Ely Cathedral is commissioning leading young British composer James Olsen to write a major new work for Ely Cathedral boy and girl choristers, organ, professional orchestral musicians from the Britten Sinfonia, Cathedral clergy and altar servers, and over 250 Cambridgeshire schoolchildren, to be performed at Ely Cathedral on 22 June 2020.
The new work, titled Ad orientem: An Ely Liturgy, tells the story of how the original Anglo-Saxon monastery at Ely founded by Saint Etheldreda in 673 was destroyed by the Vikings in 870. Conceived especially for the Cathedral and inspired by Ely’s history and ecology, it will combine theatre, music, liturgical elements to create a site-specific work which makes use of different parts of the building in performance.
The project aims to give schoolchildren from Ely and the surrounding area the opportunity to sing in the Cathedral even if they have had no previous musical experience. Participating schools include Ely College, Ely St Mary’s CofE Junior, Rackham CofE Primary, Hilgay Riverside Academy and Ten Mile Bank Riverside Academy. As part of the project, James and musicians from the Cathedral and the Britten Sinfonia will deliver a number of workshops in participating schools, introducing the children to local Anglo-Saxon history and medieval music.
The work will also contain a series of short meditations by a larval eel as it makes its 4,000 mile journey eastwards from the Sargasso Sea near North America to Ely, written especially for the work and read in the performance by the distinguished local writer Francis Spufford.
The project has been largely funded through a donation from the Farmington Institute. The Cathedral is also offering individuals and local businesses the opportunity to become patrons of the project: from as little as £10, patrons will see their name printed in the published score as well as receiving other benefits.
Composer James Olsen says: ‘It’s an honour and a thrill to be asked to write this new piece for Ely Cathedral. Many of us love the hymns and church music we sang as youngsters, and the Anglican choral tradition is in many ways the bedrock of British musical life. But our beautiful cathedrals can seem a bit scary if you’ve never been inside one, which is why this project is so important to me. By giving over 250 Cambridgeshire schoolchildren the chance to sing in this magnificent space, this project will help to pass this precious musical tradition on to the next generation. This project is particularly special to me because, three years ago, I decided to make Ely my home. I have huge admiration for all that the Cathedral does, and am delighted that we are collaborating on this project which I hope will be of benefit to our community.’
The Very Revd Mark Bonney, Dean of Ely, says: ‘I am delighted that Ely Cathedral is commissioning composer James Olsen to create this unique new work for us. The Cathedral’s musical tradition is one of its great treasures, and by giving hundreds of local schoolchildren the opportunity to sing alongside Cathedral musicians and members of the Britten Sinfonia in this magnificent space, a new generation will discover the richness and beauty of that tradition for the first time. This project is not simply about music, however: participating children will learn about the Anglo-Saxon origins of the Cathedral through special workshops and tours, and bring that history to life in a spectacular final performance which will combine music, drama and liturgy. We owe our Cathedral’s existence to the patronage of countless individuals who wished for this great building to inspire future generations and I therefore very much hope that individuals and businesses will consider continuing that tradition of generosity by supporting this project.’
For more information, please visit www.olsenverlag.com/ely
Press release from Ely Cathedral
Photo credit James Billings