictus – Andantino

     Agnus Dei – Andante sostenuto

Matais de Incêndios  Vv 5-8

Celebremos el niño 

     António Marques Lésbio (1639 -1709)



Review by John Quinn, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

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…     “Garcia’s music is thoroughly genial and relaxed; there was a genuinely pastoral feel about it and I liked the innocent charm with which he appeared to view Christmas Night.  The Kyrie had a Haydnesque feel to it; this was genuinely warm music. After the festive ‘Gloria’ there was a beguiling ‘Laudamus te’ for solo soprano which Katie Trethewey sang beautifully, supported by an ornate viola obbligato. She was one of no less than nine vocal soloists who made contributions during the Mass; all were excellent. Elizabeth Drury sang the florid, highly decorated ‘Qui sedes’ with a trio of male voices in support and a highlight of the performance was the duet between her and Katie Trethewey in the ‘Et incarnatus’. Here once more that delightful clarinet made its presence felt. The chorus work was no less impressive than it had been in the first half. Fittingly, for a Christmas Mass, the tone of the music was cheerful throughout. Garcia’s music may not have sounded serious but it was most certainly seriously composed; it was an accomplished and attractive work

 This was a thoroughly enjoyable evening even if the music didn’t quite have the feel of blazingly original discovery that one has had in previous Ex Cathedra programmes of this sort. This was more relaxed and, perhaps, less earthy music. No doubt part of the difference is also explained by the fact that much of this music was written a generation later. Nonetheless it was well worth hearing and it received splendid advocacy from Jeffrey Skidmore and his extremely skilled singers and instrumentalists. I doubt I shall ever have the chance to hear this music again – unless Ex Cathedra are able to record some of it – but I am very glad to have had the opportunity to do so. This consistently charming music warmed up a somewhat chilly evening in Birmingham.”



Review by Katherine Dixson, BachTrack:

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…     “Essentially a choral ensemble, Ex Cathedra was joined by a small, specially assembled early music orchestra, led by Rodolfo Richter, who comes from Curitiba, where Skidmore had contributed to a Festival of Music during his Brazilian trip – a nice collaborative symmetry. Tonight’s programme, covering music from the early 17th to the early 19th centuries, centred around two Masses by significant composers, interspersed with shorter works in the liturgical gaps. The packed audience was captivated from the outset by Manuel Cardoso’s Et tractatu sancti Augustini, one of Brazil’s earliest surviving polyphony pieces. With a slow tempo and hypnotic waves of sound, a sextet at the heart of the oyster-shaped stage formation gently transported us with a feeling of calm, leading then to full choir. Minimal orchestral accompaniment in this piece, courtesy of the exotic looking theorbo, was contrasted with the instrumental March in G by Francisco Gomes da Rocha, which conjured up brash, carnivalesque marching bands on the Brazilian streets. A handful of musicians stationed separately in the balcony, above the rest of the company, delivered this number, then marched off. (Their work for the night wasn’t over, though, as they could be spotted and heard amongst their ground floor colleagues after the interval.)

One of the joys of listening to a choir as skilled as Ex Cathedra is the appreciation of the use of solo and ensemble singers from within their ranks. Tonight’s pieces called for that in spades, and there was corresponding movement around the stage as necessary, always perfectly choreographed and never intrusive. The first half’s main work, Missa a oito vozes e instrumentos by André da Silva Gomes, radical for its day, was further complicated by being written for two choirs with eight-voice fugues creating a very rich sound. Nor was the orchestration shy and retiring, trumpets emphasizing the sensation of full-blown praise in the Gloria, the atmosphere of the whole being spiritually uplifting. Exuberance was tempered by moments of calm, with lovely crunching harmonies, unanimous rests and a slowed pace, as Et in terra pax delivered moments of great peace.”     …



Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

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…     “The other complete mass, Andre da Silva Gomes’ Mass for eight voices and instruments, was very different: richly textured, alternating two choirs, and with music by turns bold and assertive, the trumpets heralding the Gloria, or delicately persuasive as in the amoroso-styled Laudamus winningly sung by soprano Elizabeth Drury.

Skidmore ensured variety by interspersing a range of shorter items from Harmonic Diversions for organ; extracts from large-scale vocal works – Mesquita’s Jerusalem surges particularly impressive – and a lovely little March in G by da Rocha which had the childlike charm of Leopold Mozart’s Toy Symphony. Performances by orchestra, soloists, and the 50-strong choir, from which they were drawn, were excellent under Skidmore’s direction.”



Review by John Allison, Telegraph:

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…     “Two substantial Mass settings were threaded through the programme. The Missa a   oito vozes e instrumentos by André da Silva Gomes (1752-1844), a Lisbon-born   composer who was appointed to São Paulo’s cathedral, gains a certain   exuberance from prominent trumpet parts that would hardly be found in   equivalent European works, but otherwise it is hardly more adventurous than   Salieri on autopilot. 

