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On The London Festival of Contemporary Church Music…

I’m going to begin this with an admission: I’m not a very collaborative composer – some composers are, and I admire them for that – but I am not. As I approach my fortieth year I think I’ve collaborated with poets, librettists, directors or producers at maximum 10 times, and have never struck up a lasting collaboration that has resulted in multiple pieces or projects. That’s not to say that it wasn’t fun whilst it lasted, but most of the time I work in a solitary fashion, except from my twin companions: university admin and noise from children. Maybe it will happen one day, and I’ll find my Hofmannsthal or Da Ponte, but for the moment I’m happy in my lonely travails.

However, one place in my work that a collaboration of sorts has occurred and continued, is with certain performers, ensembles, choirs and organisations who have regularly and consistently performed or commissioned my music over the past 10-15 years. This has been a great thing and continues to be the life-blood of why I compose and why I continue doing what I do. One of the most fruitful of these ongoing relationships has been with the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music (LFCCM) which begins again this month on Saturday 11 May, running until Sunday 19 May. It remains one of the most remarkable and unheralded music festivals in the country.

I have been very fortunate to have had over ten pieces performed or commissioned (or both) by the festival in the past nine years, beginning with my motet Verbum Caro Factum Est in 2010. Three pieces have been broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and others have been performed at various churches, cathedrals and memorably in the National Portrait Gallery in 2016. The relationship continues this year with four of my pieces being performed during the festival including Invocation in the opening concert and the English premiere of my recent motet Locus iste on the final day. What is most edifying about the festival (other than having my work played…) is the openness it has towards young composers, unpublished composers and those composers who aren’t necessarily the usual suspects in this genre – all feature often at various venues and occasions. Alongside the commissioning and performing of composers, the festival runs a ‘call for scores’ each year in which composers of any level of experience can submit scores which may be chosen for churches and choirs across the capital. It is fascinating to see the breadth of repertoire and the spectrum of churches that are willing to perform these works.

As a composer of much church and sacred music, it often feels like fighting a rear-guard battle: yes, congregations are lower, less churches offer choral worship, there is less money floating around the system to pay for new music and other ventures. All of this is no doubt true, but sometimes it is worth taking a moment and considering what we do have: so many churches, cathedrals and college chapels performing solely new music (the majority by living composers) for nearly two weeks right across the city of London. It is remarkable, and I feel confident in saying it couldn’t happen in any other city in the world. That must be something to be celebrated?

Anyhow, hats off to founder and director Christopher Bachelor and here’s to many more years of the festival and many more Cooke premieres. I’ll be attending the service at Eton College on the 19 May on what promises to be a fantastic occasion.


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