Tenebrae conductor Nigel Short's plans for Holy Week

The conductor of the top vocal ensemble discusses how he is changing his approach to Holy Week this year

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Tenebrae conductor Nigel Short's plans for Holy Week
Temple Church Choir
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My idea of holding a Holy Week Festival in a single venue was inspired by a need to organise a time and space where audiences could really immerse themselves in the intensity and drama of the religious story that rapidly unfolds over the course of just a few days. The story involves loyalty and betrayal, hope and fear, love and hate, sacrifice and suffering, and the journey from savage elation on Palm Sunday to utter desolation five days later before returning to the ultimate Resurrection on Easter Sunday is immensely powerful.


The Choir of Royal Holloway (performing on the first night of Holy Week)

When I was the Director of Music at St Bartholomew-the-Great I found myself involved in liturgical services in which the music could psychologically and emotionally unlock a door that the spoken word could not. Then 30 minutes later I’d be back on the tube, experiencing the endless rushing around, constant noise and hustle and bustle – things every Londoner endures daily. Any emotion I’d experienced in the service would be dispelled and shattered by the time I got home. I’d then have the return journey for the next service and only had a short amount of time to try and pick up the thread. By the time Easter Day arrived I always felt slightly frustrated and disappointed by the fact that I’d dipped in and out of the drama all week long and thus not had the chance to really immerse myself in the emotional highs and lows of the story of the Passion.


Chantage (performing on the second night of Holy Week)

A Holy Week Festival in one venue – St John’s Smith Square – is the chance to create that time and space where the most poignant music composed and dedicated to this drama can be performed day by day and night by night. Concerts followed by themed liturgical events means that the narrative is never interrupted. The Offices of Tenebrae – the name given to Lauds and Matins sung in the early hours of each of the Triduum Sacrum: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday - contain the heart-rending and haunting Lamentations of Jeremiah and the Tenebrae Responsories. This year's Festival has a Baltic flavour and will feature one of Arvo Pärt's finest works, Passio


Tenebrae performs O Vos Omnes by Pawel Łukaszewski

In the early years of this festival there will be a focus on concert programmes, but it is my sincere hope that in years to come there will be a desire for a complete cycle of liturgical events throughout the week. Whether or not you choose to come for a short time to enjoy the wonderful concert music or remain to immerse yourself in the atmosphere and experience the full drama and stark beauty of the Holy Week Liturgy, all will be welcome.


Skylark Ensemble (performing on the fifth night of Holy Week)

Please join us and be a collective part of something worlds away from the frenetic space in which we live: a time and space for collective thought, prayer, or simply a chance to stop, pause and recharge the batteries and enjoy some extraordinarily beautiful music.

The St John’s Smith Square Holy Week Festival will be held from Monday 26 March to Sunday 1 April. Details can be found here.

  • Article Type: | Blog |
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