The best Christmas music programmes on BBC Radio and TV this year

Tune in to hear the very best Christmas choral music across the BBC in 2021

Published: November 8, 2021 at 2:41 pm

As the Christmas season approaches, get your calendar out and jot down a few of the BBC's upcoming festive highlights. Some, like the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, will be familiar to BBC listeners the world over. Others, however, are new offerings – and should help get you geared up for the festive period. Dust off that radio, dig out the TV remote from under the sofa, and enjoy!


The best Christmas TV and radio on the BBC this year

St John’s Advent Carol Service

Following its traditional four-section format, anticipating the festive season ahead, the Advent service from the Chapel of St John’s College, Cambridge will include readings, prayers and music, led by Andrew Nethsingha.

St John's College, Cambridge recently made headlines when it announced that it would be the first college choir of its kind to invite girls and women to join.

Read reviews of St John's College, Cambridge recordings here.

28 November, 3pm

Music Matters: West Side Story

To tie in with the release of Steven Spielberg’s Hollywood remake of West Side Story, Music Matters looks at the cultural relevance of the original 1961 film, which also celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. Tom Service and Kate Molleson will explore how the film adaptations of Bernstein’s hit musical resonate in the world today.

Find out more about the 2021 remake of West Side Story here.

Find out more about the original 1957 West Side Story Broadway musical here.

4 December, 11.45am

Handel’s Messiah

The BBC National Orchestra of Wales and conductor John Butt kick off the festivities with one of the season’s best-loved choral works. They will be joined by a stellar line-up of soloists including Helen Charlston, one of Radio 3’s latest intake of New Generation Artists.

We name the best recordings of Handel's Messiah here.

16 December, 7.30pm

Venice between the Bells

Follow the canals and alleyways of Venice in this episode of Slow Radio, tracing a day in the bustling city with its 107 bell towers. Bookending the programme will be the deep, resonant sounds of the bells of the Marangona in St Mark’s Basilica.

19 December, 10.30pm

Breakfast Carol Competition

Amateur composers have been invited to set the words to Christina Rosetti’s seasonal poem Love Came Down At Christmas to a new carol in any musical style. Six shortlisted entries will be turned into fully arranged carols, with the help of composer and choral director Ken Burton. These will then be performed live by the BBC Singers on the Breakfast programme on 15 December. The winner will be announced on 22 December.

22 December, 6am

Classical Christmas with the Kanneh-Masons

We join the Kanneh-Mason family as they prepare for their traditional Anglo-Afrocaribbean Christmas at home in Nottingham. The seven string instrument-playing siblings will perform together and unwrap presents ahead of the festivities.

Find out more about the Kanneh-Mason siblings here.

BBC Two, date and time TBC

A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols

After the choristers of King’s College, Cambridge were forced to record their famous service to an empty chapel last year, they now hope to return with a live congregation.

BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service: 24 December, 3pm; BBC Radio 3: 25 December, 1pm

Four Peaks Sound Walks

Horatio Clare returns to Radio 3 for his annual Christmas walk, this time climbing the four highest peaks of the four UK nations: Ben Nevis in Scotland, Slieve Donard in Northern Ireland, Scafell Pike in England and Snowdon in Wales. As well as the sounds of birds, wind and descriptions of the landscape, there will be music by Bach, Janáček, Ólafur Arnalds, Sibelius and Richard Strauss.

Find out more about Horatio Clare's Four Peaks Sound Walks here.

25-29 December, 4pm

Opera on 3 Christmas Special

There’s a dose of deliciously dark comedy in the Royal Opera House’s acclaimed production of Hänsel and Gretel, starring Diana Damrau and Angelika Kirchschlager. With Humperdinck’s catchy folk songs and lush orchestrations, this will be the perfect way to see out Christmas Day.

25 December, 6.30pm

Gareth Malone’s Christmas Concert

In 2019, choirmaster Gareth Malone hitched up at Watford General Hospital to host a concert for patients, staff and families. This year, he pays tribute to NHS staff in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, visiting two places badly affected by the virus: Blackburn and Bolton.

BBC Two, date and time TBC

Jacqueline Wilson’s Wonderful World

The much-loved children’s author Jacqueline Wilson and the actors from her CBBC adaptations come together with the BBC Symphony Orchestra for a special family concert this Christmas. This multimedia spectacular will see the orchestra playing works by Rautavaara, Stravinsky, Mason Bates and Anna Clyne that help bring Wilson’s characters to life.


31 December, 7.30pm

Sponsored content