Southern Cathedrals Festival goes online for the first time in 70 years

July 15, 2021

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After a turbulent 15 months, which has seen choral singing brought to an abrupt halt across the country, the annual Southern Cathedrals Festival, hosted this year by Winchester Cathedral, has been digitally transformed for 2021, with the concert set to premiere online for the first time in its 70 year history. 

Founded in 1905, the Southern Cathedrals Festival has traditionally brought the choirs of Winchester, Salisbury and Chichester under one roof to perform sacred choral and organ music together. This year, the long-standing tradition has been adapted for a COVID age, which will allow people, on a global scale, to experience and enjoy a live-streamed forty-minute concert, hosted by Aled Jones on the 16th July. The concert will include music by Palestrina, Bruckner, Bairstow, Balfour Gardiner, Hadley and a contemporary piece by Joseph Twist; ‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land’.

In another innovative move, a series of short films will be released in the run up to the 16th and 17th July which depict individual stories of the last year in each of the three Cathedrals. The films will look at the decline of music during lockdown, the effect this has had on members of the choirs and the hope and joy of a full return, with an exclusive look at the life of contemporary choristers. 

The Very Revd Catherine Ogle, Dean of Winchester said, “We hope that as many people as possible will engage with what we have to offer and support the festival at a time when choirs and singing have been particularly affected. Whilst the effects of the pandemic are still being felt, we have seized the opportunity to innovate, and to engage with a wider, more diverse audience in a virtual way. We are delighted to offer this unique festival”. 

Alongside this year’s digital offering, two in-person services will be taking place at Winchester Cathedral on Saturday 17th July, including an 11am Festival Eucharist and a 3.30pm Evensong, both of which will be live-streamed.  

The Very Revd Nicholas Papadopulos, Dean of Salisbury said, “It is wonderful that our three choirs are able to come together both digitally and in person to make this festival happen. It has been a long, hard year for all musicians: a year that has tested their faith, adaptability, and resilience; and a year in which they have found new ways to work together to share the joy of music. This festival is a fitting tribute to their skill, their teamwork, and their passion for the glory of music”.

With research showing that the connections that people experience by singing in a choir positively contribute to their wellbeing and mental health, this year’s online festival marks a step in regaining a sense of community, brought together by music, that has been lost in recent months. The festival has a special place in the artistic life of the south of England, and now more than ever, the friendship and unity between the three cathedrals should be celebrated. 

The Very Reverend Stephen Waine, Dean of Chichester said, “This year’s Southern Cathedrals Festival is an opportunity to celebrate the musical lives of our cathedrals by uniting the Choirs of Winchester, Salisbury and Chichester once again. The digital offering will also allow those at home, continuing to shield and self-isolate, as well as those further afield, to take part in this momentous occasion”.

The online concert will premiere at 7pm on 16th July and will be available to watch on the Winchester Cathedral website, YouTube channel and Facebook page.

For more information, please visit the Southern Cathedrals Festival website