Still, the eight-part fugue in the Kyrie had its moments, and the Quoniam was,   unusually, set for two tenors in duet. 

Most attractive of all was the music of José Maurício Nunes Garcìa (1767-1830),   the Rio-born mixed-race priest whose career flourished after the Portuguese   court transferred to Brazil in 1808. 

His Requiem,   written on the death of Queen Maria I, is considered his masterpiece,   but this concert showed that his Missa Pastoril para a noite de Natal is   captivating enough. A Christmas Mass, it captures something of the warmth of   a southern, sunny celebration, and its mixture of pungency and pastoralism   derives from the clarinet parts. 

Two other composers proved worth hearing. A handful of simple, devotional   pieces by José Joachim Emerico Lobo de Mesquita (1746-1805), who worked in   the gold-mining region around Ouro Preto, added guitar to the accompaniments   of strings and organ continuo.”     …



Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis

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Saturday 12 October 2013 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

Ex Cathedra

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Jeffrey Skidmore  conductor

Sophie Bevan  soprano

Jennifer Johnston  mezzo

Andrew Tortise  tenor

Roderick Williams  bass

Beethoven: Missa Solemnis 81′

Beethoven laboured for nearly four years to complete his Missa Solemnis,   and nothing he composed surpasses it for scale, sincerity or sheer vision. No   single performance can capture every aspect of this work, but under Jeffrey   Skidmore, Ex Cathedra and a team of first-rate soloists will surely come closer   than most to realising Beethoven’s wish that this music should come ‘from the   heart, that it may go to the heart’.




Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Jeffrey Skidmore and his Ex Cathedra (fully expanded) were joined by the CBSO in a fluent, natural account in which the composer’s cruel demands both on singers and players were so expertly assimilated into Beethoven’s confrontation with God. Beethoven takes no prisoners (all the sounds were trapped in his head by this time of his life), and Skidmore and company responded unflinchingly and devotedly.

There were two special things in this performance: Skidmore’s thoughtful and appreciative programme-notes which set the context, and the welcome prominence given to the organ (the excellent Alexander Mason), an element which is so often reduced to virtual nothingness, almost as an embarrassment; it is not, and Beethoven notated its part assiduously.

As we always confidently expect from the Ex Cathedra, the chorus was well-shaped and attentive.”     …

2001: A Space Odyssey

Screening with live music

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2012/13… more events…

Part of Universe of Sound… more events…

Part of Entertaining Erdington… more events…

Friday 14th June

Symphony Hall

Philharmonia Orchestra

Benjamin Wallfisch conductor

Ex Cathedra choir

2001: A Space Odyssey (film screening, Certificate U)

Live presentation in association with Warner Bros., Southbank Centre and the British Film Institute.

Concert lasts approximately 2 hours 45 minutes including a 20 minute interval.

2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the greatest science fiction films of all time, celebrated for its special effects and use of music. The film brought worldwide fame to Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, accompanying a primeval sunrise, and the unnerving music of Ligeti. It also created one of cinema’s most memorable images: a spaceship floating serenely through space to the strains of the Blue Danube waltz. This is a unique chance to experience it with the thrill of full orchestra, organ and chorus, all live for those unforgettable moments.

Classic FM’s Anne-Marie Minhall, says of tonight’s concert:

A project like this shows exactly why the Philharmonia Orchestra is one of our great musical institutions. It prides itself on pioneering new and diverse ways of sharing music. Don’t miss!

Ex Cathedra is a Town Hall Associate Artist.




Review by Jon Perks, Birmingham Mail:

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…     “From the latter’s first bars, as apes discover how to use tools as weapons, the music and visuals work as one.

The crescendo as the lead ape, Moonwatcher, throws his newly acquired weapon into the air, is a real ‘neck Mohican’ moment. With the fabulous Ex Cathedra choir and Philharmonia Orchestra, the score took on another dimension as it was performed live, the film projected on a mammoth screen behind them.

Timpani boomed, strings murmured, brass fanfared each new age of man. While the likes of The Blue Danube paint a serene landscape, Ligeti’s spectral, eerie Requiem and Atmospheres are used to incredible effect for The Dawn of Man and Stargate sections, a haunting sea of voices singing noises, not recognisable words.

The overall effect was mesmerising…”     …



Review by Ian Harvey, Express and Star:

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…     “Kubrick’s genius in his choice of music for his film was laid bare as the Philharmonia Orchestra, under the baton of Benjamin Wallfisch, filled Symphony Hall with awe and power. Also Sprach Zarathustra (the Apollo mission launch music to so many of us of a certain age) appears no less than three times in the film and loses none of its ability to thrill and inspire for that.

But what this particular performance highlighted more than anything was the astonishing impact the selection of pieces by the modern composer György Ligeti have as they are scattered throughout the film.

