Cathedral music: A busy time ahead

By Dr Christopher McElroy, Cathedral director of music

It is often said that tragic moments bring out the best in composers. On Mothering Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, our girl choristers continue their annual tradition of singing Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater dolorosa. This beautiful text is believed to have been written in the 13th century and describes Mary’s anguish as she wept at the foot of the cross while Jesus died.

While the text has been set by many famous composers over the last 800 years, the setting by Italian composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi is perhaps the most beautiful of all. Set for two voices, violins and chamber organ, the music exemplifies the tension Mary must have felt, watching her Son, but also captures the sense of hope – hope that Jesus died to save all our sins. The performance takes place as part of Evening Prayer on Sunday 31 March.
One of the special features of Holy Week at the Metropolitan Cathedral is the singing of the Passion narrative on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. People who attend the liturgies on these days often say what a powerful experience it is being part of such a performance. The musical settings we use were written by former master of the music, Philip Duffy. For years the choir has sung these from handwritten manuscripts. Over the past year Philip has very kindly been typesetting his Passions, so that this year we will be singing both the Luke and John Passions from newly typeset copies. Philip’s settings of the Passion are but a small element of his large corpus of liturgical music composed during 30 years at the Cathedral, much of which remains in regular use.
Looking ahead to the summer, several important – and we hope – exciting events loom large. Saturday 11 May sees our annual Two Cathedrals Messiah, taking place this time at the Metropolitan Cathedral. The sight and sounds of both cathedral choirs in unison is certainly a magical experience and something not to be missed. 

In June we again join the Anglican Cathedral Choir – this time at the Anglican Cathedral – to perform a concert of music by Henry Purcell and Roxanna Panufnik, in the presence of the latter composer. (Purcell sends apologies having been dead for some 300 years!) Then, on 13 June, we welcome the Friends of Cathedral Music ‘Choristers of Great Britain’ choir to Liverpool; this features choristers from nearly every UK cathedral.

A busy term will end with a special choir and orchestra concert involving the Metropolitan Cathedral Choir and Crosby Symphony Orchestra on 13 July in the Met.