The sighting of the second monolith, on the moon, and the still visually thrilling, acid trip-like journey to Jupiter and beyond were accompanied by jagged, pulsing sounds that were unnerving and utterly unworldly.”     …

Ex Cathedra: The Face of Humanity

Sunday 17 February 2013 at 4.00pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600


Jeffrey Skidmore conductor
David Briggs organ
Grace Davidson soprano
Greg Skidmore baritone
Ex Cathedra
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Poulenc: Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani 19′
Poulenc: Figure Humaine 21′
Fauré: Requiem 38′ Listen on Spotify

“I wanted to write something different,” said Gabriel Fauré, and his Requiem is exactly that. There’s no terror or rage here: just music of deep peace, tender humanity, and – in the lovely Pie Jesu – transcendent beauty. Birmingham’s world-famous chamber choir joins the CBSO for this very special performance, and marks the 50th anniversary of Poulenc’s death with two very different masterpieces: the powerful Figure Humaine, written in occupied France, and the roof-raising drama of Poulenc’s flamboyant Organ Concerto. www.cbso.co.uk



Review by John Quinn, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “The two soloists sang with the choir – a pleasingly collegiate touch – and stepped forward to the front of the choir but behind the orchestra for their solos. Though they were thus positioned further back than one might have expected neither seemed to have the slightest difficulty in projecting their solos. Greg Skidmore has a good, firm baritone which he used to excellent effect in both his solos. Grace Davidson gave a beguiling account of the famous ‘Pie Jesu’. Her tone was warm and pure and her gently beseeching delivery was just right. The choir sang with great finesse and control. Line was always paramount, it seemed, and the diction was excellent throughout. The orchestral playing demonstrated consistent refinement and from my seat in the stalls it appeared that the balance between orchestra and singers was expertly judged. Jeffrey Skidmore’s tempi were always well judged and I appreciated above all the sense of flow that he imparted to the music. The sopranos of Ex Cathedra brought the performance to a perfect conclusion, singing their serene line in the ‘In Paradisum’ with radiant purity. This set the seal on a very fine and thoughtful performance.”




Review by Maggie Cotton, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “All 16 acoustic doors were wide open for Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani, the organ console being within the orchestra rather than using the main organ loft far above the musicians. Even so, there was a shock as David Briggs’ first unleashed blast filled the massive space.

Conductor Jeffrey Skidmore sensitively controlled balance between soloist and orchestra. ‘On the fringe of religious music’ packed with differing textures: unstoppable energy, quasi jollity, shimmering showers of notes but including heart-stopping Poulenc poignancy.”     …

Rachmaninov by Candlelight


Sun 2 Oct 6:00pm at Symphony Hall

Ex Cathedra
Jeffrey Skidmore director
Steven Osborne piano

Rachmaninov Vespers
Piano Preludes Op 23 Nos 6 in E flat, 10 in G flat, 3 in D minor, 4 in D, 7 in C minor
Op 32 Nos 5 in G, 7 in F, 9 in A, 1 in C

This concert has a running time of c. 2 hours including one interval.

The soaring voices of Ex Cathedra bring Rachmaninov’s choral masterpiece to life by candlelight. Glowing with radiant Russian Orthodox spirituality, the Vespers are interspersed with a selection of the composer’s much-loved piano preludes performed by Steven Osborne.

In the words of The Times, ‘the brilliant Scottish pianist… scales the preludes… with passion and authority… Sorrow and sunlight, death and life: all Rachmaninov is here’.

Classic FM’s Anne-Marie Minhall, says of tonight’s recommended concert: “Rachmaninov’s Vespers is some of the Russian composer’s most profound and moving music; the All-Night Vigil remains one of the most atmospheric musical creations. On what’s likely to be a chilly, autumnal evening, Ex Cathedra will be bringing music to warm your very soul.” www.thsh.co.uk

Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard -MusicWeb:


…     “Not for the first time – and surely not for the last – Jeffrey Skidmore had devised an imaginative and illuminating programme and he conducted the choir superbly, drawing from them singing that was, according to the demands of the music, exquisitely poised or powerfully sonorous and which always rang with conviction.

Experiencing Rachmaninov by candlelight in this way made for a memorable concert. It was one which, for me – and with apologies for the pun – shed new light on Rachmaninov’s music in two different genres.”

Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:


…     “From first note to last this was a powerfully atmospheric and often hypnotic account, with Jeffrey Skidmore and his singers (Jeremy Budd and Martha McLorinan the gloriously idiomatic soloists) going beyond melody and harmony to explore a rich choral tapestry where inner-part textures and movements were of equal importance and, especially in the basses, awesomely sonorous.

In such a finely judged musical environment, Steven Osborne transcended the role of solo pianist to become an additional member of the ensemble.”    […] Rating * * * * *